There has been recent tension between two prominent representatives of Egyptian society’s religious and secular branches. The highly-publicized tension between the head of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, and the head of the National Council of Women, Dr. Maya Morsy, has been unfolding on television. Al-Tayeb commented on the physical violence against married women perpetrated by their husbands.
The initial statement by al-Tayeb asserted the husband’s right to physically discipline his wife without causing severe injury under the Quran. His comment drew criticisms from women’s rights groups, especially from Dr. Morsy, since it conflicts with his previous statements that forbade violence against women.
Furthermore, the Quranic interpretation espoused by al-Tayeb’s first statement is incongruent with the pervasive spirit of support and centrality of women’s rights on the government’s strategies. This open spirit drove Sheikh al-Tayeb to urge legislators to increase a wife’s share of inheritance based on her active participation in her husband’s wealth.
Al-Tayeb, later on, amended his statement pointing out that physical violence against any human being will negatively impact this person. Emanating from this, the legislator has the right to suspend physical discipline to alleviate the more considerable societal impact.
The power dynamics displayed in this issue reveal a positive development and attests to the importance of women’s rights. The implicit message of his amended statement conveys that violence will no longer receive the coveted protection of religion. Muslim women will no longer be terrorized by their husbands under the guise of antiquated Quranic interpretations. A man can no longer beat his wife and hide underneath the cloak of righteousness, claiming that it was his divinely ordained role to discipline his wife.
Muslim women have had enough. Egyptian women have had enough.
The religious institution authorized with the crucial aim of revising religious discourse to be aligned with the zeitgeist is trying to keep up and appease the discontent.
Excuse me if I sound aggrieved. A tragic incident occurred recently that touched me very deeply. A young woman was taken to the hospital with her brains falling out from her open skull, where she died. Alaa, the deceased victim, was delivered to the hospital by her husband’s family, who claimed that she fell on the stairs. Alaa’s mother narrated a different story.
She shared the story of a physically and emotionally abused daughter dwelling under a consistent cloud of fear that drowned her bleak days. She spoke of the night before the murder of her beloved daughter. She recounted how Alaa called in the middle of the night and pleaded with her mother to pick her up. The mother, old and living away from her daughter, couldn’t and told her to wait till the morning. The following morning, the mother received another phone call from Alaa telling her not to come.
The mother suspected that her husband threatened her daughter, but perhaps she hoped the rift could be dealt with amicably. A mother wants her daughter to be happy. She wished that things could be better in her daughter’s home. A home blessed with the arrival of a new life, new hope that -she convinced herself- could bring the abuse to an end.
However, Alaa’s mother received a final phone call; this time, it wasn’t Alaa but her mother-in-law. She was informed that she should come to the hospital because Alaa smashed her head when climbing the stairs. The mother knew what happened, and she’s trying to make the world listen.
I know that Islam is against the brutality and savagery this young mother experienced. That the Quran explained the pillars of marriage as consistent love and mercy, one can’t also help but think that the tragic murder of Alaa is a direct manifestation of men previously being given the “right” to discipline their wives. In Islam, divorce is described as the ugliest permissible act because Islam seeks to uphold the integrity of the family.
Nonetheless, divorce is permitted, especially when a marriage jeopardizes an even higher premise; the sanctity of human life. We could all mourn what happened to Alaa as a single occurrence, but it isn’t.
Violence against women is a malignant phenomenon that we should acknowledge, address and exert every effort to eradicate from our midst. All religious and secular institutions must criminalize violence against women, saving others from becoming another Alaa. As for Alaa, I hope that she can finally experience the love, peace, and mercy deprived of her in this life. May she rest in peace.