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.

Forward

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

25 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.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  2. Shazan

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

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    Reply
  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……..

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • 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?

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      Reply
      • 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:
        http://maqasid.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/unnatural-offences-the-controversy/

        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.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

        I understood that clearly worded comment Alhamdulillah. :)

        -Aly
        *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  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?

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • RCHOUDH

      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.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  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

    [http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/quran_434_chastising_women_a_means_to_resolve_marital_problems/]

    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. *

    [http://quran434.com/]

    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

    [http://islamnewsroom.com/news-we-need/1779] *

    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.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

    Reply
  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.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • 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.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  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 :)

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  8. RCHOUDH

    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.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  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.

    Wasalaam

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  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
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/20/best-and-worst-countries-for-women-the-full-list.html
    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.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  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.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

    Reply
  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……….

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • 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
      CommentsTeam

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  13. Mahnoor Khalid

    Assalam.o.alaekum
    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)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  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.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

    Reply

Leave a Reply