Wife Beating in Islamic Law

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Wife-beating is instructed by the Qur'an and the Hadiths, and has been an accepted part of Islam law since its inception. Quran 4:34 states that men are maintainers of women and tells husbands that in certain circumstances they should, among other things, "beat them". Although hadiths narrate that Muhammad did not himself beat women and told men not to beat their wives too harshly, at the same time he provided tacit approval of wife beating, mildly referring to husbands who beat their wives as "not the best among you", reportedly forbade Muslims from questioning men who beat their wives, allowed his closest companions to slap his wives (known as "the Mothers of believers"), reaffirmed the command of wife-beating in his farewell sermon, and himself struck one of his wives in the chest. In addition to Muhammad's actions, three of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs are also reported to have beaten women (a recurring pattern especially in the case of 'Umar). Because of its many endorsements within Islamic scripture, wife-beating was permitted by Islamic jurisprudence and understood as a means of enforcing obedience to husbands, albeit with limitations which are unlikely to be adhered to in a domestic setting. This has led to domestic violence being permitted under law in a number of Muslim majority countries or being largely ignored by the authorities, while reformist scholars reduce the Quranic command to a symbolic gesture (a tap with a small stick) or attempt other interpretations.

Islamic scriptures and wife-beating

See Also:Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars:Wife Beating

Wife-beating in the Qur'an

(4:34) 'Beat them'

Quran 4:34 Instructs men to beat their wives if they fear nushūzahunna, a word commonly understood to mean "their disobedience" or "their rebellion", though the exact meaning of the word is unclear (see Quran 4:128, which gives instructions to women who fear nushūzan from their husbands). The word 'beat' in the Arabic is daraba.[1] Although a small number of modern Islamic scholars, apologists, and activists have argued that the word daraba in the verse does not mean 'beat', the overwhelming majority stand with the Islamic tradition and the unimpeachable linguistic case that is made in agreeing that 'beating' is what the verse instructs. No Arabic dictionary or serious scholar has dissented from this consensus.

Relied-upon Islamic translations of the verse present the word as having this meaning.

Yusuf Ali translation: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).

Pickthall translation: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.

Shakir translation: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great. )

Quran 4:34 commands wife-beating for misconduct as well as the husband's 'fear' of such behavior. The verse provides two other disciplinary methods and implies (but does not state explicitly) that if these do not work then the husband ought to beat his wife. The verse also states that men have authority over women, and that women are to be obedient for this reason, thus establishing an authoritarian structure with the husband as head of the wife. The reason given for this is that Allah created men superior to women in some respects and because men are maintainers of women.

ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٰمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُوا۟ مِنْ أَمْوَٰلِهِمْ فَٱلصَّٰلِحَٰتُ قَٰنِتَٰتٌ حَٰفِظَٰتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ ٱللَّهُ وَٱلَّٰتِى تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَٱهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِى ٱلْمَضَاجِعِ وَٱضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا۟ عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا

Transliteration: Alrrijalu qawwamoona AAala alnnisai bima faddala Allahu baAAdahum AAala baAAdin wabima anfaqoo min amwalihim faalssalihatu qanitatun hafithatun lilghaybi bima hafitha Allahu waallatee takhafoona nushoozahunna faAAithoohunna waohjuroohunna fee almadajiAAi waidriboohunna fain ataAAnakum fala tabghoo AAalayhinna sabeelan inna Allaha kana AAaliyyan kabeeran

Word-by-word: ٱلرِّجَالُ (ar-rijaalu, 'men') قَوَّٰمُونَ (qawwaamoona, 'maintainers') عَلَى (ala, 'over') ٱلنِّسَآءِ (al-nisaa, 'women') [...] فَعِظُوهُنَّ (fa, 'then'; ithoo, 'admonish'; hunna, 'them') وَٱهْجُرُوهُنَّ (wa, 'and'; hjuroo, 'forsake'; hunna, 'them') فِى (fi, 'in') ٱلْمَضَاجِعِ (al-madaji'i, 'beds') وَٱضْرِبُوهُنَّ (wa, 'and'; driboo, 'beat'; hunna, 'them') فَإِنْ (fa, 'then'; in, 'if') أَطَعْنَكُمْ (ata'na, 'they obey'; kum, 'you') [...]
Qur'an 4:34

The root of the word وَٱضْرِبُوهُنَّ (wa-driboo-hunna) is ضرب (d-r-b). The letter ٱ (alif waslah) is not pronounced here, but if the word lacked the و (-wa, meaning 'and') prefix and was at the beginning of a passage, it would be read as i, making the word idriboohunna (ٱضْرِبُوهُنَّ). Many other verses in the Quran employ verbiage derived from the same root, such as Quran 2:60, which reads '...strike (ٱضْرِب, drib) the rock with your staff...', Quran 2:73, which reads '"...strike it (ٱضْرِبُوهُ, driboo-hu) with a part of the cow...", and Quran 8:12, which reads '...so strike (فَٱضْرِبُوا۟, fa-driboo) on their necks...'. Other examples are also present. See The Meaning of Daraba.

The word "lightly" does not appear in the original Arabic version, but is added in some translations.

Professor Jonathan Brown says that Quran commentaries from the 9th century include a narration about the occasion of revelation of Q 4:34, with a chain considered too weak for the canonical hadith collections. In the various versions of this story, a man complains to Muhammad about his son-in-law beating his wife, the man's daughter. Muhammad grants him permission for reprisal, whereupon the verse is immediately sent down. It ends with Muhammad saying, "I wanted one thing and God wanted another. And God wants what is best."[2] See the section on Azbab an-Nazuul in the article Wife Beating in the Qur'an for quotes from the sira literature of this narration. A hadith collected by Abu Dawud (see below) in which 'Umar influenced Muhammad to permit wife beating, may suggest an alternative background to the verse.

(38:44) Job beats his wife

Quran 38:44 states that the prophet Job (Ayyub) was commanded by Allah to beat his wife using a bundle of grass, twigs, or rushes (dighthan[3]).

[We said], "And take in your hand a bunch [of grass] and strike with it and do not break your oath." Indeed, We found him patient, an excellent servant. Indeed, he was one repeatedly turning back [to Allah].

Classical tafsirs such as Ibn Kathir's give the story behind the verse. The lesson to be learned is that it is better to beat your wife in a relatively unpainful, albeit humiliating way than for a man to break an earlier oath to beat his wife (as had the prophet Job in this story).

Ayyub, peace be upon him, got angry with his wife and was upset about something she had done, so he swore an oath that if Allah healed him, he would strike her with one hundred blows. When Allah healed him, how could her service, mercy, compassion and kindness be repaid with a beating So Allah showed him a way out, which was to take a bundle of thin grass, with one hundred stems, and hit her with it once. Thus he fulfilled his oath and avoided breaking his vow.
Tafsir Ibn Kathir

Wife-beating in the hadiths

Muhammad struck Aisha and the tampering of English hadith translations

While some modern voices have denied that the Qur'an instructs wife-beating, alleging that Quran 4:34 has been misinterpreted, those who admit the Islamic tradition have noted that there exist in the hadiths numerous examples, from a variety of hadith narrators and collectors, of Muhammad ordaining wife-beating and confirming the original meaning of the verse found in the Quran, though with limitations added. There are, for instance, multiple hadiths in which Muhammad's companions beat or strike women (sometimes in his presence), as well as some, albeit conflicting evidence narrated from his wife, Aisha, regarding whether Muhammad himself used physical force against the women in his life. The best examples, perhaps, of hadiths permitting wife-beating are those in which Muhammad explicitly attempts to moderate wife-beating while nonetheless permitting it, as these have frequently been cited by dissenting modern voices and apologists themselves.

In one account found in the hadith collections, including the authoritative Sahih Muslim, Muhammad causes his wife Aisha physical pain by striking her in the chest. The Arabic word translated "He struck me" (فَلَهَدَنِي) is lahada , which means 'he pushed violently' or 'he struck her chest'[4], and the word translated caused me pain (أَوْجَعَتْنِي) is awja'a meaning 'He, or it, pained him; or caused him pain, or aching'[5]. It is important to note that the popular hadith website Sunnah.com, drastically altered this phrase from the original translations they used for the Sahih Muslim and Sunan al-Nasa'i collections, presumably to present Muhammad and Islam in a more positive light, changing it in both cases to "He gave me a nudge on the chest which I felt" - for this reason, the words provided here have been restored to the original translation of Siddique. These are what the translations say:

Sahih Muslim Book 4, 2127 (Abdul Hamid Siddiqui; Sunnah.com's source translation): He said, Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me? I said, Yes. He struck me in the chest which caused me pain, and then said, Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?

Sahih Muslim 974b (Dar-us-Salam edition translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab, Vol. 2 p.506): He said: "so you were the person that I saw in front of me?" I said: "Yes." He gave me a painful shove on the chest, then he said: "Did you think that Allah and His Messenger would be unjust to you?"

Sunan al-Nasa'i 2039 (Dar-us-Salam edition, Vol. 3, p.127, translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab; Sunnah.com's source translation which they altered in the same way as they did for Sahih Muslim): He said: 'So you were the black shape that I saw in front of me?' I said, 'Yes.' He struck me on the chest, which caused we pain, then he said: 'Did you think Allah and His Messenger would deal unjustly with you?'

Muhammad b. Qais said (to the people): Should I not narrate to you (a hadith of the Holy Prophet) on my authority and on the authority of my mother? We thought that he meant the mother who had given him birth. He (Muhammad b. Qais) then reported that it was 'A'isha who had narrated this: Should I not narrate to you about myself and about the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him)? We said: Yes. She said: When it was my turn for Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) to spend the night with me, he turned his side, put on his mantle and took off his shoes and placed them near his feet, and spread the corner of his shawl on his bed and then lay down till he thought that I had gone to sleep. He took hold of his mantle slowly and put on the shoes slowly, and opened the door and went out and then closed it lightly. I covered my head, put on my veil and tightened my waist wrapper, and then went out following his steps till he reached Baqi'. He stood there and he stood for a long time. He then lifted his hands three times, and then returned and I also returned. He hastened his steps and I also hastened my steps. He ran and I too ran. He came (to the house) and I also came (to the house). I, however, preceded him and I entered (the house), and as I lay down in the bed, he (the Holy Prophet) entered the (house), and said: Why is it, O 'A'isha, that you are out of breath? I said: There is nothing. He said: Tell me or the Subtle and the Aware would inform me. I said: Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be ransom for you, and then I told him (the whole story). He said: Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me? I said: Yes. He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you? She said: Whatsoever the people conceal, Allah will know it. He said: Gabriel came to me when you saw me. He called me and he concealed it from you. I responded to his call, but I too concealed it from you (for he did not come to you), as you were not fully dressed. I thought that you had gone to sleep, and I did not like to awaken you, fearing that you may be frightened. He (Gabriel) said: Your Lord has commanded you to go to the inhabitants of Baqi' (to those lying in the graves) and beg pardon for them. I said: Messenger of Allah, how should I pray for them (How should I beg forgiveness for them)? He said: Say, Peace be upon the inhabitants of this city (graveyard) from among the Believers and the Muslims, and may Allah have mercy on those who have gone ahead of us, and those who come later on, and we shall, God willing, join you.

By contrast, there exists a hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud graded sahih by al-Albani which reports Aisha saying that Muhammad never hit (daraba) a woman. While it is not at all uncommon to find contradictions in the hadith literature, Aisha here may have either generously or inadvertently disregarded the time when Muhammad pushed / struck her painfully in the chest, as reported in the Sahih Muslim hadith above, assuming both are authentic (as Islamic scholars hold them to be).

`A’isha said: the Messenger of Allah (saws) never struck a servant or a woman.

Muhammad's companions striking women

Unlike the traditional occasion of revelation for Q. 4:34 which appeared in commentaries from the 9th century CE (discussed above), there is some hadith evidence that the wife beating verse may have been a result of pressure from 'Umar, as Muhammad is portrayed as reluctantly agreeing to permit wife beating. 'Umar, who would became the second rightly guided Caliph, is also recorded slapping Muhammad's wife Hafsa and striking his own wife, and on yet another occasion telling a man to beat his wife after she tried to stop him having intercourse with (raping) a slave girl. Hadiths suggest a general pattern of 'Umar's violence towards and interest in controlling women. The revelation of the Verse of Hijab (Quran 33:53 is even more explicitly linked to pressure from 'Umar (see the article Hijab).

Multiple hadiths in the authoritative Sahih Bukhari report that Abu Bakr (the first Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam and Muhammad's best friend) also struck (his daughter) Aisha violently with his fist.

Narrated Aisha: Abu Bakr came to towards me and struck me violently with his fist and said, "You have detained the people because of your necklace." But I remained motionless as if I was dead lest I should awake Allah's Apostle although that hit was very painful.

In another hadith found in Sahih Muslim, Abu Bakr informs Muhammad that he slapped Khadijah’s daughter, and Muhammad responds by laughing and tells Abu Bakr his wives are asking him for more money. Abu Bakr and Umar (the second Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam and Muhammad's other best friend) respond by slapping Muhammad's wives, Hafsa and (for the third time) Aisha.

Jabir b. 'Abdullah (Allah be pleased with them) reported: Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) came and sought permission to see Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him). He found people sitting at his door and none amongst them had been granted permission, but it was granted to Abu Bakr and he went in. Then came 'Umar and he sought permission and it was granted to him, and he found Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) sitting sad and silent with his wives around him. He (Hadrat 'Umar) said: I would say something which would make the Prophet (peace be upon him) laugh, so he said: Messenger of Allah, I wish you had seen (the treatment meted out to) the daughter of Khadija when you asked me some money, and I got up and slapped her on her neck. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) laughed and said: They are around me as you see, asking for extra money. Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) then got up went to 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) and slapped her on the neck, and 'Umar stood up before Hafsa and slapped her saying: You ask Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) which he does not possess. They said: By Allah, we do not ask Allah's Messenger peace be upon him) for anything he does not possess. Then he withdrew from them for a month or for twenty-nine days. Then this verse was revealed to him:" Prophet: Say to thy wives... for a mighty reward" (xxxiii. 28). He then went first to 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) and said: I want to propound something to you, 'A'isha, but wish no hasty reply before you consult your parents. She said: Messenger of Allah, what is that? He (the Holy Prophet) recited to her the verse, whereupon she said: Is it about you that I should consult my parents, Messenger of Allah? Nay, I choose Allah, His Messenger, and the Last Abode; but I ask you not to tell any of your wives what I have said He replied: Not one of them will ask me without my informing her. God did not send me to be harsh, or cause harm, but He has sent me to teach and make things easy.

In yet another hadith, Ali (the fourth Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam as well as Muhammad's cousin, foster-son, and son-in-law) gives a slave-girl a violent beating in front of Muhammad.

As for Ali he said “Women are plentiful, and you can easily change one for another. Ask the slave girl; she will tell you the truth.” So the Apostle called Burayra to ask her and Ali got up and gave her a violent beating, saying, ‘Tell the Apostle the truth.’”
Ibn Ishaq: p 496

One account found in the hadiths reports Muhammad giving a decree instructing men to not beat their wives, but the hadiths reporting this also record Muhammad immediately changing his mind once 'Umar (the 2nd rightly guided Caliph) informs him that some of the women have become emboldened towards their husbands. Then, when some women complain about getting beaten, he makes only a mild remark about their husbands instead of moving to protect the women. This pressure from 'Umar may have been the background for the creation of Q. 4:34.

Iyas ibn Abdullah ibn Abu Dhubab reported the Apostle of Allah as saying: Do not beat Allah's handmaidens, but when Umar came to the Apostle of Allah and said: Women have become emboldened towards their husbands, he (the Prophet) gave permission to beat them. Then many women came round the family of the Apostle of Allah complaining against their husbands. So the Apostle of Allah said: Many women have gone round Muhammad's family complaining against their husbands. They are not the best among you.

In another hadith, Umar instructs a man to beat his wife after she tries to prevent him from having intercourse with his slave girl.

Yahya related to me from Malik that Abdullah ibn Dinar said, "A man came to Abdullah ibn Umar when I was with him at the place where judgments were given and asked him about the suckling of an older person. Abdullah ibn Umar replied, 'A man came to Umar ibn al-Khattab and said, 'I have a slave-girl and I used to have intercourse with her. My wife went to her and suckled her. When I went to the girl, my wife told me to watch out, because she had suckled her!' Umar told him to beat his wife and to go to his slave-girl because kinship by suckling was only by the suckling of the young.' "

A hadith graded hasan (the 2nd highest level of authenticity according to traditional scholars of hadith, below sahih) has 'Umar hitting his wife and then excusing himself by quoting Muhammad saying that a man should not be asked why he beats his wife. See the section below on Islamic law for how this hadith was used by Islamic jurists.

It was narrated that Ash'ath bin Qais said: "I was a guest (at the home) of 'Umar one night, and in the middle of the night he went and hit his wife, and I separated them. When he went to bed he said to me: 'O Ash'ath, learn from me something that I heard from the Messenger of Allah" A man should not be asked why he beats his wife, and do not go to sleep until you have prayed the Witr."' And I forgot the third thing."

In yet another hadith, a woman complains to Muhammad about her husband and shows him where he has beaten and bruised her. Muhammad listens to the husband’s side of the story and concludes the reason why his wife is complaining is because he cannot sexually satisfy her and that she wants to go back to her ex-husband, although the report only indicates that the woman was complaining of physical abuse (also evidenced by the 'green' color of her skin). Rather than scolding her husband for beating her, Muhammad says she cannot re-marry her ex-husband unless she has sexual intercourse with her present husband first.

In the same hadith, Aisha also states that she has not seen any woman suffering as much as 'the believing women'. This apparent meaning of this is that according to Aisha, Muhammad's wife, Muslim women were suffering more than their pagan and Abrahamic counterparts.

Narrated Ikrima: 'Rifaa divorced his wife whereupon Abdur-Rahman married her. Aisha said that the lady came wearing a green veil and complained to her (Aisha) and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating. It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah's messenger came, Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes! When Abdur-Rahman heard that his wife had gone to the prophet, he came with his two sons from another wife. She said, "By Allah! 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 said, "By Allah, O Allah's messenger! She has told a lie. I am very strong and can satisfy her, but she is disobedient and wants to go back to Rifaa." Allah's messenger said to her, "If that is your intention, then know that it is unlawful for you to remarry Rifaa unless Abdur-Rahman has had sexual intercourse with you." The prophet saw two boys with Abdur-Rahman and asked (him), "Are these your sons?" On that Abdur-Rahman said, "Yes." The prophet said, "You claim what you claim (that he is impotent)? But by Allah, these boys resemble him as a crow resembles a crow."

In his Farewell Sermon, Muhammad compares women to domestic animals (or according to other translations of the same word and in traditional exegesis, prisoners) and once more tells men to beat their wives, but unlike the Quran, adds the caveat 'but not severely'.

"Now then, O people, you have a right over your wives and they have a right over you. You have [the right] that they should not cause anyone of whom you dislike to tread on your beds; and that they should not commit any open indecency. If they do, then Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain from [evil], they have the right to their food and clothing in accordance with the custom. Treat women well, for they are [like] domestic animals with you and do not possess anything for themselves. You have taken them only as a trust from Allah, and you have made the enjoyment of their persons lawful by the word of Allah, so understand and listen to my words, O people.

In other versions of the farewell sermon the same comments about beating are reported, such as in the following version from a hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud (graded Sahih by the famous modern scholar of hadith, al-Albani). Here, as in the Qur'an, Muslim men are instructed to beat their wives, although all hadiths of the farewell sermon nuance this by adding 'not severely':

[...] Fear Allaah regarding women for you have got them under Allah’s security and have the right to intercourse with them by Allaah’s word. It is a duty from you on them not to allow anyone whom you dislike to lie on your beds but if they do beat them, but not severely. [...]

The caveat, "but not severely", appears also in the other narrations of the farewell sermon in other hadith collections, although English translations in some cases have mistranslated the same Arabic phrase as discussed in the next section below.

Altogether, the hadith report that (1) 'A'isha did not consider Muhammad himself to have ever hit a woman, although on one occasion he painfully pushed / struck her in the chest, (2) Muhammad at first forbade the beating of Muslim women, but was persuaded to allow it when Umar warned that the men were losing control of their wives, (3) Muhammad allowed some of his prominent companions to hit women and slap his own wives (the very women whom all Muslims adore and refer to as "the Mother of believers", (4) Muhammad merely makes a mild remark about other men when their wives complain about beatings (describing those that do so to the point of complaint as 'not the best among you'), (5) Muhammad forbade Muslims from questioning men who beat their wives, (6) three of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs beat women, and (7) Muhammad reaffirms the Qur'anic command of wife-beating in his parting sermon, albeit "without severity". It is clear that wife-beating has been an accepted part of Islam since its inception. While Muhammad had some reservations about the beating of women, he repeatedly indulged men who physically disciplined women, including in his presence, and was ultimately persuaded to prescribe it as a divinely-instructed punishment for certain types of misconduct on the part of women.

Additional attempts at moderating severe beatings

According to a number of reports found in the hadiths, Muhammad was concerned that his companions were beating their wives too severely. These hadiths record his efforts to control the severity of the beatings being conducted.

Narrated `Abdullah bin Zam`a: The Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade laughing at a person who passes wind, and said, "How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then he may embrace (sleep with) her?" And Hisham said, "As he beats his slave"

In one hadith, Muhammad advises a recently divorced woman against marrying a companion of his who he knows to be 'very harsh with women'.

Fatima bint Qais (Allah be pleased with her) reported: My husband Abu 'Amr b. Hafs b. al-Mughira sent 'Ayyish b. Abu Rabi'a to me with a divorce, and he also sent through him five si's of dates and five si's of barley. I said: Is there no maintenance allowance for me but only this, and I cannot even spend my 'Idda period in your house? He said: No. She said: I dressed myself and came to Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him). He said: How many pronouncements of divorce have been made for you? I said: Three. He said what he ('Ayyish b. Abu Rabi'a) had stated was true. There is no maintenance allowance for you. Spend 'Idda period in the house of your cousin, Ibn Umm Maktum. He is blind and you can put off your garment in his presence. And when you have spent your Idda period, you inform me. She said: Mu'awiya and Abu'l-Jahm (Allah be pleased with them) were among those who had given me the proposal of marriage. Thereupon Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) said: Mu'awiya is destitute and in poor condition and Abu'l-Jahm is very harsh with women (or he beats women, or like that), you should take Usama b. Zaid (as your husband).

In another hadith, Muhammad instructs that a husband should not strike his wife on her face.

Narrated Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri: Mu'awiyah asked: Messenger of Allah, what is the right of the wife of one of us over him? He replied: That you should give her food when you eat, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not strike her on the face, do not revile her or separate yourself from her except in the house. Abu Dawud said: The meaning of "do not revile her" is, as you say: "May Allah revile you".

Another version of the same hadith is worded more generally, saying, "do not beat them". If this version is a more accurate reflection of what Muhammad said, it is likely that it occurred in the earlier period in which Muhammad forbade beating (see Sunan Abu Dawud 11:2141, quoted above), as later sources concur on Muhammad's instruction and the Quran in their permission of wife-beating.

Narrated Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri: I went to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and asked him: What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them

A lengthy hadith containing an account of Muhammad's farewell sermon in Sunan Abu Dawud includes an instruction to beat one's wives, but not severely, if they allow anyone whom the husband dislikes to lie on their beds (these being were usually rolled out on the floor in Bedouin tents). In Arabic, 'beat them, but not severely' is fa-idribuhunna darban ghayra mubarrihin, which literally translates to mean 'beat them, a beating without violence/severity/sharpness/vehemence[6]'. The instruction here is nearly akin to that found in Muhammad's farewell sermon (quoted above) and includes the following:

[...] Fear Allaah regarding women for you have got them under Allah’s security and have the right to intercourse with them by Allaah’s word. It is a duty from you on them not to allow anyone whom you dislike to lie on your beds but if they do beat them, but not severely. [...]

The version of the farewell sermon in Sunan Abu Dawud was collected also in Sahih Muslim and uses the same Arabic phrase.

[...] 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 right over them, and that they should not allow anyone to sit on your bed whom you do not like. But if they do that, you can chastise them but not severely. [...]

A shorter version of the Farewell Sermon can also be found in Sunan Ibn Majah. The Arabic words rendered by the English translator as 'and hit them, but without causing injury or leaving a mark' are the same as those found in the Sunan Abu Dawud and Sahih Muslim hadith as well as al-Tabari's version of the farewell sermon (quoted in the previous section above), with the literal translation being, again, 'beat them, a beating without severity'.

Then he said: 'I enjoin good treatment of women, for they are prisoners with you, and you have no right to treat them otherwise, unless they commit clear indecency. If they do that, then forsake them in their beds and hit them, but without causing injury or leaving a mark.

Similarly, the versions of the farewell sermon found in Jami` at-Tirmidhi 5:44:3087, translated as 'and beat them with a beating that is not painful', and Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2:10:1163, translated as 'and beat them with a beating that is not harmful, consist of the same Arabic words as quoted above and found in other versions of the sermon.

The tafsir, or exegesis, of al-Tabari (d. 923, roughly 200 years after Muhammad's death) for verse Quran 4:34 appears to be the earliest record of the idea that wife beating should be done with a miswak/siwaak (a small stick-like item used as a toothbrush).[7] These do not appear in the main sahih hadith collections, but have been of abiding interest nonetheless.

I said to Ibn ‘Abbaas, what is a non-severe beating? He said, Hitting with a siwaak and the like.

In Arabic, the phrase 'non-severe beating' is darban ghayra mubarrihin. This is the same phrasing and set of words found in the Abu Dawud hadith and in the various versions of Muhammad's farewell sermon. In his tafsir, al-Tabari also quotes Qatada clarifying that the phrase means ghayr sha'in (that is, 'without being disgraceful/outrageous/obscene/indecent').[8] This is in sharp contrast with the translation/interpretation employed in Islamic evangelical discourse, which construes darban ghayra mubarrihin as a more absolute prohibition, in some instances translating it as 'a light tap that leaves no mark' - a translation that, as a heavily metaphorical interpretation, has no linguistic merit.

Putting together, the hadiths suggest that Muhammad condemned those who beat their wives as severely as they beat their slaves. It is also evident that, at least for some time, Muhammad forbade wife-beating altogether. It is also evident that Muhammad then reverted from this position to permitting wife-beating, albeit this time around while encouraging his male companions not to beat their wives as severely as they beat their slaves. This final position is also found reiterated in the various versions of his final sermon reported found in the hadith literature.

Tabari, a source Islamic scholars view as being considerably less reliable than the sahih hadiths, also reports that Ibn Abbas was asked what is meant by the phrase "beat them without severity" and replied that "It is with a toothstick (siwak) or something similar. A siwak or miswak was a small stick used for cleaning one's teeth. Many doubt the reliability of this report, which appears to contradict the overall message of the hadith literature, though it is a popular explanation today.

Critics have also noted what they describe as the sheer absurdity of the qualification found in the report and suggest that it could hardly be that God would leave out such an important qualification from the verse which, read in isolation, simply instructs men to beat their wives. To do so, critics suggest, would be a serious lack of judgement on God's part. Critics have also ridiculed the absurdity of the practice itself - what is the purpose, they ask, of tapping one's wife with a twig? And why would this prove effective if admonition of one's wife and abandoning her in bed had proven ineffective - surely tapping someone with a twig cannot be more compelling than either of these measures? Such a practice, critics conclude, is, at worst, a humiliating and patronizing symbolic gesture (having no place in polite society), or, at best, a fiction generated in the minds of later Muslims (that is, 7th, 8th, or 9th century Muslims attributing this idea, retroactively, back to Ibn Abbas) who were having a hard time reconciling the conflicting imperatives of an early Islamic tradition which at once taught Muslims to be kind to one another - and to beat their wives.

Islamic law and Quranic exegesis on wife beating

Classical Muslim scholars have written abundant commentary and jurisprudential material regarding Quran 4:34 and instruction to beat wives. A few of these classical sources are quoted below, alongside some modern authorities. It is important to note that a number of Islamic modernists (a small sub-group of modern Islamic scholars in general) have advocated an interpretation of Quran 4:34 that militates against traditional understanding and takes the beating instructed to be purely 'symbolic' in nature. The influence of these few, albeit vocal, modernists has resulted in some recent English translations of the Quran opting to replace the word daraba, which is found in the Arabic text and which means 'beat', with alternative words that more readily evoke the modernist interpretation.

Quran commentaries

A couple of important tafsirs are available in English. See also the discussion on al-Tabari's tafsir above.

(beat them) means, if advice and ignoring her in the bed do not produce the desired results, you are allowed to discipline the wife, without severe beating. Muslim recorded that Jabir said that during the Farewell Hajj, the Prophet said; (Fear Allah regarding women, for they are your assistants. You have the right on them that they do not allow any person whom you dislike to step on your mat. However, if they do that, you are allowed to discipline them lightly. They have a right on you that you provide them with their provision and clothes, in a reasonable manner.) Ibn `Abbas 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.
Men are in charge of, they have authority over, women, disciplining them and keeping them in check, because of that with which God has preferred the one over the other, that is, because God has given them the advantage over women, in knowledge, reason, authority and otherwise, and because of what they expend, on them [the women], of their property. Therefore righteous women, among them, are obedient, to their husbands, guarding in the unseen, that is, [guarding] their private parts and otherwise during their spouses’ absence, because of what God has guarded, for them, when He enjoined their male spouses to look after them well. And those you fear may be rebellious, disobedient to you, when such signs appear, admonish them, make them fear God, and share not beds with them, retire to other beds if they manifest such disobedience, and strike them, but not violently, if they refuse to desist [from their rebellion] after leaving them [in separate beds]. If they then obey you, in what is desired from them, do not seek a way against them, a reason to strike them unjustly. God is ever High, Great, so beware of Him, lest He punish you for treating them unjustly.

Islamic law

Professor Jonathan Brown writes that jurists interpreted nushuz in Q. 4:34 in terms of disobedience: "If a wife exhibited egregious disobedience (nushūz) such as uncharacteristically insulting behaviour, leaving the house against the husband's will and without valid excuse or denying her husband sex (without medical grounds), the husband should first admonish her to be conscious of God and proper etiquette. If she did not desists from her behaviour, he should cease sleeping with her in their bed. If she still continued with her nushūz, he should then strike her to teach her the error of her ways." He further says that jurists generally attempted to mitigate the "beat them" command of Q. 4:34: "It became received opinion among Sunni ulama from Iberia to Iran that, though striking one's wife was permitted, other means of discipline and dispute were greatly preferred, more effective and better for the piety of both spouses." The hadith scholar Ibn Hajar (d. 1449 CE) went so far as to place beating wives in the sharia category of "strongly disliked" or "verging on prohibited".[9]

Some others were not uncomfortable and found it natural that God would grant such a right to husbands. For Ibn al-Faras (d. 1201 CE) it was "recommended" and saved the wife from her own irrational impulses. The Hanbali jurist Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1116 CE) allowed a husband to give his wife up to three lashes with a whip.[10] Ayesha Chaudary writes that the Hanafi jurist Ibn al Numan (d. 1457 CE) set a limit of ten lashes.[11] Brown says that the Shafi'i school allowed a husband only to strike his wife with his hand or wound up hankerchief, though not a whip or stick, and for the late Shafi'i school wife beating was not recommended. All schools agreed that striking the face or sensitive areas was prohibited.[12]

In her book, Domestic violence and the Islamic tradition, Ayesha Chaudhry explains that unlike Hanafi scholars, who simply adopted the farewell sermon terminology discussed above that men should beat their wives, but without severity (ghayra mubarrihin), Maliki jurists attempted to define more precisely the kind of hitting that was permitted. For them, it should not include punching, nor leave an impression or be fearsome, should not cause fractures nor break bones, nor cause disfiguring wounds.[13]

Chaudhry also writes that "Hanafi scholars discouraged public inquiries into men's domestic affairs. Ibn Nujaym cited two prophetic reports to this end. The first states, 'Do not ask a man why he hit his wife'; the second reports that 'Muhammad forbade a woman from complaining against her husband.' Both of these prophetic reports limited a wife's ability to seek legal redress if she was beaten by her husband, adding a level of moral and social taboo against speaking about domestic matters in public."[14] Professor Jonathan Brown explains that medieval ulama (scholars) more generally understood the first hadith (Sunan Ibn Majah 3:9:1986) primarily as part of the etiquette of privacy between men, though this did not outweigh public duties and legal protections.[15]

Except for some Malikis, there was agreement that a wife could claim compensation in court for injury. Eventually, all schools except the Hanafi school allowed a judge to disolve the marriage if any physical harm was done to the wife and without forfeiting her dower payment.[16]

Brown details the practical implementation of Islamic jurisprudence in courts from Ottoman times to the present day. If a wife or husband came before a sharia court to complain about each other's behaviour, it was assumed that the process in Q. 4:34-35 had reached the stage in verse 35 when an arbiter and the family are required. In practice, courts followed particular law books of their preferred legal school, though the dominant book varied over time. He finds no evidence that the more permissive stances towards wife beating of Ibn Faras and Ibn Jawzi were manifested in documented court rulings.[17]

The following is a quote from an important Shafi'i legal text:

"When a husband notices signs of rebelliousness in his wife (nushuz), whether in words, as when she answers him coldly when she used to do so politely, or he asks her to come to bed and she refuses, contrary to her usual habit; or whether in acts, as when he finds her averse to him when she was previously kind and cheerful), he warns her in words (without keeping from her or hitting her, for it may be that she has an excuse. The warning could be to tell her, "fear Allah concerning the rights you owe to me," or it could be to explain that rebelliousness nullifies his obligation to support her and give her a turn amongst other wives, or it could be to inform her, "Your obeying me is religiously obligatory"). If she commits rebelliousness, he keeps from sleeping (and having sex) with her without words, and may hit her, but not in a way that injures her, meaning he may not (bruise her), break bones, wound her, or cause blood to flow. (It is unlawful to strike another’s face.) He may hit her whether she is rebellious only once or whether more than once, though a weaker opinion holds that he may hot hit her unless there is repeated rebelliousness."

If the wife does not fulfill one of the above-mentioned obligations, she is termed "rebellious" (nashiz), and the husband takes the following steps to correct matters:

(a) admonition and advice, by explaining the unlawfulness of rebellion, its harmful effect on married life, and by listening to her viewpoint on the matter;

(b) if admonition is ineffectual, he keeps from her by not sleeping in bed with her, by which both learn the degree to which they need each other;

(c) if keeping from her is ineffectual, it is permissible for him to hit her if he believes that hitting her will bring her back to the right path, though if he does not think so, it is not permissible. His hitting her may not be in a way that injures her, and is his last recourse to save the family.

(d) if the disagreement does not end after all this, each partner chooses an arbitrator to solve the dispute by settlement, or divorce.
Reliance of the Traveller

Examples of views that have been expressed in the 21st century are quoted below:

How should the beatings go? Maybe a light slap on her shoulder, or maybe a not-so-light pinch, or a kind of gentle shove. He should make her feel that he wants to reform her, and let her know that he is displeased with her. It is like saying: None of the measures that work with sensitive people work with you. A word would be enough for any wife with lofty morals, but with you, words do not help.

Then he attempts a new direction, appealing to her femininity and emotions, by making her feel that he doesn't want her or love her. When this doesn't work, he says to her: With you, I have reached a stage which is only appropriate for inhumane people - the stage of beating.

Beating is one of the punishments of religious law. What kind of people are beaten? Virgin adulterers, both men and women, are beaten as a means of discipline. Who else is beaten? A person who committed an offense and was sentenced by the judge to beatings. Who else is beaten? Someone who committed a crime. By beating his wife, the husband is saying: You've committed a grave sin that merits beatings."
Egyptian Cleric Galal Al-Khatib Explains Wife-Beating in Islam
MEMRI: Special Dispatch, No. 2229, February 5, 2009
With regard to wife beating... In a nutshell, it appeared as part of a program to reform the wife. [According to the Koran], first 'admonish them,' [then] 'sleep in separate beds, and beat them.'...This method appeared as part of the treatment of a rebellious wife. I am faced with two options – either the family will be destroyed by divorce, or I can use means that may bring my wife, the mother of my children, back to her senses. The first means is admonishment...The second means of treatment is 'sleeping in separate beds.' Why? Because this targets the honor... A lot could be said about this. The strength of a woman lies in her ability to seduce the man. The man is strong and can do whatever he wants, but the woman has a weapon of her own. This weapon can be targeted. Many women will come back to their senses, when they realize that this is what's involved...By Allah, even if only one woman out of a million can be reformed by light beatings... It's not really beating, it's more like punching... It's like shoving or poking her. That's what it is.
Discipline. The husband has the right to discipline his wife if she disobeys him in something good, not if she disobeys him in something sinful, because Allaah has enjoined disciplining women by forsaking them in bed and by hitting them, when they do not obey. The Hanafis mentioned four situations in which a husband is permitted to discipline his wife by hitting her. These are: not adorning herself when he wants her to; not responding when he calls her to bed and she is taahirah (pure, i.e., not menstruating); not praying; and going out of the house without his permission.
What are the rights of the husband and what are the rights of the wife?
Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 10680


The Egyptian-American reformist jurist Abou El Fadl argues using Quran 4:128 and the farewell sermon that nushūz refers to sexual betrayal and that striking a wife is limited to that scenario, while the Saudi scholar Abd al-Hamid Abu Sulayman (d. 2021) claimed daraba in Q. 4:34 means to leave, withdraw, abandon her. He acknowledged that this was a break with 1400 years of Islamic tradition.[18] While El Fadl's interpretation of nushūz may be credible, Abu Sulayman's untenable interpretation of the Arabic word daraba (beat) as it is used in Q. 4:34 is discussed in the article The Meaning of Daraba.

In mid 20th century Tunisia at a time of secularization, Ibn Ashur (d. 1975) claimed that Q. 4:34-35 was entirely addressed as an instruction to the court authorities. His view was based on sharia procedural analogy that only rarely can a party in a case act as judge and mete out punishment, as well as general experience that a man could not be trusted to restrain himself in private and will likely transgress limits.[19] Critics would note this as an obviously implausible interpretation of verse 34 since husbands are directly instructed in that verse, most obviously when it tells them to forsake their wives in bed and given that the remedy in the verse is merely for when there is a "fear" of nushūz.

A common modernist or apologetic perspective today is to make use of the narration discussed in the section above on attempts to moderate the severity of beatings, in which Ibn 'Abbas clarifies the farewell sermon phrase "a beating without severity" to mean with a toothbrush stick or similar object. In this interpretation, husbands may lightly tap their wives with a small stick or twig.

Domestic violence in the Islamic World

Professor Jonathan Brown writes "In some Muslim societies, there is evidence that some men justify violence against their wives by citing Qur'an 4:34", although alongside cultural factors such as these, domestic violence is a worldwide phenomenon, with social science explanations converging on socio-economic factors.[20]

While it is not necessarily the case that the Quran's instruction for men to beat their wives is responsible for the endemic occurrence of domestic violence in Muslim-majority countries (given that such practices are also endorsed in the scriptures revered by the religious populations of societies where domestic violence is not nearly as widespread), a degree of causal connection between the relevant scriptural commandments and the rates of domestic violence observed is strongly suggested by the virtually universal adoption of traditional literalism among Islamic clerics as well as the usually higher-than-average overall religiosity of Muslim societies.

Nearly 90 percent of Afghan women suffer from domestic abuse, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Despite that, there are less than a dozen shelters like this one in Afghanistan, usually run by non-governmental organizations. Abusers are rarely prosecuted or convicted, and most women are afraid to say anything. "Their mothers are beaten by their fathers. They're beaten by their fathers, by their brothers. It's a way of life," said Manizha Naderi, director of WAW.[21]
Statistics in Iran show that 66% of Iranian women, at the beginning of the marriage have been at least physically abused once. Some forms of physical abuse that occur include: biting, bondage, imprisonment in their own home, scratching, hair pulling, and even starving.[22]
A recent report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) registered 139 cases of violence against women in the northern region of Kurdistan in the second half of 2008 alone. It said 163 women were killed as a result of domestic violence in Kurdistan in 2009. Experts suggest the number is less than 5 percent of the real estimates.[23]
91% of university students polled by the Jordanian Human Right Center approve of wife beating. An earlier study by another organization found out that a majority of WOMEN also supports the right of a husband to beat the wife[24]
According to the [National Family Council] report:
83% of Jordanian women approve of wife beating if the woman cheats on her husband
60% approve of wife beating in cases where the wife burns a meal she's cooking
52% approve of wife beating in case where she's refused to follow the husband’s orders[25]
A study published in June 2006 in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, based on interviews with 300 women admitted to hospital for childbirth, said 80 percent reported being subjected to some kind of abuse within marriage. At times, the violence inflicted on women takes on truly horrendous forms. The Islamabad-based Progressive Women's Association (PWA), headed by Shahnaz Bukhari, believes up to 4,000 women are burnt each year, almost always by husbands or in-laws, often as “punishment” for minor “offences” or for failure to bring in a sufficient dowry. The PWA said it had collected details of nearly 8,000 such victims from March 1994 to March 2007, from three hospitals in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area alone.[26]
The number of incidents of violence against women increased by 13 per cent in 2009, says a report by the Aurat Foundation set to be released on Wednesday. The report states that 8,548 incidents of violence against women were reported in 2009 compared to 7,571 incidents reported in 2008. Of these, 5,722 were reported to have occurred in Punjab, followed by 1,762 in Sindh, 655 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 237 in Balochistan. Similarly, 172 cases of violence against women were reported in Islamabad, the report said.[27]
Palestinian Authority area
Launched in January 1999, the [Women's Empowerment] project first established a research team, trained by Dr Abdo, which in turn began training community leaders on gender-based research methods. They have used these skills to interview a representative sample of 120 women from refugee camps, villages, and cities in the Gaza Strip to determine the incidence of gender-based violence. The preliminary results are alarming: half of the women interviewed to date have been victims of violence. "Violence against women in Gaza basically means domestic violence," says research consultant Aitemad Muhanna. "Women are beaten by their husbands, beaten by their fathers, and even beaten by their brothers." Women are beaten for not fulfilling traditional roles — such as cooking, cleaning, or tending to their appearance — to a husband's satisfaction. Other abuses include harsh insults, sexual abuse among family, and marital rape.[28]
One in three wives in Qatar suffer physical or psychological violence from the side of their husband[29]
London-based Refugee Workers Association Woman’s Group (GIK-DER) revealed disturbing news last week [in November, 2006] that up to 80% Turkish and Kurdish women are victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment. At the same time 70% of Turkish and Kurdish husbands cheat on their wives.[30]
According to a government study titled “Research on Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey,” 41.9 percent of Turkish women are subjected to physical and sexual violence. Women at a “low-income level” are assaulted at a rate of 49.9 percent, while the number for higher-income women is still high, at 28.7 percent.
. . .
Altogether, 33.7 percent of women said they considered suicide as a solution to their problems.[31]
According to a report by UN Women released in early July of last year [2011], Turkey tops Europe and the US in the number of incidences of violence against women. Official statistics reveal that four out of 10 women in Turkey are beaten by their husbands.[32]
South Mediterranean Region
Violence against women in the home is the main emergency needed to be tackled by the Mediterranean's southern shores. The phenomenon affects between 40% and 75% of married women, who suffer mainly at the hands of their husbands. This is the glaring figure contained in a study carried out by the Euromed Gender Equality Programme (EGEP), which has been presented at a conference held in Brussels. The 'Programme to enhance quality between men and women in the Euromed Region', which is financed by the European Union as part of neighbourhood policy, focussed on nine partner countries between 2008 and 2011: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Syria and Tunisia.[33]

Responses from Muslim women

Some Muslim women have spoken out against domestic violence. Below, some prominent instances of this are quoted. In spite of such protestations, many Islamic authorities and western commentators refuse the idea that Islamic scriptures could, even in part, be responsible.

My husband first tried to strangle me until I fell unconscious, then he tried to smash my face. Every violent man will be able to see the suffering that he causes and every woman afraid of falling into a similar situation will be able to avoid what happened to me Later he took me to the hospital while I was still unconscious and dropped me off at the gate. He didn't give them my name, my family's telephone number or anything about me. When my mother finally arrived, the doctor told her I had only a 3% chance of survival. The reason why he beat me up was very trivial, we had an argument in which we exchanged no more than four sentences. He had no reason for attacking me this way, but it wasn't the first time he was violent, although he had never been that violent before.

Encouraging victims

I kept silent until now because I didn't want to see my family being torn apart. I thought that maybe if I was patient enough I could make him change. Now that I've made my story public, I'm scared. I've almost been through death, so I guess it's pretty normal that I now fear for my life and for my children's lives. I decided to have my picture published so that it would be a lesson for others, for every man and every woman. I'm just hoping that the judge will be fair to me and that my husband receives a punishment equal to what he did to me.

No more, no less

Every violent man will be able to see the suffering that he causes and every woman who is afraid of falling into a similar situation will be able to avoid what happened to me. Some people have called me a heroine for doing so, but I don't know why. Maybe people have appreciated that I dared to talk about a taboo subject so that others don't face the same thing. In my opinion it isn't about being heroic, but about talking about what happens in reality. However uncomfortable it is, it's better to talk about reality than to pretend that nothing bad is ever happening. I believe I've encouraged other victims of domestic violence to follow suit. I'm now campaigning with a human rights organisation which has received many letters and I have also received personally many letters of support from women saying that they will fight back.
Beaten Saudi Woman Speaks out
BBC News, April 30, 2004
Toward the end of her marriage, Rabia Iqbal said she feared for her life. Iqbal was born in New York to parents who had immigrated to the United States from the tribal areas of Pakistan. She had a strict Muslim upbringing and when she was 16, her parents arranged her marriage to a 38-year-old man. She claims her husband turned violent during their 10 years of marriage. When she finally left him, she did not know where to turn. Going home wasn't an option, she said.

"My parents ... made clear that they would disown me," Iqbal said. "My father even said ... 'You're lucky you live in America because if you lived back home, you would have been dead by now.' "

She was hiding out in her office at work when a friend put her in touch with Robina Niaz, whose organization, Turning Point for Women and Families, helps female Muslim abuse victims.

"It was such a relief ... to speak about things that ... I thought no one would understand," said Iqbal, who has received counseling from Niaz for more than two years and calls Niaz her "savior." "Robina understood the cultural nuances ... the religious issues," Iqbal said. "There's a lot of denial," she said. "It makes it much harder for the victims of abuse to speak out."

When Niaz launched her organization in 2004, it was the first resource of its kind in New York City. Today, her one-woman campaign has expanded into a multifaceted endeavor that is raising awareness about family violence and providing direct services to women in need. Niaz's mission began after a difficult period in her own life. Born and raised in Pakistan, she had earned a master's degree in psychology and had a successful career in international affairs and marketing when she moved to the United States to marry in 1990.

"It was a disastrous marriage," she said.

As Niaz struggled to navigate the American legal system during her divorce, she said she appreciated how lucky she was to speak English and have an education. She realized that many immigrant women without those advantages might be more likely to stay in marriages because they didn't know how to make the system work for them.

"If this is how difficult it is for me, then what must other immigrant women go through?" she remembered thinking.

After volunteering with South Asian victims of domestic violence, Niaz, who speaks five languages, got a job using those skills to advocate for immigrant women affected by family violence.

But Niaz's focus changed on September 11, 2001. "I was no longer a Pakistani-American ... I looked at myself as a Muslim."

Niaz said the backlash many Muslims experienced after the terror attacks made abuse victims more afraid to seek help; they feared being shunned for bringing negative attention to their community.

"Women who were caught in abusive marriages were trapped even more," recalled Niaz.

In 2004, Niaz used her savings to start Turning Point for Women and Families. Today, her work focuses on three main areas: providing direct services to abused women, raising awareness through outreach, and educating young women -- an effort she hopes will empower future generations to speak out against abuse. Crisis intervention services are a critical element of Niaz's efforts. Through weekly counseling sessions, she and her team provide emotional support to the women while helping them with practical issues, such as finding homeless shelters, matrimonial lawyers, filing police reports or assisting with immigration issues. Niaz has helped more than 200 Muslim women. While most of Turning Point's clients are immigrants, the group helps women from every background. While Niaz has support from many people in New York's Muslim community, she acknowledges that not everyone appreciates her efforts. She keeps her office address confidential and takes precautions to ensure her safety.

"There have been threats ... but that comes with this work," she said. "I know that God is protecting me because I'm doing the right thing."

One Muslim woman who has spoken about this type of domestic violence is The Daily Beast’s Asra Q. Nomani, author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam, who describes the widespread denial in Muslim-majority societies of wife-beating in the Qur'an as the "4:34 dance".

Look at one literal reading of the 34th verse of the fourth chapter of the Quran, An-Nisa, or Women. "[A]nd (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them," reads one widely accepted translation. Based on a literal reading, Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha concludes that when dealing with a “disobedient wife,” a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of “the importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam.” If that doesn't work, he can “leave the wife's bed.” Finally, he may “beat” her, though it must be without “hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any cost.”

Such appalling recommendations occur because we haven't yet universally drawn a line in the sand, as Muslims, and said that this verse may have been progressive for the seventh century when women were supposedly beaten indiscriminately, but it isn't compatible with the modern day, if read literally. Instead, we do something called the "4:34 dance," suggesting that the light beating be the result of everything from hitting a woman with noodles (yes, you read that right) to a traditional toothbrush, called a “miswak,” from the root of a plant.
Get Over the Quran Burning
Asra Q. Nomani, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2010

The objections of Islamic modernists

Though they constitute a very small minority, many Islamic modernists have protested against the Islamic tradition and its understanding of the Islamic scriptures which straightforwardly appear to instruct men to beat their wives. While these modernists have had extremely limited influence in the Muslim world, they have frequently been embraced by Western media outlets as possible enactors of religious reform in Islam. Serious, mostly non-Muslim scholars of Islam have been similarly heartened by such voices but remain highly skeptical of those modernists who attempt to 're-write' the past by denying the Islamic tradition's historical embrace of some sort of physical domestic discipline against women. Moreover, to many in the Muslim world, this attempt at 'modernizing Islam' appears to be a sort of contemptible moral concession to the west, analogous, even, to holding the door wide open for enemies with ambitions of 'intellectual colonialism'. As the 2021 edition of the widely acclaimed Muslim 500 puts it, "Islamic modernism remains popularly an object of derision and ridicule, and is scorned by traditional Muslims and fundamentalists alike".[34]

Pamela K. Taylor

References to Quranic verses

Pamela K. Taylor is the co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values, former director of the Islamic Writers Alliance, and a strong supporter of the female Imam movement. On the Faith Panelist Blog, she writes:

The brutal and gruesome murder of Aasiya Zubair Hassan has prompted a great deal of soul searching in the Muslim community. National organizations, the local community, imams, Muslim social workers, activists and writers have all agonized over how the community did not do enough to protect Aasiya, despite evidence that her husband, the man charged with killing her, was known to be violent. They have called for imams to preach against domestic violence as against the standards of Islam, and for communities to stand in solidarity with Muslim women who complain of abuse, rather than counseling patience or questioning if there is anything they might have done to cause the abuse, or that they could change in order to avert future abuse.
To be sure, domestic violence is indeed against the teachings of Islam, and murder of family members is especially repugnant. The Qur'an teaches that men should remain with their wives in kindness, or separate from their wives with kindness, and specifically that they should not stay with their wives in order to do harm to them (2:229, 2:231). It offers a vision of spousal equality when it prescribes a decision making process within the family of mutual consultation (2:233), and labels both husband and wife with the term "zauj" (4:1 and others) and describes them as protecting garments for one another (2:187).
Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam
Pamela K. Taylor, The Washington Post, February 27, 2009

The relevant portion of Quran 2:229 reads as follows: "The divorce (is) twice. Then to retain in a reasonable manner or to release (her) with kindness." The relevant portion of Quran 2:231 reads: "And when you divorce the women and they reach their (waiting) term, then retain them in a fair manner or release them in a fair manner. And (do) not retain them (to) hurt so that you transgress." Both of these verses speak of men 'retaining' their women, denoting possession and one-sided agency. Quran 2:233 speaks of the gender-specific roles that men and women must play in raising a child - a far cry from gender equality. The Arabic word zauj simply means spouse. Quran 2:187, while equal in its application of the 'garment' metaphor to both genders, is also a stand out example of how the Quran conceives of itself as primarily addressed to men, and not both genders equally - it opens with the following: "Allowed unto you, on the night of fasts, is consorting with your women."

Taylor states that 'domestic violence is indeed against the teachings of Islam'. This statement does not withstand historical scrutiny, as attested by 14 centuries of Islamic legal thought, all of which endorses wife-beating. It is equally unacceptable as a description of Islamic scripture, a representative sampling of which has been quoted in the above portion of the present article. In light of these observations, it is perhaps unsurprising that Taylor's work as an activist has been consistently ridiculed by the broader Islamic community.

References to hadiths

Physical and/or emotional abuse has no place in this vision of marriage. Indeed, when women came to the Prophet complaining of their husband's treatment, the Prophet admonished the men saying that those who treated their families poorly were not among the best of men. Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri, one of the companions of the Prophet, reports "I went to the Apostle of Allah and asked him, 'What do you say about our wives?' He replied, 'Feed them with the food you eat, clothe them as you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them." (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, the Book of Marriage, Number 2139)
Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam
Pamela K. Taylor, The Washington Post, February 27, 2009

The hadiths cited by Taylor doubtless exist and, discussed above in present article, make it clear that Muhammad made attempts to moderate the severity of the beatings being undertaken by his companions and, for a brief period, even prohibited these beatings outright. Notably, Taylor does not mention that, in the very same hadith she quotes, Muhammad at first forbids wife beating, but then changes his mind on the advice of Umar (see Sunan Abu Dawud 11:2141). Later, in the same hadith, when some women complain as a result, he makes the remark about the men who beat them quoted by Taylor. That the hadith Taylor chose to cite as evidence that domestic violence is 'indeed against the teachings of Islam' is also the same hadith which marks Muhammad's transition to the final position he took at the behest of Umar which permitted domestic violence - a strange decision on Taylor's part.

Contestation of the word daraba

The fulcrum of this patriarchal interpretation is verse 4:34. Translations vary wildly, ranging from those defining men the the defenders of women to those who render it as men being in charge of women. (The Arabic word, qawamun, comes from a root which means to stand up, thus men are called to stand up for women.) The verse goes on to say that devout women protect that which Allah would have them protect in their husbands absences. Again, the interpretations vary wildly -- from those who read it quite literally, describing pious women as devoted to Allah, to those who take it mean women should be devoutly obedient to their husbands. It continues, saying that if men fear "nushuz" (understood variously as openly rebellion, adultery, spiritual negligence, or wifely disobedience), they should admonish their wives and then separate from them in sleeping arrangements. And then the third phase -- the word used is "daraba."

Daraba is used for many, many things in the Qur'an, from sexual intercourse to parting company, from metaphorically striking a parable to physically striking a person or thing. The vast majority of commentators, have understood the meaning of 4:34 to mean hitting. Modern interpreters such as Ahmed Ali and Laleh Bakhtiar, have made a case that this interpretation is wrong.

Bakhtiar's argument is particularly strong.
Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam
Pamela K. Taylor, The Washington Post, February 27, 2009

Taylor cites Laleh Bakhtiar, an Islamic modernist who argues that Islam does not instruct violence against women and that the word daraba in Quran 4:34 means 'to send away'. Bakhtiar's influence has generally been confined to the Western academy (outside of Islamic studies departments) and has, alongside Taylor's work, been all but comprehensively ridiculed by the wider Islamic world. Her decision to translate Quran 4:34 to suit her modernist interpretation in her English translation of the Quran triggered immense controversy, and many Islamic scholars issued statements denouncing what they described as her 'alteration' of scripture, resulting in the Islamic Society of North America banning the sale of her work in Islamic bookstores in Canada.

Taylor describes Bakhtiar's argument as 'particularly strong'. While this may be Taylor's view, no serious scholar has endorsed Bakhtiar's interpretation (see Wife Beating in the Qur'an).

Muhammad never hit a woman

She described her approach to this verse in a lecture I attended two years ago. She told the audience that she went to many, many scholars and asked them, "Did the Prophet ever hit his wives?" To which all them replied, "No, he never hit his wives." This is directly supported by a hadith narrated by his wife Aishah, who reported "The Messenger of Allah never struck a servant of his with his hand, nor did he ever hit a woman. He never hit anything with his hand, except for when he was fighting a battle in the cause of Allah." Bakhtiar then asked the scholars, "And the Prophet always obeyed Allah, correct?" To which the answer was an emphatic "Yes, the Prophet was the embodiment of the Qur'an."

"Then, how," she asked, "do you explain that when he had problems with his wives, he admonished them, he refrained from sleeping with them for a month, but he never went to the third step and hit them? Was he being disobedient to Allah, or have we misunderstood verse 4:34?" To which, she says, the scholars had no answer.

Her answer is that we have misunderstood 4:34, and that we have to look at what the Prophet actually did after that month's separation -- which was to offer his wives the choice of divorcing him or remaining with him while resolving to avoid the behaviors he found so objectionable. While, she translates "daraba" as "to go away from them," (which is the most common usage of the term in the Qur'an), it seems that it might be better rendered as "to strike a bargain with them."
Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam
Pamela K. Taylor, The Washington Post, February 27, 2009

While second-hand anecdote presented by Taylor may well be true, there are several hadith accounts (quoted and discussed above in the present article) which directly contradict or undermine Aisha's report about Muhammad never striking a servant or woman - interestingly, the hadith which records Muhammad striking Aisha herself, and allowing his companions to do the same are found in more reliable hadith collections (that is, Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari) than the collection in which the hadith from Aisha quoted by Taylor is found (Sunan Abu Dawud). It is also probable that Islamic scholars would reject the idea that Muhammad ever struck his wives, as this would perhaps undermine his theological status as the Insan al-Kamil (lit. 'the perfect man') - this, however, amounts to theological dissonance rather than a historically-sound objection.

Taylor also suggests that the usage of the word daraba in Quran 4:34 can plausibly be read to mean 'separate from them' or even 'strike a bargain with them'. She presents in evidence of this suggestion that the word daraba is most often used throughout the Quran in the former sense. This particular claim does not withstand scrutiny, as the word is most often used in the Quran to mean 'strike'. Countless traditional Islamic scholars and linguistic authorities - one of whom, it should be mentioned, Taylor is not - have shown such readings, time and again, to be bereft of linguistic merit.

External Links

National decrees


  1. daraba - Lane's lexicon Book I page 1777
  2. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, London: Oneworld Publications, 2014, p. 275
  3. dad-ghayn-tha Lane's Lexicon Book I page 1793
  4. lahada Lane's Lexicon page 2676
  5. awja'a - Lane's Lexicon
  6. Lane's Lexicon Book I page 182
  7. al-tafsir.com Tabari's tafsir for 4:34
  8. al-Tabari 4:34
  9. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, London: Oneworld Publications, 2014, p. 276
  10. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, p. 280-81
  11. Ayesha Chaudhry, Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 106
  12. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, p. 276, 278
  13. Ayesha Chaudhry, Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition., p. 111
  14. Ayesha Chaudhry, Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 108
  15. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, p. 277
  16. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, p. 272, 282
  17. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, pp. 280-285
  18. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, p. 271, 277-78
  19. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, p. 279-80
  20. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, London: Oneworld Publications, 2014, p. 272
  21. Atia Abawi - Afghan women hiding for their lives - CNN, September 24, 2009
  22. Maryam Nayeb-Yazdi - The violence that may never end - Iranian.com, February 15, 2006
  23. Afif Sarhan - Iraq’s Domestic Violence Plight - Islam Online, May 31, 2009
  24. All together now: YES for wife beatings! - 360 East, May 7, 2006
  25. Natasha Tynes - Disturbing report on wife beating in Jordan - Mental Mayhem, April 10, 2005
  26. PAKISTAN: Domestic violence endemic, but awareness slowly rising - The Advocates, March 11, 2008
  27. Violence against women rises by 13% Violence against women rises by 13% - The Express Tribune, June 29, 2010.
  28. Doug Alexander - Addressing Violence Against Palestinian Women - The International Development Research Centre, June 23, 2000
  29. Qatar: divorce peak caused by women, survey - ANSAmed, February 23, 2012
  30. http://www.toplumpostasi.net/index.php/cat/9/news/9633/PageName/English
  31. Murder a fact of life for women in Turkey - Hurriyet Daily News, February 20, 2011
  32. Yonca Poyraz Doğan - Women's groups outraged by Cabinet's drastic changes to violence bill draft - Today's Zaman, March 1, 2012
  33. Mediterranean: EU Study, Domestic Violence Between 40%, 75% - ANSAmed, May 9, 2011
  34. S. Abdallah Schleifer; Tarek Algawhary; Aftab Ahmed, eds, "IIIC. Islamic Modernism", The Muslim 500 (2021 Edition ed.), Amman, Jordan: The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, p. 59, https://themuslim500.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/TheMuslim500-2021_Edition-low_res_20201028.pdf 
    The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (MABDA المركز الملكي للبحوث والدراسات الإسلامية) is an independent research entity affiliated with the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought. The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought is an international Islamic non-governmental, independent institute headquartered in Amman, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.