Muslim academic condemns silence over wife beating

AUSTRALIA'S Muslim leaders must admit there is a domestic violence problem in their communities and argue against the supposed justification for wife-beating from the Koran, a leading Muslim academic said yesterday.

"Many Muslims are not prepared to discuss this, as though it did not exist," said Professor Abdullah Saeed, head of the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies. "The reality is, it exists in Muslim societies, and religious and community leaders have to say there is a problem here."

He told a seminar at Melbourne University on domestic violence in the Muslim community: "Some Muslims who commit these crimes try to hide behind religion, behind the Koran and the traditions of the prophet, who wasn't an abuser of anybody."

Professor Saeed said a recent survey in Tunisia found that 77 per cent of women thought it was acceptable for husbands to beat their wives, and the statistics would be similar in many Muslim countries. They often relied on a religious justification.

He said the main Koranic verse cited by wife-beaters was chapter 4:34. This says men are in charge of women, and that if they are disobedient, first admonish them, then refuse to share their bed, then finally strike them.

He said the verse needed a wider interpretation, including the context that the prophet Muhammad said, "Don't beat your wives," and did not do so himself.

"How can you have a command if the prophet himself said, 'Don't do that'," Professor Saeed said. "When you look at Islamic thoughts, values, narratives and norms that developed over 1400 years, the bulk do not support domestic violence."

He criticised the conspiracy of silence among Muslim leadership and said community outrage when The Age published a Muslim women's report on abuse in 2008 was misplaced: it should have been a chance to open up and acknowledge the problems.

Professor Saeed said there was not too much hope of reforming first-generation migrants, though domestic violence was still a crime, but later generations would understand the issues much better.

Tasneem Chopra, chairwoman of the Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights, said that in 2008 42 per cent of clients reported domestic abuse. Last year, the percentage had risen to 80.

Author: By BARNEY ZWARTZ RELIGION EDITOR
Date: 21/10/2011
Words: 360
Source: AGE
Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 7