The Qur'an in Translation, Part II

Men have charge of women
because Allah has preferred the one above the other
and because they spend their wealth on them.
Right acting women are obedient,
safeguarding their husbands' interests in their absence
as Allah has guarded them.
If there are women whose disobedience you fear,
you may admonish them,
refuse to sleep with them,
and then beat them. (Sura 4.34)
One of the more controversial passages from the Qur'an, as rendered in the translation by Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley. The final words, apparently permitting men to "beat" their disobedient wives, are a translation of the Arabic adribuhunna, which Reza Aslan, in his quite good book No god but God, focuses some attention on.

Aslan notes that the word adribuhunna can be translated "beat them," but he asserts that it "can equally mean 'turn away from them,' 'go along with them,' and, remarkably, even 'have consensual intercourse with them'" (70).

My knowledge of the Arabic language is virtually non-existent, but it seems unlikely to me that the text really means that men should have consensual intercourse with their wives for being disobedient (although the translation by Ahmed Ali, which is not very highly regarded, gives it precisely that meaning).

Aslan makes, in my opinion, a very problematic assertion:
If religion is indeed interpretation, then which meaning one chooses to accept and follow depends on what one is trying to extract from the text: if one views the Quran as empowering women, then Ali's; if one looks to the Quran to justify violence against women, then Fakhry's (a translation that, like that cited above, translates the word in question as "beat them"). (70)
While there is no question that personal biases influence which translation a person will prefer, it seems to me that Aslan is taking a rather black-and-white view of this problem. Personally, I would love to believe the Qur'an empowers women. But I'm not going to presuppose that it actually does before I read it. It seems to me that the more woman-friendly translation here is very unlikely, given the context.

Granted, I'm in a very different position from a Muslim, as I don't feel any obligation to accept what the Qur'an says.

I'll have more to say about Aslan's book very soon...



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