UAE: Court Rules that Wife-Beating Allowed Under Sharia Law


Islamic sharia law allows a man to "discipline" his wife and children provided that he does not leave physical marks, according to a ruling by the supreme court in the United Arab Emirates. The judgment was made in the case of a man who slapped and kicked his daughter and slapped his wife, injuring both slightly. But the federal court in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, also said that their bruises were evidence that the father had abused his legal right. The case reported today by the Abu Dhabi paper The National, is likely to attract attention because of the large number of foreign expatriates living in the Gulf state, where there are occasional prosecutions of westerners as well as nationals for breaching public morality. Non-Muslims, however, will not appear before a sharia court.

Generally, the UAE has made progress in promoting women's education, entrepreneurship and political participation. It also has very liberal laws compared with neighbouring Saudi Arabia. It has a civil law jurisdiction though Islamic law is applied to aspects of family law.

The court upheld the right of the unnamed man from Sharjah – one of the seven emirates – to beat his wife and children to "discipline" them after he had exhausted two other options: admonition and then abstaining from sleeping with his wife. Scholars differ on what constitutes "beating" but agree it must not be severe.

In the case of the wife, it was the degree of severity that put the man in breach of the law. But his daughter was 23, and therefore too old to be disciplined by her father, the court said. He claimed he did not mean to harm either of them.

The Sharjah court of first instance fined the father for abuse. The decision was upheld by Sharjah's court of appeals but he appealed against the verdict at the federal supreme court in Abu Dhabi.

"Although the [law] permits the husband to use his right [to discipline], he has to abide by the limits of this right," wrote chief justice Falah al-Hajeri in a ruling released on Sunday. "If the husband abuses this right to discipline, he cannot be exempted from punishment."

Jihad Hashim Brown, head of research at the Tabah Foundation, said: "It's unlawful in sharia – if taken in its entirety – to injure one's wife. It's unlawful to insult the dignity of one's wife. That is if we look at the tradition as a whole: the Qur'an, the hadith and writings of Islamic jurists."

Dr Ahmed al-Kubaisi, head of sharia studies at UAE University and Baghdad University, told the paper that under sharia, beating one's wife was an option to prevent the breakdown of the family. It should be used only as a substitute to resorting to the police. Dr Jassim al-Shamsi, dean of the college of law at UAE University, said love and respect were more important among husbands and wives than any discipline.

By Ian Black