Thursday, January 22, 2009

CRIKEY: Domestic violence crosses cultural barriers

There's an Arabic word commonly spelled in English as fiqh and pronounced as "fick". It refers to the corpus of regulations derived from scriptural sources. For 14 centuries, Islamic religious scholars developed all kinds of rules from scripture. And for the past decade or so, my "Aussie Mossie" mates have developed a polite way of responding to the more imbecilic rulings.

So when I read this morning of the crazy rants of someone described by Herald Sun as "Coburg's self-styled cleric", I used that same polite response, asking myself: "What the fiqh?" And when I watched the actual video (consisting of clumsily edited excerpts from two separate lectures), I found myself wondering what bits had been left out.

Samir Abu Hamza was shown saying hitting and bashing one's wife was forbidden. As a last resort, a man may hit their wives with a toothbrush. The traditional brush used by the Prophet Muhammad (known as a miswak and which looks like this) is much lighter than your average Oral-B. Did Abu Hamza remind his audience that not a single incident is recorded in Islamic scriptures of the Prophet even so much as raising his voice at any woman? I'm not sure. What I do know is this -- my mum would happily squirt toothpaste in Abu Hamza's eyes and up his nostrils if he tried lecturing her husband and/or son on the merits of even the "mildest" form of toothbrush tantrum.

The second excerpt showed Abu Hamza talking about the spiritual and moral causes of alcoholism, crime, gambling and other social ills. He accuses Muslims of being selfish in not sharing their religious values with others. Apparently, we are meant to be offended by this. Apparently, the Jensens and Pells of this world don't deliver similar sermons.

So where is the real story in all this? Abu Hamza defended using an instrument of "discipline" that can still poke someone's eye out whilst effectively denying the existence of marital rape in religious law. It's a claim without foundation. To suggest marital rape is tolerated in any religious tradition (let alone Middle Eastern faiths like Christianity, Judaism and Islam) is complete nonsense. What kind of sick man gets his kicks out of forcing any woman, let alone his own wife, to have s-x with him?

Domestic violence (including marital rape) is far too common across all Australian communities. The Herald Sun poll asked whether readers thought Abu Hamza's comments are out of touch with Australian values. If Aussie values are defined using crime statistics, well the White Ribbon Day website provides disturbing statistics; for example, nearly two-thirds of women experience physical or sexual violence at least once during their life time.

Yet sadly, as is so often the case, religious teachers are out of step with the rest of us. Some months back, The Age covered a Melbourne University conference where the Islamic Women's Welfare Council delivered a paper on the attitudes of imams toward gender issues. Muslim women deserve not just the protection of the law but also the support of their menfolk. How can this happen when male religious leaders continue to be caught out making despicable remarks? And how can the problem be resolved when moronic tabloids across the land turn issues like domestic violence into yet another exercise in shoring up "Australian values" despite the fact that men of all backgrounds are perpetrators and women of all background are victims?

First published in Crikey on Thursday 22 January 2009.

The following comment was left on the Crikey website ...
Thursday, 22 January 2009 2:53:06 PM
The answer is simple: they are the same morons who kept quiet when Israeli soldiers were committing the greatest of violence against women- wives, mothers, daughters- in Gaza.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called upon Abu Hamza to apologise to women in Australia. He's right. Abu Hamza must retract and apologise. And he must issue a statement saying that rape within marriage is just as serious and just as criminal as rape outside marriage. Even if he feels he has been hard done by, he must still apologise and retract. Too many Muslim women are suffering due to violence and abuse within families. If men don't speak out, when will this situation stop?

UPDATE III: A further comment was left on the Crikey website:
Thursday, 22 January 2009 3:43:26 PM
Irfan conveniently misses the point...again. Abu Hamza's condoning a muslim man's right to force his wives to have sex if they show no signs of physical illness or injury is nothing less than disgusting and despicable. This maniacal mysogynist and his sickening view of women's place in the world should be loudly disowned by all thinking muslims - including, if not especially, Irfan.

My response to this comment:
Thursday, 22 January 2009 4:03:47 PM
Geoff, it goes without saying that these kinds of absurd attitudes toward women are nuts. The idea that a man can just demand intercourse from his wife is something out of another century. Or at least it should be. The problem is that it isn't out of another century. It's happening here and now and across cultural and religious divides. But when you turn domestic violence into the object of cultural warfare, it means you aren't serious about the issue. You're only serious about it when it allows you to point the finger at others, forgetting that three fingers point straight back at you.

A positive aspect of the Herald-Sun article (which wasn't replicsated in the hard copy edition of the Daily Telegraph) was the response from Joumanah El-Matrah. I think her response is spot-on.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked