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One of the more controversial issues in Islam is the Quran’s authorization for husbands to beat disobedient wives. This is found in chapter 4, verse 34. Additional references on wife beating are found in Muhammad’s traditions (hadith), and biographical material (sira). Many people have criticized Islam because of this harsh sanction and many Muslims have written articles seeking to mollify or defend it.

In review of the actual teachings of the Quran, hadith, and sira, Islam is rightly criticized. This command is not only a harsh way to treat one’s wife, it portrays the degraded position of married women in Islam. It will be shown from the Quran, Hadith, Sira, and other Islamic writings that this “Islamic” wife beating is physical and painful.

Before we discuss wife beating, we must review Islam’s viewpoint of women and comprehend the position, or standing, it places her in with respect to her husband. This is fundamental in understanding the command to beat the disobedient wife. Islam views the woman as inferior to the man and as such, places her in a subservient and subordinate position in the marriage relationship. The man is allowed to discipline his wife because he is her superior and responsible for her. He has the authority to beat his wife if he feels she is being disobedient. Wife beating is merely the bad fruit of a bad theological root.

When I first began to study the topic I did not realize that an Islamic marriage is not equivalent to a Christian marriage. Its rules, roles, and requirements are different. In a Christian marriage the husband is given the role as head of the household and the wife is expected to submit to the husband’s leadership. However, she is his equal in terms of social status; she is not inferior to him. In Islam the husband is also the head of the marriage, additionally he is his wife’s manager. Women are considered to be “in-between a slave and free man”. Slaves are not equal to their masters, rather they are subservient, managed, and controlled. Similarly, Muslim wives are inferior to their husbands and are managed and controlled. I am not saying that the wife is the husband’s slave, do not take this to an extreme.

Muhammad’s viewpoint of women was that they “lack self-control” and thus for their own good, and societies’ good, they must be subordinate to and managed by their husbands. Wives must obey. In an Islamic marriage when a man gives his bride a dowry he is accredited the right to manage his wife. By accepting his dowry a woman is giving her husband the right to her regulation.

Muhammad urged his followers to treat their wives well and the Quran’s chapter 4 is full of these sincere admonitions. He did not want to see them beaten without cause and he wanted good marriage relationships. However, his desires for happy marriages and kind treatment do not mitigate the authority he gave men over women or the position he ascribed to women. Wives are to be treated gently and kindly but are still under the man’s authority. If she persists in disobedience to his wishes he has the right, and the responsibility, to beat her to bring her into submission once again, and re-establish a happy marriage.

This article addresses the primary theme of Islamic wife beating and is based upon the teachings of the Quran, Hadith, Sira, and renowned Islamic scholars. Following the conclusion I have a series of appendices that discuss specific issues related to wife beating.

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THE QURAN ON WIFE BEATING

Below are 6 English versions of the Quran verse 4:34. This passage lays the foundation for wife beating. I provided all these to show their similarity. These translations are all from recognized scholars. I have corrected some archaic spelling. My comments are in [ ] type brackets.

Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God has gifted the one above the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them. Virtuous women are obedient, careful, during the husband’s absence, because God has of them been careful. But chide those for whose refractoriness you have cause to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourge them: but if they are obedient to you, then seek not occasion against them: verily, God is High, Great! Rodwell[1]

[‘Refractoriness’ means hard or impossible to manage, stubbornly disobedient’].

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme. Dawood[2]

Men are in charge of women, because Allah has 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 has guarded. As for those from whom you 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. Pickthall[3]

Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for God’s guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them; God is All high, All great. Arberry[4]

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 their sleeping places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great. Shakir[5]

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 whom 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, Great (above you all). Ali[6]

COMMENT ON 4:34

The introduction emphasized the husband’s superiority over the wife. 4:34 starts by establishing that precedent. The beginning states: men are “superior”, men have “authority”, men are “in charge”, etc. Muhammad placed the man over the wife; he is her custodian and she obeys him. Then the Quran proceeds to lay out their respective roles, then lists a progression of steps to be followed when dealing with a rebellious wife:

admonish them: The husband is to verbally admonish her
send them to beds apart: If that fails the husband is to sexually desert his wife
beat them: If both measures above fail the husband is commanded to beat his wife.

The husband, as the manager, increases the pressure on his wife to bring her into obedience to him. If beating her doesn’t work they will move towards divorce. (Note that obedience to her husband is not required if he orders her to do something sinful, causes her physical pain, or something she is incapable of doing).

[NOTE: I placed Ali’s version last because I comment on his, (and Muhammad Asad’s) translation and editing of the Quran in Appendix 1].

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ON THE QURAN, 4:34

The reason (asbab al-nuzul) behind the “revelation” is detailed by various Muslim scholars. The quote below comes from Razi’s commentary, “At-Tafsir al-Kabir,” on 4:34

“A women complained to Muhammad that her husband slapped her on the face, (which was still marked by the slap). At first the prophet said to her: “Get even with him”, but then added: “Wait until I think about it”. Later on, Allah supposedly revealed 4:34 to Muhammad, after which the prophet said: “We wanted one thing but Allah wanted another, and what Allah wanted is best.”[7]

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THE TRADITIONS (HADITH)

The Hadith contains more information on wife beating in the early Islamic community. The Hadith illustrate facets of the husband & wife relationship and mention or depict physical violence against the wife. I will quote several of these to demonstrate the wife’s lower position in the marriage and the exact type of wife beating that occurred in Muhammad’s time, with his approval. In some cases due to the length I will only quote relevant portions of a hadith.

Here is a Hadith from Bukhari[8], vol. 7, # 715, that details Islamic wife beating:

“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.””

Let’s note several items from this Hadith.

1) A woman was beaten by her husband because of marriage discord. The women did not commit any illegal sexual act. She was beaten and bruised because her husband said she was “disobedient” and he thought she wanted to go back to her former husband.

2) Aisha said, “I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!

The woman was badly bruised. Her skin was green. Aisha acknowledged that the Muslim women were suffering (from being beaten) more than the non-Muslim women. Muslims today proclaim that Islam gave women rights but Aisha, the “mother of the believers” said otherwise! She said that the Pagan women were treated better!

3) Muhammad did not rebuke the man for beating his wife. In fact, he reproached the women for saying Rahman was impotent. Even though she was hurt Muhammad accepted her bruises and beating because to Muhammad it was not abuse. In Muhammad’s eyes she deserved the beating.

Following are a number of various Hadith relative to wife beating. Again, I have edited several of these because of length.

ABU JAHM, A WELL KNOW WIFE BEATER

Sahih Muslim[9], Book 009, Number 3512:

…When my period of ‘Idda was over, I mentioned to him [Muhammad] that Mu’awiya b. Abu Sufyan and Jahm had sent proposal of marriage to me, whereupon Allah’s said: As for Abu Jahm, he does not put down his staff from his shoulder, and as for Mu’awiya, he is a poor man having no property; marry Usama b. Zaid. I objected to him, but he again said: Marry Usama; so I married him. Allah blessed there in and I was envied (by others).

Book 009, Number 3526:

…So I informed him [Muhammad]. (By that time) Mu’awiya, Abu Jahm and Usama b. Zaid had given her the proposal of marriage. Allah’s Messenger said: So far as Mu’awiya is concerned, he is a poor man without any property. So far as Abu Jahm is concerned, he is a great beater of women, but Usama b. Zaid… She pointed with her hand (that she did not approve of the idea of marrying) Usama. But Allah’s Messenger said: Obedience to Allah and obedience to His Messenger is better for thee. She said: So I married him, and I became an object of envy.

Book 009, Number 3527:

…She said: Mu’awiya and Abu’l-Jahm were among those who had given me the proposal of marriage. Thereupon Allah’s Apostle 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).

COMMENT

These three Hadith illustrate that some Muslim husbands could legally beat their wives without any retaliatory consequences. Abu Jahm was known to beat his wives and to treat them harshly. Although Muhammad may not have cared for it, wife beating was certainly allowed within the Islamic community.

These hadith also illustrate that wife beating is per the discretion of the husband. Not all Muslim husbands beat their wives as Abu Jahm. There was variation in the Muslim community and this variation existed because the husband determined when it was needed. What may be an unimportant infraction to one husband could be a great offense to another.

HADITH OF THE SUNAN OF ABU DAWUD[10]

Disciplining the wife was important enough in Islamic thought that Abu Dawud devoted a small chapter dedicated to wife beating in his Hadith collection. Below are two of them.

CHAPTER 709 ON BEATING WOMEN

#2141

Iyas 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”.

NOTE: 28 Nov., 2011  Because the English translation is not as clear as it could be, this tradition could be interpreted to mean either the men not being the best because they beat their wives, or the women not being the best because they are complaining about their husbands beating them. Muhammad is referring to the men not being the best and criticizing them for beating their wives excessively.

#2142

Umar reported the prophet as saying: “A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife”.

HADITH OF THE SUNAN OF IBN-I-MAJAH[11]

Like Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah also has a short chapter dedicated to the topic of wife beating.

#1985

Iyas b. ‘Abdullah, the son of Abu Dhubab reported that Allah’s Messenger said, “Do not beat the slave girls (women folk).” Then Umar visited the Holy Prophet and said, “Allah’s Messenger, women have become emboldened towards their husbands. So allow us to beat them. So, they were beaten (when permission was granted). upon this many groups of women went round the family of Muhammad. When it was morning, he, (the Holy Prophet), said, “Seventy women went round the family of Muhammad this night. Every woman was making a complaint against her spouse. You will not find them (1) the best among you.

[The note for (1) says, “The word ula’ika refers to the men who severely beat women and transgress all bound in beating them.”

#1986

Ash’ath b. Qais is reported to have said, “One night Umar arranged a feast. When it was midnight, he got up and went towards his wife to beat her. I separated them both. When he went to bed, he said to me, “O Ash’ath, preserve from me a thing that I heard from Allah’s messenger. (These things are): A man will not be taken to task for beating his wife (for valid reasons) and do not sleep without observing witr prayer.” I forgot the third (exhortation).

MUHAMMAD’S WIVES AISHA AND HAFSAH

Being Muhammad’s wife had many great advantages. However, even Aisha and Hafsah (two of Muhammad’s wives) were physically disciplined. Note that in each case when Aisha was struck she was married to Muhammad and she was probably younger than 16 years old.

Sahih Muslim #2127:

…When it was my turn for Allah’s Messenger 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 ‘Aisha, 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?…

Sahih Muslim #3506:

Jabir b. ‘Abdullah reported: Abu Bakr came and sought permission to see Allah’s Messenger. 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 sitting sad and silent with his wives around him. He (Hadrat ‘Umar) said: I would say something which would make the Holy Prophet laugh, so he said: Messenger of Allah, I wish you had seen (the treatment meted out to) the daughter of Kharija when she asked me some money, and I got up and slapped her on her neck. Allah’s Messenger laughed and said: They are around me as you see, asking for extra money. Abu Bakr then got up went to ‘Aisha and slapped her on the neck, and ‘Umar stood up before Hafsa and slapped her saying: You ask Allah’s Messenger which he does not possess. They said: By Allah, we do not ask Allah’s Messenger for anything he does not possess….

Bukhari volume 8, #828

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.

Bukhari volume 7, #132

“Narrated Zam’a, “The prophet said, “None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day.””

COMMENT

These four hadith illustrate that striking women was acceptable in early Islam. In the first hadith Muhammad chest-slapped Aisha and “caused her pain”. This action is not “wife beating” in the strictest sense, but it shows that a woman can be struck under certain circumstances. Muhammad’s ego was challenged, and he was probably frightened by seeing her shadow late at night. In his anger he struck Aisha.

The context for the second Hadith is that Muhammad had been very upset because of his wives. He almost divorced them all! His closest friends came to cheer him up. Umar mentioned that he had slapped his wife because she wanted more money than he felt he could give. Muhammad laughed when he heard that. Then he pointed out his wives’ demands for more money. As a result, both fathers were angry and slapped their respective daughters. Physical discipline was used to bring the wives into line. Muhammad didn’t slap his wives but he approved others doing it for him.

The context for the third Hadith is Muhammad delayed breaking of camp to search for Aisha’s necklace. This made things hard for his followers because there was not much water. Abu Bakr struck her violently with his fist. While this is not “wife beating” it again illustrates that striking women, even Muhammad’s wife, was an acceptable form of discipline.

In the fourth hadith Muhammad does not forbid wife beating, rather he didn’t want them beaten severely as Muslim’s slaves were beaten.

These hadith give us glimpses of early Islamic life. They show us how women were thought of and how they were treated. Later Islamic scholars were able to draw from these stories and develop an Islamic system of life and women continued in subjection. If wives were beaten with Muhammad’s approval then that practice would continue. Muslim women today are placed in the same position that Rifaa’s wife was placed: obey or be physically punished. We’ll see several examples of this later.

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THE BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL (SIRA)

MUHAMMAD’S FAREWELL ADDRESS

Shortly before he died as a result of poisoning by a Jewish woman [12], Muhammad addressed a crowd of Muslims in Mecca. He commented on several issues including the treatment of women. Below is the pertinent quote from Guillaume’s translation of Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasulallah”.

“You have rights over your wives, and they have rights over you. You have the right that they should not defile your bed and that they should not behave with open unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not with severity. If they refrain from these things and obey you, they have right to their food and clothing with kindness. Lay injunctions on women kindly, for they are your wards having no control of their persons.”[13]

Note here that:

The beating is not to be vicious or severe.
Women are “wards” under men’s control because they cannot control themselves. The Islamic definition of “ward” means a person who has been legally placed under the care of a guardian or court, or a person who is under the protection and control of another. Muslim wives are placed under their husband’s control.

The Muslim scholar Ali Dashti translates the fourth sentence from the above passage and comments:

Look after women kindly! They are prisoners, not having control of themselves at all”. The passage’s word in Arabic “awan” translated as “ward” or “prisoners” implies that women are in-between slave and free. In other words, because women are unable control their emotions, men are given authority over them.[14]

Like the Hadith, the Sira provide important details on wife beating. The quote above has been used many times by various writers. This is because Muhammad defined a woman’s social status as: “They are prisoners, not having control of themselves at all”, and allowed them to be beaten.

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THE SCHOLARS ON WIFE BEATING

Below is a large selection of commentary from some of the greatest scholars in Islam on 4:34. You will notice that their positions are uniform primarily, agreeing upon the superiority of men, the required obedience of the wife, and the right of the husband to beat his disobedient wife. Quranic verses will be in bold font. I would like to thank brother Mutee’a Al-Fadi for doing the translations of Arabic into English for the commentaries of Tabari, Baidawi, and Qurtubi. His testimony is found here: http://www.answering-islam.org/Authors/Alfadi/testimony.html

COMMENTARY OF AL TABARI[15]

Tabari was a Shafi’i scholar and wrote one of the most extensive Quranic commentaries which was used by other Muslim scholars when writing their commentaries. Additionally, Tabari wrote a detailed history focusing primarily upon the Islamic world. This history is available in English as “The History of al-Tabari”.

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others

This means that men are in charge of their wives in leadership and discipline, because of paying them the dowry; spending their money on them; and providing for their needs. That’s how Allah chooses to excel men over them. That’s what the commentators have agreed on.

Ibn Abbas said {Men are the maintainers of women} means that the woman has to obey her man in all of what Allah has commanded her, this includes the kind treatment of his family, the protection of his money.

Al Dhahaak said: the man is the maintainer of his wife by ordering her to obey Allah. If she refused; then he can beat her not severely.

It was said that this verse was revealed because a man hit his wife on her face, so she came to the prophet (saw). The prophet then wanted to judge in her favor. But Allah revealed { Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others}. Then the prophet called on the man and recited this verse to him and said: “I wanted one thing, but Allah wanted another”.

Al Zahry said: if a man hit his wife or wounded her, he is not to be charged, unless he kills her, then he shall be killed for murdering her.

and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion

Some scholars said: it means those whom you know that they are doing something disobedient. Others said: if you see a questionable behavior by them. Then you ought to advise them and refuse to sleep with them.

{desertion} means: disobeying her husband. Ibn Abbas said: it is when the wife undermined her husband’s position and disobey him.

{admonish them} Ibn Abbas said: by following the Quran. Mujahid said: if a woman deserted her bed and her husband told her : fear Allah and come back to bed and she obeyed him, then he has no right to admonish her.

and leave them alone in the sleeping-places

There are different opinions in interpreting this part of the verse. Some said: it means, do not have intercourse with them. Others like Ibn Abbas said: it means not to share bed with them (not intercourse). Others said: it means, to abandon speaking to them in bed.

Ibn Abbas also said: it means, to stop talking to them, and to be mean to them and not have intercourse with them.

and beat them

It means: admonish them, but if they refused to repent, then tie them up in their homes and beat them until they obey Allah’s commands toward you. Scholars said: the beating that is allowed by Allah is not the severe kind. Ibn Abbas said: not severe.

Also, Ibn Abbas said: abandon her in bed, but if she refused to return, then beat her not severely and do not break her bone. Ibn Abbas said: the beating has to be with light stick or the like.

Al Qassem narrated, the prophet said: “do not abandon your wives except in bed, and when you beat them, do not beat them severely”.

COMMENTARY OF IBN KATHIR[16]

Ibn Kathir was also a Shafi’i scholar and is one of the distinguished Islamic scholars. His commentary (tafseer) is a favorite of Sunni Muslims. Excerpts from his commentary on 4:34 follow. The quote is very long, but it is of great value in describing how the woman is positioned in Islam, and it provides the theological justification for her beating. I quote from pages 50 through 53.

“In this verse Allah says that the man is the leader over the woman and is the one who disciplines her if she does wrong. “Because Allah has made one of them excel the other”, this is because men are better than women, and a man is better than a woman. Therefore, prophethood and great kingship were confined to men, as the Prophet said, “A people that choose a woman as their leader will not succeed.” This Hadith was narrated by Al-Bukhari. Added to that positions such as the judiciary, etc, … “And because they spend from their means.” Here, Allah refers to the dowry and expenses, which Allah has prescribed in the Quran and Sunnah; and given a man is better than a woman, it is appropriate that he be her protector and maintainer, as Allah says: “But men have a degree over them.” 2:228

Therefore, a woman should obey her husband in what Allah has commanded her with regards to his obedience and Allah’s obedience. She should be kind towards his family, protective of his wealth. The statement was also held by Muqatil, As-Sudiy and Adh-Dhahhak.

On the authority of Ali, Ibn Mardawaih narrated: “A man from al-Ansar came with a woman to the Prophet, then the woman said: “O Allah’s messenger! Her husband who was known as so and so from al-Ansar had hit her and that had affected her face.” The Prophet replied: “He should not have done that.” Then, the verse, “men are the protectors and maintainers of women”, as far as discipline is concerned, was revealed. Therefore, the Prophet said, “You wanted something and Allah wanted something else.””

“Because Allah has made one of them excel the other and because they spend from their means.” Ash-Sha’bi stated that this excellence refers to the bridal money; for if the husband reprimands her, he shall not be punished and if she reprimands him, she will be lashed. “Therefore the righteous among women, are devoutly obedient” to their husbands. “And guard in the husband’s absence” her honor and his wealth. “What Allah orders them to guard.” This part of the verse means that the guarded is he whom Allah has guarded.

Quoting Abu Hurairah, Ibn Jarir narrated: “The Prophet said: “The best among women are the ones who pleases you when you look at her, obeys you when you give her an order and guards herself and your wealth during your absence.” Then the Prophet recited: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women…””

“As to those women on whose part you see misconduct (nushuzuhunna).” The reference is made to those who show disobedience. It is said that a nashiza – from the verb nashaza = to disobey – is a woman who disobeys her husband’s order, opposes and dislikes him. Therefore, if a husband feels the signs of her disobedience, he should give her advice, threaten her with Allah’s Punishment for her disobedience to her husband. This is because Allah has prescribed that a wife has a duty towards her husband and she should obey him, and that it is unlawful for her to disobey him due to his excellence. The Prophet said in this context: “If I were to order one to prostrate to another, I would order a women to prostrate to her husband due to the greatness of her duty towards him.”

“Refuse to share their beds.” Ibn Abbas said: “A man should advise her if she accepts. Otherwise, he should refuse to share their bed.” Quoting Ibn Abbas, “Sharing the bed means: a man should not have sexual intercourse with his wife, and should turn his back on her in bed. Quoting Muawiyyah Ibn Hida al-Qushairi, it is narrated in the books of Sunan (Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, etc…) and Musnad: “O Allah Messenger! What is a man’s duty towards his wife?” The Prophet replied: “Feed her when you feed yourself, buy her clothes when you buy yourself clothes, do not hit her in the face, do not scold and do not desert her except in the house.””

“And beat them.” If they do not abstain from their disobedience through both advice and desertion. However, the beating should be dharbun ghayru nubrah, i.e. light, according to the Hadith narrated in Sahih Muslim, on the authority of Jabir, who had quoted the Prophet as saying in his farewell pilgrimage: “And fear Allah in women, for they are your aides, and their duties towards you is that your beds should not be shared with someone you dislike. Therefore, if they disobey you, beat them lightly, and your duty towards them is that you should maintain and buy them clothes in a reasonable manner.”

Scholars said: dharbun ghayru nubrah means: The husband should beat his wife lightly, in a way which does not result in breaking one of her limbs or affecting her badly.

“But if they obey, seek not against them means (of annoyance).” If a woman obeys her husband in all what he wants from her, as long as within the boundaries of what is lawful, he should not beat nor desert her.”

COMMENTARY OF BAIDAWI[17]

Baidawi was a Persian Shafi’l scholar who was so respected that he was referred to as “The Judge”.

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others

Men are the maintainers over women just as rulers are over their populous, and Allah gave two reasons for this exaltation:

One is due to the completeness of men’s brain over women’s deficiency, their management skills, and their extra requirement of worship; this is why men were chosen to be prophets; religious leaders; rulers; and enforcers of commandments; legal witnesses in a court of law; fighters in the cause of Allah; receivers of more share of the inheritance and in control of divorce. The other is their duty to pay dowry to their wives and provide for them.

It was told that Sa’ad bin Al Rabee’a wife became disobedient so he smacked her. Then her father went to the messenger (saw) to file his complaint, wherein the messenger ruled in her favor. Then this verse was sent down, at which point the messenger said: we wanted something but Allah wanted another, and Allah knows better.

and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion

if you fear their disobedient

Admonish them

Then advise them

and leave them alone in the sleeping-places

Do not share bed with them, or do not face them when sleeping on the same bed or do not have intercourse with them.

and beat them

Means in a non severe manner.

And these three options have to be followed in the same order

COMMENTARY OF THE JALALAIN[18]

This commentary is the work of two men named Jalal. The second Jalal (Suyuti), who was a Shafi’i scholar and a Sufi, and was regarded as being one the greatest Islamic scholars. He finished the work of the first.

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.

COMMENTARY OF IBN ABBAS[19]

Ibn Abbas was Muhammad’s cousin and spent much time with him. He was regarded as being one of the great Muslim scholars of his time.

(Men are in charge of women) they are in charge of overseeing the proper conduct of women, (because Allah hath made the one of them) the men through reason and the division of booty and estates (to excel the other) the women, (and because they spend of their property (for the support of women) through paying the dowry and spending on them, which the women are not required to do. (So good women) He says: those wives who are kind to their husbands (are the obedient) they are obedient to Allah regarding their husbands, (guarding) their own persons and the wealth of their husbands (in secret) when their husbands are not present (that which Allah hath guarded) through Allah’s protection of them in that He gave them the success to do so. (As for those from whom ye fear) know (rebellion) their disobedience to you in bed, (admonish them) by means of sacred knowledge and the Qur’an (and banish them to beds apart) turn your faces away from them in bed, (and scourge them) in a mild, unexaggerated manner. (Then if they obey you) in bed, (seek not a way against them) as regard love. (Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted) above every single thing, (Great) greater than every single thing. Allah has not burdened you with that which you cannot bear, so do not burden women with that which they cannot bear of affection.

COMMENTARY OF AL QURTUBI[20]

“Qurtubi was from Cordova, Spain, a Maliki scholar and hadith specialist, he was one of the greatest Imams of Koranic exegesis.”[21]

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others

They provide for them, and from men come out rulers; princes & warriors, whereas this is not found among women.

This verse was revealed because Sa’ad ibn Al Rabee’a slapped his wife Habibah bint Zaid after she deserted him. After which, her father said: O’ Messenger of Allah, I gave him my daughter (as a bed spread for him) but he slapped her. Then the messenger said: let us judge her husband. So she left with her father seeking judgment. But then the messenger said: come back, this is the angel Gabriel has come down to me. Then Allah revealed: (we willed something but Allah willed another). And in another story: (I willed something, but Allah willed something better).

It was told that due to this incident, Sura 20:114 “…and do not make haste with the Quran before its revelation is made complete to you…” Was revealed.

Abu Raouq said: this verse was revealed because of Jamilah bint Obey and her husband Thabit bin Qais. Al Kalby said: it was revealed because of Omayrah bint Muhammad bin Muslamah and her husband Sa’ad bin Al Rabee’a…Allah has revealed that the reason why men are excelled over women because men are the providers, and hence women will benefit from that. It is also said: men are excelled over women because they have more brain ability…

and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion

If the wife hates and desert her husband

Admonish them

By using Allah’s scripture. It means to remind them of their duties, toward their husbands, which were ordained to them by Allah. The prophet of Allah (saw) said: (if I was to order someone to prostrate to another person, I would have ordered the wife to prostrate to her husband)

and leave them alone in the sleeping-places

Ibn Masud said: it is the intercourse. As said Ibn Abbas and others.

I (Al Qurtubi) said, it is a good thing; since if she loves her husband then this abandonment will be hard on her. But if she despises him, then her disobedient attitude towards him will become the more clearer.

Ibn Abbas said: to leave them alone is to tie them up in their homes just as you would tie your ride. And this is Al Tabari’s own view on this. However, Judge Abu Bakr bin Al Araby renounced Al Tabari’s interpretation on the ground of tying the wife, as he believe that Al Tabari based his view on a strange hadith regarding Asma’ the daughter of Abu Bakr who was married to Al Zubair bin Al Awaam. She used to leave her home often until people began to gossip and fault her husband for that, As a result, Al Zubair blamed his second wife for this and tied Asma’s hair and the hair of his second wife together, then he beat both of them up very severely.

This abandonment is believed by many scholars to be around a period of one month.

and beat them

Allah ordered that men begin by admonishing their wives as a first step, then abandonment, then beating if they refused to repent. This is because men are responsible to straighten their wives up. The beating mentioned in this verse has to do with the kind that is not severe and used for discipline. The kind that does not break the bone. However, it is not a crime if it leads to death. In the same manner a disciplinary will beat his son or student to teach him the Quran and manners.

In a hadith in Sahih Muslim the Prophet said: (fear Allah with your wives. You were given them by Allah’s provision, and you were entrusted with their private parts by Allah’s word. You have the right that they do not allow anyone you dislike into your bed, but if they do, then beat them but not severely) the hadith. It was narrated on the authority of Jabir Al Taweel during Hajj. This means that they should not allow anyone into your home that you dislike whether relatives or foreign women.

Al Tirmithi reported that Amro bin Al Ahwas had attended the Farewell Hajj and heard the messenger of Allah say: “Lo! My last recommendation to you is that you should TREAT WOMEN WELL. Truly they are your helpmates, and you have no right over them beyond that – EXCEPT IF THEY COMMIT A MANIFEST INDECENCY (fahisha mubina = adultery). If they do, then refuse to share their beds and beat them WITHOUT INDECENT VIOLENCE (fadribuhunna darban ghayra mubarrih*). Then, if they obey you, do not show them hostility any longer. Lo! you have a right over your women and they have a right over you. Your right over your women is that they not allow whom you hate to enter your bed nor your house. While their right over them is that you treat them excellently in their garb and provision.”

Atta asked Ibn Abbas: what is the non severer beating. Ibn Abbas answered: using a small stick or the like.

It was reported also that Omar beat his wife and said, I heard the messenger of Allah say: (No man should be asked why he beat his wife).

You need to know that Allah did not allow for beating in his book except in this situation and when the major sins have been committed. Therefore, Allah has made the disobedient of wives equivalent to the commitment of major sins.

And Allah granted this privilege to the husbands over the Islamic authorities (Rulers), and allowed it for them without the need for a judge or witnesses or evidences. They were allowed this because they were entrusted by Allah to handle to take care of their wives.

Al Muhallab said: the permission was given to beat the wives when they refuse to sleep with their husbands. By comparison, if she refuses to serve him too then he is permitted to beat her too.

Her disobedient and refusal to sleep with her husband is a ground for the husband to deny her her allowance and all of her spousal rights, along with that, the husband is allowed to admonish her; refuse to sleep with her; and to beat her. But if she repented, then all of her rights will be reinstituted. The prophet (saw) said: (Allah’s mercy is on the man who hang his beating lash (stick) and disciplined his wife).

AL-NAWAWI (Reliance of the Traveller)[22]

Nawawi is one of the great Islamic jurisprudence scholars. He was a 13th century Shafi’i scholar. His work was used by Ahmad Naqib in writing “Reliance of the Traveller”. This book is a “Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law”. From the section m10.12, “Dealing with a Rebellious Wife”, page 540,

“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.

COMMENTARY OF E. M. WHERRY[23]

Wherry was a Christian scholar who studied Islam and compiled a 4-volume set of various commentaries on the Quran. He was also able to identify the criticality of how the women is positioned in Islam and makes some in-depth comments.

Men shall have the pre-eminence. The ground of the pre-eminence of man over woman is here said to be man’s natural superiority over woman. Women are an inferior class of human beings. “The advantages wherein God hath causes the one of them to excel the other” are said by the commentators to be “superior understanding and strength, and the other privileges of the male sex, e.g., ruling in church and state, warring for the faith, and receiving double portions of the estates of deceased ancestors (see Sale in loco). Men are the lords of the women, and women become the virtual slaves of the men. The holy, happy estate of Eve in Eden can never be even approximately secured for her daughters under Islam.

The difference between the home-life of the Christian and that of the Muslim cannot be more clearly indicated than by a comparison of this verse with Gen. ii. 23, Eph. v. 28, and 1 Pet. iii. 7.