Domestic Violence: Islamic Perspective

Islam, as the final message from God to humankind, came to light in a brutal and cruel environment. Violence was a common practice in Arabia and practically around the world at that time. The weak and needy, orphans and widows, and slaves and servants had no defined rights in such a world. Islam came to establish justice and mercy in the heart of a cruel world. Any oppressive behavior that violates justice, mercy, equality and freedom was prohibited in Islam. Consequently, most of the first followers of Islam were among the poor, the slaves, and the women. Shortly, a justly balanced community evolved; enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.

The Qur’an identifies the behaviors consistent with domestic violence under the umbrella of oppression. Islam defines oppression as the transgression of the limits or boundaries defined by God, and it prohibits oppression at all levels of society[1].

At the family level, oppression is defined as any act that violates the specific boundaries delineated by God[2] to protect spousal and children’s rights. The general categories of domestic oppression mentioned in the Qur’an include aggression, wrongdoing, harsh treatment such as preventing a woman from the choice of marrying whom she pleases, and inflicting harm or injury[3]. Actions that fall into any of these categories are in violation of the Islamic values of justice, equality, freedom, mercy and forgiveness which are inconsistent with the qualities of God-loving people.

Quran addresses the following issues in great detail: family structure, gender roles, inheritance, the maharm (the relations among close relatives either by blood or marriage), marriage and divorce laws, reconciliation and financial matters. The Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet peace be upon him emphasizes the connection between justice and piety, accountability to God, and the significance of taking preventive measures to avoid injustice and oppression.

The Qur’an recognizes that historically, in many societies men had power over women. In pre-Islamic Arab society, for example, many women had very little or no property, status, and/or rights. Therefore, men (husbands, fathers, brothers, or guardians) were warned not to hurt or take advantage of women in any way in both the Qur’an and in the traditions of the Prophet. They are reminded that if they do so, they will be ultimately hurting themselves since they will be held accountable by God, with a serious punishment for oppressors. In times of conflict or discord, the reminder of being God-conscious in making choices and decisions was repeated over and over.[4] These reminders emphasize the hierarchal relationship between each individual and God which helps guide every other human relationship.

It cannot be over-stated that there is no teaching in Islam, when studied within the proper and complete context that can be used to justify any type of family violence or abuse.[5] Islam prohibits any form of oppression, which could be defined as an unjust exercise of authority.[6] A legal maxim used by Muslim jurists to interpret and judge according to Islamic law can be translated as “Do not do harm, nor allow any harm to be done to you. Oppression occurs when mercy and justice are ignored.”

These statements may be contradictory to the misconceptions that are often perpetuated by people who do not have adequate understanding of the Islamic paradigm. Sometimes, Muslims themselves may take verses from the Qur’an or sayings of the Prophet out of context to justify their behavior. This manipulation of religious teachings should be viewed as the same type of behavior that abusers of other faiths engage in to justify their actions.

Despite the teachings and values that regulate appropriate behavior in order to prevent oppression and maltreatment, oppression does occur in all populations including Muslim families, and it exists in many forms. Victims of oppression are encouraged to view their experiences as a test from God. They are expected to strive to find solutions, while exercising patience and forgiveness. “The blame is only against those who oppress people with wrongdoing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice. For such (people) there will be a grievous penalty. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs”(Q 42:42-43). This does not mean that victims should be passive. On the contrary, Muslims are instructed by the Qur’an to be strong and to seek justice. “And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed) but help and defend themselves. The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree), but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God, for (God) loves not those who do wrong” (Q 42: 39-40).[7]

The implementation of punishing people for their oppressive or unjust behavior is the responsibility of the society through its established authorities. Individuals do not have the authority to carry out the punishment as vigilantes; rather, recourse should follow the established channels mandated and enforced by the society’s legal system[8].

This lecture will help advocates recognize that the real teachings of Islam promote justice and equality, and reject oppressive behavior.

[1] Abugideiri, S., and Z. Alwani.2003. What Islam says about Domestic Violence. Herndon: FAITH.

[2] See the holy Qur’an 2: 227-237.

[3] The Arabic terms used in the Qur’an for these categories are: ?udwaan,?adhlm, and darar.

[4] See 65:1-12 for details concerning separation, divorce, reconciliation, punishment for transgressors and reward for those who obey God’s laws.

[5] Badawi, J. (1995). Gender Equity in Islam. Plainfield, IN: American Trust Publications, p. 63.

[6] Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1983.

[7] Also, We ordained therein for them: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and wounds equal for equal. But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what God has revealed, they are (no better than) wrongdoers. (5:45)

[8] Recite and contemplate: Qur’an Surat the Divorce 65:1-12

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