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Do Any Sacred Texts Excuse Wifebeating?

Mar 27, 2007 — Categories: ,

In only the most recent report of Western “cultural sensitivity,” a judge in Germany cited the Quran as she turned down a battered Muslim woman’s request for a speedy divorce from her abuser.

In only the most recent report of Western “cultural sensitivity,” a judge in Germany cited the Quran as she turned down a battered Muslim woman’s request for a speedy divorce from her abuser. Muslim leaders immediately decried the decision and supported the woman. The judge has been removed. [NY Times March 23, 2003]

Judge Christa Datz-Winter reasoned that because the couple was from Morocco where, she said, it is common for husbands to beat their wives and, she said, because a verse from the Quran sanctions abuse of wives, she denied the woman’s plea for a divorce.

Her judicial decision is outrageous. First of all, the Muslim woman went to a secular, not a religious, court seeking the help and protection of the state where she is a citizen. Second, the judge had not done her homework. If she had, she would know that the verse from the Quran to which she referred is very controversial and that mainstream Muslim leaders do not use it to justify wife abuse. Third, Muslim leaders refer to Prophet Mohammed who is known to have never struck a woman.

I am always taken aback when I read about Westerners who seem to assume that only non-Western cultures are particularly backward when it comes to violence against women. Consider this fantasy: “A Chinese judge in Beijing dismissed an American Christian woman’s case in which she charged her husband with abuse.The Judge cited his belief that wife abuse is common in the US and that Christian scripture sanctions a husband’s use of violence to control his wife. [‘Wives be subject to your husbands.’] Since this is the cultural context from which the couple came, he had no choice but to respect their culture and send the battered woman away. Christian leaders protested reminding the judge that Jesus would never have struck a woman.”

Let’s get real. Wife abuse is epidemic in every country in the world where patriarchal values continue to shape husbands’ sense of entitlement to control their wives. That includes the United States. A patriarchal reading of sacred texts can always find justification for various forms of oppression including the mistreatment of women and children, slavery, etc. But the fundamental values of Judaism, Islam and Christianity can never be used to justify abuse and oppression.

Our cultural awareness as Westerners needs to include cultural humility. We all struggle with cultural values that accept violence against women as a fact of life. And from various cultures and religious traditions, we can stand together to challenge those values.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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