When interviewed tonight on Bill Moyers’ Journal, Imam Zaid Shakir appeared relaxed, looking straight at Mr. Moyers with his light brown eyes. But when the subject turned to the question of the divine mandate for wife-beating, Imam Shakir appeared flustered.

Moyers read to Shakir a translation of the Koranic verse 4:34, which, in the Yusuf Ali translation, reads in part:

As to those women on whose party ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all.)

Moyers described this verse as written by men, for men, and asked Shakir: Couldn’t some men interpret this as divine sanction to beat their wives? (As of 10:40 PM June 22, the show’s transcript was not online.)

ReligionWriter was curious to see if Shakir would mention a recent translation of that verse by an American Muslim woman, which rendered the word formerly translated as to “beat them” to read “go away from them.” Shakir did not reference that translation, indicating that the new translation has not yet been embraced by mainstream Muslims like Shakir.

Instead, he made the point that the verse must be read within the context of the entire Koran (i.e. where justice and mercy are commanded,) and that men who beat their wives would do so with or without divine sanction.

Moyers then pressed Shakir on the issue of woman-led prayer — a concept Shakir rejects. Moyer asked him if, in fact, American Muslims would have to adapt to “American” standards and accept female religious leadership. Moyers repeated use of the word “American” — along with his somewhat impassioned tone — seemed a bit odd, given that many American religious groups do not accept female clerical leadership. For example, GOP presidential hopeful Fred Thompson’s church, the Churches of Christ, do not allow women to preach or lead a mixed congregation. In the Mormon church, only men can access the priesthood; in the Catholic Church women’s ordination is not allowed.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the interview with Shakir was his description of his mother, as a thoughtful and well-read single mother of seven. Next month, Shakir’s sister is publishing her mother’s diary, Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mother. In the Moyers segment, Shakir speaks of how his mother’s intellectualism shaped his life and made him who he is today. Entirely aside from viewpoints on Islam, Shakir seems to have a fascinating personal story — rising from poverty to study at some of the best universities in the U.S. and Muslim world, and now becoming a major Muslim American leader.

(UPDATE: transcript now available)


1 Comment so far

  1. Tarik on June 25, 2007 5:34 pm

    “beat them”
    Well the old debate has never been resolved : how do you interpret the Koran or the Bible.
    Do you favour a literal transalation.
    Do you favour a less literal transalation.
    I personally think that a Book should be taken in its spirit rather than allow one line to be under read or one line to be over valued.
    That the Koran was revealed to the lives of men who formed a very Paternal society.
    Women had little or no rights.
    Point is American women get beaten and slapped every day. But its is not mentioned in the constitution. Whether it is right or wrong. The Koran of all the holy books takes the Bull by the horn. It actually touches this subject.
    Take another example take the case of Slavery in the United States. The Constitution said and talked in lofty words about the ideals of freedom. But we know it did not reflect ground realities. As a matter of fact to some it was a big lie. To the slaves it did not even touch them. But again the issue of Slavery is in the Koran. It doesnot abolish slavery but it asks us to free the slaves and earn the blessing of the Almighty.
    It is typical of Christians and Christianity to find a high sounding principal to justify an illegal and immoral act.Example Operation Iraqi Freedom. The UN called it an illegal war. Yet we gave it a high sounding name.
    So back to the question : Can you beat (lightly) your wife.
    Well the answer has to be individualised.
    If I beat my wife she will raise Hell and call the COPS.It doesnt solve my problem.
    Did it solve some one else’s marital problem.
    May be. Did it work then :probably yes.
    Will it work now: Not in the USA, will it work in Pakistan :probably not in the big cities at least. It may work in some remote tribal areas.
    Yes : So to make the long story short : a book should be interpreted in its present context and based on its meaning as it was meant in those times.

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