Neil MacFarquahar of the New York Times artfully navigates politically sensitive waters with an article on the problem of wife-beating among Muslims in the United States. The general question, simply put, is how to admit a pattern of outrageous behavior by designated victim groups, without provoking a serious reaction of outrage. So the reportage is artfully constructed to imply that solution as well as the problem lie within Islam, and non-Muslims have a minor role, if any, to play.
Thus, the article begins with insensitive Americans failing to accommodate the special needs of battered women who happen to be Muslim:
After enduring seven years of beatings from her husband, a young Yemeni-American woman recently fled to a local shelter, only to find that the heavy black head scarf she wore as an observant Muslim provoked disapproval.
The shelter brought in a hairdresser, whose services she accepted without any misgivings. But once her hair was styled, administrators urged her to throw off her veil, saying it symbolized the male oppression native to Islam that she wanted to escape.
Rather than dwelling on the insensitivities of the battered women's services branch of American feminism, the Times quickly moves on to the heroines of the piece, the forces within the American Muslim community seeking to provide Islamically-correct shelter services, and avoiding conceding that there might be any special problem among Muslims, despite the awkward fact that the Koran endorses beating women.
scattered organizations founded by Muslim American women are creating a movement to define it as an unacceptable cultural practice. The problem occurs among American Muslims at the same rate as other groups, activists say, but is even more sensitive because raising the issue is considered an attack on the faith.
"The Muslim community is under a lot of scrutiny, so they are reluctant to look within to face their problems because it will substantiate the arguments demonizing them," said Rafia Zakaria, a political science graduate student at Indiana University who is starting a legal defense fund for Muslim women. "It puts Muslim women in a difficult position because if they acknowledge their rights, they are seen as being in some kind of collusion with all those who are attacking Muslim men. So the question is how to speak out without adding to the stereotype that Muslim men are barbaric, oppressive, terrible people."
To no one's surprise, as the Times reportss it, one of the biggest problems (as always) is the racism (in this case "Islamophobia") of ordinary Americans. But for all the hate-filled bigots populating the United States, the problem would be much more manageable. We just need to realize that head coverings, burkhas, and the like are part of the gorgeous mosaic we celebrate as diversity.
While the Times is usually gung-ho for change when it has identified a feminist issue in which women are victimized (think on-campus rape), there is little focus on voices calling for a rapid solution that would put a halt to widespread abuse. Instead, readers are informed,
...activists expect real change will only come with the next generation of Muslim women here, raised in an American context that condemns such violence.
And what about that Koranic injunction?
To counter opposition rooted in religious texts, Mr. Magid [an Islamic cleric in Virginia] and others use the example of Prophet Muhammad. There is no record of him striking one of his wives; rather, he would withdraw when angered....
Mr. Magid should know that there is
such a record. This line is found in about the middle of a long hadith
. Aisha, Muhammad's child-wife, is speaking:
He [Muhammad] struck me on the chest which caused me pain....
Mr. Magid does acknowledge that there are certain other scriptural problems:
The raging debate comes with Chapter 4, Verse 34 in the Koran, long interpreted as giving husbands the right to strike their wives as the final step in an escalating series of punishments for being rebellious.
Maha B. Alkhateeb, who helped edit a book on domestic violence called "Change From Within," is among the leading activists pushing a new interpretation of the verse that understands it as calling for women to be obedient to God.
But given that the Koran is considered the unassailable word of God, it is particularly difficult for young, often secular women to promote a new interpretation.
Oddly enough, the verse in question is not cited. Could that possibly be because it seems rather unbambiguous? One translation
Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.
James Arlandson covered the subject of domestic violence in the Koran
readers almost three years ago, and included analysis of the claims of those who deny that husbandly violence against wives receives sanction.
Hat tip: Jack Kemp (not the politician)