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German judge rules Koran allows wife abuse

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BERLIN (AFP) - A German woman judge has refused a Moroccan-born woman permission to file for divorce by interpreting the Koran as allowing husbands to beat their wives.

"Where are we living? Woman judge allows beating in marriage... and invokes the Koran," said a front-page headline in Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper, reflecting the widespread angry reaction on Thursday.

"This Moroccan woman has the same right to protection from a violent husband as any German woman. Anything else would be misconceived sensitivity to the benefit of the husband and would amount to racist discrimination against the wife," said the Tageszeitung daily.

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany also condemned the decision.

"The judge should have made a decision based on the German constitution instead of the Koran," said spokeswoman Nurhan Soykan, who said that violence and mistreatment, regardless of the gender of the victim, were also grounds for divorce in the Islamic world.

A court in the western city of Frankfurt on Wednesday upheld a complaint of bias against the judge lodged by the lawyer of the 26-year-old woman, who has two children.

The woman had filed for immediate divorce on the grounds that the husband, also of Moroccan origin, regularly beat her and threatened to kill her. The claims were backed up by a police report.

But the female judge, who has not been named, made clear in a letter that the wife's bid had little chance of approval because, according to her, Islamic law allowed a man to strike his wife.

German politicians from all parties were united in disgust at the judgement.

"When the Koran takes precedence over the German Basic Law, then I can only say: Good night Germany," Ronald Pofalla, the secretary general of the conservative Christian Democratic Union of Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Bild.

Hans-Christian Stroebele, of the opposition Greens, said the kind of abuse suffered by the woman should be punished by German criminal law.

Source: AFP / Yahoo News

This was covered in the NY Times 3 weeks ago (Mar. 23, 2007).  Apparently the judge in question was removed back then.  It's pretty clear that the judge's reasoning was faulty.

From the NY Times Article:

The court in Frankfurt abruptly removed Judge Datz-Winter from the case on Wednesday, saying it could not justify her reasoning. The woman's lawyer, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, said she decided to publicize the ruling, which was issued in January, after the court refused her request for a new judge.

''It was terrible for my client,'' Ms. Becker-Rojczyk said. ''This man beat her seriously from the beginning of their marriage. After they separated, he called her and threatened to kill her.''

Muslim leaders agreed that Muslims living here must be judged by the German legal code. But they were just as offended by what they characterized as the judge's misinterpretation of a much-debated passage in the Koran.

While the verse cited by Judge Datz-Winter does say husbands may beat their wives for being disobedient -- an interpretation embraced by fundamentalists-- mainstream Muslims have long rejected wife-beating as a medieval relic.

Interestingly enough, there was another article in the NY Times on March 25 about a Muslim woman Laleh Bakhtiar, who was translating the Koran, and was thrown into turmoil by the passage referred to by the German judge.
Here's an excerpt from that article:

The hotly debated verse states that a rebellious woman should first be admonished, then abandoned in bed, and ultimately ''beaten'' -- the most common translation for the Arabic word ''daraba'' -- unless her behavior improves.

''I decided it either has to have a different meaning, or I can't keep translating,'' said Ms. Bakhtiar, an Iranian-American who adopted her father's Islamic faith as an adult and had not dwelled on the verse before. ''I couldn't believe that God would sanction harming another human being except in war.''

Ms. Bakhtiar worked for five more years, with the translation to be published in April. But while she found a way through the problem, few verses in the Koran have generated as much debate, particularly as more Muslim women study their faith as an academic field.


The leader of the North American branch of a mystical Islamic order, Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, said he had been questioned about the verse in places around the world where women were struggling for greater rights, but most of all by Westerners.

Women want to be free ''from some of the extreme ideology of some Muslims,'' the sheik said, after delivering a sermon on the verse recently in Oakland, Calif.

[In Germany last week, a judge citing the verse caused a public outcry after she rejected the request for a fast track divorce by a Moroccan-German woman because her husband beat her. The judge, removed from the case, had written that the Koran sanctioned physical abuse.]
There are at least 20 English translations of the Koran. ''Daraba'' has been translated as beat, hit, strike, scourge, chastise, flog, make an example of, spank, pet, tap and even seduce.

''Spank?'' exclaimed Professor Abou El Fadl, who has concluded that the verse refers to a rare public legal procedure that ended before the 10th century. ''That is really kinky. That is the author fantasizing too much.''


Ms. Bakhtiar, who is 68 and has a doctorate in educational psychology, set out to translate the Koran because she found the existing version inaccessible for Westerners.
Her eureka moment came on roughly her 1oth reading of the Arabic-English Lexicon by Edward William Lane, a 3,064-page volume from the 19th century, she said. Among the six pages of definitions for ''daraba'' was ''to go away.''

''I said to myself, 'Oh, God, that is what the prophet meant,' '' said Ms. Bakhtiar, speaking in the offices of Kazi Publications in Chicago, a mail-order house for Islamic books that is publishing her translation. ''When the prophet had difficulty with his wives, what did he do? He didn't beat anybody, so why would any Muslim do what the prophet did not?''

She thinks the ''beat'' translation contradicts another verse, which states that if a woman wants a divorce, she should not be mistreated. Given the option of staying in the marriage and being beaten, or divorcing, women would obviously leave, she said.

There have been similar interpretations, but none have been incorporated into a translation. Debates over translations of the Koran -- considered God's eternal words -- revolve around religious tradition and Arabic grammar. Critics fault Ms. Bakhtiar on both scores.


--- Quote from: Bunny on April 09, 2007, 02:28:57 AM ---While the verse cited by Judge Datz-Winter does say husbands may beat their wives for being disobedient -- an interpretation embraced by fundamentalists-- mainstream Muslims have long rejected wife-beating as a medieval relic.
--- End quote ---

I think the NY Times is being disingenuous with the term "mainstream", and I think your follow on quote proves this point (was this your intent?).  As we all know, Islam has a "long tradition of scholarship".  Why would a woman translating the Koran today find it so difficult not to interpret the passage as allowing a husband to beat his wife?  Why didn't she just go to the large body of established scholarship from "mainstream Islam" which must certainly have already refuted this (per the NY Times at least).  No need to torture the translation to avoid having to abandon the entire process. 

--- Quote ---It's pretty clear that the judge's reasoning was faulty.

--- End quote ---

I agree, but perhaps for different reasons.  Your whole post centered on whether the Koran really does permit a husband to beat his wife.  This seems to be the NY Times' focus as well.  I don't see this as the central point at all.  The important point is that German law shouldn't care what the religious texts of the parties before it says.  If (as I hope is the case) German law says beating your wife is not allowed, then none of the rest should matter.  I'm more curious about the logic of the judge in deciding that a religious text should overrule German law when making her ruling.  As nutty as she obviously is, I'd really like to know more of her reasoning here. 


--- Quote from: Redbeard on April 09, 2007, 05:49:26 AM ---I'm more curious about the logic of the judge in deciding that a religious text should overrule German law when making her ruling.  As nutty as she obviously is, I'd really like to know more of her reasoning here. 

--- End quote ---

There really wasn't any coherent reasoning. German law does not provide for this sort of cultural context to be applied to be lenient to a suspect. Thus she was removed.

Actually, my point was twofold, first that the judge had already been found in error and removed from the case so that her decision was moot; second that the passage  of the Koran that is referred to is very controversial with both Muslim clerics and followers as well as outside Islam.

After reading the OP, I was surprised there was no mention of the result of the judge's ruling nor that events were months old (the decision came down in January).  Publishing old news of resolved cases as if they were new and on going seemed unduly provocative as well as distorting the events.  It's one thing to get upset about something that needs to be corrected.  It's another thing to revive a dead horse so that everyone can flog it.

References to when it is proper to beat one's wife are to be found in almost any culture.  The expression "rule of thumb" derives from the English Common Law, which states that a man shouldn't beat his wife with a stick greater than the width of his thumb.  In cultures where women are considered as chattel, it's to be expected that a few blows here and there (and I'm being sarcastic) are unremarkable.  IMO, the Prophet was probably trying to set limits to a practice that was and in many cultures still is more prevalent that most wish to believe.  If anyone wishes to discuss spousal abuse, then it would be far more beneficial to admit that it's not something that is unique to Islam or the Koran.


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