Why are violent Afghan husbands in such steady supply? The usual excuses — “cultural” or “tribal” issues, or the observation that domestic violence occurs in other societies — do not begin to explain the level of spousal abuse across the Islamic world and in Muslim communities in the West, even in seemingly improbable places like Tulsa.
Why is the practice so hard to eradicate? It’s in the Qur’an. And what Allah has made lawful, mortal man obviously has a hard time prohibiting under Islamic law. Qur’an 4:34 says:
Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.
And yes, it really says to beat them. Never mind apologists’ tap dance about the need to admonish, etc.: at the end of the day, what matters is that Allah himself says a man may strike women under his control if they disobey, or if he fears disobedience.
Stories like this illustrate the far-reaching consequences of the letter and spirit of Qur’an 4:34. “Fleeing Violent Husbands Lands Afghan Women in Prison,” by Jason Motlagh for Time, January 3:
Gul Bibi pulls back her light blue scarf to reveal faded tribal tattoos and sad, almond eyes. She has not seen any of her three children, or other family members, for the five months she has languished in prison. Her “crime”: running away from a husband who viciously beat her throughout their nine-year marriage, arranged by her parents when she was 16 to end a land dispute. She finally fled to Kabul from her home in eastern Khost province this summer, with a neighbor named Ajmal. They’d fallen in love and planned to get married, she explains, until her husband took several of his relatives hostage, demanding that she turn herself in to police. Her insistence that she never had sexual relations with her companion doesn’t matter to an Afghan justice system that deems her desertion as tantamount to adultery. “It’s difficult when a man and women really love each other here,” says the 25-year-old ethnic Pasthun. “Now I’m trapped.”
Child marriage, which persists due to Muhammad’s own example, compounds the problem:
Most of the nearly 200 inmates at the Badam Bagh women’s prison are runaways like Bibi, confined alongside a smaller number of murderers and drug traffickers. Many of the runaways were forced into marriage as teenagers, in some cases to men as much as three times their age, enduring regular beatings and verbal abuse from their husbands or in-laws. Some fled to be with other men; others simply to find peace. Most expected eventually to be caught and face the consequences, but their lives at home had become intolerable. “When a bird is sitting in a tree, if no one throws a stone it will not leave its nest,” laments one sympathetic prison guard. “The same can be said of the women here.”
To be sure, the Taliban’s alternative is far worse, as an Aug. 9 Time magazine cover picture of a disfigured Afghan girl, Aisha, so jarringly illustrated. Having fled an arranged marriage to a militant, the 18-year-old’s nose and ears were sliced off by in-laws with the approval of a local Taliban mullah. Afghan authorities have since arrested the father-in-law. But rights organizations say that the Taliban is not the only problem; violence against women is a national phenomenon driven by norms deeply embedded in Afghan culture, while a weak government often turns a blind eye, or prosecutes the victims for breaking taboos. Runaway brides are almost always imprisoned on charges of sex outside of marriage, regardless of a lack of evidence.
A recent report by the United Nations mission in Afghanistan concludes that the government has not done enough to protect women’s rights since the Taliban’s ouster. The report, based on 150 individual and group interviews in 29 provinces found that violence against women remains prevalent, to varying degrees, across the country’s regional and ethnic divides. Nationwide, more than half of girls are married before they turn 15, usually to settle disputes. And the authorities’ reluctance to tempt the wrath of conservative communities by enforcing the laws against domestic violence has led to an increase in “honor killings” and abuse. When women flee the violence, they risk the ire of both their families and the government….