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Why We Must Speak Out Against Religious Violence Against Women

Even If it's presented as part of Islamic culture

Perhaps there is an upside to domestic violence that is only done for “symbolic” purposes.

According to a video posted to the Women of Hizb-ut-Tahrir Facebook page, wife-hitting, executed in a controlled way, and not so hard that it causes real harm, is a “beautiful blessing”, which is permitted in Islam, but only after other options, like withholding sex and admonishment, have failed.

How could anyone complain about a blow that doesn’t bruise, a mere wrist slap, a firm-but-forceful way of disciplining your wife when she falls out of line?

You could almost view it as loving, in the same way a loving parent disciplines a child for his or her own good.

In the video, the two women, reported to be Sydney primary school teacher Reem Allouche, and Indian-born scholar Atika Latifi, are discussing Islam’s teachings on marriage and gender equality, before an audience of about 26 veiled women in Sydney’s west, according to media reports.

They are talking about a particular passage in the Koran they say has been misconstrued.

“It appears to be an incitement to violence against women,” Ms Allouche says. “It needs to be placed in context.”

Bizarrely, they agree that “Islam is not gender biased”, even while admitting no woman is allowed to hit her husband, or refuse him sex.

They demonstrate the kind of wife-hitting that is discussed in the relevant section of the Koran, done using a tiny chopstick-sized stick, or a coiled scarf.

The video, which elicited widespread condemnation from mainstream Muslims and politicians, including the Minister for Women Michaelia Cash, must have been watched with sinking hearts by the overwhelming majority of Australian Muslims, who are law-abiding and do not condone violence.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir is an extreme group which has little popular support. During his Prime Ministership, Tony Abbott looked into banning it but it was determined to be a political group, not a terrorist one.

Its views are marginal and its leaders are marginalised.

But the video is significant because it speaks to exactly the kind of uneasiness that many Australians have about some aspects of Islamic culture. It confirms stereotypes that Islam is a religion which preaches the subjugation of wives within marriage, and of women within society.

It plays into bigoted fears about what some say is the violent heart of Islam. It, no doubt, ironically, fuels the kind of Islamophobia which results in veiled women being shouted at on buses, or worse, being assaulted because they believe in the wrong god.

Does that mean we should ignore it? Or that the media should not report it?

No. Fundamentalism of any sort is a threat to civil society, and if we ignore concerns about Islam and its teachings, we only contribute to the kind of fear and ignorance that fuels Islamophobia.

Progressives and feminists have long been reluctant to bash Islam and Muslims, because, frankly, there seems to be enough of that going around as it is.

But if moderate people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, don’t populate these kinds of debates, they will be overtaken by extremists on both sides, be it Cory Bernardi and the anti-Halal brigade, or the Hizb-ut-Tahrir crowd.

We can’t let that happen.

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