Mohammed Kamal Mustafa, imam of the southern town of Fuengirola, was given a suspended sentence of to 15 months in prison on Wednesday.
“We should celebrate that at last it has been proved that Islam and the Prophet Mohammed cannot be used to justify this sexist individual’s attitudes to women,” said Jadicha Candela, a prominent feminist lawyer and president of An-Nisa, an association of Muslim women.
“Mistreatment of any living being is contrary to the spirit of Islam,” Candela added. She was one of the women who testified at the trial about the evolution of women’s rights in contemporary Islam.
Maria Jose Valera, one the lawyers who represented about 90 women’s groups involved in the case, said the verdict was the first in Spain to recognize “incitement to violence on the basis on gender.”
“It’s a great victory for women,” Valera said.
The cleric will not go to prison as under Spanish law people with no previous convictions have their first sentences suspended if they are under two years. He was also fined $2,735.
In his book “Women in Islam,” published in 1997, Mustafa urged husbands to hit their wives “on the hands and feet using a rod that is thin and light so that it does not leave scars or bruises on the body.”
In his defense, Mustafa argued he was interpreting passages of the Quran and said he opposed violence against women. Trial judge Juan Pedro Yllanes rejected those arguments, saying they promoted discrimination against women.
“This is degrading treatment of women,” the ruling said. The judge said as a spiritual leader, who is aware of the influence he yields, Mustafa should have exercised caution in giving opinions about highly sensitive social issues.
The book enraged about 90 women’s groups, who in July 2000 filed a lawsuit in a Barcelona court to have the book withdrawn. As a result of the court action, Mustafa’s book was removed from Islamic cultural centers in Spain. Some 3,000 copies of the book had been distributed freely throughout the country.
Mustafa’s lawyer Jose Luis Bravo said on Wednesday he would appeal the decision and described the sentence as “unfair and a result of the media pressure over the case”.
There is increasing public debate about domestic violence in Spain, where machismo remains strong. In 2003, 70 women were killed, while nearly 50,000 complaints were lodged with the police.