From his column in an-Nahar. Arabic original here.
It appears that we are witnessing a competition taking root between Muslim scholars or preachers and the state over the question of domestic violence. These brothers see the proposed legislation to be mutually exclusive with Islamic law and appeal to the latter for a woman's obedience to her husband. This is what little I read in the press. In the absence of the complete text you cannot take a position, even if you are a non-Muslim. However, I anticipate a major division in the country, not only dividing between the sects but also dividing between segments within a single religion.
No doubt, only the powerful practice violence. They assert themselves with the means at their disposal, with their muscles for example. Modern society emphatically speaks of dialogue, but dialogue is not always a meeting of equals except superficially, because the strong often show kindness in order to assert themselves. Violence of different levels is rooted in nature, but it must be overturned by the justice and equality that God wants to be universal among us.
Violence is intensified by the law or by the social order which the strong benefit from and hide behind. Spousal violence is wrapped in divine words in this or that religion until man discovers the depth of equality in grace and gain the experience that mercy is more powerful than physical strength or legal power. Here again we return to the ego. Am I, for example, the arbiter of what appears from God or is it possible to commit brutality in defense of the authority of law and to apply it in practice against a citizen who has transgressed the interpretation of this arbiter of the laws expressions? It is the temptation of the possessor of the law that it is his and its reality is that it is delegated to him to carry out God's authority, or, you might say, the authority of truth.
If we return to the topic of the family, Christianity calls for a wife to submit to her husband, but it softens this by saying that the husband must love his wife just as Christ loved the Church: to the point of death. But I have rarely found a man who has read this part of the divine text and who is not just content to demand obedience from his wife. Naturally, texts are read by humans and if they do not love very much, they use them for their own benefit.
What about Islam? The clearest thing about the matter is aya 34 of Surat al-Nisa': "If you fear their recalcitrance, admonish them then avoid them in bed, then beat them." I posed the question of beating to Sheikh Sobhi el-Saleh, may God have mercy on him. The problem is that after his passing, I do not have a witness. He said that the beating does not have to be intense, and this is supported by the Tafsir of al-Jalalayn, which means that this is a form of admonition and not true violence. Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Tabataba'i deals with it graciously and considers it to be a means of rebuking, which means that in Surat al-Nisa' we do not have something that must be understood as being violence. I understand it to soften the beating when the Qur'an says, "It is made lawful for you to go in unto your wives on the night of the fast. They are raiment for you and ye are raiment for them (Surat al-Baqara 187)". In philosophical language, this symmetry, this meeting in love, absolutely precludes violent beating.
I do not at all see anything in the Qur'anic revelation that would permit domestic violence. How should we treat each other when there are verses of mercy, of which there are dozens, to the point that it's possible to say that Islam is a religion of mercy? It is required in every place, not only in the home. The great question is what is the place of contemporary sensibility with regard to what God has said. How should we approach contemporary civilization insofar as it is against violence? Is it committing disbelief to insist on peace in every place? Can there be interpretation within time and within every period of time? Does the contemporary sentiment for domestic peace not please God?
Will the country really be divided? This time, people will not fight according to sect. To my mind, there will appear a group that sees statutory law as against Islamic law and another Lebanese group that includes both Christian and Muslim liberals who hold to their faith but pay no attention to think that they have gone against religious dogma if they say that they are against domestic violence and who are closer to believing in equality between husband and wife in ordering the affairs of the family. There is tradition, and there is modernity or reform of Islamic thought that is close to contemporary civilization. This reformist thought has roots in Islam in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere.
Woman's march toward equality with men is a significant phenomenon in modern Islam. It will not stop while it raises the banner of an Islam that is true to itself but is also developing according to the development of civilization that is enveloping the world today. Within this civilization, no one understands a man's violence or a woman's violence. Domestic violence is against them both. I have witnessed before a woman's cruelty to her husband and her ruthless behavior. The idea is that the law protects well-being and is aimed against either party persecuting the other. The obedience to the husband that religious teaching calls for does not include the right to punish her and he cannot be a party to the dispute and the judge at the same time. This is naturally contrary to mercy. Neither of the two can in any way subjugate the other. Union is not subjugation. It is a dual motion and a mutually exchanged love. The woman does not just receive affection from her spouse, she also gives it and expects a response from her companion in existence, until they both become one being.
My dream is for those with strong muscles and those with wealth will understand that the other might be greater spiritually and culturally and that they will receive as they give.
This leads me to say that we do not have a common life if we remain divided between traditionalists and reformists. Yes, I know that all societies are divided along these lines. However, if we remain divided between people of text and people of spirit, the country will have a long wait before it sees its revival. However, I am happy that the dispute is not between Christians and Muslims, but between rigorists and people who believe in development, growth, and progress. The two groups exist in both religions. However slowly, a true civil society will take shape along with an old, outmoded society, until the society that progresses toward truth is victorious, tomorrow or the next day. There is no doubt that within human reality there are spiritualities, but there are also lived realities that keep man from rigidity or delusion.
We must look at the issue of violence, in the home and outside the home, in light of a profound reform of humanity. If there does not come a unity based on understanding, we will continue to proceed in a state of false calm based on platitudes. Without a profundity based on heritage and a general revival based on truth, love, fearlessness, and confidence in others' ability to advance, we have no life.