Responses to anti-Islamic Polemics

Concerning the Quranic injunction to ‘beat’ your wife

There are few verses in the Quran that excite the opprobrium of critics of Islam more than surah 4, verse 34.

Muhammad Asad’s translation of the verse 34 goes:

Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has ordained to be guarded. And as for those women whose ill-will (44) you have reason to fear, admonish them first; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them (45); and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!

In the Prophet Muhammad’s final sermon he taught his companions that, ‘I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example (the Sunnah), and if you follow these you will never go astray’. It is instructive to read Asad’s commentary on this verse (see especially note 45 below):

44 The term nushuz (lit., “rebellion”- here rendered as “ill-will”) comprises every kind of deliberate bad behaviour of a wife towards her husband or of a husband towards his wife, including what is nowadays described as “mental cruelty”; with reference to the husband, it also denotes “ill-treatment”, in the physical sense, of his wife (cf. verse 128 of this surah). In this context, a wife’s “ill-will” implies a deliberate, persistent breach of her marital obligations.

45 It is evident from many authentic Traditions that the Prophet himself intensely detested the idea of beating one’s wife, and said on more than one occasion, “Could any of you beat his wife as he would beat a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?” (Bukhari and Muslim). According to another Tradition, he forbade the beating of any woman with the words, “Never beat God’s handmaidens” (Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hibban and Hakim, on the authority of Iyas ibn ‘Abd Allah; Ibn Hibban, on the authority of ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas; and Bayhaqi, on the authority of Umm Kulthum). When the above Qur’an-verse authorizing the beating of a refractory wife was revealed, the Prophet is reported to have said: “I wanted one thing, but God has willed another thing – and what God has willed must be best” (see Manar V, 74).

With all this, he stipulated in his sermon on the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage, shortly before his death, that beating should be resorted to only if the wife “has become guilty, in an obvious manner, of immoral conduct”, and that it should be done “in such a way as not to cause pain (ghayr mubarrih)”; authentic Traditions to this effect are found in Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i and Ibn Majah. On the basis of these Traditions, all the authorities stress that this “beating”, if resorted to at all, should be more or less symbolic – “with a toothbrush, or some such thing” (Tabari, quoting the views of scholars of the earliest times), or even “with a folded handkerchief” (Razi); and some of the greatest Muslim scholars (e.g., Ash-Shafi’i) are of the opinion that it is just barely permissible, and should preferably be avoided: and they justify this opinion by the Prophet’s personal feelings with regard to this problem.

11 replies »

  1. Top article Mr Williams, but as for people who say Asad is ‘heterodox’ in this matter, here is a tract from contemporary (and too strict for my liking) scholar GF Haddad, who is very critical of Asad’s interpretation.

    Q. Has the phrase ‘wadribuhunna’ in 4:34 normally been interpreted as a command or has it been interpreted as more of a recommendation?

    Not even a recommendation. Al-Razi said in his Tafsir on 4:34 (1308/1891 edition 3:222): “Al-Shaf`i said: ‘wa al-darbu mubah, wa al-tarku afdal – and hitting is permitted, but not hitting is preferable.”

    The basic rule (asl) is strict prohibition, followed by dispensation (rukhsa) as explicited by the Prophet in the hadith below, which al-Shafi`i took for his evidence in his ruling:

    The Prophet said: “Do not hit the maidservants of Allah!” (la tadribu ima’ Allah). Then `Umar (RA) came to the Prophet and said [NB: by way of exaggeration, cf. `Awn al-Ma`bud]: “The women are rebelling (dha’irna) against their husbands!” So the Prophet GAVE A DISPENSATION (rakhkhasa) to beat them. Whereupon women started pouring in to see the family of the Messenger of Allah and complain about their husbands. Seeing this, the Prophet said: “Many women have poured in to see the family of Muhammad, complaining of their husbands, and *the latter are certainly not the best of you*.” Narrated from Iyas ibn `Abd Allah ibn Abi Dhubab by al-Shafi`i in his Musnad, Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, al-Tabarani in al-Kabir, and al-Hakim. Al-Nawawi and al-Suyuti graded it a sound (sahih) narration in Riyad al-Salihin [RS-281] and al-Jami` al-Saghir respectively.

    The Prophet also expressed astonishment at the cruelty of certain men when he said: “Could any of you beat his wife as he would beat a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?” (Bukhari and Muslim).

    The crafty little anti-Islam page on domini.org states:

    “The Qur’an states:
    “Righteous women are therefore obedient, And those you fear may be rebellious (nushuz) admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them.”

    “Some translators add the word lightly after ‘beat them’ in Q 4:34. Others like Mohammed Pickthall and Rodwell translate the word ‘edrebouhon – beat them’ as ‘scourge them’. […] But “a beating without causing injury” (agreed upon)

    “So the man has the right to beat his rebellious wife as long as that beating is not like the whipping of the slave and will not result in injury.”

    Of course the above is false and tendentious but couched in the syrupy style typical of missionaries.

    The hadith in Muslim states that the Prophet in his Farewell Pilgrimage said: “Lo! My last recommendation to you is that you should TREAT WOMEN WELL. Truly they are your helpmates, and you have no right over them beyond that – EXCEPT IF THEY COMMIT A MANIFEST INDECENCY (fahisha mubina = adultery). If they do, then refuse to share their beds and beat them WITHOUT INDECENT VIOLENCE (fadribuhunna darban ghayra mubarrih*). Then, if they obey you, do not show them hostility any longer. Lo! you have a right over your women and they have a right over you. Your right over your women is that they not allow whom you hate to enter your bed nor your house. While their right over them is that you treat them excellently in their garb and provision.”

    *** Then he took the covenant from them and from us that they and we all heard and understood this from him, respectively, directly and indirectly, with his forefinger raised, and said: “O Allah! bear witness.” ***

    After this, whatever Muslim man derogates to the recommendation of the Prophet has violated his covenant with the Prophet and shall be called to account for it; and whoever of the non-Muslim men or women claims – even the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife – that beating women is allowed in Islam, has belied the Divine witness invoked by the Prophet and shall be called to account for it in the Divine Court.

    Q. What is the evidence for saying that this ‘striking’ is in fact only supposed to be carried out with something small, like a miswak?

    `Ata’ said: “I asked Ibn `Abbas: ‘What is the hitting that is ghayr al-mubarrih?’ He replied: ‘[With] the siwak and the like’.” Narrated by al-Tabari in his Tafsir (Dar al-Fikr reprint 5:68).

    Al-Razi (3:222) mentions that as a rule (a) it must be a light beating and (b) the face must be avoided. He added that certain of the Shafi`i jurists said “a coiled scarf (mindil malfuf) (NB: NOT “a folded handkerchief” as mistranslated by Asad) or his hand may be used but not a whip nor a stick.”

    To be honest, Haddad’s quote from the Prophet (SAW) that you could only beat them if they commit ‘manifest indecency’ which he indicates means ‘adultery’ or letting a stranger into your house/bed seems a little TOO lenient (i.e she has to be up to hanky panky in a house you own, in which case hitting her would probably be a ‘dispensation’ to stop you from KILLING her, as many men would do), but that’s how it is (I am sure that Liberals will object to spanking one’s wife even if one finds her in bed with a stranger in the manner Haddad describes in one’s own bed)

  2. I am sure that ‘Evangelical Christian Islamophobe’ lobby are going to spam the hell out of this post now because you did not say what they wanted to hear…

  3. If I caught my wife with another guy in MY house the HELL YES she would be getting a slap (or several). If anything, Islam is TOO liberal on this. I actually think the hitting is indeed to PREVENT YOU FROM DOING A LOT WORSE as most guys would want to do if they found some guy ‘enjoying’ their wife in a house they paid for (I’m sure most Liberals would not hit her and join in the fun. In fact it’s a favourite fantasy of Liberals to have a ‘threesome’ right?).

  4. Also, I would like to add that Asad and Haddad’s opposing but agreeing interpretations (if that makes sense) are very plausible for anyone who actually knows about Islam and Sharia (so not most Muslims and Islamophobes): For example, to prove and punish adultery, you need four live witnesses (who are reliable and ‘pious’) who witnessed not only ‘humping’ but ACTUAL PENETRATION (rather hard to get that money shot without the couple spotting you).

    Unless your wife/husband moonlights as an orgiast or porn star, this criteria is going to be hard to meet. And since I reckon that many people who witness adultery are not going to want to divorce their wife (there was such a case in the Hadith) or have her stoned AND since most adultery WILL be you coming home to find a strange guy coming out of the shower or like that show, ‘Cheaters’, finding your husband/wife going to a hotel or room with someone, you ain’t going to recourse to the adultery punishment.

    So allowing you to ‘beat’ your wife for ‘sexual misconduct’ is a useful tool given the strictures of the Islamic requirement to prove adultery (and the seriousness if it is) and the fact that not everyone who sees adultery will went to separate.

    If a man caught his wife doing ‘sexual misconduct’ but could not/did not want to prove adultery, then a good spanking MAY assuage some people’s manhood as a sort of halfway house.

    I agree that it seems very lenient, but nothing is too lenient for people who worship unlimited individual freedom, like the Liberals you mentioned, so they still will say that the Quran allows you to hit your wife so it’s ‘evil’.

    Well, yes it does, but only if she is guilty of sexual misconduct.

    I think anyone who has ever been the victim of ‘sexual misconduct’ by a man or a woman will understand. Hitting your wife is no small matter, but neither is cheating on a guy in his own house.

  5. Also, I would like to add that it was made clear by the CLASSICAL Islamic Jurists and schools that if a man exceeded the limits (basically, slapping/spanking on the backside as you cannot hit the face, sexual areas or leave a mark, the only target left really is the bottom) and caused ‘damage’ to a woman, the judge would have the man beaten to the satisfaction of the woman, in public. It was then up to her if she wanted a divorce (although I think if that happened, the GUY would probably want a divorce…). And there are documented incidents of this happening.

    One of the problems that we have today is that certain Muslims (*cough*) have decided to go ‘back to the book’ and re-interpret everything and say ‘beat means beat’, ignoring the decisions of Imam Abu Hanifa, Shafi (RA) etc. in favour of other people, and this despite the Prophet (SAW) telling us of the reliability of the earliest generations interpretation of the Quran and Hadith, which don’t forget also have to interpreted, hence the idea of Fiqh (jurisprudence) being superior to simply reading off Hadith.

  6. That’s so lenient that I’M shocked!

    Won’t satisfy the haters though…just you watch. They WANT Muslims to be wife beaters. And rapists. And paedophiles. And murderers. And anything else that people dislike…

    Which begs the question of where all the Non – Muslim wife beaters have been getting their ideas from…Maybe the Quran is more widely read in America than we are led to believe…

  7. I think the word used to beat ‘dharaba’ means here ‘ to leave ‘ as it is also used in that way in the Quran ,though the Hadith do not support this .

    What i want to say is the Hadith which say to beat might be a forgery in prophets name.

  8. I agree that there are contradictory Hadith on this and most of them seem to support not spanking at all, and this case was made convincingly by Jeffrey Lang in his book ‘Losing My Religion’.

    But I personally think that a lot of people start off thinking about this with the assumption that there is never any grounds for physical correction of women, even adultery. I think this is as unrealistic as saying you will never ever have to raise your hand to another man.

    I think it is legitimate to hit one’s wife if she is caught by one having sex with someone else, as Assad and Haddad and others based on a clear narration of the Prophet (SAW) during his farewell pilgrimage no less, suggest.

    I think if women (or men) think they have the right to cheat on their spouse without getting some kind of whopping, then they are idiots (or Liberals).

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