Friday, September 2, 2011

The Challenges of Verse 4:34

The post below is on verse 4:34, the challenges it's posed, its different translations and meanings, and how, in 4:34, the term nushooz magically means "disloyalty/ill-conduct" (because it relates to women!) but in verse 4:128, the exact same word means "desertion" (because it relates to men!) -- in verse 58:11, it means "desertion" as well. "Desertion" is the actual meaning of the Arabic nushooz, too, you see... well, that's what appears to make the most sense. I may discover many years later that I'm wrong, but I know for sure I'm right for now.


I have been studying it for the past 5 years, and I still haven't made a solid conclusion about it. I want us to look at different interpretations and different translations of the verse, since it actually implies that man is the head of the woman. I want us to see how we justify the beating/hitting of women, oftentimes saying, "Oh, the man is allowed to beat his wife but only lightly! it's not like you can abuse her just like that!" etc.

Here are some of the translations of verse 4:34 (NOTE: Anything in parenthesis is the translator's explanation, understanding and is not necessarily a part of the original Arabic text.)

- Men are the {qawwam} of women, because Allah has given the one more than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are {qanitat}, and guard in the husband's absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear {nushuz}, admonish them first, then refuse to share their beds, and finally {adriboo} them; but when they {ataa:} to you, then seek not against them means of annoyance: For Allah is Most High, great above you all. Source

(Note that in the above version, the original Arabic terms have been kept to show that it's these words that have been mistranslated, misinterprets, or are still open to interpretation -- or are used to justify violence against women or the inferiority of women.)

- Men are (meant to be righteous and kind) guardians of women because God has favored some more than others and because they (i.e. men) spend out of their wealth. (In their turn) righteous women are (meant to be) devoted and to guard what God has (willed to be) guarded even though out of sight (of the husband). As for those (women) on whose part you fear ill-will and nasty conduct, admonish them (first), (next) separate them in beds (and last) beat them. But if they obey you, then seek nothing against them. Behold, God is most high and great. Source

- Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded. And as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great.” (Translator: Laleh Bakhtiar - female.)

- Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all). (Translator: Yusuf Ali)

- Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great. (Translator: Pickthal)

- Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great. (Translator: Shakir)

Source for the above three translations.

- Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it. As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing). If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great. (Translator: Ahmed Ali)

More available at this link.

So, note how the term "nushooz" has been translated when it comes to women (disobedience, disloyalty, ill-conduct, etc.) ... EVEN though it literally means "to rise, to go above, to desert, give up" (see, for example, verse 58:11 of the Quran: "O you who believe! When you are told to make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room: (ample) room will Allah provide for you. And when you are told "inshuzoo" (to rise up), Allah will raise up to suitable ranks and degrees those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge. Allah is well-acquainted with what you do.")

Annnnd guess what "nushooz" means when it comes to men, though. Somehow, it means "desertion" or "oppression"... as in, if the husband is being oppressive to his wife, or if he deserts her, etc. (I must say, beating your wife is oppressive. In which case verse :128 has a great suggestion for women who are being treated like that by their husbands.)

4:128 reads: "If a wife fears cruelty or nushooz on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best, even though men's souls are swayed by greed. But if you do good and practice self-restraint, God is well-acquainted with what you do."

One must ask ... why the translation of the Arabic word "nushooz" when it comes to men and when it comes to the command/suggestion of giving up or yielding a position, but when it comes to women, it somehow magically means ill-conduct or disloyalty?

Yet, nothing in the Quran makes it obvious that the woman has to obey her husband. She's told, just like men are told, that she must be obedient to God, just as men are to be obedient to God. "Qaanit" doesn't necessarily mean obedience to man/husband: It's the same term used when God is saying that "obedient men and obedient women ... for them is reward promised by God."

Earlier scholars of Islam interpreter it to mean obedience of woman to her husband, clearly because women in most, if not all, societies are told to obey their husbands. It made sense to them, and we can't condemn them for having written volumes on the concept of obedience in Islam (of a woman to her husband).

But today, thankfully, scholars are re-evaluating the implications of verse 4:34 and are trying to figure out what exactly it means.

This link gives explanations of classical scholars, their commentary, on the same verse. It's really interesting how the author writes at the end, "Therefore, due to all of the statements and interpretations of the word “nushooz”, one can objectively state that nushooz includes the refusal of a woman to answer the husband’s call to her bed."

I'm like, ummm... okay, but this isn't from God; it's from men, humans. Why should their views be binding?

Anyway, just a little wonder. While the Quran doesn't make it obvious that man is the head of the woman, humans' translations and interpretations do;we see what the woman is viewed as when we read commentaries of every Quranic verse that pertains to women. In most cases, it's disturbing. Woman meaning wife, of course, since mothers are always giving a sublime position.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Freedom from the Forbidden - a poem

I shared this on my other blog once, but I think it's more relevant for this blog. So here I go.

Freedom from the Forbidden

There’s this knot in my chest,
A voice in my head,
Telling me to abandon all traditions
To speak the truth, to seek the truth
To cross every imaginary boundary ever drawn
To break the wall between divine guidelines and man-made laws
To make it known that I have risen to the glory I owe myself

What—was it not so they could control my sexuality?
Limit my mobility and silence my voice?
Forbid me natural inclinations?
Deny me what’s permitted to man, whom they’ve deemed my lord
In history’s slanted pages, in invisible ink
I understand it now
Because I have risen to the glory I owe myself

That’s why they once asked themselves if I was a human, like man.
That’s why God is a “He”– but they tell us “He” has no gender!
That’s why I’m circumcised, and my feet are bound!
That’s why I look pretty only when I’m thin!
And why polygyny is a man’s right but polyandry a sin!
That’s why I need the permission of a man to marry my Beloved!
That’s why I can’t marry but a Muslim man
That’s why Triple Talaq is for men only – but they tell us divorce is a big deal!
That’s why I must cover my hair, lest I wish to be raped!
That’s why they say God is the head of man, man the head of woman!
That’s why the jurists termed the dower “price of the vulva”!
Hear me out once:
The fine line between divine guidelines and man-made laws no longer exists!
They tell us women must have no desires, no fantasies!
What—do they think me a doll?
Must I describe what I feel upon seeing my Beloved?
Because I can do today what I was forbidden yesterday
Since now, I have risen to the glory I owe myself

For how much longer must I let them define my womanhood for me?
Why must I let them tell me what it means to be natural,
What it means to be woman?
Heaven lies beneath the mother’s feet, they tell us
Not beneath the woman’s feet.
What—Is this meant to be a privilege?
Should I be grateful?
No – It is there just to silence me.
But this centuries-old silence has deafened me!
And I have finally risen to the glory I owe myself

The infinite well of silence has finally dried up!
I was deaf and mute before
But I am living now, and I will live forever
I am eternal.
And I have risen to the glory I owe myself
~ Me
~ Jan. 5th 2010

Friday, January 21, 2011

Women's Fatwas?

I just found this while looking for something on women's authority and Islam. I was shocked by the answer that Soad Saleh, "one of the world's leading female scholars of Islam," gave to the woman who told her about her situation with her husband. Take a look. Why do you think she insists what she insists? Do you find it upsetting? Do you think it's still good that women are at least allowed to speak on public TV and issue such fatwas, even if they don't necessarily support women's empowerment?
Soad Saleh, one of the world’s leading female scholars of Islam, fields requests for religious advice each week from callers across the Arab world. Seated at a gilded table on the set of her Egyptian satellite TV show, Women’s Fatwa, Saleh provides religious rulings on a wide range of subjects. How many months can a man be away from his wife if he is working in another country? Under what conditions is polygamy acceptable? How can a financial dispute between sisters be settled? 

During one episode in late March, a young Egyptian woman named May called in. Six months ago, when she married her husband, he promised she could continue working as an engineer. Now he is insisting she stay at home. He has even locked her in the house while he is at work to prevent her from leaving. She doesn’t want a divorce, because she fears people will blame her. What should she do?
Saleh paused briefly, looking traditional but stylish in her periwinkle hijab, or headscarf, and simple rimless eyeglasses. “You probably agreed to marry this man because he is committed to his house and responsibilities,” she said.
“Yes,” May said.
“Being committed, according to Islam, does not mean you pray in the mosque and then oppress your wife at home. Being committed means that you follow Allah’s rules in managing your relations with people,” Saleh said. But she does not urge May to leave her husband, instead urging her to be patient. “You have to wait until you deliver your children,” she said, “and then, God willing, you will get busy raising your babies.”
Click here to read more.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Quran on Marriage: Can Muslim Women Marry Christians and Jews?

 Pre-post: the post below is a "lay person's" view with Qur'anic references to repudiate the claim that Muslim women are not allowed to marry men from the People of the Book (Christians and Jews). However, for those interested in reading about this from the perspective of a respected Imam, someone with an authoritative position, please check out the book Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. In Chapter 4, titled "The Modern American Muslim Woman," he discusses the issue of the marriage of Muslim women to men of the People of the Book and offers a very rational viewpoint.
So, I'm sure we're always reminded that as Muslim women, we are not allowed to marry non-Muslim (non-Muslim here means Christian and Jewish) men because the Quran says so. I won't talk about non-Christians and non-Jews in here because that's an entirely different topic because the Quran tells both men and women that they may not marry the mushrikeen (polytheists or those who join partners with God. I know, I know what's going through your mind right now: "Oh, but Christians have the Trinity! That's polytheism right there!" k, patience, please).

So, when I realized that I was actually allowed to think, I started thinking about this and couldn't stop asking why this is so. Yes, everyone knows that the Quran makes it very clear that men may marry women from the People of the Book (Christians and Jews), and our male scholars, with all due respect to them, have decided that because God didn't specify whether or not women can marry men from the People of the Book, God actually meant that women can't. 'Course, this is the same case with polygamy: While men are specifically allowed to have more than one wife if they can treat them equally, even though another verse tells them that they cannot treat women equally even if they so wish to, women are never Quranically prohibited from marrying more than one man. But polygamy another time. For now, let's stick to marriage to Jews and Christians.
The main verses in question are 2:221 and 5:5. I'll give the Arabic first, then Yusuf Ali's full translation.

وَلَا تَنكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكَاتِ حَتَّىٰ يُؤْمِنَّ ۚ وَلَأَمَةٌ مُّؤْمِنَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن مُّشْرِكَةٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ ۗ وَلَا تُنكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَتَّىٰ يُؤْمِنُوا ۚ وَلَعَبْدٌ مُّؤْمِنٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن مُّشْرِكٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكُمْ ۗ أُولَٰئِكَ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ ۖ وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَالْمَغْفِرَةِ بِإِذْنِهِ ۖ وَيُبَيِّنُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ

Yusuf Ali: Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise. 

Maybe it's just me, who knows, but the verse above says the exact same thing to both men and women: Do not marry the mushrikeen until they believe. Yet, whenever we ask why Muslim women can't marry non-Muslim men, it never crosses the answerers' minds that we might mean the Jews or Christians, and they give us, mind you, the second part of the verse above! They completely -- and I mean completely! -- ignore the first part of the verse. Why? Oh, because then that'd prove their point wrong, and they don't want to believe that men could possibly ever be denied what they've been taught women are denied. does this, too. This ever most-authentic source on everything Islam-related uses this to say why women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, including Jews and Christians because apparently they, too, are mushrikeen -- but only when it comes to Muslim women marrying their men, not Muslim men marrying their women!

“And give not (your daughters) in marriage to Al Mushrikun (atheists) till they believe (in Allah Alone)” (Al-Baqarah: 221)  

Why do they so conveniently ignore the part where God says the exact same thing to men? Could it also be because no one ever asks, "Why can't a Muslim man marry non-Muslim women?"

This site compares the translations of verse 2:221.

As for verse 5:5, it reads:

الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ ۖ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَّهُمْ ۖ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلَا مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ ۗ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالْإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

Yusuf Ali: This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time,- when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues if any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).

Feel free to compare this translation to a plethora of others at this site.

So, the above verse, talking clearly to men, tells men that they can marry chaste women from the People of the Book--without saying anything to women or whether women can marry chaste men from the people of the book. Well, neglecting to permit something is not equivalent to denying or prohibiting it. So, just because the Quran doesn't say women can do it doens't mean they can't. We can't expect to find a clear "NO" to everything in life. If something's not clearly forbidden, we shouldn't be saying, "Hmmm... it doesn't say we can do it, so that means we can't."  

Those who insist that Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims (all non-Muslims) say that Christians count as polytheists because the Quran has explicitly stated that those who say Jesus (pbuh) is God's son are disbelievers (verses 5:73 and 9:30); the Quran also says that the Jews imitate the disbelievers by saying that Uzair (Ezra) is the son of God (verse 9:30). 

If we're going to say that Christians and Jews are disbelievers, then how do we explain the Quran's permission to men to marry Christian/Jewish women while at the same time telling both women and men that they may not marry disbelievers?  Is this a contradiction, or does one verse abrogate the other? If one is abrogated by the other, which one is it, and how does one conclude that?

In a society and in an era in history in which marriage is overall seen as a kingdom where the husband is dominant, it'd make sense to disallow women to marry men from other religions because then women (wives) are the subjects and men (husbands) are the king. No, its making sense doesn't make it fair or right. But if the marriage is seen more as something that needs hard work to be kept intact and hard work required by both partners, not just the wife, then it makes no sense. Neither does it make sense if the woman is seen as a full human with full rights in marriage, as her husband's full partner and not as his subject. If they're supposed to be garments of each other like the Quran says they are, then they'd work together and decide together what values the kids will hold, what they'll call themselves, how they'll identify themselves, and so on. If we Muslims are going to continue maintaining that the Quran forbids women from marrying all non-Muslim men (when it actually doens't), then we should stop denying that men and women are garments of each other and that women are full humans. What's the point of such beliefs when our practices and actions are the opposite?

Now, obviously, the hadiths would be the one to say that Muslim women simply cannot marry ANY non-Muslim man. In that case, Muslim sources should just stop citing Quranic verse 2:221-- and incomplete, at that -- because that verse forbids women the exact same thing it forbids men.

Conclusion: Either all Muslims--whether men or women--are forbidden from marrying all non-Muslims (whether Jews/Christians or not), or then women are allowed what men are because the Quran never denies women what it explicitly permits men. The only reason Muslim women are taught that they may not marry non-Muslim men (Christians/Jews) is so that they are kept restrained. For God's sake, wake up, women, and study the Quran yourself and ask questions! For how much longer are you going to let others tell you what GOD said when you have equal access to the exact same God today that your rulers do?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Forbidden" - a poem

I have dug inside me,
A well – a deep, infinite well.
In it lives with me My God
The God of both women and men,
The God of the oppressed and the liberated,
The God of the cursed and the blessed

There with me, my feelings dwell,
Far from the fondness of human thought,
Unwelcome elsewhere
The feelings I’m forbidden to relish,
The secrets I’m forbidden to reveal,
The questions I’m forbidden to raise,
The mistakes I’m commanded to regret,
But I don’t. For I have no regrets.
Only mistakes to learn from.

There, I speak the unspeakable
I quarrel with My God,
And My God allows me this –
And there, I think the forbidden
And My God hears me, too,
There, I demand answers,
And My God answers me, too,
My God hears the shattering of my voices
And pacifies my frustrated nerves
There, I heave sighs suppressed elsewhere,
And screams ignored elsewhere,
But I must scream,
For the forbiddance of speaking has boiled my brain,
And the ludicrousness of the ulama, the “learned,” vexes me,
And the labels of heresy and blasphemy grieve my soul
But I must tell my stories.

And I tell my God,
Why have you forbidden me these natural thoughts?
Why am I nothing but a dangerously seductive being, who
Incites sordid feelings in men?
You must forgive me, Dear God, for I mean no harm,
But you must permit me to ask –
Why do you objectify me when You created me Yourself?
They tell me You’re all-powerful;
But then why did you make me the reason men behave so despicably
When they see my face, or my hair,
Or my ankles,
Or my eyes?

And My God smiles at me
And tells me
“Don’t confuse My guidelines with the orders of men.”
Just as the well starts to flood, and I
Develop confidence and valor
And my spirit ascends the seventh heaven,
And my heart glows with peace
And my mind enfolds the universe

I have become a woman.
A woman at last.
And I’m going to tell my stories.

~ Me
~ March 1, 2010

Also available on my blog.
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