What the Taliban employ is an authoritative form of rule called taazeer. Proponents say that if a crime is not provable beyond a doubt by using criteria outlined in Islamic law, it falls to the governing forces to decide the punishment. This allows cultural or social norms to influence judgment, and most commonly affect weak and vulnerable groups.
When a video of a young woman being publicly flogged in a northwestern valley of Pakistan (Swat Valley) surfaced in April 2009, it sparked international outrage. Official details about what led to the flogging are hard to verify. The young woman was reported to have left her home with a man other than her husband. Numerous reports indicate that he was her father-in-law. It has been suggested that Taliban rule in the region forbids married women from leaving their homes unaccompanied by their husbands or an immediate male relative.
At the time, the northwestern valley of Pakistan was virtually abandoned by Pakistani authorities in the face of increasing Taliban influence. On April 14, 2009, a peace deal was struck between Pakistani officials and hard-line clerics in the area, who were aiding the government in decreasing the level of violence. This, however, gave the Taliban free reign. A spokesman for Swat Valley and the Taliban regime defended the punishment, but conceded that it should not have been carried out in public and that the flogger should have been an adolescent. Public displays of flogging, humiliation and harassment have become the norm in the region for anyone who does not comply with the Taliban authority’s decrees.
A complicating factor has been the lack of a strong central authority and the pervasive nature of patriarchal tribal structures. The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has been a semi-autonomous region where a resurgence of Taliban rule has brought a vigilante-style judicial system with complete discretion given to tribal heads and mullahs.
An Islamic Perspective
Ad-hoc tribal law in Swat does not comply with Pakistani law or sharia. The Taliban have put into place their own form of governance and claim to uphold sharia; what is taking place is a gross misinterpretation.
God ordains specific measures to be taken by a husband if his wife is mistreating him. According to Chapter Four (Al-Nisaa) in the Qur’an:
Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded. And as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then strike them; and if thereupon they pay you head, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!
This may be where most extremists derive their justification for beating women. But the Arabic word for “strike” has various meanings. Daraba implies striking an example or going on strike against something, or abstention. Scholars are increasingly shedding light on this verse’s meanings, but none sanction a beating. Also, Prophet Muhammad (peace and God’s blessings upon him) was known to strictly oppose beating women and was never known to have done so.
Unlike the Taliban’s sanctions of women not being able to leave their homes with someone other than their husbands, it is well known that Aisha, the Prophet’s wife and a great scholar, was approached by men who sought her advice and clarification on many issues. Islam’s teachings concerning women in no way condone oppressive and violent rhetoric and practice. What the Taliban employ is an authoritative form of rule called taazeer. Proponents say that if a crime is not provable beyond a doubt by using criteria outlined in Islamic law, it falls to the governing forces to decide the punishment. This allows cultural or social norms to influence judgment, and most commonly affect weak and vulnerable groups.
This is an edited version of a paper put out by the Muslim Public Affairs Council titled Abusing Women, Abusing Islam.