Quran says in Chapter 4: Verse 34:
Quoting the verse above, the critics allege that the Quran sanctions domestic violence as it asks the husbands to beat their wives.
This criticism should be taken seriously as a study reveals that in India, domestic violence has increased 53% between 2001 and 2018.
Does the Quran allow domestic violence? Let’s find out.
- Since there are several angles to be explored, this will be a long article.
- If you are interested in the linguistic analysis of the words used in the verse, please refer to the “Additional Info” section at the end of the article.
Islam and Domestic Violence
To understand Islam’s stand on Domestic violence, it is imperative that we appreciate the correct methodology to understand the Quran.
Correct Methodology to understand the Quran
When you read any scripture, be it Quran, Bible or Bhagavad Gita, it is important we know how to approach the scripture to understand what it says. Superficial reading of scriptural texts without knowing the correct methodology, will lead to incorrect conclusions.
As far as approaching the Quran is concerned, we must keep the following in mind:
- What does the Quran as a whole, say about the subject?
- How did Prophet Muhammad understand, explain and live these verses?
- What is the context of the verse?
Let’s now apply the above methodology to understand the verse in question.
What does the Quran as a whole, say about the subject?
Since the issue at hand is about husband and wife, it is necessary we understand how the Quran views marriage.
Marriage according to the Quran
God says in the Quran:
From the verse above, we understand that marriage should enable the spouses to find peace and comfort in each other. We also learn that the spouses should share unconditional love and mercy with each other.
Note: In the verse, the Arabic word used for “love” is Mawaddah. In Arabic we have several words to refer to love. Examples: Ishq, Hubb, Shagfah etc. The word “Mawaddah” refers to a special kind of love that is shown without any selfishness or any expectations from the other person. The beautiful name and attribute of God “Al-Wadud” also comes from “Mawaddah” and thus giving the meaning “the One who loves us without any selfishness or expectations.”
When the image of marriage portrayed in the Quran is one that gives peace and comfort to the spouses and is based on unconditional love and mercy, how can someone think that the Quran sanctions domestic violence?
How can a husband who practises the guidance of the Quran by showing unconditional love and mercy to his wife, abuse her or beat her?
In the same chapter, God in the Quran advises the husbands:
Does it make sense to think that the God Almighty, who commands the husbands to live with their wives with goodness, also commands them to indulge in domestic violence? The answer is NO!
What did Prophet Muhammad say about beating wives?
Prophet Muhammad said:
This is an explicit command that women should not be beaten. Let’s also look at a few other sayings of the Prophet that make it clear that there is no room for domestic violence whatsoever.
Prophet Muhammad said:
The Prophet would also warn women about men who would beat their wives. For example, the Prophet advised a lady named Fatimah bint Qais not to marry a man who was known for hitting women. The Prophet said:
The list of sayings of the Prophet on domestic violence is too long to fit in this article. We would like to end this section with a quote from Aisha, the wife of the Prophet. She said:
What is the context of the verse 4:34?
As much as we all desire a happy marriage, some marriages will be far from ideal. When one reads verses 34 and 35, we can infer that these verses provide guidance to deal with severe marital discord.
Verse 34 provides guidance to the husband on what he should do when he suspects or fears that his wife is doing “Nushuz”. Nushuz is “unfaithfulness” or “infidelity”, i.e when the wife desires another man other than the husband. (Linguistic analysis of this word is provided in the additional info section.)
When the husband suspects that his wife is unfaithful…
Remember, “unfaithfulness” shakes the very foundation of marriage and is the highest form of rebellion in the institution of marriage. When the husband suspects that his wife is unfaithful, God in the Quran instructs that he should:
1. Advise her in the best manner, in a manner that touches her heart
If this fails, then he should:
2. Ignore her when he goes to bed (do not have sexual intercourse with her)
If this also fails, then he should:
3. Wadribuhunna (the correct meaning of this word is explained below).
Prophet Muhammad said:
The saying of the Prophet is also referring to unfaithfulness on the part of the wife and the advice for the husband is exactly on the same lines mentioned in the Quran but adds “without causing any pain or mark” [ضَرْبًا غَيْرَ مُبَرِّحٍ] when speaking about “Wadribuhunna”.
What does “Wadribuhunna” mean?
The Arabic word used in the verse which has been translated as “beat them” is Wadribuhunna which comes from the root word ‘Dharaba’. The Arabic word ‘Dharaba’ has several meanings. When a word has more than one meaning, we take the meaning that suits the context. This holds good for any language. Let us consider the English word ‘beat’. It has several meanings. The common meaning is: to hit repeatedly so as to inflict pain.
However, the meaning of the word ‘beat’ depends on the context. For example: if you read “Roger Federer beat Nadal in the Wimbledon final”, what would you understand? Will you understand that Federer hit Nadal to inflict pain or will you understand that Federer defeated Nadal in the final game? Obviously, you will go with the latter. It is the same word ‘beat’ but it gives a completely different meaning as the context is different. Keeping this in mind, let us analyze the meaning of the word ‘Dharaba’ in the verse.
Some of the meanings of the word ‘Dharaba’ are; to beat, to travel, to tap, to set forth, to make a clear statement or proclamation etc. For example: if we read Chapter 66: Verses 10 and 11, the Arabic text reads “Dharaba Allahu masalan….” which is translated as “God puts forth or presents an example” . Based on the context, the word ‘Dharaba’ in the verses has been correctly translated as “puts forth or presents”.
What does the word ‘Dharaba’ in the verse (4:34) mean?
We can arrive at the appropriate meaning of the word ‘Dharaba’ only after taking into consideration the Quran’s view on marriage and the teachings of the Prophet that were mentioned above.
When we holistically consider the other verses of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet, the correct meaning of the word Dharaba is “tap gently” to make a clear statement to the wife that this is the last straw. (Linguistic analysis for this is provided in the additional info section.)
The great companion of the Prophet, Abdullah ibn Abbas, when he explained the word “Wadribuhunna” said:
As one can see, tapping the wife with the “tooth-cleaning stick” will not cause pain or leave any mark just as the Prophet instructed. Any unbiased reader can see that the verse of the Quran is in no way encouraging husbands to indulge in domestic violence.
4:34 is a solution to domestic violence
This verse which is criticised is actually a solution to domestic violence. Let’s see how.
Domestic violence occurs when the husband is in a spat of extreme anger and is impulsive. When a husband suspects his wife of unfaithfulness, the amount of anger a husband would experience is unimaginable. Even during this emotionally volatile situation, God commands the husbands to restrain their anger and follow the three step process of advising her in the best manner possible, then ignoring her in the bed and then finally if these two steps fail, gently tap her to make a proclamation that this will be the end of their marriage if she continues like this. See how beautiful the guidance is! How can this verse be accused of encouraging the husbands to beat their wives?
If the Quran did not allow the husbands to beat their wives even for the worst form of rebellion, which is unfaithfulness, where is the question of allowing the husbands to beat their wives for other acts of disobedience?
Any cruelty, family violence, or abuse committed by a “Muslim” finds no support in the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet. Such excesses and violations are to be blamed on the individual himself, as it shows that they are only paying lip service to Islamic teachings and are failing to follow the true example of the Prophet (peace be on him).
What if the husband is unfaithful?
Some may wonder, does the Quran speak about the unfaithfulness of the husband? The answer is yes! God says in the Quran:
The same word “Nushuzan” that was used in verse 34 is also used here. The word “Nushuz” is used only twice in the entire Quran. It is used once for immoral behaviour of wives and once for immoral behaviour of husbands.
God says a couple of verses later:
In Verse 128, God recommends a peaceful settlement between the husband and wife, and if that does not work, He allows separation between them.
Quran is revolutionary
In the Arabic language, some words are used exclusively for women. For example: “Haaid” refers to a menstruating woman. The word “Haamil” refers to a pregnant woman. These words are exclusively for women as a man cannot menstruate or become pregnant.
In the male-centric pre-Islamic Arab society, the word “Nushuz” was exclusively used only for the women to refer to her unfaithfulness. This is because it was a crime only when the women were unfaithful. A man cheating on his wife was completely acceptable for them.
The Quran, for the first time in the Arab language, used the word “Nushuz” to refer to the unfaithfulness of a man and thus conveyed a strong message that fidelity is expected from both the husband and the wife.
Do not tolerate domestic violence
As we can see, the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet strongly condemn domestic violence. A wife need not and should not tolerate any form of domestic violence. In fact, domestic violence is a valid reason to seek divorce. The Prophet had taken domestic violence very seriously, so much so, he agreed with the lady’s decision to get divorced from her husband.
Habibah bint Sahl was the wife of Thabit ibn Qais and she was the neighbor of the Prophet. Thabit had beat her. So she appeared at the door of the Prophet and she said: “Thabit and I can no longer be married.” The Prophet said to Thabit:
Warning for husbands who abuse their wives
We would like to remind the men, who abuse their wives emotionally and physically, that they will have to answer God on the day of Judgement for their actions.
Prophet Muhammad said:
If justice will be established even between animals that have no choice on their actions, then imagine what would be the situation of men who exercise the choice to abuse their wives emotionally and physically.
If you are wondering “Is life after death possible?”, read this article to know more.
Men who beat their wives are the worst
Prophet Muhammad said:
If the best men are those best to their wives, then the worst men are those who are worst to their wives. The men who abuse their wives emotionally and physically are the worst of men. They should seek psychological counselling to mend their behavior.
Men! Don’t think you are great
God ends the verse 34 by saying:
Men who abuse their wives think they are in a high position and are great. God reminds them that it is He who is in the Most High position and who is the Most Great. It is before this God, who is Most High and Most Great, they have to stand on the day of Judgement answering for all their actions against their wives. So men! Behave!
What is Nushuz?
Nushuz is “unfaithfulness” or “infidelity”, i.e when the wife desires another man other than the husband. One might ask, how did we conclude that Nushuz is “unfaithfulness”? Let’s look at a hadith which contains the same word “Nushuz”.
A lady came to the Prophet and complained:
I swear by God! I have done no wrong to him but he is impotent and is as useless to me as this,” holding and showing the fringe of her garment.
Abdur Rahman (husband of the lady) said:
When the husband described his wife, he used the phrase “وَلَكِنَّهَا نَاشِزٌ تُرِيدُ رِفَاعَةَ”. We can see that he described his wife as “Naashiz” who desires another man called Rifaah. “Naashiz” is a lady who does “Nushuz”.
It must now be clear that the word “Nushuz” refers to “Unfaithfulness” and is not about any other normal acts of disobedience of the wife.
Can the word “Dharaba” be understood as “tap gently”?
If someone thinks we are deliberately opting for a meaning that is convenient to us, we would like to point out that the word ‘Dharaba’ has been used to refer to “tap gently” in the hadith (saying of the Prophet). Let’s take a look at that hadith.
The same word ‘Dharaba’ is used in this hadith. The Arabic text for “tapped gently on my shoulder with his hand” is فَضَرَبَ بِيَدِهِ عَلَى مَنْكِبِي. In this phrase, the word ‘Dharaba’ is understood as “tapped gently” because if we give the meaning “beat”, it will not make sense in this context. So, “tap gently” is a valid meaning of the word ‘Dharaba’.