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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

15 - Violence against Women in the Early Islamic Period

from Part III - Social, Interpersonal and Collective Violence


This chapter canvasses information available in the Arab/Islamic canon on the subject of violence exercised against women in the early Islamic period. The Qur’anic verse in Surat al-Nisa’ (4:34) which gives the husband the right to correct a disobedient or recalcitrant wife, generated a massive exegetical. This chapter begins with a discussion of the exegetical tradition pertaining to this verse and comments on the divergences between the Islamic legal schools and the differences of textual interpretations between theologians and jurisconsults. The second section refers to anecdotes that reveal the conflicts and tensions in private relations, the harmfulness of domestic intimacy, and the dynamics of household violence. The final section discusses episodes describing public violence against women, especially in the streets of Baghdad, the ʿAbbāsid capital. Beyond the rich exegetical tradition, the information tends to be scarce and fragmentary and relies mostly on literary texts makes it difficult to disentangle fact from fiction. The material draws for us, nevertheless, illustrations of certain widespread conceptions in Muslim medieval literary approaches to violence against women and the social context in which the textual edifice was constructed.