It is official: Janet Jackson is divorcing her husband after having her firstborn child in her early fifties. It had been reported that she had not converted, but had adopted the dress and traditions of Islam for the sake of her husband and of her marriage, only to by brutalized, humiliated, and treated like a prisoner during her pregnancy. According to the report linked above:
Janet’s family noticed she was “not speaking out of turn when in the company of others. [Wissam] took the lead.”
I suspected this was coming. This is the Qur’an verse that orders men to beat their wives (Abdul Majid Daryabadi translation):
Men are overseers over women, by reason of that wherewith Allah hath made one of them excel over another, and by reason of that which they expend of their substance. Wherefore righteous women are obedient, and are watchers in husbands absence by the aid and protection of Allah. And those wives whose refractoriness ye fear, exhort them, and avoid them in beds, and beat them; but if they obey you, seek not a way against them; verily Allah is ever Lofty, Grand. – Qur’an 4:34
Different translations of the Qur’an express this differently in English. This version says:
As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
Hence the many videos on youtube of imams who defend the practice: for them the argument and point of controversy hinges on when, and in what way, are men allowed to physically attack their wives. There is no question that wives must obey their husbands and that they are inferior in Islam. This is the reason why the epidemic of domestic violence in Middle Eastern households will never subside or be confronted with honesty.
What shocks me is how so many Westerners fail to defend, or even appreciate, the importance of the secular values and freedoms that we enjoy in the West. This, to me, is a quintessential Epicurean question because our philosophical tradition is at the roots of Western civilization, and yet so few people know of it, while rendering legitimate Middle Eastern religions that–no matter now entrenched they may be–are antiquated and deeply foreign to our real way of living. One has to consider, for instance, practices like polygamy in the Old Testament, or the claim that wisdom starts with fear of God. Our laws and mores today do not take as their foundation the need to appease and live afraid of a divinity.
Janet Jackson was one of the most emancipated and wealthiest women of her generation in the West. She had been raunchy, sexy, and proudly all-American before allowing her husband to hide and brutalize her, all the while shaming her about her American ways.
She managed to get a divorce from her husband only because she was able to leave the Middle East with the help of family members. Under sharí’a law–which decrees that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man–she would have likely found it impossible to divorce her husband. If she had lacked fame or money, she would have in all likelihood had to remain in her degraded situation the rest of her life.
I love Janet. She’s one of my generation’s pop idols. In celebration of her release and return to safety, I am sharing here one of the videos that best exemplifies the freedom, the raunchiness, the art, the beauty, and the sexiness that is Janet Jackson.