TEL AVIV – In response to a Saudi Arabian Muslim cleric’s now infamous sermon claiming that Islamic law permits men to beat their wives, a columnist for the country’s daily Okaz slammed the idea, saying that state law supersedes Sharia law and female victims of domestic violence must not be afraid to speak out.
The column, written by Haila Al-Mushawah and translated on Monday by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), lashed out at Muhammad Al-‘Arifi for saying that a husband is permitted to beat his wife “with a toothpick” as long as the beating is light, avoids the face, and is meant to convey dissatisfaction with her behavior rather than inflict pain.
Mushawah begins by asking if wife-beating is permissible in Saudi Arabia. She answers with an unequivocal “no.”
“The state can limit, ban, or cancel anything that is permitted [by Sharia law], since the permission for it is not absolute,” writes Mushawah.
According to Mushawah, any behavior that is harmful to others or infringes on another’s human rights should be banned by the state even if it is allowed in religious law. Furthermore, she claims, there is a principle in Islamic teachings to support this.
She writes, “The state is entitled to ban something that may be permissible [according to Sharia] if it deems it to be harmful or violent – such as slavery or wife beating – based on the religious principle: ‘The principle guiding the ruler regarding his flock is the greater good.’”
Mashawah writes that it is incumbent on every woman to know that a man – regardless of whether he is her husband or not – has no right to beat her and if it happens she must immediately put a stop to it while knowing that the law will protect her.
The husband’s excuse that he only “beat his wife with a toothpick” will not stand up in a court of law, writes Mashawah, and the judge “will say to him: ‘Put your toothpick in your mouth and do not beat a woman!’”
Mashawah notes that if there is no change in the country’s attitude toward domestic abuse, the cycle of violence will continue for generations to come.
“Domestic violence is a dangerous social phenomenon that should disappear. This cannot happen unless there is complete awareness of the rights and of state laws concerning this matter,” she writes.
“Many women suffer violence in silence to protect their families and sons, but don’t realize that they are raising children who are like time bombs of violence, since what they learn at home will later be applied to their own wives and daughters, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence!”
The oppression of women in Saudia Arabia is not only limited to violence. Women are banned from driving, face harsh punishment if they communicate with men who are not family members, must receive permission and a male escort for almost every move they make, and are even prohibited from trying on clothes in store dressing rooms.
Unemployment rates are sky-high among Saudi women and most remain woefully under-educated.