Last week, Al Azhar issued a fatwa (edict) that allows a wife to beat her husband in self-defense. Egyptian independent daily al-Masry al-Youm quoted Sheikh Abdel Hamid al-Atrash: “A wife has the legitimate right to hit her husband in order to defend herself.”
Krista of Muslimah Media Watch breaks down the fatwa’s insignificance:
The absence of comments condemning the initial violence means that the onus could be understood as on the person being abused to fight back, which they may not be able to do. … The right to self-defence [sic] is articulated because everyone should have a right to fight back, but not because domestic violence is wrong in the first place.
The problem is that the fatwa doesn’t address domestic violence itself. It addresses self-defense, which Islam already permits, but not the (mis)interpretation of the sura which is twisted to condone beating one’s wife or solutions for domestic violence within a marriage.
Another issue that Krista brings up is the assumption made by religious scholars that women have the physical, mental, or emotional power to fight back. In many physically abusive relationships, women are often afraid to leave because they fear physical retaliation from their significant other. I’d bet that these women have the very same thoughts when it comes to attempting to strike a partner in self-defense.
Fethullah Gülen, a prominent Turkish scholar of Islam, has echoed this fatwa and gone further in stating that “It is a violent act to beat one’s wife,” and “If he hits once, she should hit him twice.” But Gülen’s remarks fall sort of promoting any real solutions when he puts a provision on divorcing an abusive husband: “Those women, if they don’t have kids, should get divorce.”
What about women who do have children? Don’t they deserve a divorce and safety from a husband who abuses them? When mothers suffer physical abuse, children do, too. Growing up in an atmosphere of violence, anger, and fear creates a poor environment for the child. Children who live in abusive homes are often abused themselves and often perpetuate abuse in their adult relationships. How is staying married preferable for a woman who has children?
One question that came to my mind is, “Is this it?” Is this all that Islamic scholars and authorities are willing to do to protect Muslim women?”
From the BBC’s interview with a woman whose imam told her to keep quiet as she suffered domestic and sexual abuse to a mufti in the Emirates who told a woman whose alcoholic husband was sexually and physically abusing her to get him to “find help” rather than divorce him, it seems that those in positions of knowledge just aren’t aware of the issues and dangers surrounding domestic violence.
Until imams and scholars can understand the damaging effects of domestic violence and are willing to listen to women who face these challenges, it seems as if Muslim women’s only protection lies in a self-defense course.