Wife Beating in Islamic Law
This article explores how wife-beating is promoted in the Qur'an and Hadiths, along with commentary from Muslim scholars, statistics on wife beating in the Muslim world, and common apologetic arguments made by Muslims and responses to them.
Wife-beating in the Muslim world comes from the teachings of Islamic religious texts such as the Qur'an and the Hadiths. Because of this, domestic violence has been used as a tool to maintain control and dominance over Muslim women, this has created an intensely patriarchal society where men rule women and women must submit to men.
Islamic Scriptures and Wife-Beating
Wife-Beating in the Qur'an
Domestic violence is a societal problem in many countries, but in the Muslim world it is divinely ordained and justified by the Qur'an.
Surah 4:34 seems to establish men as having authority over their wives and the women are to be obedient to their husbands. If the wife disobeys the husband, the husband has the right admonish them, send them to beds apart and beat them.
To have a better understanding of Surah 4:34 other translations will be quoted.
Pickthall: 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: 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. )
All three translations agree with each other and establish the Qur'an promotes wife-beating. The Qur'an states two methods must be used to make the wife become obedient and if they do not work, then wife-beating is permitted. It also states men have authority over women, and women are to be obedient, thus establishing an authoritarian structure with the husband as head of the wife. In fact the Qur'an states Allah created men to be maintainers of women and men are superior to women, therefore Allah did not create men and women as equals.
The Qur'an also states the prophet Job (Ayyub) was permitted to beat his wife in Surah 38:41-44:
Wife-Beating in the Hadiths
Some Muslims deny the Qur'an permits wife-beating and claim surah 4:34 has been misinterpreted, but in the Hadiths there are several examples, from various Hadith narrators and collectors, of Muhammad divinely ordaining wife-beating, thus confirming the correct understanding of surah 4:34.
In the next hadith, Abu Bakr (the first Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam), also strikes (his daughter) Aisha violently with his fist.
In the following hadith, Abu Bakr informs Muhammad 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) respond by slapping Muhammad's wives, Hafsa and (for the third time) Aisha. Later on Muhammad gives a decree instructing men to not beat their wives, but changes his mind once Umar informs him that some of the women have become embolden towards their husbands. The women complain to Muhammad and he responds by stating they are not the best among you and a man will not be asked as to why he beats his wife.
In the next hadith, Ali (the fourth Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam) gives a slave-girl a violent beating in front of Muhammad.
In the following hadith, a woman complains to Muhammad about her husband and shows him where he had beaten and bruised her. Muhammad listens to the husband’s side of the story and comes to the conclusion the reason why his wife is complaining is because he cannot sexually satisfy her and she wants to go back to her ex-husband, when all she is really saying is that he is abusing her. Instead of scolding her husband for beating her, Muhammad says she cannot re-marry her ex unless she has sexual intercourse with her husband first.
In the authentic version of the "Farewell Sermon", Muhammad compares women to domestic animals and once again orders men to beat their wives.
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.Narrated Amr ibn al-Ahwas al-Jushami: Amr heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) say in his farewell address on the eve of his Last Pilgrimage, after he had glorified and praised Allah, he cautioned his followers: "Listen! Treat women kindly; they are like prisoners in your hands. Beyond this you do not owe anything from them. Should they be guilty of flagrant misbehaviour, you may remove them from your beds, and beat them but do not inflict upon them any severe punishment. Then if they obey you, do not have recourse to anything else against them. Listen! You have your rights upon your wives and they have their rights upon you. Your right is that they shall not allow anyone you dislike, to trample your bed and do not permit those whom you dislike to enter your home. Their right is that you should treat them well in the matter of food and clothing.
In summation, we find in the Hadiths:
- Muhammad provided tacit approval of wife beating by not scolding Muslims for beating their wives
- Muhammad referred to women who spoke-out against abuse as "not the best among you"
- Muhammad forbid Muslims from questioning men who beat their wives
- Muhammad allowed others to hit his wives (the very women whom all Muslims adore and refer to as "the Mother of believers")
- Three of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs beat women
- Muhammad reaffirms the command of wife-beating in his parting sermon
- Muhammad himself struck his wife in the chest
It is clear from all of the above that wife-beating has been an accepted part of Islam since its inception. Muhammad was not against domestic violence and indeed permitted wife-beating in Islam.
Early and Modern Muslim Scholars on Wife-Beating
Muslim scholars have written a lot of commentary in relation to wife-beating in the Qur'an. Here we will only quote a few scholars:
Tafsir Ibn Kathir
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
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.
MEMRI: Special Dispatch, No. 2229, February 5, 2009
MEMRI: Special Dispatch No.2868, March 19, 2010
Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 10680
Statistics on Domestic Violence in the Muslim World
Given the fact wife-beating is divinely ordained in Islam, one must wonder how this effects the Muslim world. Here are some statistics on domestic violence in the Muslim world:
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
- Palestinian Authority area
. . .
Altogether, 33.7 percent of women said they considered suicide as a solution to their problems.
- South Mediterranean Region
Response From Muslim Women
Because domestic violence is divinely ordained in Islam, it is an epidemic in many Muslim countries. Even though it is divinely sanctioned, some Muslim women have found the courage to speak against domestic violence and reach out to other Muslim women who are suffering, although some of these advocates still deny the fact Islam sanctions wife-beating.
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.
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.
BBC News, April 30, 2004
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."
CNN Heroes, September 25, 2009
There are a few brave Muslim women who openly admit the truth. One of these is the Daily Beast’s Asra Q. Nomani, author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam, who rather eloquently refers to Muslim denial of wife-beating in the Qur'an as the "4:34 dance".
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.
Asra Q. Nomani, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2010
Objections Made by Muslim Apologists
Given the fact wife-beating is sanctioned in Islamic religious texts, Muslim apologists try to deny this. Here are some arguments made by Muslim apologists.
Pamela K. Taylor is the co-founder of Muslims for progressive values, former director of the Islamic Writers Alliance and strong supporter of the women Imam movement. On Faith Panelist Blog she states:
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).
Either Taylor is ignorant of some of the teachings in the Qur'an and the Hadith, or she willfully ignores those passages and twists some of the wording to suite her own needs. It has been mentioned before in previous paragraphs the Qur'an and the Hadiths sanction wife-beating, men are superior to women, and Muhammad did strike his wives and did not scold his followers for beating their wives.
Many others repeat Taylor's claim that Muhammad taught his followers "the best of you (Muslims) are those who do not hit their wives," but Taylor's apologetic attempt relies upon the ignorance of her readers, for this claim is in fact false. As we have mentioned previously, it was actually the women who complained of abuse to Muhammad, which he refers to as "not the best among you".
Taylor continues to state in her article.
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.
Taylor mentions Laleh Bakhtiar, a Muslim apologist who states Islam does not preach violence against women and Daraba in Surah 4:34 means to send away. Bakhtiar has written her own version of the Qur'an with surah 4:34 stating to send her away. Her mistranslation of this verse has caused controversy among Muslim scholars and the ISNA of Canada is refusing to sell her book in their bookstore. Contrary to Taylor's claim, there is nothing "particularly strong" in her argument about Daraba, it once again relies upon the ignorance of her readers. To a native Arabic speaker, this argument holds no weight and has been refuted in our article Beat your Wives or "Separate from Them"?.
"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."
These conversations between Laleh Bakhtiar and "many, many scholars" most likely had never occurred, since Bakhtiar's approach to surah 4:34 fails once you realize Muhammad did hit his wife Aisha and he also referred to women who speak-out against their abusive husbands as "not the best among you". Any Muslim scholar worth his salt would be aware of this and would have little difficulty in dismantling her weak arguments against the legitimacy of wife-beating in Islam.
Another common argument is the admittance that beating your wife is permitted, but only lightly, saying the beating should be carried out with a 'miswak' (a traditional toothbrush made from the branch of a Salvadora persica tree). But this miswak defense is not derived from the Qur'an or the hadith literature, therefore it has no validity within Islam. Others base their argument for a light beating on the following translation:
Note that the word “Lightly” is in parenthesis. This is because the word does not appear in the original Arabic rendition of verse 5:32, nor is it inferred. It is purely the wishful thinking/deception of a translator whose work was aimed at a western audience, namely Yusuf Ali. Other popular translations do not contain this addition.
Furthermore, in the previously quoted sahih hadiths, Aisha stated "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!", meaning the woman who had hoped for compassion from Muhammad was beaten until she was badly bruised. Aisha also stated that Abu Bakr struck her violently with his fist, and Muhammad striking her had caused pain. Evidently, wife-beating in Islam during Muhammad's life, was not something 'symbolic' or a 'gentle tap' on the female body.
Ignoring Muhammad's comparison of women to domestic animals, some may point to the authentic farewell sermon and his instructions to “beat them, but not severely,” However, what one considers to be a severe beating is subjective, and within the context of Islam the definition of a “severe beating” is wholly dependent on what Muhammad saw as severe. Muhammad's indifference towards the suffering of his female followers demonstrates his belief that beating your wife black and blue (or green) is perfectly acceptable behavior. Clearly Muhammad's idea of what constitutes a 'severe' beating and that of the modern worlds is miles apart.
Wife-beating is divinely sanctioned in the Qur'an and Hadiths, and is viewed as a method to keep the wife under control, Despite some of the statements made by Muslim apologists, wife-beating is institutionalized in Islam. Muhammad had no problem with telling his followers it is ok to beat their wives and had total disregard for the safety and emotional well-being of his female followers when they complained to him about their husbands. In fact he had no problem with hitting Aisha and with Abu Bakr and Umar hitting his wives.
The article also shows the deceptive means Muslim apologists use to cover up the fact the Qur'an and Hadith sanction wife-beating by using other verses of the Qur'an in an attempt to support their view that Islam promotes equality between men and women, wife-beating is forbidden and surah 4:34 has been misinterpreted. The problem with their argument is it only reveals the inconsistencies of the Qur'an, and their arguments have been refuted, by Islamic scholars and the Hadiths.
- Wife Beating - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Wife Beating
- International inventory of domestic violence services - Global list of abuse hotlines, shelters, refuges, crisis centres and women's organizations, plus domestic violence information in over 80 languages
- Wife Beating in Islam - by Silas
- Domestic violence in Islam: The Quran on wife-beating - by James Arlandson
- Wife-beating, sharia, and Western law - Asia Times
- Video: Woman Hit For Not Wearing Burka (warning, contains scenes of woman being slapped a number of times; may be disturbing to some viewers)
- imam who lectures on non-violence in Germany is arrested for beating up his wife - Sheikh Abu Adam shouted Qur'an verse 4:34 at his wife as he beat her. She suffered a broken nose and shoulder and numerous cuts and bruises
- Saudi Judge Says it's Ok for Men to Beat Their Wives
- Algeria: Prison for Violent Husbands is Against Koran, Mufti
- Wife-beating allowed under sharia law, UAE court rules
- 'Pull her by the ear, beat her by hand or stick': How the Islamic guide to a happy marriage advises husbands to treat their wives - Daily Mail, UK, March 2012
- Atia Abawi - Afghan women hiding for their lives - CNN, September 24, 2009
- Maryam Nayeb-Yazdi - The violence that may never end - Iranian.com, February 15, 2006
- Afif Sarhan - Iraq’s Domestic Violence Plight - Islam Online, May 31, 2009
- All together now: YES for wife beatings! - 360 East, May 7, 2006
- Natasha Tynes - Disturbing report on wife beating in Jordan - Mental Mayhem, April 10, 2005
- PAKISTAN: Domestic violence endemic, but awareness slowly rising - The Advocates, March 11, 2008
- Violence against women rises by 13% Violence against women rises by 13% - The Express Tribune, June 29, 2010.
- Doug Alexander - Addressing Violence Against Palestinian Women - The International Development Research Centre, June 23, 2000
- Qatar: divorce peak caused by women, survey - ANSAmed, February 23, 2012
- Murder a fact of life for women in Turkey - Hurriyet Daily News, February 20, 2011
- Yonca Poyraz Doğan - Women's groups outraged by Cabinet's drastic changes to violence bill draft - Today's Zaman, March 1, 2012
- Mediterranean: EU Study, Domestic Violence Between 40%, 75% - ANSAmed, May 9, 2011