03/27/2012 07:35 EDT | Updated 05/27/2012 05:12 EDT

"Pull Her By the Ear, Beat Her By Hand or Stick"

It's hard to take a book seriously that's causing some anguish (and even more embarrassment) among those who could be called "moderate" Muslims.

The 160-page book, A Gift for Muslim Couple, is rumoured to be sold out in an Islamic book store in Canada and seems more Monty Python than something that borrows from the Quran or sayings of Muhammad. In fact, it is based on dictums of Sharia law, which is no laughing matter.

Without the reality of Sharia law being what it is, there'd be no reason for this book with the illiterate title, authored by Maulavi Ashraf Ali Thanvi, whoever that is.

While some non-Muslims may be amused at the marital advice that on occasion, "It might be necessary to restrain her [your wife] with strength or even to threaten her," you [the hubby] should "refrain from beating her excessively." Good to know.

On the contrary, "The husband should treat the wife with kindness and love, even if she tends to be stupid and slow." Who can disagree with that?

Say what you will, the above coincides with the terms of Sharia law which has different interpretations depending on culture. As far a punishing one's wife, I've read somewhere that a "beating" can be inflicted with a feather instead of a stick, and is more a symbolic punishment or rebuke than a physical one.

That might be considered humane by some Muslim wives, but I doubt if many of the wives I've met would appreciate the distinction.

Formal Sharia law wouldn't argue too much with the book's statement that a wife (or wives -- up to four by some traditions) can be beaten "by hand or stick," that money can be withheld from her, and that a husband can "pull [her] by the ears." Better than stoning or amputating limbs.

A lot of moderate Muslims -- and they are the great percentage in Canada -- are upset and think the book should be banned in Canada, with those selling it charged. While understandable, that's a bit extreme since the Quran is readily available in Canada.

While Sharia law differs with cultures, in its strictest, most fundamental interpretation, it is the infallible word of God as depicted in the Quran, or by the example of the Prophet Mohammed himself. It is not man made, or adjustable.

Some Islamic cultures have verged towards the secular (Turkey, Mali, Kazakhstan), while others lean towards fundamentalism (Saudi Arabia, Gulf States), while others are a blending of democratic laws and Sharia (Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Morocco, Malaysia).

Regardless of views and differences, it seems indisputable that whatever rights women have under the Islamic faith, men have more. Or, as George Orwell might say: In Islam, men are more equal than women. I suppose that could also be said of the Catholic Church, where women cannot (yet) be priests.

In some ways this rather primitive book may be useful in exposing inequalities and offensive aspects of Islamic culture. When something like 1,000 Pakistani women and girls are murdered every year in Pakistani "honour" killings, something is seriously wrong.

We in Canada were exposed to a woman and three girls of the Shafia family murdered in the name of "honour," which no decent Muslim condones, much less encourages.

The face-covering controversy has reached Canada, which is linked to the equality issue. Quebec has banned face-coverings for those applying for government jobs, or licenses, or court appearances. Other parts of Canada are leaning in that direction.

People like Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan of the Muslim Canadian Congress courageously seek to attract Muslims who don't subscribe to existing organizations and who want to blend with Canadian life without jeopardizing their religious beliefs.

In a way, this unwittingly silly book underscores the efforts of those who seek reform and prefer equality of women instead of subjugation.