“They Should Beat Them Lightly”

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The words of Mahmoud Shalash, an imam from Lexington, Kentucky, as quoted by Asra Q. Nomani in an op-ed in the Washington Post. That is the answer she got when she protested to the imam about his lecture to about 100 men about how to treat their wives. Nomani is making a point here: How can you expect to stop suicide bombers, jihadists and preachers of violence when it is perfectly acceptable to many Muslim males to engage in domestic violence. She quotes another Muslim woman describing the thought process among too many Muslim males: "If it's okay for me to be a savage in my home, it's okay for me to be a savage in the world."

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. When dealing with a "disobedient wife," a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of "the importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam." If that doesn't work, he can "leave the wife's bed." Finally, he may "beat" her, though it must be without "hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any cost."

Such appalling recommendations, drawn from the book "Woman in the Shade of Islam" by Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha, are inspired by as authoritative a source as any Muslim could hope to find: a literal reading of the 34th verse of the fourth chapter of the Koran, An-Nisa , or Women. "[A]nd (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them," reads one widely accepted translation.

The notion of using physical punishment as a "disciplinary action," as Sheha suggests, especially for "controlling or mastering women" or others who "enjoy being beaten," is common throughout the Muslim world. Indeed, I first encountered Sheha's work at my Morgantown mosque, where a Muslim student group handed it out to male worshipers after Friday prayers one day a few years ago.

Verse 4:34 retains a strong following, even among many who say that women must be treated as equals under Islam. Indeed, Muslim scholars and leaders have long been doing what I call "the 4:34 dance" — they reject outright violence against women but accept a level of aggression that fits contemporary definitions of domestic violence.

Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, have recently focused on Muslim women's veils as an obstacle to integration in the West. But to me, it is 4:34 that poses the much deeper challenge of integration. How the Muslim world interprets this passage will reveal whether Islam can be compatible with life in the 21st century. As Hadayai Majeed, an African American Muslim who had opened a shelter in Atlanta to serve Muslim women, put it, "If it's okay for me to be a savage in my home, it's okay for me to be a savage in the world."

Not long after I picked up the free Saudi book, Mahmoud Shalash, an imam from Lexington, Ky., stood at the pulpit of my mosque and offered marital advice to the 100 or so men sitting before him. He repeated the three-step plan, with "beat them" as his final suggestion. Upstairs, in the women's balcony, sat a Muslim friend who had recently left her husband, who she said had abused her; her spouse sat among the men in the main hall.

At the sermon's end, I approached Shalash. "This is America," I protested. "How can you tell men to beat their wives?"

"They should beat them lightly," he explained. "It's in the Koran."

He was doing the dance.

There is a problem with extremism and Islamism, which should not be confused in any way, I think, with the religion of Islam itself. Rather it is with a secular movement enforcing extreme notions and interpretations in order to gain secular power. This is hiding behind the mask of religion to advance an unholy agenda.

This one is a must read. It defines a real problem that we have got to recognize. Because we are dealing with a specific problem here: "If it's okay for me to be a savage in my home, it's okay for me to be a savage in the world." That may be the most succinct explanation of the problem I have yet seen.

(And let me make one thing perfectly clear: if I were to see a Presbyterian beating his wife, lightly or otherwise, said man would be looking for his teeth for a while. Same goes for any religion/ethnicity/belief system. Men do not beat women. Period.)

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16 Responses to “They Should Beat Them Lightly”

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  9. Andy Vance says:

    < ?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> < !DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> Untitled document

    Because we are dealing with a specific problem here: \"If it\'s okay for me to be a savage in my home, it\'s okay for me to be a savage in the world.\"

    Amen, brother.

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  11. Kathy says:

    (And let me make one thing perfectly clear: if I were to see a Presbyterian beating his wife, lightly or otherwise, said man would be looking for his teeth for a while. Same goes for any religion/ethnicity/belief system. Men do not beat women. Period.)

    Then why posit a connection between suicide bombers and Muslim men who beat their wives, if domestic violence exists in Christian/Western belief systems as well?

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  14. Gaius says:

    Perhaps it would be best to address your question to Asra Q. Nomani or the woman she quotes.

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