In the Qur’an, the excuses of oppressed men for violence against women are insufficient.

The vast majority of Muslim men, whether from previously/currently colonized nations or otherwise, live in patriarchal cultures; the Qur’an itself addresses this, for example, when demanding to know why men have buried their daughters alive or when protecting women from accusations of adultery. However, when confronted with this reality, men pretend that they weren’t patriarchal before colonialism when history proves otherwise, and when in fact their patriarchal structures facilitated the spread of colonialism.

While Muslim men love to falsely attribute patriarchy to colonialism, on the Day of Judgment Allah (swt) is going to ask men why they were violent toward us, and they are going to answer “because we were ourselves oppressed,” and it’s not going to suffice.
 
Indeed, while taking in death 
those who sin against their souls,
the angels will ask, “In what condition were you?”
 
They will say, 
“We were oppressed on the earth.”
 
The angels will say, 
“Was the earth of the God/dess 
not spacious for you to emigrate therein?”

They will have their sojourn in Hell, 
and it is an evil destination.
Except for the oppressed 
among the men, women, and children unable 
to plan and undirected 
to a way. 

For those, it is expected 
that the God/dess pardon them, 
for the God/dess 
is ever Merciful, 
ever Forgiving.
—4:97-99

The argument made in these verses is that if the oppression inflicted upon you is causing you to damage your soul by inclining you to oppress others, you should seek conditions in which you are no longer imposing harm and oppression onto yourself and others. It is of vital importance that we are aware of the state of our own morality.

(Note here that in this verse and the verses that follow, migration is encouraged and the migrant is valorized as someone who goes so far to save their own soul.)

It is of extraordinary significance that these verses appear in surah nisa, as describing the rights of women, and more specifically the regulation of male behaviors in order to protect those rights. It is not the oppression one endures that is emphasized here, but the harm that it commits against the soul and against others. Yet, contrary to the message of the Qur’an, men can’t comprehend that their approach to oppressions from which they do not suffer needs to be more than “chivalrous.” How can a Muslim only care about something for as long as it benefits him?

According to the Qur’an it is insufficient to dismissively declare that transphobic laws are a result of white supremacy, to falsely claim men were sexist because they were taught by whites, to pretend they weren’t afrophobic and anti-black before they were colonized. Here’s a newsflash: White supremacy is not the worst oppression to have ever happened. Oppressions do not have to be contributed to it in order to matter. There are oppressions other than colonialism. I am not going to choose my words carefully just because colonizers happen to be listening.

In addition to its situation in surah nisa, we know verses 4:97-99 are referring to women and structurally oppressed classes because the Qur’an makes a clear distinction between these two types of actions in response to oppression: those against oppressors and those against the soul. For example, 22:60 states,

And whoever responds [to injustice]
with the equivalent of that harm
and then is tyrannized –
the God/dess will surely aid.
Indeed, the God/dess is Forgiving and Merciful.”
—22:60

These verses assure us that societally tyrannized actions which are clearly a response to oppressors, rather than sins against one’s own, are divinely aided. Comically, the same Muslim men who dismiss violence against women as the work of colonizers will discourage violence against colonizers, effectively inverting both verses of the Qur’an.

Muslim men have adopted the position that their oppression excuses violence against women because the vast majority of “activism” against Islamophobia has relied on the corruption of scholarship of those—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—who descended from matriarchal or gender-equal societies. Subsequently, these men believe they too cannot be held responsible. Like straight men who complain about social expectations that their date will not pick up the cheque at a restaurant, Muslim men want the benefits of equality (and no accountability) without having established a legacy of gender equality in their history.

Immigrants (i.e. more settlers) to settler states adopt black and indigenous scholarship on anti-colonialism without ever being aware that they are living on stolen land, and it results in a belief that they have no culpability when it comes to patriarchy even though they are immigrating from very patriarchal cultures.

If you are indigenous to a place that was colonized that then overthrew the colonizing government, even if you have not yet done away with all of the residual corruption, never forget that there are nations who are still working to overthrow illegal governments, and that you’re on their land by permission of that illegal government. The only way immigrants to Turtle Island can become american/accepted is by signing off on a living legacy of genocide and slavery that requires us to actively perpetuate violence.

Yet in order Muslim men to ever care about oppressions that don’t affect them as long as they can attribute it too white supremacy. Is it so difficult to have empathy for something that has nothing to do with you? And yet they expect empathy in return. It is those whose activism is limited to anti-colonialism who ask questions like, “How can you talk about patriarchy without talking about racism?” when in fact they discuss racism all the time without discussing patriarchy.

The Qur’an in fact describes the arguments that the “oppressed wrongdoers” have with the “arrogant wrongdoers” regarding the actions that signify their disbelief.

But if you could see when the wrongdoers
are made to stand before their Creator,
refuting each other’s words,
Those who were oppressed will say
to those who were arrogant, “If not for you,
we would have been believers.”

Those who were arrogant will say
to those who were oppressed, “Did we avert you
from guidance after it had come to you?
Rather, you were criminals.”

Those who were oppressed will say
to those who were arrogant, “Rather,
a conspiracy by night and day
when you were ordering our disbelief in the God/dess
and attribution of equals to Her.”
—34:31-33

It is consistently emphasized in the Qur’an that oppression is no excuse to perpetuate oppression against one’s soul and community, and those who are oppressed and oppressive are identified as the same class of people—this is, in fact, a revolving identity—in both that the oppressed can be oppressors (the arrogant) and that both are “wrongdoers” whose punishments (“shackles on the necks”) are the same.

There is much to discuss in terms of all of the Qur’anic verses that elaborate on this issue and relate to the verses highlighted here, and I will explore these in upcoming posts.

2 thoughts on “In the Qur’an, the excuses of oppressed men for violence against women are insufficient.

  1. Sheba

    Thank you so much for discussing this! I’ve always been super curious about the implications and the meanings in this passage, especially when it concerns people who have been socialized to commit violence by their environments. The Qu’ran says that individuals who have been oppressed to do violence and were not able leave will not be sent to hell. Why do you think that God would create human beings in oppressed conditions who are coerced into commiting violence and not have an avenue to escape? I’ve always thought that the point of human life was to make choices, the ability to freely choose Allah and Islam, as human beings were given autonomy and free will, unlike angels, animals and nature, so what’s the point of a human being being born if they were coerced into evil from the start?
    The Qu’ran says They will have their sojourn in Hell,
    and it is an evil destination.
    Except for the oppressed
    among the men, women, and children unable
    to plan and undirected
    to a way.

    Like

    1. @Sheba,
      I think this is discussing specific instances of evil. Some people are oppressed or live in less than ideal circumstances, but regardless do not choose to oppress in return. Oppression does not FORCE further oppression. You can break that cycle. I have done it myself, and I expect no less from others.
      Nobody is “forced” into violence. Some children in abusive environments grow up to be abusive, but others don’t. It’s not a matter of force–it is individual choice. Men who grow up in oppressive environments have NO excuse for oppressing others at their mercy.
      The Quran makes an exception for those who *really* were oppressed to the point where they lost themselves. I think it’s a spectrum, and we humans cannot make the clearest distinctions–I trust to leave that to God.

      Like

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