Verse 4:34 of the Qur’an

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. 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).” (Translation: Abdullah Yusuf Ali)

In this passage, Allah, through the angel Gabriel, instructs Muhammad to tell the people that beating women is appropriate if they are disloyal or behave badly, and if they they do not respond to admonishment or withholding of affection. If they continue to be disobedient then they are to be beaten until they become obedient again. Because the Qur’an is eternal and infallible, delivered to mankind by an angel to a perfect man (Muhammad), and because a good Muslim submits to Allah, then women of this faith accept this preachment. Because sura 256 of Al-Baqara of the Qur’an, in the most charitable reading, says that “there is no compulsion in religion,” that under no condition should an individual be forced to accept a religion against her will, women who submit to their husbands in this way have chosen to do so.

Maajid Nawaz handles a call

Now consider the argument by some feminists and women identified as Muslim that women who wear the hijab do so by their own volition and that it is therefore a feminist symbol of empowerment. Here’s the passage sura 24:31:

Again, using the Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.”

Those who criticize the hijab point out that it is the Arabic word for “cover” derived from hajaba which means barrier, to partition, to screen, to shelter, to veil. It refers not merely to garments covering the body and head, but to religious-based norms of modesty and morality. Thus women, to be moral, must be modest, and this means covering the body and head. In some interpretations this means covering the face also. The hijab also suggests gender segregation, which we see in mosques and other public spaces. There is an attempt to blunt this criticism by claiming that women are not forced to don the hijab but do so to please Allah. But the same can be said for sura 4:34. Women are not forced to be beaten by their husbands, but submit themselves to beating out of deference to the Qur’an.

How could this be a feminist argument? It’s not. It’s patriarchal propaganda.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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