The other day I was discussing with my religious-advisor MW Tariq Nelson how our blogs had opened up the discussion in the Muslim community and permanently changed the dialogue within the community. Gone were the days when Muslims felt it taboo to discuss internal problems such as racism, classism, colorism, self-induced poverty, cults, stranger-marriage and other issues in the community. The days of “Deen Show” like whitewashing were gone. No longer was it acceptable to turn a critical eye to non-Muslims while turning a blind-eye to internal Muslim problems in the name of not wanting to air dirty laundry and covering your brother’s faults. The public myth that the Muslim community was Utopia was shattered and the reality dealt with. We influenced others to begin blogging on these topics and otherwise previously taboo topics. Even folks like Amad Sheikh of Muslimmatters who initially didn’t like us discussing controversial topics eventually began doing the same thing and even taking it to the next level. The same can be said of my old friend Imam Suhaib Webb.
While we discussed the problems of marriage, divorce, halal bootycalls, Imam Abuse, pedophilia and other issues in the community I regret we never really got into the issue of domestic-violence in any kind of serious-manner ( although we did touch on it from time to time).
Thank God the community is much bigger than us. One of my favorite Muslim scholars in America Imam Abdullah bin Hammad Ali recently delivered a speech entitled ‘Contextualizing the Hitting Verse in which he gave a scholarly context to the verse which brought us to the sane 21st Century consensus that men don’t have the right to beat their wives.
Allow me to make three basic statements:
1. I am not innocent in this issue. Nor are a lot of other people. If only the blameless were allowed to speak we would be having a very limited conversation. I realize this is in contrast to the “gotcha culture” and hashtag cyber-bullying Muslim activism. Still, I will not allow that to discourage me from trying to add something positive to this conversation.
2. And I speak solely as an American-Muslim, what is going on in other countries is not for me to discuss; but in America I do not believe you will find hardly any indigenous Muslim imams who will condone spousal-abuse. If there are such imams please bring it to my attention. What I do know is that the security-teams of indigenous mosques have dealt with and intervened in domestic-violence situations for years. Abu Muslimah in New Jersey even set up a response-team just for domestic-violence. This is not saying there is not abuse among indigenous Muslims, which clearly there is, I am just stating that I know of no indigenous communities where it is given sanction. Nor do I believe in very many second-generation ethnic Arab, South Asian, West African, Somalia, Turkish and other communities you will find much sanction outside of a few isolated incidents. What I have seen with my own eyes is that in many immigrant Muslim communities not only is domestic-violence a serious issue it is often condoned or ignored by imams and mosque leaders. Two incidents I witnessed with my own eyes. An Arab sister coming to a mosque with a badly beaten face only to be told by the imam to “put on makeup, look pretty, care to his needs and be patient”. In Brooklyn, New York I met an Arab woman whose nose was broken and the mosque refused to help her so she accepted help from two Jewish neighbors. For a bonus I knew an imam in the Midwest who beat his wife and kids with a chain. The community didn’t approve; but hey he was the imam.
3. These are my words and not the words of a scholar…..there is no daleel against domestic-violence. Literalists will always say “bring me your proofs from the Quran and Sunnah”. Salafis as an example claim to practice the purist form of Islam and go back to the original sources. The truth of the matter is that there is no daleel for not hitting your wife. Sure, some modernist and politically-correct scholars can twist words and cherry-pick and ignore hadith and centuries of scholarship, yet they cannot bring any direct proofs from Quran and Sunnah. There are numerous accounts of the sahabah beating their wives and slave-girls. This includes prominent sahabah like Umar ibn al-Khattab (R.A.) and Imam Ali (R.A.). There is also a hadith in Sahih Muslim which suggests the Prophet Muhammad ( s.a.s.) hit Aisha (R.A.) in the chest. The hadith are there for everyone to read as are the stories of the sahabah, Of course they compliment the classical tafseers on the “Hitting Verse”.
If we are to follow Quran and Sunnah literally there is nothing wring with striking your wife, just don’t go overboard with it. Yet, how many view that as acceptable today? How many want our sisters and daughters to be hit? On this issue we must have a deeper understanding. (there are some small Salafi communities in America where it is still taught that it is acceptable to hit your wife).
In 7th Century Arabia ( and nearly every other place in the world) it was normal to hit your wife. Muslims did it, Jews did it, Christians did it and everyone else. That was just that time period. The mere fact that Quran and Sunnah called for moderation in hitting was an advancement in women’s rights at the time. Just as Aisha (R.A.) being a child-bride was the norm in that era and is not seen as the norm today outside of a few backwards places ( and among some Salafis) we must view domestic-violence in the same manner.
We do not oppose domestic-violence because Quran and Sunnah tells us to do so, because it doesn’t, we oppose domestic-violence because we respect women, respect justice, and we are products of the modern world. For us indigenous Muslims in America we are a product of this culture. Domestic-violence is a serious problem in America; yet there is nobody in the American mainstream or anyone seen as positive who thinks it’s OK. That is why we are against women being hit. Not the Quran and Sunnah. if we lived in 7th Century Arabia we would be going all Ike Turner. However, we live in 21st Century America and our families raised us better than that. In many immigrant Muslim cultures a brother may cover for his brother if he is beating my wife. I have personally been involved in stomping the shit out of a friend of mine for beating his wife. That’s our culture. If I never took shahadah I would be against domestic-violence and so would other indigenous Muslims.
Now, back to number 1. I was raised in a household with a lot of violence. Both domestic-violence and the abuse of children. And when I say abuse I am talking about severe-abuse. However, we are all accountable for our actions. During my relationship with my oldest daughter’s mother we had numerous physical-altercations. Several times I hit her. Once I knocked her down a flight of stairs. Once she hit me in the back of the head with a pot and once she almost killed me by shoving a butcher-knife down my throat. I had a hot temper and she had a hot temper.
Yet, since that time, I have been romantically involved with several different women and have never laid a hand on them. Been in plenty of fights, arguments and yes divorces and been mad as hell but I never thought about raising my hand. Why is this? Did I go to therapy? I did not. I discussed this with a friend of mine who had a pretty similar experience and he didn’t have any answers either.
Perhaps we learn as we grow older or we mellow out with age or just learn. As an example I was raised in a home where beating children was seen as normal and that was not uncommon in the homes of my childhood friends. When I had kids living in my home I didn’t mimic the things I grew up with but I did spank them. Since that time, thanks to the teachings of Rais Mujahid on this issue, I no longer believe in spanking or any form of corporal-punishment for children. The Quran and Sunnah didn’t teach me that, in fact there is plenty of daleel for hitting kids, it was life-experience and Brother Rais that taught me that.
In closing I will say I think know the answer as to why I never repeated that behavior. It was not the Quran and Sunnah. It was Islam. Going to the masjid for fajr, reading Quran, learning the deen, being around pious brothers. Older brothers who were teaching me how to be a good Muslim man and I knew from these good Muslim brothers one thing a good Muslim does not do is hit his wife. Over time that changed me and that change was brought about by brothers living the Quran and Sunnah.