“Then Beat Them”? (Your Wives)
Compiled by Yusuf Estes
Women Treatment in Islam
We receive many questions about the treatment of women in Islam in general and what Muslim men do with their wives in particular. The following should help to shed some light on this most important subject.
I have a question about the treatment of the women in Islam. Could you please tell us why the Quran tells men to
“Beat them” meaning their wives?” [Noble Quran 4:34]
The prophet of Allah, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, tells us Allah has said,
“Before the creation of the universe, I forbid that I would oppress and I hate when anyone oppresses.”
Let us consider a very basic understanding of the advent of Islam and the reason for it to be revealed in the time and place where it came. Here is a brief, yet clear statement of purpose with the coming of Islam:
Treatment in Relationships – in Islam, it is all about treatment; how you treat your Lord; how you treat His messenger; how you treat yourself; how you treat your family; how you treat others; how you treat your enviornment – it is always about treatement.
We must keep in mind the condition of the people who were without the guidance of Almighty God and how they had strayed far away from the message that came with Adam, Abraham, Moses and other great prophets, peace be upon them all.
The ignorant and selfish mentality the prevailed throughout the Arab lands did not allow women even the most basic of rights and the treatment of women was abhorent. Women were being treated as property, even less than the status of livestock. They were offered in trade or taken in marriage without consent or consideration for their feelings at all. The customs of the people at the time were far away from anything we might imagine today.
Statements in the Quran pertaining to the treatment of the women came to improve their condition and to raise their status to a level of balance alongside of men. Islam came to change the hearts of the people and show them the proper way to worship Allah and to interact with each other.
Now let us review the proper method of providing answers for Islam in general.
First we would say, “Thank you for asking about Islam. It is our committment to try our best to provide answers to questions to the best of our ability. However, sometimes we come across questions for which we do not have answers. In this case we will refer you to others who may be able to provide you with proper answers.”
Second, we remind ourselves and the one questioning Islam to be aware, we as Muslims, must never lie about anything, especially our religion.
Third, we do have the original text of the Quran and the preserved teachings of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. This enables us to verify exactly what was said, intended and taught by Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, as being the religion of Islam.
Fourth, I would like to remind myself and all who read this in the future that not all questions are purely questions. Some contain statements and implications, that may or may not be true.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind anytime we discover something in the answers to actually be better than what we already have, we should be committed to change our position and accept that which is true over that which is false and take that which is better for that which is inferior.
After taking all of the above into consideration, if we find that the answer to this question provides us with a better approach to understanding what Almighty God has provided us with as a way of life on this earth and in the Next Life, we should then make the logical decsion to begin to worship Him on His terms.
Having said that, let us now look to the particular verse in question in the original text (Arabic), followed by the phonetic sounds in Latin letters and then finally, followed by a translation of the meaning to the English language by experts in both Arabic and in Quranic meanings.
Ar-rejalu qawwa muna ‘alan-nisa’a bima fadhdhallahu ba’dhahum ‘ala bi’dhi wa bima anfaqu min amwalihim. Fas-saliHatu qaintat HafaTHatul-lilghaybi bimaa HafiTHal-lahu, wal-lati takhafuna nushuza hunna fa’iTHuu hunna wa hjuruu hunna fiil-lmadha ji’i wadhribu hunna. Fa’in aTa’nakum flaa tabghuu ‘alayhinna sabiilan. Innal-laha kaana ‘aliyaan kabiira(n).
One Explanation (tafsir) given of this surahc (chapter 4:34) according to some scholars is:
“Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it. As for women who are averse in behavior, talk to them suasively, leave them alone in bed and tap them (like a doctor would tap a patient – lightly), if they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great.”
Meaning of the Words
For the three words fa’izu, wahjaru, and wadribu in the original, translated here ‘talk to them suasively,’ ‘leave them alone (in bed – fi’l-madage’),’ and tap lightly (percuss them), respectively,
Fa’izu (to use persuasive speech or admonishment)
Fa’izu, implies the first step should be to make clear to them using straight talk, the position they are in and what is required to comply with the teaching of Islam. This approach may be repeated until it is established she has understood and is willing to comply and come back into line with the proper expected of a Muslim woman.
Hajara – Wahjaru (do not touch or molest them)
Hajara, he says, means to separate body from body, and points out that the expression wahjaru hunna metaphorically means to refrain from touching or molesting them. Zamakhshari is more explicit in his Kshshaf when he says, ‘do not get inside their blankets.’
Daraba (tap lightly as ‘percuss’, not to beat)
Daraba lightly tap them (women).’ This view is strengthened by the Prophet’s authentic hadith found in a number of authorities, including Bukhari and Muslim:
“Could any of you beat your wife as he would a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?”
There are other traditions in Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad bin Hanbal and others, to the effect that he forbade the beating of any woman, saying:
“Never beat God’s handmaidens.”
Al-Quran: a contemporary translation by Ahmed Ali, Princeton University Press, 1988; pp78-79
In the past, some translators of this verse have mistakeningly used the word “beat” to represent the word “dhaaraba” in Arabic. This is not the opinion of all scholars and those who are well grounded in both Islam understanding and the English language.
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means (to support the women). Therefore the righteous women are devout 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 illconduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, go back to them (in intimacy), if they return to obedience and do not seek any means of annoyance against them. Certainly, Allah is Most High, Most Great.[Noble Quran 4:34]
Other translators have offered words such as, “tap” and “pat” to represent a physical type of admonisment. While definitely coming closer to what might be acceptable in many circles than such expressions as “hit” or “beat”, this still does not properly demonstrate the position and usage of such terms in relation to the first of the verse and the connection to the following passage, wherein the clear instructions deal with the women who do not come into compliance. Therefore, it likely be considered to mean: “tap lightly as a doctor would examine a patient”.
We understand from this some of the translations are not properly representing the spirit of the meaning. Therefore, they cannot be considered to be the representation of what has been intended by Almighty God.
Now we can properly understand that Almighty God has commanded the men to provide for the women and allow them to keep all of their wealth, inheritance and income without demanding anything from them for support and maintenance. Additionally, if she should be guilty of lewd or indecent conduct, the husband is told to first, admonish her and then she should cease this lewdness. However, if she should continue in this indecency, then he should no longer share the bed with her, and this would continue for a period of time. Finally, if she would repent then he would take up sharing the bed with her again.
Dr. Jamal Badawi (St. Mary’s University, Nova Scotia) is of the opinion these (three stages) are necessary steps prior to divorce. Instead of a man saying, “I divorce you” three times in a row, he should follow this procedure before acting hastily and thereby doing something unwise and displeasing to Allah. The first step would be as mentioned above, to give her a “good talking to” and then if she continued in such unpleasing behavior, to leave the bed (not have intercourse with her) for a period of time and then finally, the last straw would be to “pat” her on the arm (as you would stroke a sheep or animal) to signify to her this is the final straw and then if she still persisted in her bad way, he could divorce her.
Regardless of the various positions and opinions, there is no permission established through the teachings of the Quran or the Sunnah (way) of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, wherein one person could “beat” another person at their own discretion.
Any translations of the Quran indicating women can be beaten or abused by men is totally out of touch with the message of Islam from the rest of the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
And Allah is All Knowing of the meanings of His ayahs (verses in Quran).