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Five Muslim Women' Answer to Gender Bias on Domestic Violence

Women working together on the pursuit of equity

This article is in response to a post by Qasim Rashid of the Muslim Writers Guild of America titled, "The Islamic Solution to Stop Domestic Violence" published on HuffPost Religion on March 5th, 2012.

Although this post came to our attention close to a year after it was written, as young Muslim women having worked with and/or written about gender-based violence issues that have personally affected some of us, we deemed it fit to respond. Also, the points discussed in this article are not only limited to the particular post written by Rashid, but rather it addresses similar arguments that have been made by other writers as well on this issue.

It is a concern to us that Rashid uses Quran verse 4:34 to explain that it therein contains the "Islamic solution" to domestic violence. He states that according to one perspective of an American social scientist Dr. James Q. Wilson, known for his controversial works on the criminal justice system, that men are more prone to stimulation of anger and aggression and less capable of self-restraint. This, we assume, the author took from one of Wilson's essays, "The Future of Blame" in which he cites research from the lab of a neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Louann Brizendine, where Wilson merely states it as a "claim." Interestingly, Wilson was also a rational choice theorist on the causation of crime and violence; he has made arguments on the terms that individuals make clear, rational decisions after evaluating all possibilities and does that which benefits them the most.

The theories, both biological and psychological, that claim women and men experience as well as react to anger and violence differently is not new. Christa Reiser, author of "Reflections on Anger: Women and Men in a Changing Society" writes about how there are other variables such as socio-cultural norms; class and age differences; and process of socialization that explain how men and women react to anger. She writes with regards to a previous research that, "Analysis of independent variables shows that men with low-self esteem, traditional gender roles and attitudes, adversarial sexual attitudes towards women, a history of sexual abuse, and who believe in rape myths generally score higher in hostility towards women."

So, for Rashid to state only one viewpoint about male violence and saying they have a natural inclination to violence against women is not only biased, but it is also playing into the patriarchal stereotype that men are solely dominated by brute forces, and are therefore unable to control their instincts. This is unfair to men, for not all men are like this; we know of many men who are not violent nor are they inclined towards violent behavior. And though this behavior may be universal, for we are living in a global culture of violence and subjugation against women, we cannot automatically conclude that it is part of our biological nature. Violence is a choice; it is not genetically mandatory nor is it innate.

Further, Rashid uses the typical examples of stating facts and figures from the United States, whilst explaining that domestic violence is not only a "Muslim" problem. Of course it isn't! Women all over the world experience domestic, as well as other forms, of violence regardless of their nationalities or religions. And we all know this. What becomes a "Muslim" problem, however, is the various interpretations to justify domestic violence, and in the author's case to seek a "solution" to domestic violence, using the Quran. Certainly there are many interpretations of the Quran verse 4:34 and even efforts through initiatives such as WISE -- Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality and their Muslim Women's Shura Council, in trying to make sense of the verse.

Nevertheless, we are appreciative for Rashid having stated that the verse in fact restricts the husband from using violence and thus promotes the adoption of a restraint and reconciliation approach, which is certainly a more progressive interpretation. Yet, at the same time, this interpretation is more of a "preventative" measure and not necessarily a "solution."

According to our understanding, verse 4:34 is seen as a one-way street when it comes to placing fault lines, as it rests on the prerequisite that the woman has endangered the relationship in some way. In the instance where a husband may be at fault, Rashid indicates the solution as simply -- "women who fear harm from their husbands, Islam gives women an even easier path: demand their husbands to stop their egregious behavior or file for divorce." Here, the author is deeply mistaken if he believes the "easier path" would suddenly put an end to domestic violence. Neither "demanding" nor "divorcing" is an option for many women, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. This is because many are highly dependent on their male family members -- both economically and socially -- especially when it comes to their livelihood, security, and other dependencies. Additionally, there are also socio-cultural burdens around 'honor' and 'shame,' which affects many women at a deep psychological level.

Conversely, we know today that domestic violence is not only limited to spouses, for many children, elderly women, daughters, sisters and mothers etc. are also subject to violence at the hands of their male family members, as well as female family members (such as a mother-in-law abusing the daughter-in-law and vice versa).

Hence, Rashid's method of rationalizing a solution to domestic violence using verse 4:34 requires a deeper analysis and review. It is not only exclusionary, it is also inadequate to reach such a conclusion based on the living realities of Muslim women. The root cause of gender-based violence is the imbalance of power between men and women, resulting in gender inequality and discriminatory patriarchal practices against women. And in order to resolve this issue, a greater understanding and promotion of gender equality is necessary at all levels, including the promotion of positive masculinity (which the author appreciatively touches on) and shared gender roles. The most highly erroneous assumption is that women are solely to blame for allowing domestic abuse and violence to occur, and this perspective needs to change.

Thus, men and women need to work collaboratively to address these issues at both the domestic and local levels, as well ensure that they raise their children in a community that believes -- truly believes -- that men and women are equal. And this will only be possible through meaningful, rational and open-minded dialogue in order to gain a deeper understanding of the living realities that exist within the communities we live in.

*This article was co-written by Hishyama Hamin, Samar Esapzai, Shireen Ahmed, Nasreen Amina and Ayesha Asghar and was published today in the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hyshyama-hamin/response-to-the-islamic-sol...

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JaniceW's picture

Bravo

This is powerfully written and gets to the heart of a complex issue. You provided insightful and compelling background information and distilled the information down beautifully for an easy read, ending on a powerful note.

New thinking is needed and I thank you all for leading the way in developing such. I look forward to an honest and candid discussion on this issue.

nasreenamina's picture

Thank you very much. We think

Thank you very much. We think the same. Noone will speak for us. If we have something to say, we have to speak for ourselves

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Amei's picture

Smiles for you Nasreen & sisters

4:34 has to be discussed in context rather than in general. It is unfortunate that Rashid has used the verse totally out of context and totally misleading.

I do not understand Arabic, however, when I read the interpretations by different people the emphasis given are variations. Even with my limited knowledge I disagree that verse 4:34 gives the authority to violence. Rashid's use of the verse as a justification to domestic violence is wrong. The context of each situation (husband & wife) will have to be assessed carefully before a man could even raise a finger.

Several questions will have to be answered to understand the context! Reading the "easier path" mentioned by Rahsid and then reflecting this to some the realities of women in some societies and people I know gives me such pain in my heart....

True followers of Islam will not face domestic violence issue because they (humans) fear God and take the right actions. In particular for a Muslim after remembering The God 5 times a day in prayer, giving charity at least twice a year, fasting once a year for 29 - 30 days and planning for pilgrim once in life time plus being kind to the neigbour and to the less fortune. Showing respect for elders, kindness towards youngsters there isn't time for mischief for a pure.

Totally agree it will be "only possible meaningful, rational and open-minded dialogue in order to gain a deeper understanding of the living realities that exist within the communities we live in"

One of the greatest challenges women face when men use religious text to their advantage. Specially is societies where there is a gender inequality in most aspects of life. The reality is grim we can hope for better.

One thing we can change is our own actions, perspectives and understanding. We will have to start from within.

All the best :-) This is a great post. Made me think reflect and wondering....

nasreenamina's picture

Hi my dear. what happen to me

Hi my dear. what happen to me the most of the times is people doesn't believe in my statements because they are not interested in learn or explore new ways to approach the issue but in confirm their own prejudices or in this case his own privilege and opinion.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Paulina Lawsin's picture

What does the Quran say about

What does the Quran say about relationship between husband and wife? about the role and responibilities of husbands in preserving peace and harmony in the home? How rampant is VAW among Muslims? What's do the Muslim clerics say or do when there's a case of VAW?

nasreenamina's picture

Hello Paulina. Thanks for

Hello Paulina. Thanks for your questions. Since it would be too long to answer to all of them here I invite you to check the web site of www.musawah.org they're localted in malaysia and work on the issues you ask for. In the web site you can find llearning material, books, reports and videos.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Y's picture

Love is seeking to understand

Love is seeking to understand and to serve, not to compete or dominate.

Y

nasreenamina's picture

And this come about what?

And this come about what? We're not suggesting we should be more than men. Only not less

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Y's picture

I agree wholeheartedly. I did

I agree wholeheartedly. I did not mean to question the motives of women. I simply wanted to present a possible gender-neutral definition of a much used word in terms of relationships.

Y

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