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Fatwa Against Domestic Violence in Islam

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham Kabbani

29 July 2011 Gaithersburg, Maryland

Fatwa Launch Event at ICC

Thank you. As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh. Alhamdulillah was-salaatu was-salaam `ala ashraf al-anbiya wal-mursaleen wa `ala aalihi wa sahbihi ajma`een.

Dear brothers and sisters, audience and viewers on the Internet. Thank you very much for coming and showing support for this fatwa. The issue we are discussing tonight is not to be taken lightly; it is very complicated and involves a lot of differences in meaning, so scholars are afraid and worried to put out something like it and go forward.

One of the biggest imaams of the Muslims, Imam Malik, who came after the time of the Prophet (s), had 300 teachers in Shari`ah, Islamic law. Even so, he was always worried to issue a fatwa, because with that you will be responsible in front of our Lord, Allah (swt), and you will be responsible in front of the community for what you have done. So he rarely issued a fatwa. Likewise, Sayyidina `Umar (r), the second caliph after the Prophet (s), refused many times to give a fatwa.

What we did here was more than that. We worked on this two years ago, and many times they asked me to publish it, but I was reluctant as it is an issue in many Muslim countries. And I thank Dr. Mateen Siddiqi, Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi and Dr. Homayra Ziad. We completed it but didn’t publish it since it is highly technical, and if someone doesn't understand Islamic jurisprudence it will be difficult to understand the different analyses in this fatwa.

But in any case, we understand that the Holy Qur’an is the Book of Allah sent to His Holy Prophet, Muhammad (s), and we believe that Jesus Christ (a) received the Bible as sent by His Lord, and that Moses (a) received the Torah from God. The Jewish community takes from the Torah and acclimates their lives to it, and the Christian community takes from and acclimates their lives to the Bible. Likewise, the Muslim community takes from the Holy Qur’an and acclimates their lives to it. We believe he Holy Qur’an cannot be edited or changed, and that it can accommodate all centuries and times, as do the Bible and the Torah.

From this point of view, to understand the Holy Qur’an is not easy as it has to accommodate all times. So in every moment of our lives there are new incidents and new rules for which we can find explanations in the Holy Qur'an, and we believe one verse can explain another. You cannot take it so literally or you may be confused and misunderstand the whole message of the Prophet (s), in that particular case.

From a scholarly viewpoint, we understand the Prophet (s) has already explained the Holy Qur’an in cases where it is important to be explained to Muslims. For example, in Islam we have prayers five times a day, but the method in which to pray is not mentioned in Holy Qur’an. So the Prophet (s) explained how to pray in holy hadith, his holy sayings. He explained the general directives in the Holy Qur’an part-by-part through hadith. Similarly, Hajj, or pilgrimage, is mentioned in Holy Qur’an but the Prophet (s) explained it in detail. Same with fasting in the month of Ramadan, which is coming in a few days, was explained by the Prophet (s). He also explained charity and how to give taxes to the government. However, there are some places in the Holy Qur’an that explains itself, one verse explaining another, so we need to have a broad understanding when we issue a fatwa.

That is why I was surprised yesterday when we got a fatwa on another matter which the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Goma, issued for the first time. He said that the ex-president, Hosni Mubarak, did not let this fatwa to come out for thirty or forty years; his regime didn’t allow it since it would not help in their government, so they stopped it. That was released yesterday, which brought together two big communities that have fought each other many times in the past. That caused a big change, where Sunni and Shi`a communities were brought together in a very nice fatwa that was not allowed by Hosni Mubarak.

Similarly, on the issue of terrorism, when people were blowing themselves up, we stood against that many times and said it wasn’t allowed. Dr. Tahir al-Qadri brought out a fatwa on that, and many scholars in the Middle East were not allowed to give out that fatwa and it was a problem in many Middle Eastern communities where they were preventing them to speak out. So if you give a fatwa, you don’t know what the reaction of the scholars will be and you don’t know the problems of the Muslim community.

Regarding what Sister Irfana was saying, I meet with a lot of people, since there are so many cases and questions about this problem of violence that need to be answered. I remember those victims about two years ago, when we were first putting together this fatwa, where a Muslim man decapitated his wife who was divorcing him; that was all over the news.

From where are they bringing this literal meaning of “to beat;” I don’t understand! If we look at our role model, Prophet Muhammad (s), who is the Last Messenger, we see how much he spoke of love, mercy, and compassion;, and how he urged the community to love each other, and urged husbands and wives to love each other. Particularly, there are so many verses of Holy Qur'an mentioning how God has created the couple together as one soul, as Dr. Homayra said. God is urging people to cover the mistakes of each other, as mentioned in this verse:

هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ

Hunna libaasun lakum wa antum libaasun lahun.

They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. (Surat al-Baqara, 2:187)

It means you cover each other, like when you wear your clothes in the nicest way. I don’t think anyone comes here except to show himself in the nicest way. This means you have to cover each other, and that is from Holy Qur’an, to show us, "If you believe in Holy Qur’an as the Message of God, then make sure you are a cover for your wife and she is a cover for you." If God is asking us to cover our defects and mistakes from both sides, how dare you take a stick or anything in your hand to try to beat the other? Beat yourself first, not the other! The Prophet (s) said:

افضل الجهاد كلمة عدل عند سلطان جائر

afdal al-jihaad kalimatu `adlin `inda sultaanin jaa`ir.

The best jihad (struggle) is a word of truth before a tyrannical king.

Who is the greatest ‘tyrant king’? Yourself! So before raising a stick to another, raise it to yourself. This is one of the main rules of Sufism, tasawwuf: haasib nafsaka qabl an tuhaasib al-akhir ,“Take account of yourself before you take account of another.” Don’t raise your hand against a defenseless lady, or Allah (swt) will take you to account for that. How can you raise your hand against another? The Prophet (s) did not allow any man to raise his hand against a woman or a man; it is not allowed. Our Prophet is our role model. On what basis can we excuse ourselves for slapping or hitting?

The Prophet (s) said:

‏‏ انما بعثت لاتمم مكارم الاخلاق

Innama bu`ithtu li utimu makaarim al-akhlaq.

I have been sent to perfect the best of conduct (to perfect your behavior and character).


So we don’t want to see bad behavior. If the Prophet (s) is sending us these messages to be merciful within the community, how can we allow ourselves to accept the act of beating someone? The meaning of daraba is “to beat,” but if Holy Qur’an was literal, then the Prophet (s) would have understood it the same way and he would have ordered his people to beat their wives or he would have beat his own wives, but he never raised his hand against his wives! So that is clear evidence that we are not allowed to raise our hands or toothsticks against our wives.

Allah (swt) said:

وَلاَ تَنسَوُاْ الْفَضْلَ بَيْنَكُمْ

wa laa tansaw al-fadl baynakum.

Do not forget the goodness between yourselves. (Surat al-Baqarah, 2:237)

How do you resolve being with your spouse in a state of compassion, making love, and then beating them? The Prophet (s) said, “A lady is not an animal you beat in the morning and in the evening you sleep with.”

Unfortunately, the behavior of some men is so strong and violent that they don’t want to change or go against themselves, and they don’t want to accept a fatwa about this. There are rulers or judges in Muslim countries who are worried and afraid, because many would not allow them to touch on this issue.

I thought Dr. Homayra would touch on this, but she didn't speak on one of the great scholars whom some Muslims regard as great. He is one of their main scholars and more literal than others who interpret different verses of the Holy Qur'an. We call this group of scholars, “Salafi.” That person is Syed Qutb, who wrote Fee Dhilaal al-Qur’an, which I will quote. Some Sunni Muslims might say, "Why are you quoting him?" but it is because he reflects how other groups think.

Syed Qutb said:

Let us go over what we clarified earlier in terms of the honor which Allah (swt) bestowed on both aspects (male and female) of the human being in terms of women’s rights, which stems from her human character, and in terms of the Muslim woman retaining her civic personality along with all the rights which come with it: the right to choose her partner in life, the right to manage her own affairs, the right to manage her own money, and so on. It is in no way a battle between men and women. These methods are not meant to crush the head of a woman who starts to deviate, in order to put her back in chains like you would do with a wild animal. It is absolutely not within Islam.”

He is a very literal scholar and knows the meaning of the Arabic word “daraba” very well, but with that he said, “There is no way ‘to beat’ or ‘to hit.’ This is absolutely not in Islam. These are cultural practices which pertain to certain regions and which took place during certain ages when not just one aspect of the human being was degraded, but the whole human being became morally degraded (under the control of lust).” And this is Syed Qutb's interpretation of the verse of daraba (4:34). We respect his scholarly opinion; he put forward something we are calling for, to not take the word “daraba” literally. He didn’t take it literally.

So we say in Holy Qur'an there are fifty-eight verses that use the word “daraba,” with many different meanings. I will not say all of them as there are so many. This same word can be interpreted to mean, “to tap,” “to fly,” “to throb,” “to multiply,” “to play music,” “to move,” “to go for a walk,” “to migrate,” “to vibrate,” “to settle down,” “to quote a wise saying.” So the root of the word gives big meanings. For example, you have a cup of water and put a small grain of sugar in it. Does the water have the taste of sugar? No, it is fully diluted; it disappears, because it is one grain of sugar in one full cup of water. So, as being among the fifty-eight different meanings or uses of “daraba” in Holy Qur'an, we shouldn’t focus too much on the meaning “to beat” because it is completely diluted.

Allah (swt) said:

كَذَلِكَ يَضْرِبُ اللّهُ الْحَقَّ وَالْبَاطِلَ

kadhaalika yahribu Allahu ’l-haqq wa`l-baatil.

In this way Allah coins the similitude of the true and the false. (Surat ar-Ra`d, 13:17)

This is one example of daraba, “to coin,” and there are so many different meanings. The Prophet (s) said, from Holy Qur'an:

وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُواْ حَكَمًا مِّنْ أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِّنْ أَهْلِهَا

Wa in khiftum shiqaaqa baynihimaa faab`athoo hakaman man ahlihi wa hakaman man ahlihaa.

And if you fear a breach between them twain (the man and wife), appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk. (Surat an-Nisa, 4:35)

The Prophet (s) said:

خيركم خيركم لأهله، وأنا خيركم لأهلي

The best among you is the one who treats his family members best, and I am the best among you to my family. (Tirmidhi)

He said the the best of you is the best to his family, even if his wife is wrong. When he said, “I am the best to my family,” it means he never shouted, slapped, or beat his wife. Never! That is the meaning of, “I am the best to my family.” He is guiding us to the best way and we are saying, "No, we want to beat them." So I don’t understand why some Muslims say they have to beat their wives when they know the Prophet (s) did not, and that Holy Qur’an mentioned “daraba” fifty-eight different times (with various meanings).

The Prophet (s) said:

لا تضربوا إماء الله

Never beat the handmaidens of God! (Abu Dawud)

That means, “Never give an excuse to yourself.” The Prophet (s) said, “I am the one to explain the Holy Qur’an, how to fast, how to pray, how to pay taxes.” Holy Qur’an says many things in general, not in detail. For example, regarding zakaat, it mentions to pay the government, but not how much. Prophet (s) explained to pay 2.5 percent of your wealth. So we have to follow what the Prophet (s) explained of Holy Qur’an and we cannot go over the limits.

The Prophet (s) said, narrated from Ayesha (r),

أما يستحي أحدكم أن يضرب امرأته كما يضرب العبد

“Are you not ashamed to beat your wives?”

That means beating wives was from before, and we know it was more than beating. In pre-Islamic times, they buried baby daughters alive, because they were ashamed to have girls. But how would they have more generations if they eliminated ladies? So Islam prohibited that. There were many wrong practices in the pre-Islamic era, and Prophet (s) brought Islamic law in order to control the behavior of Muslims.

The Prophet (s) sent a helper to `Ali (r) and said to him,

لا تضربه فإني نهيت عن ضرب أهل الصلاة وقد رأيته يصلي.

“Don’t beat him, for indeed I have been prohibited from beating people.”

So it wasn’t only the matter of beating a woman, but beating a man. At that time they were beating everyone, and if they didn’t find a person they would beat their animals. Holy Qur’an came in that time with fifty-eight different meanings of the word “daraba” which diluted the interpretation, “to beat.” The fatwa is in this book; you can read it and I will leave it now to answer questions.

Question and Answer Session:

Dr. Hedieh: There are so many questions here.

Q: Can you explain what is required to form a fatwa against inter-communal violence according to Islamic law?

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham Kabbani: This is a big topic. Everyone thinks he is right and does not accept the other. According to the Islamic point of view, the Prophet (s) prohibited such act in his hadith, “Who says to a Muslim, or to a community that believes in a certain way about Islam,‘You have deviated,’ or ‘You became a kaafir, unbeliever,’ he himself has become what he said about that community.” This means, Islam prohibited clashes of communities. You have a certain understanding? Very good, so keep it. And similarly, others have different understandings they keep. Today we make interfaith dialogue where Christians, Jews, and Muslims are happy to meet and discuss issues they question. However, I never saw Muslim-to-Muslim Interfaith, which is very important, to meet and discuss our problems in order reach concensus, to put all our differences aside and come up with something we can work on with one voice and fix our problems.

As Sister Irfana expalined, the psychology of many cases of violence is because of power and control issues, I say it is due to hubb ar-riyaasat, love of the chair, love of being boss. Everyone wants to be the boss; that is a sickness and the main problem. When everyone accepts not to be the boss, and to have one person sitting on the chair while the rest sits on the floor, then the problem will be solved. Let us all sit on the floor, as this empty chair is the problem. So that’s why we are seeing these difficulties in Arab countries where there is so much killing.

As the Prophet (s) taught us to show humbleness, if the people in those cases Sister Irfana reviewed had been humble, you would have never seen any case of violence, because a humble person would bow his head and not cause any problems. Humbleness is the key of Islam and the key for Muslim communities to come together and be friends with all other communities. I am humble to the police officer because I respect him and the law. Similarly, Islam, Christianity and Judaism have rules. If we accept to be humble then we will solve all our problems. Humbleness is the way, the key for solving problems and building communal interrelationships.

Q: Does this new fatwa address the issue of parents forcing daughters to marry whom they don’t want?

Dr. Homayra: The fatwa doesn't address that directly but addresses control and abuse. Forcing a girl to marry someone she doesn't want is abuse and force. In our classical legal tradition, the woman is an autonomous adult and this is denying her part of choosing her partner. That is setting the stage as a lesser partner and lesser being. Look at these cases one by one, all of them are different. That does not mean parents cannot suggest, but the woman as well as man should say "yes" and should not be coerced into an answer, and our legal tradition stands behind this.

Mawlana Shaykh Hisham Kabbani: In addition to what Dr. Homayra said, Prophet (s), the Messenger of Islam, did not force his daughter to marry Sayyidina `Ali (r), but when `Ali proposed to marry her, Prophet (s) asked her if she accepts or not. At first she didn’t say anything; she kept quiet, which may indicate approval. But only after he heard the word “yes” from her is when he married her to Sayyidina `Ali. There is no forced marriage in Islam, but culturally it happens a lot.