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Does Islam encourage wife beating?

By Farhat Naz Rahman

 This is a grave distortion of the Qur’anic teachings. On the contrary, Qur’an uses the best psychological approach to discourage this widespread abuse that is widespread in both Islamic and non-Islamic societies.

Following is the related Qur'anic text:

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 you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) do not share their beds,(and last) beat (tap) them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).1         

In this verse, the Arabic word “Wazraboohuna’ root (Zaraba) has usually been translated as ‘to beat the wives’. But as this meaning of beating was against the general Islamic principles of equality of both the sexes and justice, hence a number of explanations of this translation were made, some of which were very funny. According to one such explanation, it is reported that the above-quoted verse actually revealed to repeal a decision of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). During the Jahilliah society before Islam, it was customary for the husband to beat their wives. But the equal right granted by Islam to women convinced the believers that this custom was against the teachings of Islam. It was due to this conviction that when an Ansari Companion slapped his wife, she complained against him in the court of the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) then ordered that her husband should be treated in the same way. But according to a report Almighty Allah did not like this decision of the Prophet (PBUH) and the above mentioned verse 3:34 of Surah Al Nisa revealed. 2

This report contradicts itself as it presents the Prophet (PBUH) as a person who could not differentiate between the right and the wrong. The second report in this respect is from Hazrat Ibne Abbas (RA), a companion and the first exegesist of the Qur’an. He explains away this verse by observing that the wife should be beaten with a toothbrush and nothing else. This explanation renders the beating affair a funny one. Imam Shafie had his own explanation of this verse. He maintained that the injunction contained in this verse regarding the beating of the wives was a sort of permission but it is better not to beat them.3

Side by side with these explanations, there is hadith authenticated by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, which shows that the Prophet (PBUH) did not like the beating of wives at all. In this respect, he remarked that a person beats his wife and then expects conjugal relations with her?

Among his sayings are the following: "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;" and"[It is not a shame that] one of you beats his wife like [an unscrupulous person] beats a slave and maybe he sleeps with her at the end of the day."4

 In another hadith the Prophet (Pbuh) said;

How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then he may embrace (sleep with) her?5.

This observation of the Prophet (PBUH) points to the fact that beating of the wives, badly affects the matrimonial relations and the believers should avoid this exercise.

It may be interesting to mention here that this verse of Qur’an does not discuss the relations between a husband and wife as had been generally understood by the majority of the translators. In this verse and like many other similar verses on the subject, address is to Muslim society, which according to the Qur’an is responsible for the safeguarding the rights of both the genders in the society. The punishment of beating for indecency is concerned, it is not confined to women only but as mentioned in the following verse of the same chapter it applies to both sexes.

If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, leave them alone; for God is oft returning, most Merciful.6

This refers to the unnatural crime between men. As already mentioned this punishment is to be enforced by the Muslim society. In the above verse an appropriate word ‘Fa Azoohuma’ has been used for slight punishment. It literally means ‘to beat’. While the Arabic word ‘Zaraba’ used in verse 34 which is usually been translated as ‘to beat’ has several meanings. When this word is used in legal context, as is the case inverse under reference, it means ‘to prevent’. The great Arabic lexicographer Syed Murtaza Al-Husaini Al-Zubaidi in his famous Arabic dictionary Taj-ul-Urus has supported this meaning of the word. 7

According to the explanation, the translation of the relevant portion of verse 34 will be as under: -

‘And (as to) those on whose part you feel desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in beds and prevent them from going out of their houses’.

This meaning is also in accordance with the guilt of desertion mentioned in this verse. House confinement, it may be mentioned here, is the general rule of punishment prescribed in the Qur’an for the women. In addition to this verse, similar punishment has been prescribed for them in verse 15 of this Surah also. In this verse procedure for enforcing this punishment has also been prescribed. It will enforce by the society after fulfilling all the requirements of justice and not by husband. It is not necessary that the guilty woman may be a wife. She can be a daughter, a sister, and a mother also. 8

Islamic teachings are universal in nature.  They respond to the needs and circumstances of diverse times, cultures and circumstances. Some measures may work in some cases and cultures or with certain persons but may not be effective in others.

Finally, the problem of domestic violence among Muslims today is not rooted in this Qur’anic passage. A few men strike their wives after completely following the Qur’anic suggestions for regaining marital harmony. The goal of such men is harm, not harmony, as such after the fact; they cannot refer to verse 4:34 to justify their action.9

Any excess, cruelty, family violence, or abuse committed by any "Muslim" can never be traced, honestly, to any revelatory text (Qur'an or hadith).  Such excesses and violations are to be blamed on the person(s) himself, as it shows that they are paying lip service to Islamic teachings and injunctions and failing to follow the true Sunnah of the Prophet.


1 Qur’an 4: 34

2 Allama Shaukani, Tafsir Fateh Al-Qadeer, Vol: 1 P-462.

3 Mohammad Shoaib Adil, Islam and wife beating, an article published in ‘La Dame’ the magazine of the Daily The Nation, in 1991,p-2.

4 Riyadh Al-Saliheen, p.p. 137-140.

5 Sahih Al-Bukhari, op. cit., vol.8. Hadith  68, pp.42-43.

6 Qur’an 4:16

7 Mohammad Shoaib Adil, Islam and wife beating, an article published in ‘La Dame’ the magazine of the Daily The Nation, in 1991,p-2.

8 ibid

9 Amina  Wadud Mushin, Qur’an and Woman. Kaula Lampur, Penerbit Fajar Bakti SDN.BHD, 1992, pp 76

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