Originally published in the Huffington Post
by Samar Esapzai (@SesapZai), Hyshyama Hamin (@SisterhoodArt), Shireen Ahmed (@_shireenahmed_), Vanessa D. Rivera (Nasreen Amina @Nasreen_Vr), and Ayesha Asghar (@ashsultana)
This article is in response to a post by Qasim Rashid of the Muslim Writers Guild of America titled, "The Islamic Solution to Stop DomesticViolence" published in the Huffington Post's Religion Blog on March 5th, 2012.
Although this post came to our attention 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 the 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 stimulations 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 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 behaviour. And though this behaviour 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 faultlines, 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 ‘honour’ 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 (i.e. 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.