Egypt’s clerics, intellectuals clash over wife-beating fatwa

Egypt’s clerics, intellectuals clash over wife-beating fatwa
Female students clash with police at Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
Updated 09 June 2019

Egypt’s clerics, intellectuals clash over wife-beating fatwa

Egypt’s clerics, intellectuals clash over wife-beating fatwa
  • Grand sheikh of Al-Azhar said it was alright for husbands to beat their wives, only to take it back and called for a law against such abuse
  • Egyptian Fatwa House says scholars agree that a slight blow is permissible in some cases, but it should not harm or insult the wife

CAIRO: Egyptian society is witnessing an escalated battle of words between clerics and intellectuals because of the statement of the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, Imam Ahmad Al-Tayeb, in which he authorized husbands to beat their wives. 

The sheikh recently rolled back his fatwa and called out to criminalize such acts.

The sheikh of Al-Azhar explained the words “and hit them” in verse 34 of the chapter “The Women,” in one of the television programs that were broadcast during the month of Ramadan. He confirmed that the interpretation of the verse indicates the possibility of hitting the wife (wrong-doer) gently.

A few days ago, he said in a statement issued by Alzhar institute: “The beating of the wife has become one of the things that causes her psychological harm and reflects negatively on the family. The intellectual of Makkah, Ibn Atta, was among the first who refused to hit (his wife) and did not consider it contrary to what was stated in the Holy Qur’an. 

“We have no objection at Al-Azhar to opening the debate in this matter between scientists. I hope to live to see legislation in our Arab and Islamic world criminalize beatings.”

Some thinkers believe the statement was a retreat from  the sheikh’s explanation in the televised episode.

“The great imam often supported the rights of women and called for normal and fair relations between men and women.”

Ahmed Al-Sawy, editor-in-chief, Al-Azhar newspaper

Criticism was expressed by many researchers on the issue of beating women. One of these was Islam Bahiri, a researcher in the of Islamic heritage, who opposed the views of Sheikh Al-Azhar in a lengthy study titled “Islam does not know the beating of wives.”

Islam Bahiri said in his study that there is nothing in Islam that allows the wife’s beating for discipline and that the early researchers interpreted the “nashuz” word in the Holy Qur’an without looking at the unity of the subject or the context or even the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH). 

The Prophet stressed that “nashuz” is the opposite of “chastity,” not disobedience to the husband, as the interpreters thought.

Bahiri stressed that the problem lies in understanding the verse: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance).”

He added that the verse is not related with the word “beating” and has nothing to do with the disobedience of the husband’s command.


Different opinions

The controversy heated up when researcher and Egyptian parliamentary MP Mohammed Abu Hamed said in a statement that “the opinion of Sheikh Al-Azhar on the permissibility of beating the husband is his main ideology and the speech is recorded in audio and video.”

Ahmed Al-Sawy, the editor-in-chief of Al-Azhar’s official newspaper Al-Azhar, said in a special statement that “the great imam often supported the rights of women and called for normal and fair relations between men and women.”

Dr. Saadiya Younis, a researcher at Al-Azhar, told Arab News that the beating that was permitted by the sheikh of Al-Azhar is only deterrence by the husband, not intimidation. 

“The purpose is maintaining the guardianship of the man and making the woman conscious of her wrongdoing.”

She said that beating was a misinterpretation of the words that the Prophet (peace be upon him) hit with a “toothpick,” and that it is known that beating with “Sewak (tooth brush)” does not result in any physical pain or physical malformations. 

She said that it has the role of keeping the family from collapsing and preventing family bonds from weakening, as would happen if the wife is allowed to disobey.


Fatwa House

The Egyptian Fatwa House addressed the issue in a special email that was seen by Arab News. Here is its response:

“The scholars unanimously agreed that beating is not intended to harm the wife or to insult her. Rather, it is permissible in some cases, and not obligatory, and in some situations where such behavior is not an insult to the wife or a harm to her, but simply to show the husband’s dissatisfaction and anger at her leaving her duties.” 

A slight blow from the perspective of disappointment and not to leave an impact, and that is by “Sewak (toothpick) and toothbrush” and anything that is not a tool for hitting.”