Technically, it was a conviction for domestic abuse. As The National reported yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence of a man who slapped and kicked his daughter and wife, leaving both with injuries. The Dh500 fine was only symbolic, but the precedent has broader consequences.
The ruling clarifies national law in an area that affects the family, the safety and welfare of women in society, and gender relations. It is an area on which the court has rarely given a judgment. So although the Supreme Court has acknowledged a controversial interpretation of Islamic law regarding the right of a husband to physically discipline his wife and children by mandating that he may not leave a mark and may not discipline children if they are over the age of 18, it ultimately sets a benchmark defining abuse of women and children in their homes. Certainly, any level of permissible physical violence in the home is troubling.
The UAE is engaged in a larger project to reform the legal system, a process that must stem from the country’s religious and cultural foundations. This will be an ongoing endeavour and the recent ruling should be seen in the light of a legal system that will be further refined and codified by case law and legislation, itself a lengthy process.
This case will be seen as a controversial ruling, but now there is a legal limit beyond which altercations or physical discipline in a family are defined as abuse. This man appealed against his conviction twice although he admitted to beating his 23-year-old daughter deliberately and accidentally hitting his wife. Such cases underscore the need for a benchmark, no matter the controversy.
The ruling is founded on an interpretation of Sharia law that has been debated in Muslim societies across the world. Severe punishment is universally condemned under any circumstance – as the Supreme Court ruled – but many scholars say any physical discipline within a family contravenes Sharia law. There has been a parallel movement that has empowered women in nearly every walk of life in the UAE. Women have clear rights under Islamic law and in the egalitarian society that the UAE is forging. As the law on domestic abuse evolves, it is imperative that women’s rights are fully protected in the home too.