There is a shocking interview circulating on the Internet that purportedly (I have no way to confirming the translation) shows the “Grand Mufti of Gaza” Hassan Al-Laham holding forth on such subjects as how to best beat your wife, including the advice not to hit them in a way that “makes the face ugly.” He also reminds women that they cannot refuse sex with their husbands under the Koran and must please him in accordance with the principles of Islam. He is also asked for guidance on such issues as whether to allow women to shop during the holidays. Of course, this discussion strikes most sane people as two raving lunatics engaging in a delusional fantasy. Yet, this is a high ranking cleric who apparently holds sway with many people. You are left with the bizarre image of people dutifully writing down such advice as “beatings — yes; but try not to make her ugly.”
Al-Laham notes that wife beating is not just allowed but expressly supported by the Koran. He noted that “Allah said: Warn them [the wives], and separate from them, and hit them, and bring an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family.” Apparently, the arbitration follows the beating.
Yet, the top spiritual leader appointed by the Palestinian Authority, cautions men to be careful in such beatings: “Not hitting that will bring the police, and break her hand and cause bleeding, or hitting that makes the face ugly.” He then added the advice to make beatings fun, playful, and spontaneous “like a joke” reinforcing “the love and friendship” between the couple.
Oh yes, those playful, loving wife beatings. Many marriage counselors in Gaza apparently start with that as a relationship building tool.
Unless this is the worst translation in history, the interview reflects the inner battle for Muslims seeking a more modern (and sane) approach to their faith. Islam is not unique in having a religious text that filled with sexist and shocking values. However, to have Islamic religious leaders espousing such values in the 21st Century is chilling. I have had the pleasure of knowing many Muslim families, including Palestinian families, where absolute equality and respect for women is a core value. For those families, throw backs like the “Grand Mufti” most be an embarrassment but also represent the deep-seating sexism and abusive culture that Muslim women must face in such areas. This interview also reaffirms how courageous female reformers are in fighting for equal rights in Islamic nations. Yet, their struggle is one that the United States should more strongly support in seeking safe and equal treatment for girls and women in Islamic countries.