01 January 2009

Love and beat your wives

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy … In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

(Eph 5:25-28, NIV)

[Wives who] you fear may be rebellious admonish, banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them.

(Sura 4:34; quoted in Michael Cook, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 38)

Male dominance was far from being a novelty in monotheistic scripture.

(Michael Cook, The Koran, p. 38)

Dr. Cook apparently considers the Koranic teaching that men should beat their wives to be a natural extension of the New Testament teaching. This strikes me as odd.

It is also interesting that modern English translations of the Koran make vastly different interpretations of the relevant passage. For instance:

[Wives] whose perverseness ye fear, admonish them and remove them into bedchambers and beat them; but if they submit to you, then do not seek a way against them; verily, God is high and great.

(Sura 4:38, LookLex Encyclopedia)

As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).

(Surah 4:34, IslamiCity)

The most extreme revisionist interpretation I've seen is:

Do Not Beat Your Wife*

[4:34] … If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme.

*4:34 God prohibits wife-beating by using the best psychological approach. For example, if I don't want you to shop at Market X, I will ask you to shop at Market Y, then at Market Z, then, as a last resort, at Market X. This will effectively stop you from shopping at Market X, without insulting you. Similarly, God provides alternatives to wife-beating; reasoning with her first, then employing certain negative incentives. Remember that the theme of this sura is defending the women's rights and countering the prevalent oppression of women. Any interpretation of the verses of this sura must be in favor of the women. This sura's theme is “protection of women.”

(Sura 4:34, Submission.Org)

I do not read Arabic, and thus cannot evaluate these translations against the original. However, I suspect that Dr. Cook may be essentially accurate when he says:

[I]t is apparent that the modern commentators divide into two broad groups. Commentators in the first group tend to be strongly affected by the relevant Western value [in this case, against wife-beating], and on occasion to bend their scripture to meet it. … Commentators in the second group brace themselves against the pull of the Western value, and make a point of not bending scripture to accommodate it.

(Michael Cook, The Koran, p. 41)

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