and Denial Are Not Reform
by Robert Spencer
Deception and denial are not reform, and yet Muslim spokesmen in the West constantly confuse these things with one another, and expect non-Muslims not to notice.
The Change This campaign is an initiative of a Muslim women's charity in Scotland that claims that Muslim men who think that the Koran allows them to beat their wives are "manipulating" the real teachings of Islam, which they think forbids wife-beating.
I am all for a campaign to persuade Muslim men not to beat their wives. But here we come up to the perennial problem: denying that the texts of the Koran and Hadith regarding wife-beating say what they clearly say is not reform; it is just deception. It may be self-deception, but it is deception nonetheless. It may play well with non-Muslims who don't know what those texts say, but it won't convince any wife-beating Muslim husband to stop beating his wife: he knows, in the words of one Muslim wife-beater, that "the Koran says it's okay."
The Koran’s infamous wife-beating verse goes like this:
Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for God's guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them; God is All-high, All-great. (Koran 4:34)
This is, of course, an extremely controversial verse, so it is worth noting how several translators render the key part of this verse, وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ, waidriboohunna.
Pickthall: “and scourge them”
Yusuf Ali: “(And last) beat them (lightly)”
Al-Hilali/Khan: “(and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful)”
Shakir: “and beat them”
Sher Ali: “and chastise them”
Khalifa: “then you may (as a last alternative) beat them”
Arberry: “and beat them”
Rodwell: “and scourge them”
Sale: “and chastise them”
Daryabadi: "and beat them"
Asad: “then beat them”
Dawood: "and beat them"
Laleh Bakhtiar, in a recent translation that has received wide publicity, translates it as “go away from them.” In light of this unanimity among the translators, both Muslim and non-Muslim, this seems difficult to sustain – all of these authorities got the passage wrong until Bakhtiar? But her impulse is understandable, as many Muslims today regard this verse with acute embarrassment. Muhammad Asad adduces numerous traditions in which Muhammad “forbade the beating of any woman,” concluding that wife-beating is “barely permissible, and should preferably be avoided.”
Unfortunately, however, this is not a unanimous view. The Koran commentary Ruhul Ma’ani reflects mainstream Muslim understandings of this verse when it gives four reasons that a man may beat his wife: “if she refuses to beautify herself for him,” if she refuses sex when he asks for it, if she refuses to pray or perform ritual ablutions, and “if she goes out of the house without a valid excuse.”
Also, Muhammad’s example is normative for Muslims, since he is an “excellent example of conduct” (Koran 33:21) – and according to a canonical hadith, Muhammad’s favorite wife, his child bride Aisha, reports that Muhammad struck her. Once he went out at night after he thought she was asleep, and she followed him surreptitiously. Muhammad saw her, and, as Aisha recounts: “He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?” (Sahih Muslim 2127) Aisha herself said it: “I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women.” (Sahih Bukhari 7.72.715)
If the organizers of the Change This campaign expect Muslim men who beat their wives not to be familiar with this material, they are naïve. If they have no such expectation but simply wish to give non-Muslims in Scotland and elsewhere in the West the impression that core Islamic texts do not sanction the beating of women, their focus is not actually on helping women at all, but on burnishing the ever-tarnished image of Islam.
Either way, one group is certain to lose out: Muslim women who are brutalized by their husbands. And that abundantly illustrates the cost of the all too common practice among liberal Muslims, of pretending that problems within Islam do not exist, rather than confronting them head-on and working for genuine reform.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Did Muhammad Exist?.