Archive for category Marriage

Q 4:34—Don’t tell me pretty lies

A recent commenter made the claim that scholars give a number of different interpretations of Q 4:34—that while some translate wadribuhunna as “and beat them”, others say that it means “leave them alone.” I said I’d discuss this issue in the next post. Well, here we are… several weeks later. Yes, I’ve been putting it off. Not just because things are crazy busy at work and with family stuff, but because this is such a difficult issue to write about.

As far as replying to that particular comment is concerned, frankly, I am torn. Torn between being honest, and being… I don’t know, realistic? As well as by the haunting feeling that I should probably leave well enough alone.

If some people want to believe that wadribuhunna means “leave them alone”, why should this bother me? Surely this is a significant improvement on the nonsense we used to be subjected to (and let’s face it, that we also used to try to force ourselves and sometimes others to believe)? Speakers (usually male, though not always) used to unashamedly stand up in public at talks with titles such as “Islam the Misunderstood Religion” and claim that “beat them” supposedly “only means” giving a “disobedient” wife a single tap with a miswak, and that this has nothing to do with “wife abuse” or domestic violence. Surely I should rejoice at any evidence that less horrendous interpretations are gradually becoming popularized? If the vague idea that “some scholars” think it doesn’t mean “beat them” is gradually percolating down to the grass roots, it might stand the chance of reaching some woman who is being hit and thinks that “Islamically” she can’t resist.

But… a couple of things.

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Nightmares

Another night, another nightmare.

I am with a friend of mine—a friend that I know my ex would have strongly disapproved of. All is well, it’s a sunny day and my heart is light… until a tall, male shadow approaches from the side.

It’s my ex. I am petrified. I can’t move.

And then I wake up. Whew. It was only a dream. And I woke up before he could… say or do anything.

“But I’m divorced now,” I told myself. “I’m divorced! He’s not my husband any more. He had no right to say or do anything to me or anyone else, regardless of what he thinks of anything I do or who I choose to spend time with! No right whatsoever!”

It was hard to get back to sleep.

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Idols, and breaking them

The story of Abraham is central to Muslim belief. Abraham the unbending monotheist. Abraham who broke the idols. Abraham who left his family and everything he had ever known for the sake of God. Abraham who was even willing to sacrifice his own son when he thought that God wanted it.

The Qur’an speaks about Abraham and other prophets in very positive terms, and holds them up as examples of faith. But the Qur’an does not say that they (much less their wives or other family members) as sinless, perfect, or beyond all criticism.

Centuries ago, Muslim scholars debated the question of whether prophets can doubt God’s promises, whether they can make small mistakes and errors of judgment or even major ones, whether they can commit minor or even major sins, whether their pronouncements are only error-free when it comes to the divine revelations that they proclaim or if everything on every subject that they said is unquestionably true.

But listening to most Muslims today (especially those who are neo-traditionalists, but certainly not only them), you’d never know it.

Islam as I was taught it, whether by Salafi-influenced Muslims or neo-traditionalists, had absolutely no room for questioning prophets, much less criticizing anything they did. You were supposed to hold them in reverence, take them as examples, and never, ever express any doubts about the wisdom or justice of any of their actions whatsoever. No critical questions could be asked. You didn’t question them any more than you questioned God.

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Towards dealing with (some of?) the aftermath

Sex-related ptsd. Trauma. Abuse. Crazy-making familiar dysfunction, proof-texted by “Islam.” How to deal with it? How not to get overwhelmed by it?

One thing that I sometimes find helpful is running across what could be called counter-discourses—people who are going on their merry way, saying and doing pretty much the opposite of what we were taught and pressured to do and say and think. And, being totally unapologetic about it, in all senses of the word: They aren’t doing that in order to “do dawah” or show the world that all Muslims aren’t like that, or whatever. They’re not preaching. They’re not trying to position themselves in line for a seat at the next White House iftar, or an honorary doctorate from Georgetown, or a hand-out from some rich dude for their institution teaching their patented brand of Traditional (TM) Learning.

No, they’re just living their lives, using their god-given talents, standing up for justice, and telling it like it is. And nobody pointed me in their direction, either. Nobody told me that “I really should read this” or that it will be “good for my imaan” or some such balderdash. Which may be part of why it helps. Because it’s like being surprised by joy, rather than being guilted into taking medicine.

The first counter-discourse I came across recently was another column at Love, Inshallah. Ms Sunshine’s advice in particular, to a man who wrote in asking how to deal with his feelings of jealousy and anger about the “past” of the woman he is involved with.

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What a tangled web of issues…

…it is when a woman wants to claim the right to ownership of her own body.

The comments that I have received since the last post have been overwhelming. Partly because they’re unintentionally triggering. But mostly because this is such a complicated, interconnected mess of issues. It’s like saying “no” touches a wire that threatens to blow out a bunch of circuits. Or threatens to blow you up. Or something.

Men using porn and justifying it “Islamically” because their wife supposedly isn’t attractive enough, and their kids having to witness their mother being treated like that. Questions of marriage law and whether it can be reformed… and if it is even ethically possible to have an “Islamic” marriage… and what the ramifications of this are for those who want to remain within Muslim communities. And the internalized guilt for not following the rules, for refusing to “sell” your vagina in marriage in exchange for nafaqa and a new guardian. And internalized guilt also because, well, doesn’t the Qur’an say to men that “women are your tillage”? How can a woman refuse to be tillage, or in the very least, refuse to pay lip-service to the idea, and still claim to be a Muslim?

And yet another issue that no one has mentioned yet (but give them time…): the implications of all this for the laws and community practices governing acts of worship. (more on that in a minute)

Oh God, in other words.

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Blurred lines, Muslim-style

“She may not deny herself to her husband, for the Qur’an speaks of husband and wife as a comfort to one another.”

[Trigger warning for rape and domestic violence survivors]

When I was a conservative Muslim, I used to read voraciously. Everything that I could get my hands on about Islam, and especially, about what was expected of us as Muslim women. I don’t recall where I read this particular sentence, but I know that I encountered it in some Muslim book or pamphlet-or-other fairly early on.

The road I was on unfortunately didn't have anything like a rumble strip. Looking back, I can see that that was by design. Without the right to say "no," nothing halaal done to you can be violate your boundaries... supposedly. That was what they wanted us to think, anyway.

The road I was on unfortunately didn’t have anything like a rumble strip. Looking back, I can see that that was by design. Without the right to say “no,” nothing halaal done to you can be violate your boundaries… supposedly. That was what they wanted us to think, anyway.

And it puzzled me. Because if husbands and wives are supposed to be a comfort to one another, that sounded to me then like a, well, mutually supportive and fulfilling relationship. So how did this then come to mean a hierarchical relationship, in which wives are obliged to service their husbands’ sexual demands, and aren’t allowed to say “no”? Where is the “comfort” for the wife in that relationship, then?

This sort of sentence ought to have sent me running far, far away in the other direction, of course. Because the red flags were all there, waving right in my face.

But it hadn’t.

And now, here I was, driving along a lonely country road with many miles to go before I would reach my destination, and as if from nowhere, that sentence popped into my head. And with it, the nauseating feeling of guilt… and then the flash-backs came.

Never again, I said aloud. Never again. Never again will I allow myself to be put in any position in which anyone can possibly think that they have the “right” to lay a single finger on me.

The flash-backs receded, as I reaffirmed to myself that I will never, ever be in this position again. Never ever will I have to bargain over access to my own body. Never ever will I fear divine displeasure, or angelic curses, or condemnation on the Day of Judgment because I wanted a decent night’s sleep or couldn’t bear to have this or that part of my body touched tonight. Never again would I be put in the position of being held responsible before God and the community for another person’s sexual “morality.”

And as they receded, I realized that this can’t be right. Why would marital sex leave any woman feeling as though she had finally managed to run trespassers off her land? As though she had finally gotten her body back, and would never, ever let anyone anywhere near its boundaries again? Isn’t that how a… well… a rape victim might be expected to feel?? But this had been marriage!

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Crowns… and really bad advice

Libby Anne has posted disturbing quotations from a Bible study addressed to women, that tells women in unhappy or even abusive marriages that even if their husbands don’t change, they (the wives) can take comfort in the knowledge that for their patient endurance, they will be crowned in heaven. Reading her post took me back to some “advice” that I received years ago, from a (convert) male community leader who I had approached asking for advice on how to deal with my awful and highly dysfunctional marriage, “Islamically.”

In retrospect, it was advice that should have sent me running for the hills. But it didn’t.

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