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CLARITY: Article in the Sunday Times of the 9th of September, headlined: “‘Light’ beating of wives condoned” refers.
Monday, 10 September 2012
The SAHRC has noted the article run in the Sunday Times dated 09.09.12. The article as it is framed gives rise to concern as it distorts and provides an incomplete recount of the findings of the SAHRC and the CGE which attempted to respond to the complaint with sensitivity to its many dimensions without compromising the complainant or the rights of women in the process.

In essence the complainant alleged that the late author Abdullah Yusuf Ali translated a much debated verse Q4.34 of the holy Koran which literally translated reads:
“As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first),, (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly)[opinion is that this should be read as meaning “admonish”]; but if they return to obedience seek not against them any means of annoyance”

The translation is a literal one to which a number of experts have attested. What is not mentioned in the article by the Sunday Times journalist is the late authors own commentary wherein he states: “…and all authorities are unanimous in deprecating any sort of cruelty, even of the nagging kind…if all fails a family council is recommended in iv, 35 below”.
This supports our finding that the literal translation as it is carried in a wide number of publications is in this instances expressly qualified by the late authors own interpretation which is more aligned with our Constitution. We were also advised that to date over 5 million copies of the book have been distributed in Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

The age of the text and verse in question were also considered in the modern context and the time they were written. In this instance what the Commissions were being asked to consider was whether  the sacrosanct holy scripture of the Muslim community, revered by millions of people and protected in terms of our Constitution could justifiably be redacted to cover the alleged “offending” provision, which in effect was what the complainant requested.

It was clear from the opinions of experts and a consideration of  age that many religious texts would fall foul of our Constitution on a mere literal reading of them in our modern context where equality is cherished and where we seek to promote and protect the rights of women regardless of religious belief. We should also stress the importance of citizens remembering that regardless of what their religious books say, their behaviour should be tested against the constitution. In other words, it would be unconstitutional to inflict “light” violence against women.
South Africa is a Constitutional Democracy which expressly provides for people belonging to different religious communities to practice their religion freely. This was the standard applied when the CGE and SAHRC considered the complaint. The allegations of the complainant could not show that the said verse was offensive to the Muslim community in general and should be struck down. All academics and authorities consulted disagreed with the views expressed by the complainant which inevitably supported a finding that his allegations were unsubstantiated.
The Council for Theologians also provided an opinion to the Commission wherein they emphasized the right to religious freedom and the principle of non interference with the holy scriptures of religious communities.

The Commissions analysed each of the opinions provided by the experts accepting in the absence of complaints that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in South Africa would find the literal approach abhorrent to basic principles of respect for human rights.

The right of the late author to expression, the right to religion, the fact that the verse is being debated globally and no body of research has been provided objectively indicating that the Koraanic verse is to blame for violence against women were some of the factors considered when it dismissed the complaint. While both institutions are committed to ongoing education and the protection of  the rights of women, neither felt interdicting the book or redacting the verse was the least invasive means through which to achieve  this.

It is on this basis that the institutions  recommended that instead of banning the text, it should be viewed as an opportunity to debate pre modern religious practices in SA more widely. Both institutions have invited the complainant to appeal their findings should he wish to do so.

Please advise when you receive this mail. We would be happy if you could help in rectifying this matter.

Kind Regards

Isaac Mangena
Head: Communications
South African Human Rights Commission
071 884 8273

For comments email info@sahrc.org.za [Back]

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