Defining the term women – pt-c
The third step (withdrawal of guardianship) is stated in the Arabic text with the phrase wa-“dribuhunna. This is conventionally understood to mean ‘to beat them’, either by a slap of the hand, a punch with the fist, or a blow with a stick. What has escaped most traditional exegetes is the fact that the verb ·araba is so polyvalent that it is ridiculous to reduce its meaning to the physical act of ‘beating’.
A few examples will prove this point: daraba huqna means ‘to give an injection’; daraba fi’l “ard means ‘to travel the world’; daraba dariba means ‘to impose a tax’; daraba mathalan means ‘to apply a proverb’; and daraba mathalan means ‘to quote an example’. How on earth could scholars like al-Suyoti think that ‘to beat’ or ‘to strike’ is the only possible rendering of the verb daraba?
Did they not consult the example of the Prophet who, after he heard that his companions had applied this verse too literally by beating their female slaves, rebuked them saying, ‘Do not beat Allah’s handmaidens’ Provided that this hadith is sound, did the exegetes really think that Muhammad would so unashamedly contradict Allah’s command of 4:34 (‘beat them’)? In reality, there is no contradiction between the Prophet’s interdiction not to beat women and Allah’s verse 4:34, which does not talk of physical punishment at all.
To say that wa-“dribuhunna literally means ‘beat your wives’ is a scandalous example of male biased exegesis Because of the fact that male chauvinism was culturally incubated, enacted and tolerated at the time of their writing, traditional exegetes like al-Suyoti were bound to make the most misogynist reading of the verse and project their hostility to women onto the text. Little has been done to change this attitude. Some attempts have been made to explain beating as a ‘slight touch’ on the woman’s arm or face or, even more bizarre, as a gentle tap with ‘a toothpick”!
However hard people have tried to present the beating as less harsh forms of corporal punishment, the tendency to denigrate women as a different kind of house pet which needs to be domesticated and if required, disciplined, did not change.
This goes entirely against the way in which nushuz of women is treated in other countries of the world. Men can always take a firm stand against women who haughtily refuse to cooperate with other men and women without using violence. And this is exactly what the verse suggests: if women abuse the gifts and talents of qiwama, of which ‘Allah has given to them more than others’, and if they squander their potential for leadership, their intellectual skills, or their financial resources, one should
1) warn them,
2) reduce contact with them,
3) establish a firm but nonaggressive and nonviolent resistance against their nushuz. If all of this fails the Book recommends the possibility of arbitration in the verse that follows:
If you fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, God will cause their reconciliation. For God has full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things. (Nisa”:35)
So far we have only covered the nushuz of women. What about the nushuz of men? A reference to this can be found in verse 128 of Surat Nisa”: If a wife [sic]
[imra”at un] fears cruelty [nushuzan] or desertion [I’radan] on her husband’s part [min ba’liha], there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men’s souls are swayed by greed. But if you do good and practice self-restraint, God is well-acquainted with all that you do. (Nisa”:128) The text does not use the sexually charged terms for wife/husband (zawja/zawj) but uses the terms imra”at un(woman) and ba’l (nonconjugal partner).
Both terms describe a wider category of relationship than zawja/zawj. The term used to describe the object of a woman’s fear is ba’l (partner) which is not identical with zawj, her conjugal husband. In the context of a family relationship, al-ba’l connotes someone who earns a living, who eats, drinks, plays with the children, and has close contacts with each member of the family.
If such a ba’l marries the woman of the family, he becomes al-zawj, her conjugal husband. Every zawj husband is legally also a ba’l, but not every ba’l is a zawj (husband with whom she has sexual intercourse).
One may describe the ba’l relationship between a woman and a man as nonsexual, as a friendship or acquaintance that has no sexual implications. Even between sexually active spouses there might be ba’l moments, that is, when they cannot exchange intimacies, for example, in front of their children or in public. Also, a husband who has become too old to have sex, resumes the status of a ba’l he had before he married his wife (even though, legally, he remains the husband of his wife). The following verse makes it clear that zawj refers to those who have licit sexual intercourse with their wives:
And those who guard their [lower] private parts,* except from their wives and what their right hands possess [azwajihim].
[For these] they are not blameworthy… (Mu”minun:5–6) In contrast, the text uses ba’l when it refers to men in front of whom a women does not need to cover her private parts because no sexual complications are to be feared:
…[they should] not display their [bodily] beauty [zinatahunna except to their husbands [li-bu’ulatihinna], their fathers, their husband’s fathers [aba” bu’ulatihinna]… (Nur:31)