The End to Hitting Women: Islamic Perspective on Domestic Violence | Imam Abdullah Hasan

For a pdf version of this article click The End to Hitting Women

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misconstrued verses in the Qur'an by Muslims and non-Muslims alike is verse 4:34, the so-called 'chastisement verse'. Those who claim that the verse allows husbands to hit their wives argue that the verse suggests a three step solution in the event of a family dispute where ill-conduct has been committed on part of the wife. The verse instructs first that the husband may exhort his wife and appeal to her reason (wa'ẓ). If the problem continues, the husband may then express his displeasure by sleeping in a separate bed. If the wife persists in the deliberate mistreatment of her husband, expression of contempt, and disregards her marital obligations, the husband, they argue, as a third step, may resort to ḍarb as a means to 'save the marriage'.

The verse prescribes these three conflict resolution measures in the case of a dispute between husband and wife. The most contentious segment of the verse is the imperative waḍhribūhunna (hit them). The word, coming from the trilateral root ḍ-r-b, in this verse has commonly appeared in modern English translations of the Qur'ān as “hit” or “beat lightly”. The addition of “lightly” reflects a dependence on traditional commentary (tafsīr) of the verse. Other translators have instead used words such as “tap” and “pat” to represent a physical type of admonishment that is not at the level of hitting or beating. All of these translations, I would argue, do not take into account the context of the verse vis a vis the passage following it. Others have posited seemingly far-fetched translations, wherein, they argue; ḍarb implies sexual intercourse, or the temporary separation of husband and wife. Although the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did separate from his wives when a dispute arose, I argue that this is not the primary purport of the verse.

Insofar as a translation must maintain a 'literal' expressive framework, the most adequate one-word translation of the word ḍaraba would be “to percuss” or, “to strike'' or tap lightly as a doctor would examine a patient”. In this study, however, I will show that the real meaning of waḍribuhunna is not literal, but that the imperative is a stand in for a metonymic expression of anger and display of displeasure. This interpretation, I argue, has basis in the works of the Muftī (judge) of Mecca and the student of Ibn Abbās (interpreter of the Qur'ān), 'Aṭā'Ibn Abī Rabāḥ (d. 114 AH), and is, in fact, suggested by the writings of a large number of scholars.

In this brief study I will provide a comprehensive overview of the phrase waḍribūhunna from it's linguistic (lugha/philology), rhetorical (balāghīyya), jurisprudential (fiqhiyya), exegetical (tafsīriyya) framework, and include some supporting traditions (ḥadīṭh) of the Prophet. I will not be able to delve into similar discussions surrounding the terms qawwāmūn, wahjurūhunna,  nushūẓ (in detail) and other such controversial terms in this particular verse will not be the focus of this article. They will be addressed in a much more extensive study “Spousal Reprimand in Islam”, God willing. The following remarks on the phrase wadhribūhunna are only summarized from it.


Dr. Jasser Auda

I was pleased to read this booklet written by my dear brother, Imām Abdullāh Hasan under the title “The End to Hitting Women: The Qur'ānic Concept of Ḍarb ('hitting')”. Imam Abdullah is bringing new insights into the interpretation of verses from the Qur'ān that are often misinterpreted and misused to justify violence and oppression of women, a position taken by several (mis-)interpreters in a way that is unfair to Islam and its eternal teachings.

We need such insights to understand the book of God and the traditions of His Prophet (peace be upon him), especially with regards to two subjects: women and governance. Several (mis-) interpreters have rendered such subjects in a way which, in my view, is contrary to both the spirit and objectives of the Sharī'ah.

The question then arises: how can we differentiate between a valid interpretation or re-interpretation (which is the case here) and an invalid misinterpretation? We must resort to the absolute and universal objectives (maqāsid) of the Sharī'ah.

Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 748 AH/1347 CE), one of the greatest scholars of Islam, described the Sharī'ah as follows:

“Sharī'ah is based on wisdom and achieving people's welfare in this life and the afterlife. Sharī'ah is all about justice, mercy, wisdom, and good. Thus, any ruling that replaces justice with injustice, mercy with its opposite, common good with mischief, or wisdom with nonsense, is a ruling that does not belong to the Sharī'ah, even if it is claimed to be so according to some interpretation.''[1]

Thus, we can argue that the same verses that Hasan explains here were previously subject to misinterpretation because the outcome and the meaning go against these absolute and eternal values of Islam: justice, mercy, wisdom, and goodness. In the issue of marriage, specifically, God says:

“And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put Love and mercy between your (hearts), verily in that are signs for those who reflect.”[2]

With regards to marriage specifically then, we can add a fifth objective: love. It is about time that our fiqh (Islamic ethics and rules) are renewed in order to align our behaviour with these eternal and absolute values; justice, mercy, wisdom, goodness, and love. These absolute objectives are fixed ends that reign over the changeable means, and their universality governs how we understand the Sharī'ah in different contexts of place and time.

May God reward Abdullah Hasan and widen the circles of benefit of his works.

Dr. Jasser Auda

Doha 24.11.2013

29 Responses

  1. Fritz

    Sad to say, psychological abuse is probably more common that physical abuse (and both are deplorable)

    Unfortunately, the former is very often perpetrated by woman (sometimes unknowingly) and can be just as toxic. It would be great to see an article also deal with this element to provide a comprehensive warning.

  2. Shazan

    Assalam o Alekum!
    Jazakillah khair Brother! This is a burning issue and require considerable attention.

  3. Mahmud

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    What makes me uneasy is that it seems to be clear that the word means “hit” literally as the hadith on the matter are pretty clear….the ayah was revealed and then the women complained an so on……..

    • Mahmud

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Can I at least get a reason as to why my comment was edited? I merely started it with expressing gratitude to the Imam for defending the apostasy law in Islam(where the murtad is killed) and then said I felt a bit uneasy about the conclusions here……

      What is wrong with that? May I get a reason?

      • Mahmud

        Best to assume well then…..

        In any case, while I find this article to be pretty strange, I say, Imam Abdullah Hasan has been helpful to me, I loved his website(when it was up!) as he had a very nice article on Ibn Ashur and other stuff we might not easily find easily elsewhere which is always something to appreciate.

        In addition, I can’t thank him enough for his explanation of certain hudud laws, the difference of opinion among Ulema concerning it, and he finally made the apostasy law make sense as I didn’t fully understand it before(although every law in Sharia must be accepted even if we do not understand it.)

        Here is the wonderful blog he used to use, it has very nice explanations of certain Hudud laws, and the beautiful explanation of the apostasy bit is on the bottom:

        Good to see an Imam with a strong foundation in Arabic and Fiqh. Islam QA is nice because they should daleel in English translation and everything, but Imam Abdullah Hasan explained it in a very easy to understand manner.

        Fiqh is usually something not easy on the layman so I naturally appreciate it when someone is willing to go into the time and detail necessary to explain a certain issue, especially controversial modern ones and not be apologetic.

  4. GregAbdul

    don’t want to diss or sidestep this, but the real issue is Muslim teens. I just got battered by my son. He refuses to study. The go into a funk at about 13 and fight to not come out of it. At the time they should be launching themselves into the world, they sulk and underperform and expect parents to take care of them forever. I am pretty sure this is more wide spread than the battering. I know not to hit my wife. My kid doesn’t know he’s not supposed to hit me. So who’s out here to stop me from ending up in an emergency room? I’ve talked with the police. It’s like, since I’m a guy…so what?


      Salaam Brother,

      I pray things get better between you and your son. Do you know if anything is bothering him at school or if he’s having trouble understanding certain subjects? Sometimes kids act out of tremendous stress and anxiety over school. Hopefully things will get better for your son soon In sha Allah.

  5. Motie Omari

    Asalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahe wa barakatuh

    Jazaka Allahu khairan Imam Abdullah for writing this exceptional essay on 4:34 and to MM for publishing the above article.

    ISNA Horizons magazine several years ago dedicated a whole issue on Domestic Violence and included was the essay you quoted for Dr. Abdulhamid Abu Sulayman; highly recommended along with your essay


    Also, a Qur’an student in the UK has published a website and 88 page book solely dedicated to ayah 4:34 that can be read for free at his site or bought from Amazon. *


    Also; here’s a helpful essay by Yusuf Estes to help couples maintain the love and respect in their marriages and hopefully will never ever face discord or any type of abuse:

    28 Tips To Be A Successful (Muslim) Spouse!
    – Yusuf Estes

    [] *

    May we all be blessed and guided to better understand the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah in sha Allah.

    Thank you, your brother,

    Motie Omari مطيع العمري

    P.S. In regards to the respectable brother who stated that his son was hitting him; very sorry to read that, many kids get influenced from the violence in video games, abusive friends, or even abusive siblings/parents; not necessarily physically, rather emotionally or verbally

    We make dua’ that perhaps a local Imam/Scholar or family therapists trained in family counseling can assist your family and son to find out why he hit his own father, wa nauthu billah.


    * NOTE from Yusuf Estes: Marriage is considered “Half the Deen” (very important part of Islam).

    Yet we are seeing failures in marriages all around us. Family fights are on the rise, women and children are being abused and many families are falling apart. More and more marriages are ending up in divorce even amongst the most religious of families, and the Muslims are no exception.

    So many marriages are failing these days, even amongst the most religious of families, and Muslims are no exception.

    This greatly saddens me and I hope by publishing this article here on our website, we might come to a better understanding and better relationship with our spouses, in sha’ Allah.

  6. 25 years In Islam

    Verbal Abuse can be worse than Physical Abuse especially if your spouse is manipulative. People often assume you did something to deserve the abuse, so you get no support or sympathy. May Allah protect us from all forms of violence.

    • SisterX

      I appreciate this topic being presented. It would be nice if more articles on MM could also address issues of domestic violence, as well as emotional and verbal abuse.

      In my personal experience, I think both the abuser and the abused are well aware that these behaviors are not encouraged by Islam. Unfortunately Islamic rulings are often wrongly used to justify and allow the abuse to continue to take place because there is such an emphasis on obeying the husband. The wife, meanwhile often has no support in the community because there is a feeling that it is a private manner, she should not expose his mistakes, and that perhaps some may feel that she somehow deserves the abuse.

      On the other hand, Islamic rulings can be a source of empowerment to Muslim women. Understanding your rights in Islam can help you identify when your rights are being violated.

  7. cedar

    While I myself am not knowledgeable in this area. I still find it odd to break from the overwhelming majority opinion on this topic. There are also multiple sources from the sunnah (more explicit, less ambiguous) that bolster the majority view. I can see the need to advise people, but to sidestep this and portray this view as mistaken is very hard for me to accept :)


    Jazakillah ul khair for this informative article. I’ll be sure to finish reading it soon and pass it on to others who may benefit from it. I was recently speaking to someone about the issue of domestic violence in Muslim communities and, while conceding that it is a major problem, he also said that other sorts of abuses take place in Muslim communities too, such as parental abuse. I stated that while it’s true about other forms of abuse being prevalent right now unfortunately (whether it was parental, child, and/or sexual abuse) I couldn’t think of any other abuse where Islam was used to “justify” said abuse like spousal abuse. That particular ayat has been misinterpreted all too often by people who fail to take into context and apply it properly to the real world.

  9. Hina Ansari

    Asalamu-alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

    JazakAllah Khayr for this highly essential, revealing and explanatory article, and for the links posted in the replies/comments above.

    I will inshaAllah pass this on.


  10. Riz Khan

    Mashallah! great effort and we as one Ummah require such efforts on large scale. I was looking at the list of countries given in the article “The Best and Worst Places for Women” link below
    All the best countries for women are non muslim countries while the worst lies down the list are mostly muslim countries.

    Some shocking facts- the worst country according the list is Chad (165), Aghanistan, Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Solomon Islands, Niger, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Saudi Arabia (147).

    The best countries according to the list are Iceland (1), Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Norway, United States of America, Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Philippines, Belgium, United Kingdom Romania (20).

    I was shocked to find Saudi Arabia and Pakistan amongst the worst 18 countries for women. Let us suppose for a moment that this list is not correct; still we all know the women position in muslim countries is not exemplary. We all know Islam gave unprecedented rights to women but why this is not reflected by the society. Is there anything wrong? was/is our scholars and prominent leaders somewhat lax in this respect? There is a need of such initiative taken by all the muslim scholars. Those who lead prayers should emphasise to treat women gently, respectfully and with love. Each and every forum should be use to advocate for the rights of wormen. It is disgusting to find muslim countries with high domestic violence.

  11. Riz Khan

    A good idea for muslim women seems to be having martial arts training before marriage.. at least a black belt. Also giving permission to husbands to have 4 wives may prove beneficial as four wives are more likely to beat a single husband than the other wary around.

  12. Mahmud

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Advertising is allowed but my comments aren’t? The most I said was I felt uneasy with the conclusion……….

    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      WaAlaikum Assalam Wa Rehmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu:

      You are on moderation, the spammer is now on the spam list. All comments are subject to our comments policy. Please don’t go down the why path again. Any moderated comments will take time to approve or may not be approved.

      Best Regards

  13. Mahnoor Khalid

    Women’s rights have got a great importance in Islam. Islam does not allow to beat women.
    In a Hadith the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) is reported to have said: “How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then he may embrace (sleep with) her?”
    Quran is the central religious text of Islam,According to Quran the relationship between the husband and wife should be based on mutual love and kindness. Allah says: “And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.” (Quran: Ar-Rum 21)

  14. Parvez

    I have a question as to how is the word daraba in the Quran [4:34] meptaphoric and not literal?

    regarding the verse [Surah nisa verse 34];

    Ibn `Abbas (ra) and several others said that the Ayah refers to a beating that is not violent. Al-Hasan Al-Basri said that it means, a beating that is not severe. [Tafsir Ibn kathir]

    The most prominent sahaba in regards to tafsir of the Quran ; Abdullah Ibn Abbas (ra) surely has more authority then Ata ibn Rabah.

    All the 4 Madhabs understood the particual part of the verse as literal and also all the verses of the Quran related to social, marital, fiqh matters are to be taken as what the verse apparently states thus literally.

    The Quran is the clear book of guidance and not a book of secret codes.

    If the particular daraba in verse [4:34] is metaphoric and means anger and not literal, then why did most of the classical scholars understood it as literal?

    why is there not an arabic word clearly stating anger in that verse?

    This clearly proves that verses related to fiqh and social matters are to be taken as literal.

    lets not change the interpretation of the Quran in order to please the athiest and agnostics.
    Our purpose of following the Quran is only to please Allah (swt).

    hence the verse means lightly hitting the wife as last resort if she is rebellious.

    even the human history of ten of thousands of years followed this way as lightly hitting the rebellious wife as last resort.

    the fiqh laws of the quran is practical and does not go against the human nature.

    just because the non muslims have changed their moral values and social values does not mean we should follow them. in fact the kaafir’s radical change clearly proves they were wrong in many social and moral matters therefore there is no evidence to suggest that some how after 10,000yrs that all of a sudden they know what is right now with no authority from Allah.

    • MuFu

      While I agree with you that womans can make use of heavy mental violence in a partnership and that this is not seen as harmful as physical violence I must remind here, if you want to have the right to hit your woman you are doing good doing this in a country where it isnt forbidden. Like it or not, find it reasonable or not, but in a western society we have to bow to western laws and therfore we dont hit anyone, be it woman or man. Hitting was never a good solution in a conflict, it is shutting down the expression of dissatisfaction of the other at that moment _but_ it doesnt solve the true problem!

      • Parvez

        Yes I agree that if the law states no hitting unconditionally than its ok to follow such law.

        However the writer of the article seems to suggest that the religion itself implies such law, which i respectfully disagree due to few reasons.

        please note Islam does not support abuse and the beating of women, words whose meanings are reflected from experiences of violence against women in the west. People have to be careful with their words. The fact that Prophet Muhammad never hit one of his wives does not mean it is not allowed for a husband to do so when the Qur’an has permitted it. This is a logical fallacy and it does not take someone a great distance to discover that there are many narrations where Prophet Muhammad upheld the permission of correcting one’s wife using a physical reprimand

        1. There is no authentic chain of narrators back to ‘Ata regarding the writer’s argument. This is important, especially if someone wants to use it to change the meanings of all other evidence on the issue.

        2. It is only a statement of ‘Ata and cannot stand against hadith. The author’s idea cannot explain the ‘chastise them in a way that leaves no mark’ (dharb ghayr mubarrih) phrase in the hadith of the Farewell Pilgrimage when the Messenger of Allah said:

        “Fear Allah concerning women! Verily you have taken them on the security of Allah, and intercourse with them has been made lawful unto you by words of Allah. You too have rights over them, that they should not allow anyone to sit on your bed whom you do not like. But if they do that, (in that case) chastise them in a way that leaves no mark (i.e. not severe). Their rights upon you are that you should provide them with food and clothing in a befitting manner.” [Muslim – hadith 2950]

        It is important here to make the point that this statement is reported by Muslim and it refers to the last pilgrimage of Prophet Muhammad, just three months before his death, which refutes the idea that there was a transition in culture from Mecca to Madinah.

        3. ‘Ata hismelf narrated, I asked Ibn ‘Abbas: What is the beating that leaves no marks? He said, ‘With a tooth stick and the like.” [Al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Ta’wil al-Qur’an]

        4. Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam did not allow abuse of women but he allowed husbands to physically reprimand their wives.

        Iyas ibn Abdullah ibn Abu Dhubab reported the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) as saying: Do not beat Allah’s handmaidens, but when Umar came to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and said: Women have become emboldened towards their husbands, he (the Prophet) gave permission to beat them. [Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, as-Sunan, Trans. Yasir Qadhi. (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2008) Hadith 2146; classified as sahih by Al-Albani]

        The Prophet was educating his companions to be the best to their wives even if they were sometimes disobedient. However, he did not forbid them to reprimand them physically. As he was the best amongst them and the best to his wives, he did not hit them when they complained and were out of line.

  15. Abu ali

    Hmmm. Seriously reading about domestic abuse — physical and emotional on Islamic websites one would come to the conclusion that good Muslim women never abuse their husbands, that it’s ALWAYS the husband doing it.


    I wish the likes of Shk Mohammed Sharif et al would start taking the issue of abuse against husbands seriously rather than treating it as a joke a chuckling about wives verbally and emotionally abusing their husbands and almost excusing this unacceptable behaviour with references to bent ribs etc.

    Until we can accept that this is a problem the lives of thousands of Muslim men will continue to be ruined by something for which there appears to be no recourse!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.