The Quran’s Most Controversial Verse – Beating Women

QUESTION:

Can it be understood from the following verse that Islam is a male-chauvinistic religion?: “…As for those [wives] whose misconduct you fear, advise them, then, keep away from them in the bed, and then, beat them…” (Quran, 4:34)

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Answer:

This is surely one of the most misinterpreted and misrepresented verse in the Quran. Many feminists and women’s rights activists have used this verse to assert that Islam oppresses women in the family structure and leads to a completely male-driven, male-chauvinistic society. In order to examine this verse, it would be prudent to refer to the commentaries (tafasir) of the Quran. Two famous commentaries, Tafsir al-Mizan by Allamah Tabatabai and Tafsir Namuneh by Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, will be summarized below, along with information from other credible sources:

The Arabic translated as misconduct (نشوز) literally means a combination of disobedience and arrogance. One would fear such conduct when signs of misconduct have appeared. Hence, the three stages of treatment are proposed only after misconduct has occurred. Before this misconduct one must advise them.

Misconduct must be defined. A husband does not have the right to force his wife to perform any household duties. Hence, he cannot command her to do the dishes or cook him dinner. Furthermore, he cannot punish her if she does not obey these commands. Misconduct here means committing major sins, such as certain types of unethical behavior that would cripple most marriages. This will be further explained when with the quotes from books of Islamic jurisprudence.

Then, when the misconduct appears the three forms of treatment can be used in order. This means that first, one should try to keep away from them before the stage of striking occurs. The process of starting with minor punishment leading to heavier punishment is rational.

The controversial issue that is raised is how can Islam permit a man to physically hit his wife? The answer to this question lies in properly understanding the verse and coupling it with authentic Islamic traditions. The issue of hitting one’s spouse has been mentioned in books of Islamic jurisprudence, for instance:

Sayyid Sistani states in Minhaj al-Salihin: “Misconduct (نشوز) can appear from the wife or husband. Regarding the wife it occurs when she leaves the obedience of her husband in matters which are obligatory for her to comply with (such as refusing to have sexual relations)…not when she refrains from obeying him in matters which are not obligatory upon her, such as serving in the house.” Regarding the strike: “It cannot cause the skin to turn black or red.”

Therefore, the striking must be soft. It cannot result in a bone being broken, an injury, or even a bruise. This amount of a strike is also only reserved when all other methods of preventing misconduct has been exerted. Furthermore, it would be an extreme measure that is unlikely to solve severe marriage disputes.

Answered by: Shaykh Hamid Waqar

Source: 14 Publications

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  1. Here are some points that I made in my paper and speech: 1)This is referring to a dispute between the husband and wife where the wife is “way out of control”, for example, sleeping around, being abusive to her husband, etc. So there are certain steps taken to address this as the verse talks about. 2)First council her. 2)if that does not work, then avoid having sex with her3)If those two do not work, there are two different interpretations, neither of which means beating. The first which has some sort of physical contact involved is in the context of and analagous to someone sitting down with their spouse, and putting their hand on their shoulder and telling them “we have a problem”. Or similar to waking someone up from sleep. The hadith, often used in both shia and sunni sources to explain this verse, is one should not use a force more than a toothbrush. It is IMPOSSIBLE to beat/discpline, etc someone with a toothbrush. This is indicating the maximum limit. There are other hadith which show the prophet (saw) forbidding Muslim men from beating their wives, and saying there is a penalty to pay if they do so.(Bihar al anwar and Mustadark al wasael). At his time, physical abuse was common, and so the prophet (saw) forbade men from doing so anymore. As others mentioned, the verb da ra ba in Arabic has several meanings, not just to strike or beat. This is why context is so important when interpreting these verses . The other non physical interpretation of the verse indicates that a husband leave his wife and divorce her, according to Seyyid Lari,r if the three steps don’t work. The third step according to him, is to ignore her in the house completely. This is his interpretation of da ra ba, and in fact one of the meanings of the verb, if you refer to the dictionary. Seyyid Lari also quotes Shahid At Thani, author of Sharh al Lumah (a commentary used as a standard howza book), and he also quotes Imam Ridha (3as) , wherein both say that da ra ba is translated as “playful striking”. In fact, Seyyid Lari does not regard the hadith by Imam Al Baqir (3as) as authentic, because he says there are no consistent reliable chains to this. So, as we can see, NEITHER Of these meanings constitutes beating.

  2. Adamu Muh'd Shu'aib

    During the interpretation of this verse, his eminence Sayyid Ibrahim Alzakzaky, the leader of the islamic movement in Nigeria said: The verb DARABA does not mean beating rather it simply means that one should abstain from the house, as did the Holy Prophet(S) . When A’isha and Hafsa disobeyed Him, He abstain from the house and stayed in His Mosques for a complete month.

  3. aisha reports that the prophet (saws) one day closed his fist and punched aisha on her chest, to a level aisha says that she almost felt her soul was going to come out of her body.

  4. Sam, That report is from sunni scholars verse and is not thought to be authentic in shia Islam. Any report you see which goes against the Quran (Which is the primary ruling of Islam) is likely from an unauthentic source or is mistranslated.

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  6. So the explanation is, if your wife doesn’t want to have sex with you, beat her softly?
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  7. Ashish, John, how come you seem to ignore the interpretation which says that the word means to “ignore altogether” and you seem to want to focus on the “beat softly” one?

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  9. It is not good to beat women even at a slightest matter,if man conduct misbehave then what.?

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