In February, Muslim women in Scotland will officially launch a new campaign to fight domestic violence. While violence against women is a global problem that does not discriminate against nationality, race or religion, some look at violence against women in Muslim countries and conclude that there must be a link. However, volunteers at Amina, a UK-based Muslim women’s charity, argue that Islam should instead be looked upon as a solution to eradicate violence against women.
To that end, they recently launched a campaign that will contest the misperception that Islam encourages violence of any sort. Amina will work with imams in the community and use Hadith (a collection of traditions containing sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad) and Qur’anic verses to support the notion that not only does Islam condemn violence but its text repeatedly emphasises kind, fair and respectful treatment of women.
The most commonly quoted Qur’anic verse that has been used to justify violence against women is verse 4:34 of the Qur’an. It has been translated by Yusuf Ali: “[…] As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty [nushuz] and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their, beds (and last) beat them (lightly) [udribuhuna]; […]”.
The misinterpretation and de-contextualization of the Arabic words nushuzand udribuhuna have led to the pervasive misunderstanding of this verse. For example the word daraba (the root of the word udribuhuna) has twenty-five different meanings, including “to go away from” or leave for some time. Based on the latter meaning, the transliteration reads: “As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty, first admonish them, then abandon their sleeping places, then go away from them.”
Furthermore, the word nushuz here specifically makes the three stages of this verse applicable only in very specific and serious situations. Mohammed Abdel Haleem, a professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, argues that the word refers specifically to infidelity.
One only needs to look at the Prophet Muhammad’s example and the general message of the Qur’an to realise that Islam clearly condemns any sort of violence against women. Verse 30:21, states: “And among His Signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may live in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily there are Signs in that for those who reflect.”
In addition to ensuring such messages are disseminated, Amina’s campaign also encourages women and men to speak up against violence. It is an obligation, they argue, that Muslims speak out against abuse and adamantly oppose any false beliefs that Islam supports the mistreatment of women.
Such work can be a pivotal part of the solution to violence if it reaches religious leaders across communities. Imams tend to have a substantial degree of influence over local Muslim communities, as these are individuals who are trusted and perceived as credible. Therefore, working with them to ensure the message is delivered to both men and women in the mosque is crucial. The combined voices of imams have the potential to instill much needed change in the treatment of women.
Such work could also happen at the family level. It is pertinent that children understand from a young age the importance of respecting women and treating them with kindness as per the Prophet Muhammad’s teaching. This needs to be reinforced at home and in religious schools. Parents, particularly fathers, can act as role models in line with the kind demeanour of the Prophet himself.
Islam provides very clear guidelines within its texts regarding all aspects of life, including treatment of women. This knowledge and understanding, the very tool that has been manipulated for misogyny can be used to eradicate the problem of domestic violence in Muslim communities.