A South African Muslimah's Blog

Constructing Identity: Loud Whispers, Lasting Echoes

When God Strikes the Blow September 14, 2014

download (1)I read this excellent book by Ayesha Chaudry last night, from cover to cover. I had to re-read many parts, just to let the information sink in. I spent what was left of the night reflecting on the deep questions about gender and ontology which foreground the book. I will be reviewing the work later in the year for Muslim Views as part of our Study of Islam at UJ column … my thoughts here are more to do with my emotional and spiritual response. This book left me feeling spiritually – very low – could some of those very scholars whom we look to for spiritual guidance and understanding of the core rituals of our faith, those whose brilliance in the legal tradition we laud, also be the same people who wrote with such calculated coldness about how to beat ones wife (in more severe ways than the symbolic but patronizing miswak/feather/handkerchief). I had to keep reminding myself, to read their work according to their cosmology, not mine; to judge their opinions, not them.

After the spiritual low – came the euphoria of hope … one of those beautiful contradictions of having faith. Even though I am acquainted with most of the information in the book, having come across a lot of what the classical exegete’s and jurists wrote, through my own research on women’s embodiment, verse 4:34 and other gender issues in the Islamic tradition … having all of their opinions contained in one book, in conversation and corroboration with each other, in a dedicated study like this, proved mentally and emotionally exhausting. The hope came with the last few chapters, which dealt with modern readings of 4:34 and the realization that each of us constructs a particular reality based on our understanding of Allah and the world, in the particular historical moment we find ourselves in, through His will, not ours; and that, there are different levels to how we choose to understand and to grapple with faith. If we choose the level of Love, then it is clear to me what the Way is, as our reading of the Qur’an must go hand in hand with the Sunnah :

Say, “If you truly love Allah, follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your faults. And Allah is ever-Forgiving, all-Merciful.” (Qur’an 3:31)

I know, Love alone cannot deal with the textual and interpretive challenges, as well as the various notions of gender hierarchy embedded in the religious imagination through 1000 years of literature. The last thing I would tell a woman who has been abused is that her abuser did not Love God enough or follow the Prophet (I also have my own view on why domestic violence does not really have much to do with 4:34 these days), but for me, it is a start – before I even enter into hermeneutics and attempting a reformation of understanding.

I share with you prose (of sorts) written many many moons ago, on 4:34. I guess I would say a few things differently now – but I will leave it intact.



It were as if,
God Himself had struck,
With a diminishing slap
Across my soul’s face
As I read, for the very first time
The strike of God,
more devastating, dehumanizing
than any man’s hand could ever be,
for I would not tolerate it, not even for a second
But what to do, when God Himself deals the blow?
The answer comes now –
After much soul-searching
Through the Mercy of God
All encompassing,
His healing – complete
When we dig deeper
Than the translators pen,
Than the literalist mindset
Than the interpreters subjectivities
Than the legalist dispensations
Than a God whom we limit
When we diminish Him,
To a petty God, who would have a husband beat his wife
as the jurists said,
for not smiling at you one day, when she does every other
Do they know,
the translators, interpreters, jurists and the rest
that every word they write
legitimizing and condoning
husbands hitting their wives
strips away at humanity,
one letter at a time
Is there another way?
Did He mean something else?
Can we ever reconcile
a Prophet who walked the earth,
With gentleness and humility,
With his God, our Creator
Who ‘wanted something else’?
Does it even make sense,
to beat your wife,
if you want to reconcile?
They say you should hit her,
But let it be
Ghair Mubarrih
let us First rid ourselves
Of all our own extremes
Before we claim
What God means.


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