Respected scholars! Does Islam allow wife beating? Some husbands are violent
and they say that the Quran allows them to beat their wives. Is there any
logical explanation given regarding men being allowed to beat their wives, as
stated in Surat An-Nisaa, verse 34?
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His
Dear questioner, we would like to thank you for the great confidence you placed
in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our
work for His Sake.
The verse you mentioned has been greatly misconceived by many people who focus
merely on its surface meaning, taking it to allow wife beating. When the setting
is not taken into account, it isolates the words in a way that distorts or
falsifies the original meaning. Before dealing with the issue of wife-battering
in the perspective of Islam, we should keep in mind that the original Arabic
wording of the Holy Quran is the only authentic source of meaning. If one relies
on the translation alone, one is likely to misunderstand it.
Commenting on this issue, Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former President of the
Islamic Society of North America, states:
"According to Quran the relationship between the husband and wife should be
based on mutual love and kindness. Allah says: "And among His Signs is this,
that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in
tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts):
verily in that are Signs for those who reflect." (Quran: Ar-Rum 21)
The Holy Quran urges husbands to treat their wives with kindness. (In the event
of a family dispute, Quran exhorts the husband to treat his wife kindly and not
to overlook her positive aspects). Allah Almighty says: “Live with them on a
footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye
dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.”
(Quran: An-Nisaa 19)
It is important that a wife recognizes the authority of her husband in the
house. He is the head of the household, and she is supposed to listen to him.
But the husband should also use his authority with respect and kindness towards
his wife. If there arises any disagreement or dispute among them, then it should
be resolved in a peaceful manner. Spouses should seek the counsel of their
elders and other respectable family members and friends to batch up the rift and
solve the differences.
However, in some cases a husband may use some light disciplinary action in order
to correct the moral infraction of his wife, but this is only applicable in
extreme cases and it should be resorted to if one is sure it would improve the
situation. However, if there is a fear that it might worsen the relationship or
may wreak havoc on him or the family, then he should avoid it completely.
Quran is very clear on this issue. Almighty Allah says: "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 to guard. As to those women on whose part you 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 and Great (above you all). If
you fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his
family and the other from hers. If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their
reconciliation; for Allah has full knowledge and is acquainted with all things."
(Quran: An-Nisaa 34-35)
It is important to read the section fully. One should not take part of the verse
and use it to justify one's own misconduct. This verse neither permits violence
nor condones it. It guides us to ways to handle delicate family situation with
care and wisdom. The word "beating" is used in the verse, but it does not mean
"physical abuse". The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) explained it "dharban ghayra mubarrih"
which means "a light tap that leaves no mark". He further said that face must be
avoided. Some other scholars are of the view that it is no more than a light
touch by siwak, or toothbrush.
Generally, the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) used to discourage his followers from taking
even this measure. He never hit any female, and he used to say that the best of
men are those who do not hit their wives. In one Hadith he expressed his extreme
repulsion from this behavior and said, "How does anyone of you beat his wife as
he beats the stallion camel and then embrace (sleep with) her?” (Al-Bukhari,
English Translation, vol. 8, Hadith 68, pp. 42-43)
It is also important to note that even this "light strike" mentioned in the
verse is not to be used to correct some minor problem, but it is permissible to
resort to only in a situation of some serious moral misconduct when admonishing
the wife fails, and avoiding from sleeping with her would not help. If this
disciplinary action can correct a situation and save the marriage, then one
should use it."
Dr. Jamal Badawi, professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia,
Canada, and a cross-appointed faculty member in the Departments of Religious
Studies and Management, adds:
"If the problem relates to the wife's behavior, the husband may exhort her and
appeal for reason. In most cases, this measure is likely to be sufficient. In
cases where the problem persists, the husband may express his displeasure in
another peaceful manner, by sleeping in a separate bed from hers. There are
cases, however, in which a wife persists in bad habits and showing contempt of
her husband and disregard for her marital obligations. Instead of divorce, the
husband may resort to another measure that may save the marriage, at least in
some cases. Such a measure is more accurately described as a gentle tap on the
body, but never on the face, making it more of a symbolic measure than a
Even here, that maximum measure is limited by the following:
a. It must be seen as a rare exception to
the repeated exhortation of mutual respect, kindness and good treatment. Based
on Quran and Hadith, this measure may be used in the cases of lewdness on the
part of the wife or extreme refraction and rejection of the husband's reasonable
requests on a consistent basis (nushuz). Even then, other measures, such as
exhortation, should be tried first.
b. As defined by Hadith, it is not
permissible to strike anyone's face, cause any bodily harm or even be harsh.
What the Hadith qualifies as "dharban ghayra mubarrih", or light striking, was
interpreted by early jurists as a (symbolic) use of siwak! They further
qualified permissible "striking" as that which leaves no mark on the body.
c. The permissibility of such symbolic
expression of the seriousness of continued refraction does not imply its
desirability. In several Hadiths, the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) discouraged this
measure. Here are some of his sayings in this regard:
"Do not beat the female servants of Allah";
"Some (women) visited my family complaining about their husbands (beating them).
These (husbands) are not the best of you."
In another Hadith the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) is reported to have said: “How does
anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then he may
embrace (sleep with) her?”
d. True following of the Sunnah is to follow
the example of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) who never resorted to that measure,
regardless of the circumstances.
e. Islamic teachings are universal in
nature. They respond to the needs and circumstances of diverse times, cultures
and circumstances. Some measures may work in some cases and cultures or with
certain persons but may not be effective in others. By definition, a
"permissible" act is neither required, encouraged or forbidden. In fact it may
be to spell out the extent of permissibility, such as in the issue at hand,
rather than leaving it unrestricted or unqualified, or ignoring it all together.
In the absence of strict qualifiers, persons may interpret the matter in their
own way, which can lead to excesses and real abuse.
f. Any excess, cruelty, family violence, or
abuse committed by any "Muslim" can never be traced, honestly, to any revelatory
text (Quran or Hadith). Such excesses and violations are to be blamed on the
person (s) himself, as it shows that they are paying lip service to Islamic
teachings and injunctions and failing to follow the true Sunnah of the Prophet
Allah Almighty knows best.