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Friday, November 02, 2007

Wishful thinking

In my programme of Koran reading I've recently covered Surah 4, verse 34 (I've actually read a lot more than that would suggest - I took the short surahs at the end in reverse order, for which a stern punishment must await me, I've no doubt).

'What's all this about Surah 4, verse 34?', I hear you cry.

In N J Dawood's splendid Penguin translation, which I'm reading:

'Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to their beds and beat them. Then, if they obey you, take no further action against them. God is high, supreme.'

Or if you prefer, this is from a lavish edition (gold leaf and all) which Frau Grumpy acquired second-hand the other day, presented to its previous owner with the compliments of the late King Fahd:

'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).
For Allah is Most High,
Great (above you all).'

Well, the pseudo-Jacobean English is more than a little cheesy for my taste, but it's obviously nice to see the beating qualified as 'light'; a footnote amplifies this into 'some slight physical correction', and observes that 'all authorities are unanimous in deprecating any sort of cruelty'. Can't say fairer than that, can you?

You might like a third opinion. So here's a brand-new paraphrase from a non-Muslim celeb:

'It is not laid down in the Koran that women can be beaten by their husbands'

So this is not, surprising as it may seem, a Muslim-bashing piece - though it is certainly a reminder of the limits of 'moderation' in those whose theology remains ultimately fundamentalist. Goodness knows, there's some decidedly pre-feminist stuff in the Bible (though, religiophobes please note, nothing about wife-beating being OK). No, this outburst has actually been provoked by the spectacle of someone who earns untold squillions wearing a funny wig being apparently too addicted to wishful thinking to get a basic fact right. Guess who.

She has some sensible things to say too, I admit, but as Damian Thompson says,

'I’m sorry, but that is exactly the sort slippery misinterpretation of the Koran produced by Western liberals who are embarrassed by what the Islamic scriptures actually say.'

...and who imagine that if we keep on pretending that it doesn't say what it does say, we will somehow magically induce Muslims to pretend it says what we would like it to say. A conviction which (I submit, M'Lud) suffers from the disadvantages of being (a) grossly patronizing and (b) wrong.

PS My source, the 'blood-crazed ferret' Damian Thompson, now takes his rightful place in my blogroll.

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