Current Affairs

Islamic Book Controversy in Toronto


By Sheharyar Shaikh

A non-Muslim acquaintance recently sent me a photograph of her friend who was holding a recent copy of the Toronto Sun newspaper in his hand with the headline, “Is beating women allowed?” (or something to that effect), in reference to a marriage guidebook penned by the late Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, an Indian scholar of Islam.  The book is available in Canada (and other western countries), much to the horror of some of the Canadian public.  My friend asked me for my response, and here is what it was:

I have not read the 160-page book “A Gift for Muslim Couple” by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, and I doubt that the editorial and reporting team at the Sun has either.  Regardless, it is clear that a lot of fear and paranoia is being generated by the Sun Media for sad and cheap publicity points.  We have seen, in recent times, many such sensationalist articles and television shows targeting the Muslim community in the U.K. and U.S.  Unfortunately, the trend has recently been extending to Canada.

I believe that the criticism of the Muslim community based on this book is basically unfair for the following three reasons:

1.  This book was written in the 19th century.  Its author was born in 1863 and died in 1943, while India was still under the British Raj.  It is rather unfair to use this book to assert the Muslim male’s alleged contempt for women.  It is from before the time women got the right to vote, to work freely, to get into professional colleges, to own full property rights and, incidentally, to have legal protection against spousal abuse in Canada.  If invoking this 19th century book is allowed to strike a blow at Canadian Muslims, then critics should be allowed to bring works from that same era to make the case for Western males’ contempt for women as well.  And if reading this book in the 21st century should be a moral and legal crime, what should we say when the world sees 21st century Western women objectified, sexualized, and humiliated in bondage and sadomasochistic videos in the name of entertainment by the 20 billion-dollar porn industry right here at home?  Regardless, the point is that this book is not from our time, and it should not be used to beat Muslims for “hating” women. 

2. All pre-modern religious traditions hold women in a position that is in some respects, socially and politically, secondary or even inferior to men. Should the Sun’s criticism not be across the board and apply to all religions to be fair?  Should Eric Brazau (the shady individual who went into an Islamic bookstore in Toronto and “discovered” this book) not make similar daring raids into Jewish and Christian bookstores, searching and exposing any and all material that might offend modern liberal sensibilities?   Think about this: I have five copies of the same one book that gives women a status way lower than this Muslim book ever could.  It’s called the Bible.  And guess what?  It’s way more popular in the bookstores too. Check out this website to know what I mean:

I do not think of holding protests against the Bible or setting up huge bonfires burning Bibles because that would be provocative.   Similarly, when orthodox Jewish men in western countries get up in the morning and thank God for not making them a woman but a man (in a prayer called Amidah), I  do not think of marching out against them in protest.  I would however hold dialogues to try to come to a common understanding.  This is a positive approach.  Dialogue, not incitement.

3.  For any criticism to be valid, it must be fair and balanced.  The Sun’s report on this book focuses only on the things unacceptable in western culture for the purposes of cheap sensationalism, the fertilizer that keeps Sun Media alive.  Study a proper book review in academic journals and one will note that they do not try to deceive the reader by showing only one side, but give a fair perspective of what the author is trying to say.  For example, in the Toronto Sun’s report, it states: “In the book’s opening pages, it is written that `it might be necessary to restrain her with strength or even to threaten her.’”  There must be a context to this, however, which the critic conveniently ignores.  Any man would restrain a woman “with strength” and words if the situation direly called for it and quite possibly expect the same from her. 

As far as the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), is concerned, he gave Muslim men the best marriage advice when he said: “The best of you are those who are the best toward their wives”. His wife Ayesha testifies that the Prophet was never seen to hit a servant, woman or an animal.  His example is what we Muslims should aspire to emulate at all times.

2 replies »

  1. There is no wife beating in Islam those who say it are devoid of knowledge.Let me show what Quran says

    “O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dowry you have given them – except when they have become guilty of open lewdness. On the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike something and God will bring about through it a great deal of good.” (4:19)

    “They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them.” (2:187)

    “And among His signs is this, that He has created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them; and He has put love and mercy between you. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” (30:21-22)


    “Men are the {QAWWAM} of women, because Allah has given the one more than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are {QANITAT}, and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear {NUSHUZ}, admonish them first, then refuse to share their beds, and finally {ADRIBOO} them; but when they {ATAA} to you, then seek not against them means of annoyance: For Allah is Most High, great above you all. ”

    I will deal one by one

    1)Word ‘QAWWAM’ does not mean superior as mistranslated by Christian missionaries

    Arabic word used is {qawwam}, an intensive form of {qaim}, meaning: ‘to take care of, to look after’. Therefore, does this verse say that men are superior to women? Not at all. It says: men must look after women. In Islam, men are obliged to financially provide for their wife and children. They have to pay for their housing, clothing, food, medicines, etc. That is what {qawwamoona} means: men must take care of women.

    2)The verse instructs a husband whose wife causes problems in their marriage to first talk to her about it, then leave the marital bed, then {adriboo} his wife, and all of this in view of pursueing a reconciliation as is evident from the subsequent verse 4:35.

    3)The Arabic word used here, {adriboo}, from the root {d-r-b}, has several dozens of meanings, such as: ‘to beat’, but also: ‘to forsake, to avoid, to leave’.

    How do we know which interpretation to choose? One way to find out, is to relate this verse to other verses in the Holy Qur’an and to check if the meanings make sense. In this case, let us look at verse 24:2, which describes what should be done in case of adultery :

    “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes…” (Holy Qur’an 24:2)

    This verse establishes the principle that for men and women, equal actions lead to equal punishment. When for adultery men and women must receive equal punishment, surely there is no reason why they should be treated differently for any lesser marital problem.

    Now let us take a look at the consequences of interpreting {adriboo} one way or another.

    Suppose {adriboo} means: ‘to beat’.

    In this case, verse 4:34 says that when a wife causes a problem in the marriage, her husband should first talk to her about it, then leave their bed, then beat her and all of this in view of increasing his chances of a reconciliation. On the emotional level, this certainly does not sound like a very promising course of action. So let us check this meaning against the bigger framework and in particular against the principle of ‘equal behaviour leads to equal punishment’. This would imply that when a husband causes a problem in the marriage, his wife can beat him. At which he could invoke verse 4:34 to beat her again, so that the result would be a perpetual physical fight between spouses! Surely, this makes no sense at all. And indeed, it is not what Allah prescribes for the situation where a husband causes a rift, as will be explained in a moment.

    Suppose {adriboo} means: ‘to forsake, to avoid’, ‘to separate, to part’ .

    Now what do we get? Verse 4:34 now says that when a wife causes a problem in the marriage, her husband should first talk to her about it, then leave their bed (forsaking his sexual satisfaction), then avoid her even more (not talking to her anymore, leaving the room when she enters it, and possibly even leaving the house for a while), in order to prevent things from getting worse, and on the contrary to let things cool down and create enough space in view of increasing chances of a reconciliation.

    This sounds like a very logical chain of events.

    Also, application of the general rule of verse 24:2 (‘equal actions, equal punishment’) now means that when a husband causes a marital problem, his wife should forsake a few of her rights, avoid her husband in increasing ways, and try to work towards a reconciliation. And yes, that is precisely what verse 4:128 says:

    “If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves” (Holy Qur’an 4:128)4

    Understanding {adriboo} as ‘to forsake, to (gradually) avoid (more and more), possibly eventually leave altogether’, clearly makes sense when relating several verses to one another.

    And there is more. Beating a wife, would contradict hadiths of the Holy Prophet who repeatedly said: “do not beat believing women!”. It would also contradict the Holy Prophet’s instructions about anger – which (unless it is caused by injustice) he explained to originate from Satan and which he described as “a living coal on one’s heart”. One should not act upon ones anger, lest one would do things one would regret later. When you are angry when you are standing, sit down, the Holy Prophet said. And when you are still angry when you are sitting, then lie down. Interpreting this verse as allowing a husband to beat his wife, surely contradicts these rulings on anger.

    Furthermore, Allah says in the Holy Qur’an that one must meet bad behaviour with something that is better, not with something that is worse, in order to turn a hostile situation into a friendly one:

    “Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!” (Holy Qur’an 41:13)4

    Therefore the word {adriboo} cannot really have meant “to beat”, can it. It must mean something that is better than causing problems, and avoiding the problem certainly is exactly that.

    Based on the evidence presented here, it would seem that interpreting {adriboo} as ‘to beat’, causes several internal conflicts with the meaning of other Qur’anic verses and hadiths, while interpreting it as ‘gradually forsaking, more and more and possibly leaving altogether’, is a much more logical interpretation that is entirely consistent with the interpretation of other rules in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

    What makes much more sense, is that this verse does not allow a ‘superior’ husband to ‘beat’ his ‘inferior, disobedient’ wife. On the contrary, this verse appears to tell us that a husband must look after his wife (an equal partner who, like he, is obedient to God), and that when his wife is causing problems in their marriage, he should first talk to her about it, if that doesn’t help, he should begin avoiding her by leaving the marital bed. If that still doesn’t resolve the situation, he should forsake her presence even more, avoid conversations, leave a room when she enters it, avoid her company altogether, and possibly leave the house for a while, so that no problems are added to the conflict, and so that things can cool down a bit to maximise chances for a later reconciliation.

    Return to obedience?

    When the problem is solved, when the wife is committed to the marriage again, then the husband is advised not to keep using the incident against her and to consider the incident closed.

    The exact Arabic wording is: “when then they ( {aTa:} (with) you (, then seek not against them ( means of annoyance”. The verb {aTa:} (alif taa alif ayn) has several meanings, such as: ‘obey’, but also: ‘comply, comply with, accommodate, give in to’, . Consequently, the verse can be understood to mean: “when then they are committed to the marriage again”, or: “when then they give in to/comply with the efforts of the husband to save the marriage”, or “when they no longer cause marriage problems”, … Linguistically there is no compelling necessity to translate {aTa:} as “obedient to the husband” . Other interpretations are possible and indeed preferable. Earlier in the verse, there was no reason at all to translate {qanitat} as women who are “obedient to their husband” so that here there isn’t any reason to imply that this verse is about a temporary disobedience and a subsequent return to obedience to their husbands. It is not a matter of obedience to him, it is a matter of {nushuz} (marriage problems). And the Holy Quran advises that when one of the partners causes a marriage problem, the other should gradually avoid the person who causes the problem, in order to save the marriage – irrespective of who started the strife (4:34, 4:128)



    Genesis 3:16
    Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

    Isaiah 3:12
    As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.

    1 Corinthians 11:3
    But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

    1 Corinthians 14:34-36
    Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    Ephesians 5:22-24
    Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

    Colossians 3:18
    Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

    1 Timothy 2:11-15
    Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing.

    Titus 2:4-5
    Teach the young women to be … obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

    1 Peter 3:1
    Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands.


    Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
    “When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.”

    Amazing, if the poor wife in her love with her husband tries to save the life of her husband they say cut off her hand, don’t pity her! Amazing! Even if she gets hold of that man by taking him by his secrets, still she is trying to protect her husband not going into open lewdness anyway.

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