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Does the Quran allow men to beat their wives?

March 19, 2013

Best of you are best to their women

By Abu Amina Elias

Question:

Verse 4:34 reads, “As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and strike them.” Is this a justification of domestic abuse and violence against women?

Answer:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The “striking” in this verse is a symbolic gesture meant as a last resort for men whose wives refuse to stop committing major sins. There are very strict restrictions upon this concession and it is not a justification for a man to physically harm his wife.

Allah said:

وَلَا تُضَارُّوهُنَّ لِتُضَيِّقُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ

Do not harm them in order to straighten them.

Surah At-Talaq 65:6

Ubaida ibn As-Samit reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لاَ ضَرَرَ وَلاَ ضِرَارَ

Do not cause harm or return harm.

Source: Sunan ibn Majah 2340, Grade: Hasan

The commentators of the Quran agree that the striking mentioned in verse 4:34 is “without severity or intensity or pain” (ghayru mubarrih).

Ikramah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ضْرِبُوهُنَّ إِذَا عَصَيْنَكُمْ فِي الْمَعْرُوفِ ضَرْبًا غَيْرَ مُبَرِّحٍ

Strike them if they disobey you concerning good conduct, a striking without severity.

Source: Tafseer At-Tabari 9377, Grade: Hasan

Ata’ reported: Ibn Abbas said:

ضَرْبًا غَيْرَ مُبَرِّحٍ

It is a striking without severity.

I said to Ibn Abbas, “What is a striking without severity?” Ibn Abbas said:

 بِالسِّوَاكِ وَنَحْوِهِ

It is with a toothstick or something similar.

Source: Tafseer At-Tabari 9387

Ar-Razi said:

أن يكون الضرب بمنديل ملفوف أو بيده ولا يضربها بالسياط ولا بالعصا

It should be a striking with a folded handkerchief or his palm, and he should not strike her with whips or clubs.

Source: Tafseer Ar-Razi 4:34

Rather than being a physical punishment, this striking is a teaching mechanism intended to direct the wife’s attention to the severity of her behavior. The Prophet would do so with his male companions as a means of catching their attention.

Abu Dharr reported:

فَضَرَبَ بِيَدِهِ عَلَى مَنْكِبِي ثُمَّ قَالَ

The Prophet struck my chest with his hand and he said…

Source: Sahih Muslim 1825, Grade: Sahih

In this example, the Prophet struck Abu Dharr on the chest before giving him an important lesson about leadership. The Prophet did not intend to hurt him, but rather he wanted to get his attention.

In fact, some of the early Muslims understood the “striking” to be metaphorical and not physical at all.

Ata’ said:

 لَا يَضْرِبُهَا وَإِنْ أَمَرَهَا وَنَهَاهَا فَلَمْ تُطِعْهُ وَلَكِنْ يَغْضَبُ عَلَيْهَا

A man should not strike his wife if he commands her and prohibits her and she disobeys him, but rather he should show his anger.

Source: Ahkam Al-Quran 4:34

Indeed, the Prophet never struck a woman or a servant with his hand. This is truly the righteous prophetic model which Muslims should emulate.

Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, reported:

مَا ضَرَبَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم خَادِمًا وَلاَ امْرَأَةً قَطُّ

The Messenger of Allah never struck anything with his hand, neither a servant nor a woman.

Source: Sahih Muslim 2328, Grade: Sahih

In light of this, the best action for a Muslim is to never strike his wife. The action of striking the wife carries the ruling of disapproval (makruh), meaning a Muslim will be rewarded for not doing so.

Iyas ibn Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لَقَدْ طَافَ بِآلِ مُحَمَّدٍ نِسَاءٌ كَثِيرٌ يَشْكُونَ أَزْوَاجَهُنَّ لَيْسَ أُولَئِكَ بِخِيَارِكُمْ

Many women have come to the family of Muhammad complaining about their husbands striking them. These men are not the best among you.

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 2146, Grade: Sahih

In another tradition, the Prophet again criticized men who beat their wives.

Abdullah bin Zam’ah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

بِمَ يَضْرِبُ أَحَدُكُمْ امْرَأَتَهُ ضَرْبَ الْفَحْلِ أَوْ الْعَبْدِ ثُمَّ لَعَلَّهُ يُعَانِقُهَا

How does one of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then embrace her?

Source: Sahih Bukhari 5695, Grade: Sahih

The Prophet would also warn women in the community about men who would beat their wives. Fatimah ibn Qais reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, warned her about marrying a man who was known to beat women, saying to her:

وَأَمَّا أَبُو الْجَهْمِ فَرَجُلٌ ضَرَّابٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ وَلَكِنْ أُسَامَةَ

As for Abu Al-Jahm, he frequently beats women. Rather, you should marry Usama.

Source: Sahih Muslim 1480, Grade: Sahih

For this reason, the early scholars discouraged Muslims from striking their wives even in a symbolic manner.

Ash-Shafi’ee said:

والضرب مباح وتركه أفضل

Striking is permissible but avoiding it is preferred.

Source: Tafseer Ar-Razi 4:34

On at least two separate occasions the Prophet separated a man from his wife because he was physically abusing her.

Ali ibn Abu Talib reported: The wife of Al-Waleed ibn Uqbah came to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and she complained to him saying, “O Messenger of Allah! Indeed, Al-Waleed has beaten me!” The Prophet said:

قُولِي لَهُ قَدْ أَجَارَنِي

Say to him: The Prophet has protected me.

She did not stay but for a while until she returned and she said, “He did not give me anything except more beatings!” The Prophet tore a piece of cloth from his shirt and he said:

قُولِي لَهُ إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَدْ أَجَارَنِي

Say to him: Verily, the Messenger of Allah has given me protection.

She did not stay but for a while until she returned and she said, “He did not give me anything except more beatings!” The Prophet raised his hands and he said:

اللَّهُمَّ عَلَيْكَ الْوَلِيدَ أَثِمَ بِي مَرَّتَيْنِ

O Allah, you must deal with Al-Waleed for he has sinned against me twice.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 1257, Grade: Sahih

Yahya ibn Sa’eed reported: Habeeba bint Sahl was the wife of Thabit ibn Qais and it was mentioned to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, that they were married and she was his neighbor. Thabit had struck her, so she appeared at the door of the Messenger of Allah and she said, “Thabit and I can no longer be married.” The Prophet said to Thabit:

خُذْ مِنْهَا وَخَلِّ سَبِيلَهَا

Take what she owes to you and let her go her way.

Source: Sunan Ad-Darimi 2200, Grade: Sahih

Finally, we must remember that the Prophet strongly encouraged Muslim men to treat women in general, and their wives in particular, with the utmost respect and chivalry.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَكْمَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِيمَانًا أَحْسَنُهُمْ خُلُقًا وَخِيَارُكُمْ خِيَارُكُمْ لِنِسَائِهِمْ خُلُقًا

The most complete of the believers in faith are those with the best character, and the best of you are the best in behavior to their wives.

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1162, Grade: Sahih

In another narration, the Prophet said:

اسْتَوْصُوا بِالنِّسَاءِ

I enjoin upon you good conduct toward women.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 3153, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

Hence, the Quran does not allow Muslims to harm or “beat” their wives. Rather, the “striking” mentioned in the verse is a symbolic measure and last resort meant to grab the wife’s attention to her violation of the marriage contract, although a Muslim will be rewarded for avoiding it.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.