August 29, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6590

Saudi Journalist: The Saudi Law Banning Wife Beating Supersedes Islamic Law

August 29, 2016
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 6590

Violence against women is common in Saudi Arabia, [1] and is another expression of the severe oppression they suffer, which also includes the ban on women driving, the requirement for the approval and escort of a male guardian for nearly every move they make, the high rate of unemployment among them, and more.

On January 27, 2016, Saudi television host 'Ali Al-'Alyani presented on his show an excerpt from a MEMRI clip in which Muhammad Al-'Arifi, a Saudi cleric, said that a husband is permitted to beat his wife "with a toothpick," as long as the beating is light and avoids the face, and as long as it is meant to convey dissatisfaction with her behavior rather than inflict pain.[2]

Following the show, Haila Al-Mushawah, a columnist for the daily 'Okaz, wrote that Saudi state law prohibits violence against women under any circumstances, noting that the state is allowed to outlaw behaviors that the shari'a permits if these behaviors violate the rights of others. She stressed that any woman subjected to violence by her husband must not be afraid to put a stop to it, because if she doesn't her sons will learn that they can beat their future wives and daughters.

The following are excerpts from the article:[3]   

The Al-'Arifi clip on Al-'Alyani's show (Image:

"On his excellent show 'Welcome,' TV personality 'Ali Al-'Alyani showed a clip of a cleric saying that a husband may beat his wife but not too vigorously... Al-'Alyani wondered how we can present Islam to the world in this manner and expect people to respect us?! Without addressing the uproar and controversy sparked by Al-'Alyani's show, the interesting topic here is domestic violence, particularly wife beating: may a man beat his wife, especially when it is religiously permissible?

"The answer is no. The state can limit, ban, or cancel anything that is permitted [by the shari'a], since the permission for it is not absolute. This is because engaging or not engaging in [a certain behavior] relates to the rights of others, which must be taken into consideration. This requires banning things that are permitted [by the shari'a] in some cases, and allowing them in others, in accordance with the potential consequences of doing [something] or not doing it, and while considering the situation, time, and place. For instance, the state is entitled to ban something that may be permissible [according to the shari'a] if it deems it to be harmful or violent - such as slavery or wife beating - based on the religious principle [that states]: 'The principle guiding the ruler regarding his flock is the greater good.'

Poster of a 2013 Saudi Twitter campaign to combat violence against women[4]

"Therefore, every woman should know that a man, whether her husband or otherwise, has no right to beat her, and when it happens or recurs, she must put a stop to it. The law protects her, and the husband cannot argue to a judge that the shari'a permits him to beat her. Even if he says he [only] beat her with a toothpick, the judge would say to him: 'put your toothpick in your mouth and do not beat a woman!'

"Domestic violence is a dangerous social phenomenon that should disappear. This cannot happen unless there is complete awareness of the rights and of state laws concerning this matter. Many women suffer violence in silence to protect their families and sons, but don't realize that they are raising children who are like time bombs of violence, since what they learn at home will later be applied to their own wives and daughters, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence!

"Ultimately, I think the sheikh [Al-'Arifi] did not understand this matter, since the law prohibits beating your wife, whether vigorously or otherwise..."




[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 991, Saudi Twitter Campaigns To Combat Violence Against Women

July 2, 2013.

[3] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), February 2, 2016.

[4] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No.991, Saudi Twitter Campaigns To Combat Violence Against Women, July 5, 2013.

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