Sunday, November 18, 2012

What is nushuz?

This post is part of the "What Is...?" series, which aims to re-read terms in the Quran which I believe have been interpreted to suit those who have more power in society.


The term nushuz/nusyuz/nushooz, commonly used to refer to the 'rebellion' of Muslim wives, which then merits a series of psychological (and some say, physical) punishments, has been interpreted to suit patriarchal ideas of women and men, and wives and husbands. This calls for an attempt at re-reading male and female nushuz, as used in the Qur'an.

The term comes from the root n-sh-z, which appears five times. Three times it is translated as 'to rise' or 'to raise up'. Quite a literal meaning, God can resurrect a dead animal (2:259). In another verse we are told that when we make a certain effort, God will reciprocate with a more supreme reward (58:11).

For example, when we 'make space' in the sense that we embrace diversity or allow for people different from us to speak, God will 'make space' for us in the sense that God will ensure that we can live unimpeded socially, economically or politically. It makes sense that if we contribute towards creating spaces for everyone, we will naturally enjoy such space ourselves.

The other example in 58:11 is that when we 'arise', or challenge ourselves to be people who become by each day, more knowledgeable, better in character and more beneficial to society, God will gradually 'raise' us to become such people, because God knows the efforts we put in.

But here's the best part in Chapter 4 (Al-Nisa): nushuz is something that both wives and husbands can do. Verse 4:34 has been discussed to death. Some justify the beating, saying that it should be done "lightly". Some dispute it outright, calling such an interpretation the bias of (male)(patriarchal) scholars. But not many people bring up another verse found further along Chapter 4, referring to the nushuz of husbands (4:128).

When it comes to the nushuz of wives, it is interpreted by different well-known translators as disloyalty, ill-conduct, rebellion, desertion, non-compliance, or arrogance. Two lesser-known translators also use the terms disloyalty or ill-treatment.

When it comes to the nushuz of husbands (which can happen along with i'radaan), it is translated as contempt, cruelty, ill-treatment, ill-usage (??), non-compliance. The other two translators use the exact same terms for husbands and wives: disloyalty or ill-treatment. Especially for husbands, there is the added fear of their evasion, desertion, veering away (of their responsibilities -- so true, no?), estrangement or turning away.

Taking into account the other meanings of n-sh-z, Shabbir Ahmed elaborates on this term to also mean a behaviour that rises up against virtue, such as psychological or physical abuse. Cheating or other forms of marital disloyalty can also be included, because this is something that both husbands and wives are able to do. If scholars insist on this term to mean rebellion of wives, then they have to accept that husbands can also rebel against wives.

Since they don't, my understanding of nushuz as marital disloyalty, in a variety of forms, seems clearly appropriate for both 4:34 and 4:128.

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