While the Quran permits a husband physically to discipline his wife should she disobey him, a recent wave of rulings by Islamic scholars are encouraging women to fight back.
Domestic violence fatwa stirs outrage
CAIRO // While the Quran permits a husband physically to discipline his wife should she disobey him, a recent wave of rulings by Islamic scholars are encouraging women to fight back. This week, Sheikh Abdel Hamid Al Atrash, who heads the committee for fatwas, or religious edicts, at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Sunni Islam's highest institute, ruled that women are entitled to use violence to defend themselves from abusive husbands. "A wife has the legitimate right to hit her husband in order to defend herself," the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm quoted Sheikh Atrash as saying on Monday. "Everyone has the right to defend themselves, whether they are a man or a woman … because all human beings are equal before God." Sheikh Atrash's fatwa comes on the heels of similar rulings by religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Last week, Saudi Sheikh Abdel Mohsen Al Abyakan was quoted by Shams, a Saudi newspaper, urging women to resort to "the same kind of violence" their husbands use against them, whether it be with a leather strap or a wire cable. Sheikh Abyakan confirmed his views on a popular Muslim website. "The wife can use force in self-defence to counter her husband's violence," he told IslamOnline.net. "If the husband hits her she can hit him back and if he tries to kill her she can kill him in self-defence if this is the only way to save her life." A prominent Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gülen, recently went one step further, advising women to learn martial arts to defend themselves against domestic violence. "I wish women would take karate, taekwondo or judo courses," Mr Gülen told the Turkish daily Zaman. "If he hits once, she should hit him twice." Mr Gülen said the Prophet Mohammed and his companions never beat their wives. "It is a violent act to beat one's wife," he said, adding that victims of domestic violence should seek divorce. Many Egyptian women were encouraged by the rulings, viewing them as a source of empowerment in a country where, according to Amnesty International, 35 per cent of women killed each year die as a result of domestic violence. "I agree that the woman should have the right to defend herself and use it if she can, not just be at the receiving end of her husband," said Zeinab el Sayed, a grandmother in her 70s. But the rulings have not been universally welcomed and conservative Islamic clerics were quick to express condemnation. "These fatwas contradict the Quran on how to deal with marital problems and transforms the house into a jungle where it is survival of the fittest," said Youssef el Badri, a radical Islamic scholar. "Is this is how they are trying to fight the so-called male-dominated society, with women dominating society? We should be advising men to treat their wives well instead of inciting wives to beat their husbands and become like the western societies, God forbid." Many feel that the recent rulings contradict what is laid out in the Quran, considered by Muslims to be the literal word of God. "I wonder what's the secret behind these fatwas that favour women at the expense of men, which we've never heard of since the advent of Islam," said Ahmad Mahmoud, 30, at a coffee shop in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. "Men increasingly are becoming inferior to women." Even some women's rights groups were critical of the rulings, saying they encourage violence. "These fatwas are a call for chaos," said Azza Soliman, the director of the Centre for Legal Assistance to Egyptian Women. "Shame on those religious scholars for sanctioning violence between the spouses. This undermines the very basis of marriage as set by God on amicability and mercy, and undermines the rule of law as it increases and reinforces the value of violence in society as a whole." Religious rulings sanctioning the woman's use of violence in self-defence have been issued before. Last year, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a prominent Lebanese Shiite scholar, issued a fatwa on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women supporting the woman's right to defend herself against any act of violence. The fatwa reaffirms the right of women to defend themselves, both at the workplace and at home, and states that Islam forbids men from exercising any form of violence against women. "Physical violence in which women are beaten proves that these men are weak, for only the weak are in need of unjust violence," Mr Fadlallah said at the time. email@example.com