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Muslims ‘Beat’ Their Wives – A Refutation

INTRODUCTION

One will find on many Sikh forums, the accusation circulated that the Holy Qur’an teaches Muslim men to beat their wives. From this, it is inferred that Sikhism is a more just and humane religion since it does not command to wife-beating.

However, this accusation, which by and large is taken from the many dishonest Christian missionaries who seek to demonise Islam by hook or by crook, arises due to the English word rendered in some Qur’anic translations, which does not do justice to the original Arabic. It is imperative to understand that words from one language cannot, in many cases, be completely encompassed in terms of their full meaning by a best-fit word when translated into another language.

Furthermore, it is necessary that one not commit the ‘fallacy of isolation – quoting out of context’ if one endeavours to arrive at a correct conclusion, interpretation and application of verses from the Qur’an.

Here are three translations taken from three well-known, though not necessarily error-free, translations of the Qur’an from chapter 4 verse 34:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. 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). If ye fear a breach between them twain appoint (two) arbiters one from his family and the other from hers; if they wish for peace Allah will cause their reconciliation: for Allah hath full knowledge and is acquainted with all things. (Yusuf Ali Translation)

Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great. And if ye fear a breech between them twain (the man and wife), appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk. If they desire amendment Allah will make them of one mind. Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Aware. (Pickthal Translation)

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.). As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great. If you fear a breach between them twain (the man and his wife), appoint (two) arbitrators, one from his family and the other from hers; if they both wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation. Indeed Allah is Ever All-Knower, Well-Acquainted with all things. (Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Ph.D. & Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan translation, Saudi Arabia)

Let us take verse 34 and break it down to understand each part and how it was applied by the best Muslim generation – the companions of Prophet Muhammad, and interpreted by the great scholars thereafter.

VERSE 34 EXAMINED

Let us examine this verse as it was understood and interpreted by some of the most famous and authoritative exegetes of the Qur’an

(1) “Men are the vigilant custodians of women”

al-Qawwaamoona” (sing. “al-Qawwaam“) – “Meaning vigilant to and protective” (“Ayy: mulaaziman, muHaafiTHan“) [1]

(2) “because of what Allah has endowed upon the one over the other, in that they spend from their means”

bi-maa faDal Allahu ba’Dahum ‘alaa ba’D…” (lit. “In what Allaah has endowed the one over the other) – “Meaning that they purvey for them a wedding dowry, and they spend dutifully upon them from their means, and they make sure that all their needs are met. That is the endowment Allah has put in place for them and over them ….” [2]

(3) “Thus are those women righteous and devout, and protective in absentia over what Allaah has deemed to be secure”

“Be good to them, and dignify them, for this is what was understood from the recitation of Ibn Mas’ood [from the elder scholars of the companions of the Prophet (‘alayhi salaatu wa salaam)]” [3]

(4) “As for those from whom you fear insolence”

an-Nushooz” – “is infraction (‘aSyaan); taken from ‘an-nashaz‘ meaning that which is elevated from the earth…. The meaning is thus: You fear her rebellion and haughtiness to what Allaah has ordained upon her in regards to compliance with her husband. Abu ManSoor al-Lughawy has stated, ‘Nushooz is the hatred of either one of a married couple for their spouse’. Ibn Faaris has stated, ‘A woman has committed nushooz if she has beleaguered her husband, and the husband has committed nushooz if he strikes her and
beats her ….” [4]

(5) “edify them”

fa-‘iTHoohunna” – “Meaning with the Book of Allaah. Meaning remind them of what Allaah has ordained upon them regarding being of amiable companionship and beautiful partnership with  their husbands, and the level of his status over her…” [5]

(6) “abstain from their beds”

“And ‘abstaining from the beds’ is that he should lie with her, but turn his back to her, and not have intercourse with her, according to Ibn ‘Abbaas and others. Mujaahid said, ‘Abstaining from lying with her’…al-Hasan (al-BaSriy) said, ‘For when the husband abstains from her bedside, if she is loving to her husband then this will grieve her and she will be inclined to make things right. However, if she is hateful then her insolence will become manifest, and it will be made clear that she is haughty.” [6]

(7) “and beat them”

Allaah has said, ‘and beat them’ (wa-Driboohunna) as an order from Allaah that the husband should begin by edifying the woman firstly, then he should abstain from her, then if none of that proves useful then to beat … and ‘beat’ (darb) in this verse is to beat simply as a gesture and to not cause pain. It is not meant to break bones or to offend her dignity as with a punch and the like. For the intention is reconciliation and not anything other than that. [7]

Ibn Kathir in his monumental commentary mentions:  If they do not abstain from their disobedience through both advice and desertion.

However, the beating should be Dharbun ghayru mubrah, i.e. light, according to the hadith narrated in Sahih Muslim, on the authority of Jabir, who had quoted the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) as saying in his farewell pilgrimage [sermon delivered to over 100,000 of his followers on Mount ‘Arafah]: “And fear Allaah concerning women, for they are your partners and committed helpers, and that they should not allow anyone to sit on your bed whom you do not like. But if they do that, you can chastise them but lightly. Their right upon you is that you should provide them with food and clothing in a fitting manner.” [8]

Scholars said: Dharbun ghayru mubrahun means: The husband should ‘beat’ his wife lightly, in a way which does not result in breaking one of her limbs or affecting her severely. [9]

Ibn Qudaamah said: If she still persists, then he may hit her in a manner that does not cause harm, because Allaah says: “(and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful).” [10]

(8) “if they seek reconciliation, do not be hostile against them”

“Allaah has said, ‘if they seek reconciliation,’ meaning they have forsaken insolence. ‘Do not be hostile against them,’ meaning do not respond to them in furor in words or actions. This is a forbiddance in regards to oppressing them after they have become determined upon goodness and are firm in good conduct. Meaning do not make it difficult for them to show you love, for this is not the way to be with them” [11]

Ibn Kathir in his commentary clarified: If a woman obeys her husband in all what wants for her, as long as it is within the boundaries of what is lawful [Islamicaly], he should neither beat nor desert her. “Surely Allaah is Ever Most High, Most Great,” Allaah is the Guardian of women if men treat their wives unjustly without reason, and will mete out punishment upon those who have committed this. [12]

Means, if it is known to have reached this stage, then the judge should send an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from hers, both of whom should be trustworthy, to decide either to reconcile and keep them together or to separate and divorce, and whatever they do will be binding upon them. That means that if the spouses each the point of separation or enmity, the judge should appoint two free, Muslim arbitrators of good character, preferably from their families, with their approval and appointed by them, so that they can investigate the case and do what they think is best to reconcile them or to let them divorce by talaaq or khula’. Then whatever they do will be binding upon them. The basis for this is the verse: “If you fear a breach between them twain (the man and his wife), appoint (two) arbitrators, one from his family and the other from hers; if they both wish for peace, Allaah will cause their reconciliation.” [13]

CONCLUSION

One can opportunistically cancel out the aforementioned explanations and proofs in order to twist the words as they like in accordance to their desires; but this is a dishonest polemic. If one chooses to say that a verse from the Qur’an holds a meaning contrary to how the vast majority of Muslims understand and interpret it, then this serves only the facetious desires of that person’s twisted, insincere and vindictive approach. If one were intransigently and obstinately claim that the verse in the SGGS: “I am not a Hindu, nor am I a Muslim,” means that Sikhs are encouraged to kill Muslims and Hindus, despite being shown a plethora of references in response proving beyond reasonable doubt that the vast majority of Sikhs throughout history never shared such a view, then that person would truly be a close-minded bigot.

It must also be immediately noted that there is no warrant here in this verse for wife battering. The suggestion to use this physical approach is made specifically to deal with Nushooz on the part of the wife; that is, to deal with her deliberate nasty behaviour that poses a threat to the marriage. The physical approach (in the prescribed way) is to be used after the processes of verbal admonishment and suspension of sexual relations are undertaken. Moreover, this physical approach is not to go on and on, but is to be tried as a last step to save the marriage. Once it is clear that it is not working it is to be abandoned in favour of some other steps involving outside help, i.e. relatives of the husband and the wife mentioned in the next verse (4:35). Hence, there is absolutely no license here for the type of regular and continual wife beating that goes on in some homes where each time the husband is angry with his wife he turns against her to beat her violently. In these cases, the husband does not have a degree over the wife since he has violated the Shari’ah (Islamic Law) and stepped outside the bounds of what Islam has established. This can only be attributable to either ignorance or his haughty distortion of the correct understanding in order to suit his own caprice.

In regards to the this physical use of force, the following points should also be noted:

  1. According to some traditions, the Prophet said during his famous and well-attended speech on the occasion of his farewell pilgrimage that this physical approach be conducted ghayr mubarrih, i.e. in such a way that it should not cause injury, bruise or serious hurt. On this basis some scholars like at-Tabari and ar-Razi said that the physical approach should be largely symbolic and should be administered “with a folded scarf” or “with a miswak or some such thing”. However, it is not clear how such an interpretation could help overcome Nushooz of the wife; thus, this opinion is an opinion which has largely been rejected by the scholars. The meaning and application of dharb – “beating”, as the commentators have mentioned, should be effective in its purpose of shaking the wife out of her Nushooz and demonstrate to her that the marriage has reached a critical stage. In other words, it should not cause bruising or anything worse nor reduce it to a set of meaningless motions devoid of emotions, but as a means of conveying intense displeasure.
  2. Moreover, it is not necessary for the husband to adopt all three approaches. He has the option to seek family arbitration if he believes this to be more appropriate.
  3. More importantly, the wife has no religious obligation to take any extreme physical violence. She can ask for and seek a divorce at any time. The suggestion applies only in the case when the husband is seriously disturbed by prolonged nasty behaviour on the part of the wife, but neither he nor the wife is as yet seriously thinking of breaking up.
  4. If the husband beats his wife without respecting the limits set down by the Qur’an and Hadith, then she can take him to court and if ruled in favour has the right to compensation. In some cases the excessively abusive husband could be flogged up to 10 stripes, and others still up to 40 or even more, depending on the situation and the harm done to the wife.

The point, however, is that verses 4:34-36 should not be a concern for any good practicing Muslim woman. This is because a practicing woman would not intentionally disobey her husband in what leads to disobedience of Allah and what has been permitted for him upon her, nor would she behave in an immoral manner, such as, being flirtatious with other men or going to obscene inappropriate venues, etc.  Thus, a good Muslim woman would never be subject to these three disciplinary actions. ‘A’isha, the wife of the Prophet and Mother of the believers, the great scholar and a role-model wife for all believing women, stated:

Allah’s Messenger (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) never beat anyone with his hand neither a woman nor a servant, but only in the case when he had been fighting in the cause of Allah. And he never took revenge for anything unless the things made inviolable by Allah were made violable; he then took revenge for Allah, the Exalted and Glorious. [14]

[1] Ibn al-Mandhoor (Famous Arabic Grammarian), Lisaan al-‘Arab
[2] At-Tabari (One the major interpretative compilations of the Qur’an, alongside Al-Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir [quoted earlier]), Jaami’u-l Bayaan ‘An Ta’weel Aay al-Qur’an
[3] Ibid.
[4] Al-Qurtubi, al-Jaami’u li-aHkaami-l Qur’an.
[5] At-Tabari, op. Cit.
[6] Al-Qurtubi, op. Cit.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Sahih Muslim, The Book of Pilgrimage: 4/41.
[9] Tafseer ibn Kather.
[10] Ibn Quddaamah al-Maqdisi, Al-‘Iddah fi Sharh al-‘Umdahby, p.481.
[11] Al-Qurtubi, op. Cit.
[12] Tafseer ibn Kather.
[13] Al-‘Iddah fi Sharh al-‘Umdah by, p. 481.
[14] Sahih Muslim, 5756.

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