Yet another article in The Washington Post about how abuse of women is inherent in Islam as a religion even when these women are living in America, where such abuse should magically disappear.
The article briefly profiles two women, one is an imported bride who hardly knows English and the other an educated Muslim-American, who both turn out to have abusive husbands who mistreated them. Both stories end happily: they both dump their husbands and continue their lives, in the first case, with help from women's groups and sympathetic advocates, and in the second through self-reliance. The writer doesn't tell us if either of the women renounces her religion or faith to achieve freedom from abuse. I doubt it. But their Muslim identity as always is only emphasized when they are battered and disappears when they are not.
The article conflates "culture," "tradition," "religion," and pretty much uses them interchangeably. The one word absent from the article is the only relevant one in my opinion: Patriarchy. But use of that word would make the journalist writing the essay sound more like a feminist and less like a bad anthropologists (which might undermine her authority in the eyes of Washington Post readers), would place abuse of Muslim women in the context of violence against all women (how boring is that!), and would undermine cultural and religious interpretations (which are the reason we are all here after all).
To be fair to the writer, she does say: "Domestic abuse is hardly unique to Muslim immigrant communities; it is a sad fact of life in families of all backgrounds and origins." But that sentence is there to serve a pre-emptive function and not to make good-faith connections. Predictably, it is soon drowned in prose about the specificity and uniqueness of the social pressures facing Muslim wives in particular.
So what is the source of this particularity and exceptionality? You guessed it. Islam. So we read:
"A major obstacle to recognizing and fighting abuse, experts said, can be Islam itself. The religion prizes female modesty and fidelity [as opposed to Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism?] while allowing men to divorce at will [have you talked to some Israeli Jewish women lately?] and have several wives at once [so monogamy prevents battering?] Many Muslims [how many? ten, a hundred, a million, a billion?] also believe that men have the right to beat their wives. An often-quoted verse [who quotes it often aside from journalists and Asra Noumani?] in the Koran says a husband may chastise a disobedient wife, but the phrasing in Arabic is open to several interpretations [which we will ignore in favor of the one we favor].
Who are the "experts" the author relies on for this conclusion? I'm not sure. But immediately after this passage she quotes Mazna Hussain, an attorney for abused women, who explains how some batterers manipulate Islamic rules. In other words, it's men using religion to manipulate women. But men manipulate all rules and laws to justify battery and abuse. This will get us into patriarchy again, and we know we don't want to go there. Still, the expert witness does not say what the article makes it seem she says.
The thing is, as the article itself accidentally shows, Islam is used to free these women from abuse and battery. This is what some Imams and women advocates are doing: they educate the men against violence and the women about their rights in Islam. They do it from within the religion itself.
Now, imagine a whole article about that!
previous related posts are here and here.