About three-quarters of a million people (okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little) today have sent me a Reuters story, "Woman re-interprets Koran with feminist view" by Manuela Badawy.
In it, Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, formerly of the University of Chicago, offers an alternative translation of Qur'an 4:34, the notorious "wife-beating verse." The article says:
In the new book, Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, a former lecturer on Islam at the University of Chicago, challenges the translation of the Arab word "idrib," traditionally translated as "beat," which feminists say has been used to justify abuse of women.
"Why choose to interpret the word as 'to beat' when it can also mean 'to go away'," she writes in the introduction to the new book.
I was just contacted by Dziennik, the largest daily newspaper in Poland (where apparently political correctness doesn't have the stranglehold it has over the American media) for comment. Here is my reply:
Any new interpretation that mitigates the elements of the Qur'an that are used by jihadists today to foster violence and fanaticism is welcome. Accordingly I wish Laleh Bakhtiar well with her new translation. Unfortunately, she faces formidable obstacles: in 1400 years of Qur'anic exegesis by Muslims, no one of any significance has ever disputed that Qur'an 4:34 sanctioned wife-beating.
Those who were uncomfortable with this in the past focused their efforts not on alternative understandings of Qur'anic Arabic, but on ahadith that purported to depict Muhammad discouraging wife-beating in various ways. Unfortunately also, such ahadith have not prevented all too many Muslim men worldwide from understanding Qur'an 4:34 in a way that sanctions wife-beating. A Saudi television program has even featured a discussion of acceptable instruments for this beating, and books have appeared in Turkey and Spain in the last few years in which Islamic imams explain the circumstances in which wife-beating is acceptable.
All this illustrates that Laleh Bakhtiar faces an uphill battle and will encounter fierce and possibly violent opposition. In that I wish her all success.