Beat Them. They say, "So says the One who Calls Him the Most Merciful and the Most Kind. Does He.
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Note: This article offers an analysis of the translation of Ayah (verse) 34, of Sura An Nisa (chapter 4) of the Quran. The translations are in the appendix. The work quotes the opinions of famous commentators of the Quran.
If there is one Ayah (verse) in the Quran that may decide the future understanding of Islam as a religion of peace, compassion, kindness, and mercy for Muslims as well as non-Muslims, it is the Ayah (verse) number 34 of the fourth Surah (chapter).
The verse translated by one of the most popular translators of the Quran, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, reads as follows:
"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. As to those women on whose part you 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) (4:34)
The Surah is titled, Nisa or women. The Ayah deals with family relations primarily between husbands and wives. Its common understanding among Muslims, both Arabic speaking and non-Arabic speaking, has, throughout the history of Islam, impacted the status of women, their role in the family and society, and their relations with their spouses, especially in situations of conflict. The verse relates to the relationship between husbands and wives. Yet, it has severe implications for women in their roles as mothers, sisters, daughters, in-laws, and community members.
Muslim men quote this Ayah to prove their superiority. At the same time, many women refer to this verse as the one that divinely legitimizes their second class status in their family and community. "What can we do when the will of Allah is to make us subservient to men," this is the typical response of an average Muslim woman.
The knowledge of the Quranic text has become widely prevalent. Women and men are now part of an economic system that requires their combined skills and services in an ever-evolving and changing the world. They both can directly read their scriptures as the source of divine guidance. Many question the interpretations of the verse in Arabic and other languages and feel uncomfortable with the majority of scholars. Many men, conscious of status in the eyes of their Creator, feel embarrassed for the so-called privileges accorded to them.
Questions They Ask
Women often ask the following questions:
Does God require them to be submissive and subservient to their husbands in particular, and men in general? Do they have to be obedient to their husbands all the time, or sometimes? If so, what does that obedience means, what are the limits and who would determine them? In case of conflict and irreconcilable differences between the spouses, will they, all the time, be at the mercy of men or their husbands who have the permission or the authority to strike, hit, punish, beat or scourge them? Will men always decide and determine what the marriageable age of a woman is? Does their value lie in their ability only to procreate and to provide sexual satisfaction to their husbands? Are they a thing created to serve men's sexual pleasures and fantasies? Do their conjugal responsibilities require them to be always ready to serve their husbands? Are they at the mercy of husbands to express their identity and abilities? How will they face their children and women of other faiths who would always view them as a target of possible beating at their husbands' hands for any act of disobedience? Is this an institutionalized inequality that will last until eternity? Does Allah want women to live in fear forever, the fear of being beaten by their husbands or men at home or in public? How will this impact their relations with their children, especially boys who may follow their fathers in controlling and disciplining their wives? What about the daughters who would also grow in an environment of intimidation and violence?
Muslim men often also ask some of the following questions.
Why their physical strength is considered a source of authority rather than an instrument of responsibility? Does it mean that those who are physically stronger have more rights over those who are physically weaker? Why then is the principle of might right wrong? If they spend their earnings on their spouses, does it mean that they own them and should be considered their masters or owners? Why should they be given the right to use physical violence to discipline their wives or female members of their family or community in case of conflict with them? Must their wives always remain subservient to them? Do they not have an independent identity? Is it their right to demand sex from their wives always? Will their wives have any say in physical intimacy, or are they at the mercy of their masters? If so, what about love, compassion, kindness, and compatibility? Is the purpose of marriage only to serve a husband's sexual desires and procreate his progeny? Whose interpretation of the Quran, they should follow in understanding this verse? Are angles so obsessed with the male sexual desires that they would curse a woman if she refuses sexual intimacy with her husband during the night? Are women immature, inferior, and deficient in intellect, as suggested in many of the statements people have attributed to the Prophet? Are they just a rib for their husbands? If so, why has society always relied solely on their skills to raise a new generation?
Non-Muslims also, ask:
The questions asked by non-Muslims might be different as they may try to understand the rationale of beating wife in maintaining a household together. Does the one who bestows mercy to all assign the woman a role only to please men? Does He give men authority over women, despite the claims of equality among genders? Does he empower men to beat a woman if he considers her to be in defiance of his authority? Is the Quran a revealed document, or was it the product of a specific time and culture? Was the purpose of the Quran to create a new social order or to perpetuate the age-old patriarchy where women were always at the mercy of men? Will women ever achieve self-dignity in Islam?
This article looks at the common understanding of the Ayah, as explained by various translators and commentators of the Quran, both classical and modern. It analyzes its linguistic knowledge within the overall message of the Quran. It compares the two with some of the Prophet's authentic sayings to attempt to arrive at an alternative meaning.
The overwhelming majority of both classical and modern scholars have relied on an explanation that gives more credence to the norms of patriarchy rather than the intent of the divine guidance in matters of respect and equality in family relations. These scholars have selectively used the statements attributed to Prophet Muhammad to supplement their arguments about male superiority. They often ignored the uswa (the Prophet's character and lifestyle), as explained in the Quran, and several of the authentic ahadith (words and actions attributed to the Prophet). In this effort, they have created several contradictions within their writings and promoted a view that defies the spirit of the Quran.
The article identifies grave errors on the part of a majority of interpreters of the Quran in developing a rational, objective, logical and humane understanding of the verse within the overall context of the divine message. The scholars, by and large, used the text to amplify a male-dominated culture.
Anatomy of the Verse
Most commentators and translators have concluded that the verse refers to a man's right to beat his woman if she defies him. But they do not specify who those men and women are? They also do not explain the nature of defiance, the cause of using violence. They also show contradictions in narrating the historical context of the revelation. Despite all these uncertainties, they are sure to conclude that God establishes the rule of male supremacy over women.
Interestingly, the verse does not talk about male supremacy. It even does not speak about beating or disciplining wives; rather, it explains a methodology to resolve differences within a family in a non-violent and peaceful manner, maintaining the dignity of everyone involved in the dispute. It does not give authority to a husband over his wife, and it does not elevate him to the status of a master or owner or in charge. On the contrary, it gives reassurance of the sincerity of women in maintaining their dignity in family matters.
Many scholars usually justify the provision of beating and refer to this verse as a directive to promote balance and justice in the family and society. They say that if a wife's defiance is not checked correctly by the husband through a process involving advice, sexual neglect, and beating, families might disintegrate and lose their essence. They say that peace comes only when there is an authority to impose or implement it. To avoid chaos in family matters, God has made the husband the head of the family and wife subservient. Ironically, they expand this role of husband to society and then argue to empower every male to exercise authority over women in general.
How could one talk of balance and justice within the basic human unit, the family, if one spouse has a more physical and financial advantage over the other, and the right to use force to maintain his authority? How could one talk of peace with the threat of being beaten? Who is there to determine the disciplining level and stop the man from exercising his right to beat arbitrarily? Who is there to monitor the level of the beating? Who will determine the scope and nature of the beating? Why is it considered a solution to the problem?
No religious authority is present at the time of the beating who can stop a husband in his moment of rage?
The argument that force or the threat of power is a deterrent to deviant behavior or action is not valid in a family situation. The state may justify its use of violence against its citizens because they relate to each other in an impersonal manner. They follow the laws that are chosen by them. The state offers a system of check and balance that is necessary to maintain order in society. Through the collective will of people, the state decides the check and balance process and the deterrent. In a despotic system, the checks and balances are created by an individual to protect his interests. In a democratic order, people decide the restraint.
In the divinely ordained system, it is the principle of justice and the concept of equality that is the foundation for voluntarily regulating human behavior. Human beings cannot assume divine authority.
A family is not a mini-state, as argued by many of the Quran's commentators with a ruler and subjects. A family is a symbol of love and mercy, and it grows on the strength of truthfulness and compassion. If the husband assumes the arbitrary and exclusive authority to determine the level of defiance from his wife and punishment, then the very existence of the family is in danger. Whowouldcheck a husband in his moments of anger and rage over the perceived defiance of his wife? How could anyone stop him from beating his wife in the privacy of his home away from the previews of religious scholars, law enforcement agents, or the family members? Does not the threat of further violence prevent wives from speaking up?
What is defiance? The idea of the use of force and beating in one to one relations never produces positive results. No self-respecting individual would feel dignified after being beaten or living under the threat of being beaten even if the beating is with a toothpick or a handkerchief, as many scholars suggest was the advice of Prophet Muhammad.
The physical injuries from beating may heal, but the emotional, social, and moral scars such a beating leaves on a human soul stay permanently. Didn't the divine, the Creator of human emotions, know this basic aspect of His creation?
The idea of using physical force within family relations is unthinkable for its stability and durability. The divine knew that the intent in the revelation was not in the interpretation of scholars; it is in the practice of the Prophet. Scholars accept the statement attributed to Aisha, the Prophet's wife, that the Prophet was a living Quran. It means that he lived every verse of the Quran. There is no single instance in the Prophet's life that tells us of the use of violence or beating towards his wives. The Prophet never thought of hitting his wives or even speaking with them in an intimidating manner. Thus, it is his behavior and example as well as the divine intent that defines this verse and not the scholars' opinions or interpretations. They are not sure of the real context of this verse, and not sure about its exact meanings, and who are still uncertain about the definition of defiance. The dignity of humanity is not at the mercy of scholars who often find it hard to respect those who oppose them, and who often compromise their positions for personal gains.
Most Muslims or most people live in a patriarchal society where women are assigned a marginal role. In this system, men are caretakers, supervisors, protectors, in charge, rulers, owners, and controllers of women. Their authority is absolute, and they can dictate their terms at their will. It always leaves the wife and other women in the family at a disadvantage. It is this patriarchal system that all traditional religions promote. It is the reason behind the suppression of women throughout human history. They didn't have the right to think for themselves. They had no dignity as an equal member of human society. They were mere sexual toys. Men called them seductresses, daughters of Satan, and in monotheistic religions. They held them responsible for Adam's expulsion from the Garden of Eden expelled from heavens, despite the supposed assertion they were from his ribs. They explained that women's presence makes them go deviant in their commitment to God. They were the ones blamed for everything that went wrong in a men's world. They had no identity, no soul, and no status as they were considered a shadow of the male member of their society.
The purpose of Islam was not to legitimize this inhumanity prevalent in human society. It was not to give credence to the then-existing understanding of women and their role in society and to accept the claim that they are mere sex toys and an object to be abused by men. The purpose was not to justify the claim that they were seductresses or daughters of Satan and not to legitimize the claim that they were created from the rib of Adam to institutionalize male superiority.
The purpose of divine guidance was to challenge the imbalance and inequality that had existed for centuries. It was reasserting the essential truth that all humans are equal, and gender or race is not the basis for dividing and discriminating people. The Quranic message restores dignity and equality to both.
The Quran says: "Verily, if men can surrender to God, so can women. If men can have conviction in Divine guidance, so can women. If men can be genuinely devout to God, so can be women. If men can be true to their words, so women can. If men can be patient in adversity, so can be women. And if men can have humility towards God, so can women. If men give in charity, so can women; if men can exercise control over them, so can women, and if men are mindful of their integrity, so can women. If men can remember and heed to the divine message, so can women; For all such men and women, God has readied protection from sins and forgiveness and a mighty reward. (33:35)
At another place, the Quran establishes the norm of equality when it says: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: You are members, one of another" (3:195)
The Quran made the family the basic unit to ensure equality and dignity. It persuaded men and women to bring about changes in their relations, especially at the family level, to ensure that the two's dignity. But it was not through force; it was through inspiration and giving individuals the ability to mold and shape their behavior. Thus the Quran said: "And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in peace with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. (30:21)
In its references to women, the Quran demolished the myth that women were sex toys or objects or seductresses or subservient to men or even to husbands. The divine asserted that they were fully human beings, and their rights were no less than men.
Thus the Quran did what religious clergy had often neglected. It called for absolute equality of genders. The Quran realized that the two genders are different in biology and physiology and psychology. The call of the Quran was to inspire them to use distinctive qualities as complimentary in an environment of peace and love for the common good of humanity.
The purpose of the divine message was to break the domination of humans over fellow humans in houses of worship and in homes where they dwell. It was to liberate people from living in fear of others. It was to eliminate the subservience of humans to fellow humans. It was to make humans fearless and to help them realize that equality is the only way forward for a balanced and just society, and its absence would bring human beings to a disaster. It was to eliminate the patriarchy that had existed for long. It was to liberate women from all bondages and to give them the freedom to express her dignity and identity in the context of the responsibilities the divine has placed on each human being according to her own free will.
But the way commentators and translators have explained this verse has turned this message upside down and institutionalized imbalance and inequality leading to significant repercussions for men and women in the family and society.
The verse does not give men authority over women or husbands over wives. Yet, whenever someone challenges the conventional definition of this verse, the traditionalists and the dead from their graves speak up complaining that the new approach is either by a group under the influence of anti-Islamic forces who want to weaken Islam or by misguided Muslims. The latter has no knowledge or regard for divine guidance. If the challenger happens to be non-Arabic speaking, his or her legitimacy is questioned on linguistic grounds and trashed away.
Some of the critics often point to the status of women in non-Muslim society and ask what right anyone else has to question their interpretations of this verse with regards to disciplining wives when they are no less unjust or violent to their women.
Both arguments are rooted in arrogance and ignorance and have logical flaws. No one has a monopoly over divine guidance as each one of us carries our burden. Thus the Quran says: "Say: "Am I, then, to seek a sustainer other than God, when He is the Sustainer of all things?" And whatever [wrong] any human being commits rests upon himself alone, and no bearer of burdens shall bear another's a burden and, in time, unto your Sustainer, you all must return: and then He will make you. [truly] understand all that on which you were wont to differ.." (6:164)
Everyone is entitled to understand the verse according to his or her capacity. One may disagree with one's interpretation, but one cannot deny the other the right to relate to the divine message independently. The opinions of scholars are non-binding.
Secondly, the argument that non-Muslims are worse than Muslims in family-related matters, hence Muslims are better, is a ridiculous statement. It is like saying that since "I stole less money than you, hence I am a better thief than you." Theft is theft. The issue here is not whether non-Muslims beat their wives more or Muslims beat them less, the point here is whether there is a divine command to overcome one's wife, especially in a faith that claims to be the last revealed message for all times and all situations. To say Muslims hit their wives lightly compared with others who hit them brutally or violently is arrogant and defeats the very purpose of the divine guidance about the relations between husbands and wives.
There was no need for divine guidance if the purpose was to legitimize the rules of patriarchy. It makes no difference if the beating is light or severe. The very idea of beating a fellow human is humiliating, and God, the Creator of all human beings, does not want any of His creation to live in a state of indignity and perpetual fear. "We have honored the children of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of our creation" (17:70). And the children of Adam include both men and women, Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
How should one examine the current understanding of the verse? Or is there a need to make such an attempt? One should be able to analyze it in the historical context.
There is a Quranic mandate to critically examine the divine message regularly to reach to the truth in our fast-changing world. The Quran describes itself as a message for people who think or use their critical thinking in analyzing their situation. The reasoning is not limited to a particular people or a specific linguistic or ethnic or cultural group. Every individual, Muslim, and non-Muslims should reflect on divine guidance and draw their conclusions. Thus the Quran says: "Those who are admonished with the signs of their Lord, droop not down at them as if they were deaf or blind;" (25:73)
People often would say: Who are you to question the scholars? They might ask. Those who promoted and developed the existing understanding of the Quran and Sunnah (example of the Prophet) are the giants of Islamic scholarship. They preserved the deen (way of life) and the guidance of Allah, codifying its rules and defining its limitations. They were the ones who handed down the essence of the faith to their succeeding generations. How could anyone claim to be a Muslim while challenging such giants?
Such people are confusing the issue. The deen is perfect, and Allah does not need any scholar to redefine or concretize its rules. It is safe in its final form in the Quran. Scholars attempt to understand it in their times and conditions and share their understanding with others, which is non-binding. Allah did not make his faith dependent on the wisdom of scholars. He created the intellectual capacity in every individual to develop an understanding of his guidance. Is this not a fact that human beings, however, scholarly and pious they may claim to be, have often been criticized in the Quran, by none other than God for their misunderstandings or distortions of the divine message? Is this not a fact that the Quran primarily holds the clergy responsible for misinterpreting and contaminating the divine guidance? Why should we selectively apply this Quranic principle to non-Muslim scholars only?
"Those who conceal Allah's revelations in the Book, and purchase for them a miserable profit,- they swallow into themselves naught but Fire; Allah will not address them on the Day of Resurrection. Nor purify them: Grievous will be their penalty." (2:174)
"Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say: "This is from Allah," to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby." (2:79)
"And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in Allah, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to Allah. They will not sell the Signs of Allah for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and Allah is swift in account." (3:199)
The Quran questions the role of the clergy in preserving and explaining the faith correctly. It holds them responsible for the deviations. Hence, the Quran makes it known that the priesthood is not trustworthy for keeping the divine message; it is God who would protect it. How? Through a methodology to understand the Quran within the context of the entire message of the Quran. If our interpretations are not in line with the divine word, they are faulty and weak. If they support the overall divine message, then they should be acknowledged and accepted. There is no clergy in Islam, but we have scholars who have elevated them to that level.
Consequently, after reading the Quranic message, one can say unhesitatingly that the existing prevalent and dominant interpretations of verse 34 of chapter four are weak, faulty as they defy the divine principles of justice, equality, and mercy.
It is not the sincerity of scholars but the relevance of their interpretations that we need to examine.
The Quran mentions the criteria to verify the authenticity of any understanding. Thus, the Quran introduces an idea in one place, explains it at another, and substantiates it elsewhere. The Quran does not contradict its message and does not confuse people about it, and it does not leave people to guess its clear directives arbitrarily. All those understandings in conformity with the overall message of the Quran are considered authentic. All those in contradiction should become subject to rigorous scrutiny until a satisfactory explanation.
Within the framework of the Quran's overall message, there is no room for domestic violence and the translation of the verse that man is superior; hence, the interpretation that husbands may beat their wives is wrong as this is against the very spirit of the Quran's message.
Let us look at the verse as found in many famous versions of the translations and interpretations of the Quran in English, Urdu, Persian, Turkish, and Arabic. The readings selected here offer an insight into the thought process of the translators. Most of them reflect a deep-rooted patriarchal understanding of the gender role within a male-dominant environment. Most begin with the assumption that men have authority over women and conclude that any challenge to this authority is a violation of the divinely revealed scheme of human hierarchy, subject to warning and punishment.
The divine guidance is to eliminate the obedience of men or women over men and women. It is to give the vision of an ideal human society where gender, race, the status would not determine the worth of an individual, but the merit would ensure that human beings reach their true potential. It talks of peace internally and externally. It describes violence as the most abhorring act. It only permitted fighting those who attacked the Prophet at the time. It asks people to control their rage and anger and advises them to overcome their hatred towards others. It asks humans to preserve the dignity of fellow human beings.
Giving a man the authority to reprimand, discipline, and even hit his spouse does not create conditions for that ideal society. Instead, it promotes coercion, fear, and intimidation. It creates blackmail situations because it merely says that if you do not agree with my perspectives or challenge my authority, you would suffer psychologically and physically.
God cannot promote these ideas. Men are responsible for them. Yes, most of these translations, commentaries, and interpretations written by men mostly support a dominant male vision of a Muslim society. But it is not the divine vision. How many times, humans have presented their ideas as religious ideas? A glance at the history of religions can quickly reveal the answer.
The family is the most basic human institution to nurture peace, tranquility, trust, love, caring, loyalty, fidelity, caring, sharing, kindness, and compassion. It offers a life-long opportunity to practice and maintain peace, which becomes more relevant in situations impacted by conflicts and disputes.
The family is love, truthfulness, compassion, and mercy. The Quran invites the spouses to voluntarily develop these qualities to help each other reach their full strength by overcoming their weaknesses. Thus the Quran advises people to understand their mutual imperfectness and help each other develop a strategy to overcome them. It is not an institution to demonstrate one's superiority or authority over the other. It is an institution to live love and nurture it. It is not to promote the subjugation of the other and demand obedience. Instead, it is to promote respect, dignity, harmony, and togetherness. That is why husbands and wives are called zauj, i.e., compatible and equal partners.
The common understanding gives husbands a reason to always assert their domination over their wives and demand obedience, an idea not supported by the Quran.
Most Muslims are not aware of the Quranic message. They live in a society where women are financially dependent upon men. The parents consider their daughters a financial and social burden. The clergy takes sides of men and promote the idea of their authority and superiority over women. One can only imagine the havoc the interpretation can play in family relationships.
And it has played havoc with Muslim families over the centuries. Millions of women have left this world with untold stories buried with them, stories in which they accepted imbalanced relations in their family. They lived in a state of fear and humiliation without even realizing their pain. Still today, millions live with emotional, psychological and social scars. The irony is that they believe that it is God's will and the Prophet's practice. The fact is this is neither the will of God nor the teachings of His messenger. It is how a dominant male culture has impacted the divine guidance.
Translations and Commentaries
Sixty-four translations, including commentaries of the Quran in Arabic, English, Urdu, and Persian, are selected for analysis. The translators are Muhammad Asad, Yusuf Ali, Pickthal, Abdul Haleem, George Sale, Laleh Bakhtiar, Aisha Bewley, etc. The commentators include Ibn Katheer, Jalalain, Qurutubi, Ibn Abbas, Amin Ahsan Islahi, Syed Maududi, Syed Qutub, and Amr Khalid.
Rijal and Nisa
Except two, all have translated the word rijal as men. The two translators have used the husband for this Arabic word. While all husbands are men (in the Muslim marriage system), all men may not be husbands. Men, in a family structure, also include, father, brother, son, besides husband. Similarly, only two translators have defined nisa as wives; others have used women to describe the word. Again, all wives are women, but all women may not be wives. The usage of this vocabulary widens the scope of the verse. It leaves it to the reader to interpret it in a way that supports the idea of male domination and superiority in general.
The translators define the word Qawwam as caretakers, protectors, maintainers, in-charge, and managers of the affairs of women, supervisors, rulers, tutelary guardians, supporters, overseers, authoritarians, and guardians. Read in the context of a patriarchal society; these meanings create the divinely sanctioned notion of male authority over women in general. They also convey the subtle message that women cannot defend, protect, guard, oversee, supervise, and support themselves. They always need male intervention to safeguard their rights.
The word Qanitat has been translated by most as devout, devotedly obedient, attentive, faithful, morally obligated, and steadfast. Thus the meaning gives credence to the idea that women must always be careful to men, obedient and loyal to them, thus reinforcing the existing rules of patriarchy.
Most scholars describe Nashooz as ill-will, disloyalty, ill-conduct, arrogance, rebellion, disobedience, breach of moral obligations, misconduct, non-compliance, disruption, and break-up refractoriness, quarrel perverseness, and non-performance of function, as well as high handedness, defiance. Again, it creates the impression that only women are guilty of these acts, and men are free from these traits. In other words, men or the male-dominated clergy, in general, can define what misconduct or quarrel means, thus it again strengthens the patriarchal notion that men are superior.
Waizun has been translated by most as a warning, advice, or convincing. One has used it to mean a reminder of divine guidance. Again, the interpretations and translations create the impression that men have the right to counsel women as they lack the intellect to distinguish between right and wrong.
Most scholars translate Fahjorhunna as leaving them in bed alone, refusing to share their bed, banishing them to beds apart, forsaking them in bed, leaving them apart in bed, banishing them to their couches, refusing to cohabit with them, separating them temporarily, abandoning them in their sleeping places, and ignoring their sexual desires.
Some commentators describe the refusal of a woman to sexually satisfy her husband's needs as a cause of taking action against her while insisting that the best way to bring her back to senses is to refuse sexual relations with her. If the wife's refusal was the cause to initiate the punishment, how can the husband's refusal be considered a remedy of the problem?
The scholars translate the word Idhribuhunna as hit them lightly, strike them, beat them, scourge them, smack them, punish them, and turn away striking a temporary parting. Most have added words lightly after beating. Some have suggested that the beating should be nonviolent, and only with a toothpick or handkerchief.
A few have translated the word meaning, separation, or keeping distance from them, disregarding the wife or withdrawing from her affectionately or chastising them. Thus, most translators give husbands a perpetual reason to exercise their authority and create fear in domestic settings.
The Works of Tafasir
In most Tafasir or commentaries on this verse, the scholars have justified the supremacy of not just husbands but men in general. Almost all of them have given men the authority to control their women's behavior, discipline them if they show disobedience, stop having sexual relations, and in the last resort hit them. Even though they suggest that beating should be light without causing her injury, they rely on the meanings of words used in the Ayah, as well as the sayings of the Prophet; they deem authentic.
Few have critically examined the verse. Some describe the process of disciplining one's wife as the most humane. Even though most of them tend to agree with the notion of male superiority, they all differ on the nature of disobedience. For some, it is the disobedience of Allah; for others, it is the disobedience of husband. Still, others believe that the husband has a right over his wife's body, and he is entitled to sex anytime, anywhere. In their view, if a wife refuses to fulfill his desire, she is rebellious as she would not only be cursed by her husband but by angles as well.
The male privileges come from their ability to spend their resources on their wives. They feed them, clothe them, protect them, and provide a house to them. Hence they are entitled to a superior status. Few have discussed situations resulting from reverse roles.
Tafsir of Jalalain is a significant work on the commentary of the Quran. Its authors believe that men are in charge of women, and have the authority over them. They are required to discipline them and keep them in check. Men have the advantage over women, in knowledge, intellect, power, and because of what they spend, on them, of their property. Therefore, righteous women are obedient to their husbands, guarding in the unseen, that is, [guarding] their private parts during their spouses' absence, because of what God has guarded.
In their view, women must be obedient. The apprehension of any rebellion on their part should result in a three-step action starting with advice, banishing them in bed, and finally hitting them nonviolently. Obedience and surrender of women is the primary purpose of this strategy. If a woman acknowledges the authority of the man over her, then he should forgive her.
In the tafsir attributed to the Prophet's companion, Ibn Abbas, rebellion is described disobedience in bed, and the final action for such women is scourging them in a mild and unexaggerated manner. So if the wife refuses to participate in a particular style of sex liked by her husband, she might be considered disobedient.
Abd al-Karīm ibn Hūzān Abū al-Qāsim al-Qushayrī al-Naysābūrī
Al -Qushayri singled out men for strength and increased burden in supporting their spouses financially, for the charge is by the power. His work Laṭā'if al-Isharat bi-Tafsīr al-Qur' ān is a famous work on the Qur'an. He determined that there were four levels of meaning in the Qur'an. First, the Ibara, which is the meaning of the text, meant for the mass of believers. Second, the ishara, only available to the spiritual elite and lying beyond the obvious verbal meaning. Third, laṭā’if, subtleties in the text that were meant particularly for saints. And finally, the ḥaqā’iq, which he said were only comprehensible to the prophets. This text placed him among the elite of the Sufi mystics and is a standard of Sufi thought. In his views, the warning in this verse is for hearts and aspirations, not for the lower selves and bodies.
Mufti Taqi Usmani
Mufti Taqi Usmani, in his tafsir Ma'ariful Qur'an, explains that men are in a position of authority. Defiance of the power is a reason for men to discipline their women, and the discipline should take the gradual form of caution, turning away from their beds and then finally hitting them. He believes that God has given men the advantage over women, in knowledge, reason, authority, and all other matters.
Shabbir Ahmed Usmani
In his Commentary Tafsir Usmani, Shabbir Ahmed Usmani says that the standard role of a man, concerning women, has been mentioned in this verse through the word, 'qawwam' which means 'hakim' or one who rules, governs or decides. In his views, the third method of warning, that is, beating is allowed as a forced option in a particular mode.
Maulana Abdul Majid Darayabadi
Maulana Abdul Majid Darayabadi, a noted Indian commentator in his Tafseer-e-Majidi, believed that if the verbal exhortations and close distance have failed, then a husband has a right to beat his wife. He argues, "the holy word is for people of all ages and all grades and stages of social evolution. It may well be that a remedy that is unthinkable in a particular class of society is the only feasible and useful corrective in another.
He further says that beating is not after all so incompatible with law and considerateness as it appears at first sight. Among the natives of New Mexico, women have to prepare the food, tan their skins, cultivate the ground, fabricate the clothes, build the houses and groom the horses. In return for this, the men whose sole occupations are hunting and war beat their wives without pity.
He further explains that among people of a lower class of culture, the subjugation of women is extended even to brutality. The dependence is felt by a woman even with sexual pleasure and accepted as a token of love. In individual states of society, this beating is appreciated and keenly desired. Before venturing to ridicule this Quranic permission or recommendation, European critics would do well to ponder the prevalence of flagellation mania in their own countries.
He said that it was widespread among all ranks and ages in Europe, and it formed one of the most exciting features of their sexual life. It is equally valid that flogging, beating, and whipping are practices of punishment everywhere in the world since the dawn of history, both among the civilized and the savage. England, at one time, the traditional land of flagellation. The spread of flagellation mania among people of every rank and age in English society affords further evidence that it was a specific nationality and not a passion limited to a small circle of sensualists and the like.
Nietzsche's famous statement is quoted by him in which he says when you go to a woman, forget not your whip. In the Slavic countries beating the woman is a part of man's regular love procedure. Benvenuto Callini reports a particular instance in his famous autobiographic memories, Love, Marriage, and Jealousy. He further explains that "among the Slavs of the lower class, the wives feel hurt if their husbands do not beat them. The peasant women in some Hungary part do not think their husbands love them until they have received the first box on the ear. Among the Italian community, a wife, if not beaten by husband, regards him as a fool. Even now, in England, working-class women receive thrashing by their men who generally make excellent husbands. Englishman's privileges of beating his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb have become rather favorite.
Further, it is contended by Freud and his disciples that masochism is part and parcel of feminine nature. Helen, Dentach has elaborated Freud's assumption and generalized it in calling masochism the elemental power in female mental life. She contends that what woman ultimately wants in intercourse is to be raped and violated what she wants in the spiritual life is to be humiliated; menstruation is significant to a woman because it feels masochistic fantasies. Childbirth represents the climax of masochistic satisfaction."
Ismail Ibn Kathir
Ibn Kathir in his commentary Tafsir al-Qur'an al-'Adhim explains that the verse gives two reasons why men are the head of the family, his superior mental and physical powers, and his being bread earner and maintainer of the family. It is natural and fair that the one who earns and supplies the money should have the final say in the disposal of affairs. The word qanitat, obedient, spoken of wives may mean wither obedient to God or husbands. The expression guard, the secrets of their husbands, says that when the husband is at home, they are amenable to them and guard their secrets when they are away, and they not only safeguard their secrets but take care of their property and defend their honor.
The clause leaves them alone in their beds may mean, (a), abstention from marital relations with them, (b), sleeping in separate beds, or (c), ceasing to talk to the wife. The use of the word beds implies that the disobedient wives must stay at home and never allowed to go out.
The measures mentioned in verse are not to remain in force for an indefinite period, for wives, are not to be left as a thing suspended. According to the Quran, four months is the utmost limit for absentation from marital relations, i.e., for practical separation. If the husband deems the affair to be sufficiently grave, he will have to observe the conditioned mentioned in 4:16
Regarding chastisement mentioned as a last resort in verse under comment, a companion reports that the Holy Prophet said if at all a Muslim has to beat his wife, the beating should not be such as to leave any marks on her body (Tirmidhi). According to Abu Dawud and Nasai the holy Prophet forbade the beating of women at all. Still, when Umar complained that they had become refractory, he permitted the condition mentioned above. But on the complaint of ill-treatment of women by their husbands, he indignantly said that the husbands who beat their wives were not the best among men. In another occasion, the holy the Prophet is reported to have said: The best among you is he who treats his wife best and I am the best of you in this respect (Tirmidhi)
Syed Qutb says the following in his tafsir in the Shade of the Quran: :
"Before we consider these measures and how they progress from one stage to another, we need to remember what we have already said about the honor God gives to both men and women, giving women their rights for which they are qualified by being human. We should also remember that a Muslim woman retains her independent civil status. The supremacy of a husband in the family does not make a woman inferior. She maintains her right to choose her partner or to administer her personal and financial affairs. It shows the great importance Islam attaches to the family. It helps us to understand why these disciplinary measures have been allowed and the nature of their application.
"They are indeed pre-emptive measures aimed at achieving the first reconciliation when rebellion is feared. There is no question of trying to aggravate the situation or increase hatred. There is no battle between the man and the woman. These measures are not for knocking the woman on the head when she begins to rebel and confining her again to her prison cell. Islam never condones such thoughts.
"They might have crept into the traditions of certain societies at certain stages. However, such measures indicate that humanity, not merely one sex, has sunk to a shallow depth. In Islam, the situation is widely different in form, substance, and aim.
"As for those women from whom you have reason to fear rebellion, admonish them first." (Verse 34) Admonition, then, is the first stage. It is the responsibility of the in charge of the family to admonish against untoward tendencies. Such warning is necessary in various situations: "Believers, ward off from yourselves and your families that fire [of the hereafter] whose fuel is human beings and stones." (66: 6) In this particular instance, admonition has a definite aim: to treat the symptoms of rebellion before it develops and takes root.
"In some cases, the warning may not bring about the desired results due to some strongly held views, uncontrolled reactions, too much consciousness of one's beauty, wealth, family position, or the like. Any of these reasons may make a wife forget that she is a partner in an institution, not an adversary in a contest. At this stage, the second measure comes into play, in effect, a gesture of dignity, stressing that everything in which a certain woman takes pride, such as beauty or wealth, to emphasize her superiority does not count for much with him: "Then leave them alone in bed." (Verse 34)"
He further elaborates: "It is in bed that a woman's temptation is most effective. A rebellious, self-conscious woman exercises her true power. When a man can overcome this temptation, he deprives the woman of her most effective weapon. In most cases, a woman becomes more ready to give way when the man demonstrates a good measure of will-power in the most challenging situations. "
There are specific rules to do this effectively. It is in the room where the couple is alone. Beating is not appropriate in front of the children; because it might impact them adversely. Nor can it be exercised in front of strangers, because it becomes very humiliating for the woman who may, consequently, become stubborn in her rebellion. This measure aims at dealing with resistance. It does not aim to humiliate the wife or to bring about a bad influence on the children."
If this measure does not produce desired results, the last course of beating is beating. The noted scholar concluded: "Nevertheless, this measure may not be effective in certain cases. Are we, then, to leave the family institution to collapse? There is another measure, admittedly more severe, but it may protect the family: "Then beat them." (Verse 34)"
"When we remember the aim behind all these measures, we realize that this beating is not a form of torture motivated by seeking revenge or humiliating an opponent."
"Nor is it aimed at forcing the wife to accept life under all unsatisfactory conditions? It is rather a disciplinary measure akin to the punishment a father or a teacher may impose on wayward children. They are preventive measures taken in an unhealthy situation to protect the family against collapse."
"When neither admonition nor banishment from one's bed is effective, the situation may need a different type of remedy. Practical and psychological indications suggest that this measure may be the appropriate one to remedy a certain perversion and bring about satisfaction in certain situations. Even when such a sick perversion exists, a woman may not sufficiently feel the man's strength to accept his authority within the family, at least not unless he overcomes her physically. It is by no means applicable to all women. What we are saying is that such women do exist and that Islam considers this measure a last resort used necessarily to safeguard the family. We have to remember here that these measures are divine. No counter-argument is valid against what the one who knows all and is aware of all things says. Indeed to stand against what God may lead to a rejection of the faith altogether."
He quotes the Prophet's answer to Mu`āwiyah ibn Ĥaydah, who asked him what rights a wife may claim against her husband, "to provide her with food when you eat, and with clothes when you dress. You should not slap her on her face, insult her, or banish her from your bed except at home." (Related by al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dāwūd, al-Nasā’ī, and Ibn Mājah.)"
Syed Qutb says that the Prophet gave this general directive: "Do not beat up the women servants of God." But he immediately justifies the beating with the argument that `Umar later went to the Prophet and said that many women had become rebellious. The Prophet then allowed to beat them." He further explains that many women then came to the Prophet with complaints against their husbands. The Prophet addressed his Companions, saying: "Many women have called at Muĥammad's home complaining against their husbands. Certainly, these men are not the best among you." (Related by Abū Dāwūd, al- Nasā’ī and Ibn Mājah.)
The Prophet portrays this horrid picture of a man who beats up his wife: "Do not beat your wife like you beat your camel, for you will he flogging her early in the day and taking her to bed at night." He also says: "The best among you are those who are best to their family, and I am the best of you to my family." (Related by al-Tirmidhī and al- Ţabarānī.)
Syed Qutb concludes that "These reports and directives give us a good idea of the conflict that existed in the early days of Islam between old habits inherited from the days of ignorance and Islamic directives. The same sort of conflict also took place in all other spheres before the new Islamic order finally managed to impress its values on human conscience. God has, however, defined a limit when such measures must stop. Once the objective achieved with any one of these measures, the recourse to them is over:"
Amr Mohamed Helmi Khaled is an Egyptian Muslim activist and television preacher. Known as "the world's most famous and influential Muslim television preacher." He is spoken on the concepts of the Quran extensively. He explains that in surah 34, Allah lays down rules that are to govern Muslim families. Men in an attempt to be just with their wives may become too indulgent with them, which might eventually lead some wives to sin. This Ayah, in his views, illustrates that Islam balances firmness and justice. He argues that in this respect, Allah declares men as "the ever upright mangers."
He believes that in Islam, women should obey their husbands to maintain their domestic life. If women act wrong after getting their rights, then husbands should not allow them to do whatever they please for fear of being unjust. Strictness is essential in this case. He explains that the Ayah identifies means by which husbands should help their wives return to the right path. These steps are admonishment, refraining from bed-sharing, and finally beating. He advises that beating is necessary for ill-conduct or severe disobedience and stubbornness, which has its adverse effects on the family's welfare and might lead to destroying it. He advocated beating, therefore, but rarely. He asks men not to resort to it regularly. He feels that the idea of beating is not to cause pain but to make a wife realize her wrongdoings. But he admits that the best example to follow here is Prophet Muhammad, who had never beaten a woman or a servant.
Amin Ahsan Islahi
Amin Ahsan Islahi, a renowned theologian and commentators of the Quran in his work, Tadabbur ul Quran believes that men have the responsibilities of supervision, protection, guardianship, and trusteeship. Thus, they have superiority, custody, and management over women.
In his views, home is like a small state. Every state needs a ruler and a leader for its existence and survival. Thus the state of the house also needs ahead. Now the question is whether this leadership should belong to men or women. The Quran responds that this status belongs to men, and the Quran gave two reasons for that.
First, Allah has privileged men over women. Men have an advantage over women in many characteristics. For these reasons, he should have the responsibility of being in charge. Men can protect and defend, as well as have the ability to earn and running the family. Women do not have these responsibilities. It is not about total superiority but only that superiority that gives men the right to be the head of the household and be a guardian. There are areas where women have an advantage and privileges, but that is nothing to do with the superiority of women. The woman can run a house and nurture children, while men do not have that. Thus the Quran mentions this in a way that gives superiority to both. But when it comes to leadership or guardianship, it is the superiority of men that is evident.
The second reason is that men spend their wealth on women. He takes care of the financial needs of his wife and children because he is the leader. It is not an accidental responsibility, but he alone is capable of doing that. He is the one who has that capacity as women do not have that capacity.
Islahi says that he is only repeating what Allah describes as the status of men as well as the attitude of virtuous women that they should be obedient to their guardian and protect his honor and secrets. Thus it is evident that those who act contrary to these ideas and try to live like a man cannot be virtuous because they are rebellious as they have turned that system upside down.
Nashooz, in his views, means raising the head, but it also describes the rebelliousness and revolt that a woman shows towards her husband. If she takes that path, then men can discipline her. Thus it should be kept in mind that the Quran talks about it only in matters of Nushooz. It does not refer to every weakness or negligence or carelessness or the expression of her individualism and opinion. Nashooz means that the woman should take a stand that challenges her husband's authority, which may lead to the destruction of the home, and when this situation arises, the man can take three steps. The Quran specifies that the order of these steps should be kept in mind.
The first step is that he should advise her and condemn her. The word is waz that includes condemnation and criticism, and if this does not work, then he should stop having marital relations with her, and if this is not working, then man has the authority to use physical force against her. But make sure that this punishment is not excessive. The Prophet has made it clear that punishment should not leave any known marks on her.
It is the last stage of man's disciplinary action. If it produces desired results and the woman instead of rebellion accepts the obedience, then all the previous deviations should be forgotten, and one should not find ways to take revenge from her. The man should not forget that Allah is all-powerful when he can forgive us for our weaknesses than we should not cross the limits
Maulana Muhammad Naeem
Muhammad Naeem is also a commentator of the Quran. He argues in his work Anwarul Quran that men are superior for the following reasons. They are higher in intellect, strength, honor, and determination. Men were prophets, caliphs, Imam, and judges. Men can call azan, give khutbah, lead congregational prayers, fast perfectly, and lead prayers. They can recite takbeerat of tashreeq, conduct jihad, become the witness of hudood and qisas. They get more inheritance and have authority in the matter of marriage and divorce while a woman is as good as a wife as long as she protects his progeny.
Nushooz, in his views, means that the wife is disobedient, has hatred towards her husband, and is arrogant. She talks to him loudly and does not respond when he asks for sexual relations. It is in this situation her beating becomes necessary as explained by him
Dr. Jamal Badawi
Dr. Jamal Badawi, a former professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, explains which circumstances permit "striking" a disobedient wife:
"If the problem relates to the wife's behavior, the husband may exhort her and appeal for reason. In most cases, this measure is likely to be sufficient. In cases where the problem persists, the husband may express his displeasure in another peaceful manner, by sleeping in a separate bed from hers. However, there are cases in which a wife persists in bad habits and shows contempt of her husband and disregard for her marital obligations. To save the marriage, the husband may resort to another measure at least in some cases. Such a step is more accurately described as a gentle tap on the body, but never on the face, making it more of a symbolic action than a punitive one.
He elaborates on six instances regarding the permissibility of wife-beating:
It is a rare exception to the repeated exhortation of mutual respect, kindness, and proper treatment. Based on the Qur'an and Hadith, this measure is applicable in the cases of lewd behavior on the part of the wife or extreme refraction and rejection of the husband's reasonable requests consistently (Noshuz). Even then, other measures, such as appeal, should be tried first.
As defined by Hadith, it is not permissible to strike anyone's face, cause any bodily harm or even be harsh. The Hadith qualifies as Dharban ghayra mubarrih, or early jurists interpreted light striking as a (symbolic) use of siwak! They further qualified permissible 'striking' as that which leaves no mark on the body. Interestingly, this latter fourteen-centuries-old qualifier is the criterion used in contemporary American law to separate a light and simple tap or strike from 'abuse' in the legal sense. Even this extreme, last resort, and 'lesser of the two evils' measure that may save a marriage does not meet the definitions of 'physical abuse,' 'family violence,' or 'wife battering' in the 20th-century law in liberal democracies.
The permissibility of such symbolic expression does not imply its desirability. In several Hadiths, the Prophet (PBUH) discouraged this measure. Here are some of his sayings: 'Do not beat the female servants of Allah'; 'Some (women) visited my family complaining about their husbands (beating them). These (husbands) are not the best of you.' In another Hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said: 'How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and may embrace (sleep with) her?'
True following of the Sunnah is to follow the example of the Prophet (PBUH), who never resorted to that measure, regardless of the circumstanc