The Generalitat of Catalunya opened the "Pandora's Box" when they asked to the sisters working in the association Insha Allah in Barcelona about their views on the allusions made by Mustafa Kemal, President of the Association Sohail and Imam of Fuengirola, in his book "Women in Islam “about the physical punishment of wives.
When they finished reading the text —some of which we reproduce in this article—Insha Allah’s sisters contacted immediately the Association An-Nisa and asked first by phone and later on, personally, to Mustafa Kemal to correct the book in question; a request that he repeatedly refused.
At the time these events occurred, there was underway in Spain the creation of a foundation dedicated to do research on Islamic jurisprudence. Given the urgent need to de-legitimize these abusive practices on women, the foundation appointed a commission to conduct a study on the matter and to issue an opinion or fatwa in order to open a public debate.
Once the fatwa was published in the media and, after the discussions between the associations and Mustafa Kemal, the debate was finally open, not only among members of the Umma in our country but also among different personalities in Spain who threatened forcefully Mustafa Kemal with a complaint in court. At the same time, the Research Foundation of Islamic Jurisprudence in Spain asked the opinion of renowned scholars in England, France and Morocco, which reinforced their security to be giving the Qur'anic passage in question a proper interpretation.
The study that shaped the basis of the fatwa issued highlights the fact that the interpretation of this verse or aya is controversial because the words used in it have very different meanings, and therefore Muslims should look in the Sunna of the Prophet to clarify its meaning. According to the Sunna, the prophet Muhammad, or Rasulullahi, never attack any woman even though we know he had sometimes-marital problems.
On July 19, Mowafak Kanfach, author of the introduction and editor of the book Women in Islam by Mustafa Kemal made a public commitment to remove the books from the distribution points and correct the text on page 87. The same day a spokesman from the mosque in Fuengirola city said during a radio program at Cadena Ser that in Islam is absolutely forbidden to abuse your wife. Thus, the purpose of the discussion was fulfilled: it clarified that in Islam it is forbidden any kind of spousal abuse.
Statement of the Problem
First we should take into consideration the translation of the aya in the Qur'an 4:34 because it has raised widespread misunderstanding. In the book Women in Islam by Dr. Mustafa Kemal, we read in page 87:
"Some of the limitations when resorting to physical punishment are:
- Never hit in a state of blind fury in order to avoid greater evils.
- You should not hit the sensitive parts of the body (face, chest, belly, head, etc ...)
- The beatings should be administered to some specific parts of the body as the feet and hands, using a stick not too thick, it must be thin and light so it won’t leave scars or bruises on his body.
- The beating should not be too strong and tough, because the purpose is to inflect psychological punishment and not to humiliate or cause physical harm.
- Thanks to the restrictions and limitations set forth above, Islam has emptied the meaning of physical punishment as a repressive measure in order to become pure moral-psychological harassment (...) ".
This text at least proves his obvious lack of language skills because we cannot believe what the author is trying to say, and this is the reason why we spent years arguing that, according to the fiqh or Islamic Law- a fatwa cannot be issue without great knowledge of the language and reality of the territory that issued it. However, the awkwardness of the author in the aforementioned text has deeper roots that are connected to specific translation made by some Arabists of the passage 4:34 of the Qur'an. This is why we felt entitle to explain in a clear and definitive manner the Islamic interpretation of this passage of the Qur'an Islam.
Translation of the world daraba
The Quranic text reads:
“Ar-riÿâl qawwâmûn ‘alâ an-nisâa’ bimâ faddal Allah ba’adahum ‘alâ ba’ad wa bimâ anfaqû min amwâlihim fa-s-sâlihât qânitât hâfidzât lilgaib bimâ hafidza Allah wa l-latî tajâfûna nushûçahunna fa’dzûhunna wa ihÿurûhunna fî l-madâÿi’ wa idribûhunna fa-in at’nakum fa-lâ tabgû ‘alaihunna sabîlâ inna Allah kâna ‘aliyyâ kabîra”.
As to what concerns us, an acceptable translation would be:
"But those wives from whom you fear arrogance, and nasty conduct, admonish them (first), (next) leave them alone in beds (and last), convince them of the need for change".
Translations that are unacceptable are:
"But those wives from whom you fear arrogance - first advise them; then if they persist, forsake them in bed; and finally, strike them".
For many reasons, which will be discussed here, we flatly refuse to accept the translation of the word daraba (Qur’an, 4:34) as 'hit' or 'strike'. But first, if we consider valid this meaning, it would be the only case in the entire Qur'an that the world daraba 'hit' or 'strike' appears alone and without specifying "where” you have to hit or with "what” instrument should the punishment be inflicted, since this verb is extremely polysemic in Arabic, as Bartoll Rius has spotlighted and the research we have conducted ourselves.
The Qur'an cites the following root D-R-B- (daraba) fifty-eight times and only in twelve cases this root has the meanings of, hit or strike, and in all them it is mentioned “where” and with “what” the punishment should carried out. Needless to say that in none of these citations the meaning has nothing to do with woman’s issues. Let us look at "stick on ..." may be the sense of 47:4 ('in the neck'), 8:12 ('in all fingers'), 47:27 / 29 (' in the face and back '), 8:50 / 52 (id.), and when the Qur'an uses the verb daraba with the meaning of "strike, or hit", it always add the preposition "with ...", as in the case of 37:91 / 93 ('with the right hand'), 2:58 / 61 ('with your stick'), 38:43 / 44 (with 'him'), 26:63 ('with your stick'), 7:160 (id. ), 2:68 / 73 ('with a piece of it'), 2:57 / 60 ('with your stick') and 38:42 (with 'foot').
However, the previous study only leads us to disavow these two meanings as unique, since there are others meanings that involve aggression without the use of such preposition.
Therefore, after we have seriously questioned these two meanings, which are generally used in many translations of the Qur'an, we would like now to conduct a comprehensive study of the meanings of the verb to realize what it really means.
Thus, the verb daraba can be translated –in addition to ' strike' or 'hit'– into give directions or to forge (coin), to put (an example), to include (a saying), to mix, to multiply, to push, to beat, to fold (above), to ring, to fire, to bomb, to traveling, to inflict, to shoot, to place (a tent), to make (a spider its web), to impose, to make (salat or prayer), to separate, to split, to lean, to knock on the door, to break a record, to wall (a place o area) , to behead, to imitate, to skyrocket, to stay (head down), to take part, to delete a word, to strive in vain, to be filled with terror, to siege, to give (an injection), to evolve, to go around in circles, to hurt, to shake, to move, to set (a deadline), to kidnap, to turn (away), to point, to prevent (hearing), to do (the military salute), to make love, etc. ... ".
If we want to understand correctly this passage of the Qur'an –in order to not justify our basest instincts with the meaning that gives us more power–, we should make an effort to elucidate what is the common denominator among these meanings.
When a person rings the doorbell, what is he or she doing? Or, when someone gives us directions? We could argue that he or she is calling our attention. Also, when someone during a conversation quotes a proverb or gives us an example? It is trying to warn us or call our attention. Finally, what are our feelings when someone has its head down, or someone who is agitated, or someone with fear or vainly striving, or someone who is in pain? These situations force us to pay attentive to it.
What effect causes on us a spider weaving its web? It is calling to our attention. What means inside a text a word crossed out? We must pay close attention. What do we feel when someone breaks a record? Astonishment. What happens to us when we know that someone has traveled, or if we see someone walking away or pointing to something, or someone who utters loudly or makes a salute? It tells us that we are carefully paying attention. And, what does supposedly means to you when someone hits you or screams at you, or gives you a deadline? He or she is trying to tell you that something is wrong: calling your attention. What would we feel if we hear that someone has committed a kidnapping? It causes a strong impression that catches our attention. What are doing Muslims about Allah when they pray the salat? Getting His attention ...
There are still many other examples, but in all cases, what are they doing when Arab speakers use the verb daraba? They are warning. That's what they do, because that is the sense that the world daraba is often use: to do something spectacular in order to attract the attention, or in modern English "to have or cause a great impact or dramatic effect".
The Sunna of the Prophet
We actually have a perfect case of the use of the word daraba in the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, some Muslims have found easier to recommend wife beating as an exemplary measure among ‘irreverent women’ --disastrous translation of the word nushuç --, in their attempt to imitate the life of the Prophet. If we recall well, the Prophet had to deal only once with a sort of domestic rebellion at home and he never laid a hand on any of the women living with him. What did our beloved Nabi? He discussed the issue with them, declined to have any intimate relation with any of them and left the house for twenty-nine nights --v.gr.Tabari— that according to historians both his wives and the whole city was shocked by what happened. This is daraba: to change their attitude through a sock. And this is the Sunna of the Prophet.
Thus, in principle, the verb daraba is quite ambiguous even for those who have mistakenly understood its meaning, but we have a clear and definite Sunna, a Sunna, that for many Muslims is more than enough to know how to behave; unless the opinion of Arabic translators about a single word of the Qur’an outweigh the well-known and proven life of our beloved Prophet. The Prophet never hit a woman. This is an incontrovertible fact attested by numerous witnesses.
Nisaa'i recalls the following passage from the hadith of 'Aisha (ra): "Daraba Rasulullah, s.a.a.s., imra’ t lahu wa la jâdaman qat, wa daraba biyadihi shaiân qat-the fî sabilil il Allah Allah aw tantahaka haramât fayantaqama Allah "; which means: “Rasulul Allah (the Prophet) never abused any of his wives, or any of his servants, and even hand hit anything except the way of Allah or the transgression of the haram or punished by Allah ( refers to jihad)”. He did not only hit any woman but also said: "don’t hit women, they’re servants of Allah" (Abu Da'ud, Nasa'i, Ibn Maya, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hisham and Hakim ibn Iyas taken AbdAllah ; Ibhn Hibban, taken from Abdullah ibn Abbas, and Bayhaqi, taken from Umm Kulthum). Also, he discouraged women to marry men who beat women, and said once that the scene of a man hitting a woman made him sick.
At a minimum, it is disturbing to accept –from all-possible version of the verb– one version of the verb daraba that the Prophet never implemented. We should not forget that the Qur’an, as the name suggests means recitation, but the real implementation of the words of the Qur'an lies in the conduct and behavior of the Prophet, who was the walking Qur'an as 'Aisha (ra) once mentioned. In Islam it is clear that there is no compulsory in religion, the ikraha fid din, there is no physical coercion or violence in the din (religion), and din is not just about following the rites, but the entire life of the believer is important, especially in those issues related to marriage that is half of the din in Islam. We know that the Prophet recommended to married couples to deal with each other with delicacy and tenderness.
The argument of the Sunna seems definitive. This is especially true when we know that one of the three conditions of the Prophecy is that the life of the prophet cannot contradict the message conveyed by him, so if Muhammad never hit any of his wives, the meaning of the world daraba must be different or the Prophet would not have fulfilled the revelation during his life.
The contextualization of this passage
Even more telling – for the purpose of clarifying definitively the purpose of this reflection– is the argument that places this passage of the Qur'an in context:
As I have shown above, this passage is not trying to justify man’s violence in the middle of a domestic dispute, this is why some have used the translation of the word daraba for "hit", but when there is a situation of sustained "hostility" (nushûç) from women to men. Therefore, the following translations are unacceptable: "if they obey you, if you are faithful, if you are docile, if you are submissive" but that there is not doubt about – and also these translators are wrong when the subject of the action is a man instead of a woman– the "violent, harsh, abusive, hostile" behavior. It is also misleading the literal translation: "if you fear that they are..." because the meaning of the text is clear beyond doubt that there have been an experience of nushûç as to fear recurrence. Thus, the best versions would translate this in present tense: "those who you may have certainty of their hostility, those who oppose you with resistance, those who show clear animosity."
In summary, the context is not during a marital spat, but as the Qur'an states, in a situation of sustained hostility and aversion from woman to man, it is a plan of action. A plan of action that goes through —first— discussing the problem in an attempt to reach an agreement, secondly, to avoid them (leave them in their beds, or more literally to "turn your back on the bed"), and in third, to do daraba.
Obviously not do these three things in a row in the context of a marital spat, as mention is made clear to not have sex, which involves the passage of some time between the first measurement and second, and between it and the third.
It is obvious that the three measures should be implemented progressively and some time must be given to each of them for the measures to take effect. Second, the final daraba is about doing something that would have enough impact on the woman so she would change her attitude, as we mentioned before, the Prophet left his house for twenty-nine days, but he never put a finger on them. The verb daraba was not given precise definition, because what is important in this verb is the idea of "calling attention" to the point to change her behavior. If the Qur'an were referring to physical punishment would use the verb yâlada that is the verb most commonly used when referring to punishment for false slander.
Complementarity relationships between husbands and wives
Among Muslim spouses and husbands the relationship should be complementarity, one complements the other. According to Dr. Abdelkarim Khatib, man and his wife are like one soul in two bodies, two bodies that meet to form a single soul, and thus anyone would harm himself. Mortification does not belong to our mystic universe. Hitting one's wife will cause an emotional gap and bitterness of the woman towards the man. Hitting one's wife –as indicated by some ignorant Muslims–, in order to soften the woman and solve a difficult marital situation, is not having any idea of human sensibility. Whatever is the meaning of the text 4:34, what is clear is that the Qur'an deals with these measures to resolve a conflict, not to aggravate it, and beating one's wife is the best way to destroy conjugal love.
The issue in fiqh
The fact of hitting a woman in Islam is so unusual that the fiqh considers these translations (or interpretations) to be an offense through which men have tried to keep the trick of physical aggression –believing wrongly that is blessed by the Qur'an– to have a unchallengeable power within their families.
So, even the most cold-hearted commentators, have tried to makeup the verb daraba all they could in order to justify the beating of women. Generally, the fiqh is confused with this kind of translation, a monopoly we don’t posses in Spanish, and nuanced to absurdity the translation: "hit softly."
Sometimes it has been suggested the translation top "hit without harm" (daraba darb gair mubarrih) to some uncommon hadith (shadda) attributed to the Prophet. And we ask ourselves: 'What is striking without harm?' Because hitting by definition is to do harm.
Although we do not need to defend each and every one of the judgments of the jurists of Islam, because they are not the Qur’an neither the Sunna, we understand the intent of the jurists who, sometimes have declared that if the man beats a woman and leaves a mark on her, she can go to complain to the qadi or judge and has the right to qisas (retribution), but they did not mean that women could be hit if you leave no traces, but because it is difficult in these cases to prove the facts before the judge. Whoever does so, the Muslim who hit a woman, leaving her mark or not, condemned or not by a judge, cannot rely at all to do so in the Qur’an or find any support from the Sunna of the Prophet or what is considered natural and healthy in Islamic society, but has fallen into a state of psychological degeneration in which man mixes his inferiority complex before her – probably because he is unable to satisfy her on many levels– with the need to have the power within the relationship.
It is important what we mentioned earlier in reference to the qisas, because is true that the qadi can do little without proof and it won’t be easy for him to find arguments against the husband if he did not leave any marks of the attack on the woman and there are not witnesses –as it is normal in the privacy of home– woman is not thereby exposed to men who have coldly calculated degenerated forms of aggression without leaving marks –similar to torture techniques used by some policemen– since in any case, the woman has the right to qisas, retribution, under which his tutor is forced to confront physically her husband if necessary to protect the woman.
Another evidence proving that the Islamic sensitivity regarding the interpretation of this verse as "wife beating" is completely misguided is the fact that the laws of most Islamic countries consider ill treatment a cause for legal divorce.
Other interpretations of the passage
We selected four interpretations of the text which, although not coinciding with our understanding of it, should not be hidden because we used them while working on this article:
–Ahmed Ali and his translation of the Qur’an into English: A Contemporary Translation (Princeton University Press 1988), interprets the meaning daraba 4:34 as to 'make love', perfectly permissible in Arabic, because this meaning of daraba is found in all traditional Arabic-Arabic dictionaries, including the classic Lisan al-'Arab of Raghib and the studies of the old and wise linguistic Zamakhshari. According to Ahmed Ali the text would look like this:
"Talk to them suavely; then leave them alone in bed and, go to bed with them (if they wish). "
In this case, 'daraba' clearly does not mean hitting the woman.
–There is a second interpretation that accepts the translation "wife beating", but only in the context of a sadomasochistic marital relationship, in which the woman rejects the man –primary meaning of nushuç– as part of the natural instinct designed to make descendants as strong as possible.
According to this interpretation, a weak man, who bows to the nushuç is not worth having children because the offspring will be weak and won’t be able to adapt to the hard life of the desert. The woman would be the first to despise a man who is unable to overcome her to complete the sexual intercourse –like other creatures of the animal kingdom: cat, etc. – that she apparently rejects. This interpretation is based on both the primary acceptance of nushuç "refusal to perform the sexual act," and Tabari’s interpretation of the verb ihÿurûhunna, which comes from an old Arabic root, hayr, which derives linguistically from the verb to 'tie'. According to Tabari, "'leave her alone in bed' actually means to tie her to bed."
Proponents of this interpretation, argue that in the Quran there are all levels of explanation for all human beings, and according to this interpretation, there are people whose sexuality is sadomasochistic in nature, and Islam does not condemns anything that will happen by mutual agreement within the private realm of sexuality. The truth is that, despite the apparent distance between the supporters of this theory and our interpretation, there are two connecting points: 1) The woman would accept this kind of relationship, and therefore she would be please to do so and 2) The interpretation of daraba as 'hit' would not become an universally valid meaning, but only for certain couples that find happiness with this kind of sex, a notion that will always be protected in Islam.
In this case, 'daraba' would mean to hit a women, but only if she accepts this type of relationship. It could also be applied to this interpretation the meaning of daraba as "making love" rather than "hit".
–Abdurrahman Muhammad Maanán suggests another interpretation of the text, which is not focused on the relationship between male and female but in the relation between Allah and Muhammad. According to him, the Prophet is going to punish a husband who has beaten his wife and the Qur‘an prevents Him to do so; to undergo some reasons that escape him completely.
The man and woman that led to the transmission of this aya or verse would be no more than a mere excuse for the Qur’an to shown itself as the word of Jabbar through the angel Jibreel. Therefore this verse is not intended to legislate a deal between the spouses but to make clear to Muhammad that he is only a messenger and not the person in charge of building Islam according to his understanding. So, Allah did send this aya neither to inform nor to give substance to the experience of Muslim but with the only idea of overcoming him; therefore this aya is only for Muhammad.
Muhammad was and will be –while the world exists– the only recipient of this aya in the sense of 'to hit women'. Muhammad himself who has adopted a position in relationship with this issue found that his nafs (soul) was destroyed by this aya, and after the trial was held, the Prophet cancelled the sentence. However, the life of the Prophet gives us a model for our daily life that apparently breaches this aya in the sense that he understood.
And what happens when an aya has no sunna (example in the life of the Prophet)? This means that there is a veil. Allah has deliberately concealed this aya so it becomes a test for each person. Thus, this aya has a mystical significance, not legal. Since, as we mentioned earlier, a true Prophet cannot contradict anything in his message, we understand that this aya has nothing to do with beating women. If we look at the Sunna for some of the meanings of the word daraba that the Prophet fulfilled himself we find the well known 'to cause a great impact in order to make them change'.
The fuqaha (judges o experts in Islamic law) what they do is to respect the Qur’an as they understand it, but because they do not have an example of daraba in the sense of 'hit' in the life of Muhammad, rather than reflect on the original meaning of the verb, they prefer to interpret it as 'hit' but they have completely emptied the meaning of the verb, and they consider it to be a pure symbol, giving explanations such as hitting with a piece of straw, which is almost ridiculous.
In this case, 'daraba' means 'wife beating' but this aya was not intended to be for ordinary human beings, but to Muhammad in his role as a Prophet, in Allah’s attempt to bend him to his will, and knowing that the Prophet would never be able to fulfill it.
–There is another interpretation of the passage that does understand the meaning of this passage as beating your wife, but nevertheless supports the meaning of the verb daraba as 'hit'; interpretation we find in the Akbari School (that of Ibn 'Arabi), according to which, the passage does not refer to the relationship between man and woman, but that of a creature that wants to find intimacy with God and his nafs (soul).
Under this interpretation, the person who is seeking the Lord finds sometimes in his nafs a difficult companion that could make his or her existence very hard. In this case what the person should do is to try to understand her arguments and talk some sense into her. Once this first step has failed he should turn around in bed, in order to keep away this nafs that is making their life miserable, and so losing all contact with her. Herein is the pursuit of tawhid (unity), an experience that might be achieved through dhikr and hadrah. In this experience, man has turned away from his nafs.
In this understanding, the mystic must hit 'his nafs' as they always have done at some point in their existence the awliya (friends) of Allah. There are certain events in which it appears that the mystic hates himself, but these is not the normal status of Islamic mysticism, but exceptional measures that must be adopted by nufus (souls) that are extraordinarily hostile at times of particular stress, which threatens the tawhid. A Sufi master ordered once a disciple with a difficult nafs to go to market and give a date for each man who gave him a slap. This man was literally doing daraba on his nafs, but there are more subtle ways.
In this case, 'daraba' means to 'hit' but not to a women but to the spiritual symbol whose nafs is the woman, because women is the nafs of man, the idea we have of ourselves.
Even for those persons that have a weak understanding of this issue it can be shown that this is an obscure Qur'anic passage, which has caused much controversy and will continue to do so, mainly because Muslims have not reached a definite conclusion due to the wide polysemy of the verb and the circumstances of its revelation. But the legal principle of Islam ('usul al-fiqh) should serve as a guide, which means that when a Quranic aya have different interpretations the Sunna should prevail. Whenever a Muslim finds difficulties knowing the correct meaning of words and the variety of interpretations, he or she should follow the Sunna of the Prophet.
Although we might lacked of other arguments, if we could only use as a behavior guide the Sunna of the Prophet, Muslims at least would know where to stand on the issue brought before us, because we have received in detail what was his custom with regard to dealing with women, and we know that he hated to put his hand over a woman, and we know that he never did. This is the Sunna of the Muslim and our conclusion is compelling: Aggression is kufr (to cover up the truth). Any aggression (ta'addin) is kufr. "Allah loves who is not the aggressors" (mu'tadin), says the Qur'an many times. All that is considered aggression is expressly condemned in Islam, even the most subtle forms: showing the knife to the lamb during sacrifice, to pass a knife without covering the blade, to strike on a knee to draw attention. Regarding jihad is always defensive, not offensive. Assaulting on women, like any other creature of Allah, is part of kufr. And not just physical violence against women is prohibited but also verbal violence. Islam is delicate and everything that is out of this feature belongs to a universe that is alien to us.
In short, in order to record the views that we have supported, we have denied that the correct meaning to the passage of Qur'an 4:34 is that of wife beating, and we defended this position with various arguments:
1. The philological argument: the meaning of the root is 'to give a wake up call' (Spanish Academy of Islamic Jurisprudence and Abdallah Bartoll).
2. The argument of the Sunna: the Prophet never hit a woman (Omar Ribelles)
3. The argument of textual exegesis: the context of the passage is not a matrimonial quarrel, so the defense of daraba as " to hit" –in a cold manner– put us on the level of mental perversion (Abdelmu'min Aya)
4. The argument of common sense: Hitting one's wife is like hurting yourself (Abdelkarim Jattib).
5. The argument of fiqh: Hitting 'with a straw' is just a symbol that leaves this aya ineffective because it was intended to be only for the Prophet (Muhammad Abdurrahman Maanán).
6. The argument of Islamic sensitivity: Any aggression is kufr (Sidi Hayyami)
7. The argument of Islamic praxis: The laws of Arab countries consider marital abuse as grounds for divorce (Khadija Candela).
As a footnote, we would like to mention how sad it is for a din like Islam, that is generous and open, and that has been historically a source of civilization where has arrived, having to take cultural, educational and delicacy lesson about humane treatment by non-Muslims.
Non-Muslims, –whose law has no basis in the experience of Allah, but if they knew about the sweetness of our din could perhaps Islamized– keep asking us how many Spanish Muslims we invite to practice domestic violence, and we are obviously filled with shame and indignation because it is allowed to preach Islam in our country to men who are unable to take the pulse of the society in which they live in, who are absolutely incompetent to establish with the host society a comprehensive and reasonable dialogue and they have to be threatened with complaints in courts by the leaders of non-Muslims just because they feel that it is abominable to hit women. They are not kufr, they are only non-Muslims. Those who advocate the abuse of women are the real kafirunes.
We would like to conclude with a Qur'anic recommendation and hadith –on wives– that the author that gave rise to this research and its followers cannot manipulate, "live together with them with kindness and justice, and if you dislike them, perhaps you dislike something that Allah has placed much good "(4:19). And Bukhari, in turn, transmits: "The most perfect of the believers is the one who has the best character. And the best among you is the one who shows more affections to their women." This is the Sunna of the Prophet, and this is Islam.
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