`   `

Does a Man Have the Right to Beat His Wife?

Rights of Women in Islam


According to the Qur’an men can beat their wives

With regards to the issue of women’s rights, it appears that the issue of “husband hitting his wife” is the one which has attracted more attention than any other issue! It is said that even in advanced countries of the West including the United States of America, in many cases men still beat and harm women due to physical superiority, and that this is part of human nature. How then is it possible to believe that the creator of human beings, who created men and women alike, would allow such oppression and discrimination? Therefore, either the Qur’an is a book for all human beings and reflects the habits and inclinations of the contemporary culture of the Arabs or that it is a book wherein there has been tampering.

It is surprising that the majority of the critics of the Qur’an have neither referred to a simple translation for the reasoning in this commandment, nor have they considered the circumstances under which this Verse has been revealed and the wisdom inherent to equal rights for men and women. Not only those who don’t believe in the righteousness of Islam and who propagate hatred against this religion, but also some of the liberal minds, try to offer other translations for the verb “beat” (ضَرَبَ) by taking advantage of the contemporary stereotyping in modern societies in order to provide a more acceptable meaning for the verb and thereby, unintentionally, tamper with the divine book.

It seems like the public perception is an important factor in finding a relation between the basic principles of a religion and the behavior of the followers of that religion. A case in point is the public perception in crediting Islam with the way some Muslim men have behaved with women in the course of history, which by itself is an important factor in creating the notion that all this is caused by religion. Whereas a reference to the text of the Qur’an and conducting quality researches and avoiding prejudgments could pave the way for understanding the philosophy and logic of such divine ordinance.

Below are some of the points attesting to the divine law in the following Verse:

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنْفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ وَاللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God 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 God 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 God is Most High, great (above you all) ... (1)

1- Rule or Exception to the Rule?

This Verse does not address women in general or even women in a society as a whole, and as such it should not be inferred as an insult to all women, rather, it is directed to those women who in the absence of their husbands, commit treachery in their chastity and betrayal of their shared properties, the very things that are prohibited by divine order. By mentioning: “…the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard,” the Verse makes clear which women are being addressed. And the following part of the Verse: “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, …” addresses the subject of disobedience in regards to wife’s chastity and the sexual rights of husband and wife, not the daily life of the couple.

As mentioned earlier, in the Islamic family discipline, man is responsible for the woman’s food, clothing, shelter, wellbeing and other necessities of life. The woman, on the other hand, has no responsibility with regards to family provisions. For any house chores that she may perform, even breast feeding her own baby, she has the right to ask for remuneration. Needless to say, the rights of both sides have to be mutually respected. In the Islamic family discipline, for all the services provided by man, woman must remain faithful to her husband with regards to sexual relations and should not establish unfaithful relations with strangers at any level. Under these circumstances if there is fear of treachery (نُشُوز) it is clear that religious laws or the laws of the society should intervene.


2- Order of Execution of Divine Law

Man’s zeal toward his wife, instinct, protection of family against attacks on chastity, and the honor associated with one’s soul does not allow one to simply observe the attacks on the privacy of the family or remain indifferent to corruption inside the family. For this reason, men have always reacted ferociously and sometimes violently to the news of their wives’ treachery, and to this day one hears of such things happening in regions where tribal laws overshadow governmental laws. Also in places where there is fear of legal action against such acts, men have been known to commit suicide after taking revenge against their spouses or lovers.

Verse 4:34 was revealed fourteen centuries ago in a society with tribal laws and among men, some of whom committed infanticide, and who did not allow the slightest legal rights for women and knew of no way to punish a woman other than beating her in the most severe way. This Verse was not revealed in order to encourage the then rampant behavior of beating women, but rather to halt this kind of behavior in a gradual way so that it would become accepted in the society. This Verse does not address the day-to-day arguments, disputes and quarrels related to material life of couple, rather it focuses on protection of chastity and the relation within married couples. The order that the Qur’an recommends (which is extremely rare and exceptional) in such cases is composed of three stages:

  • Utilization of reason and intellect– To consider methods of advice and counsel among members of the family, relatives, and the society at large.

  • Utilization of sexual power – To consider temporary cessation of sexual relation with one’s spouse (after failure of step one and the passage of the necessary time interval.)

  • Utilization of bodily power – To prevent the extramarital affair and the treachery being committed. (2)


3- The Objective Is Prevention Not Punishment

The commandment in the above Verse (4:34) gives a warning to husbands:

فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا

“… but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).”

This warning shows explicitly that the three-step recommendation mentioned above is for putting an end to the corruption and is not intended as punishment. Not only in religious laws but also in approved social laws establishing punishment for violators, for the most part, has a preventive role. For example, administering one hundred whip lashes for an adulterous couple, which can be carried out only after four righteous witnesses testify to (their own accurate and close) examination of the adulterous act. Considering that such acts take place only in privacy and away from the public eye, such revelations are revealed only to prevent the practice of such acts from public places and for the preservation of indecency of such acts.

Dealing with the consequences of such actions taking place in privacy and ones which do not violate public decency are only the responsibility of the creator. It is interesting to note that if a man accuses his wife of adultery without providing four credible witnesses, he will be condemned to eighty whip lashes and his testimony will be invalidated for ever.

وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً وَلَا تَقْبَلُوا لَهُمْ شَهَادَةً أَبَدًا وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations),--flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors (3)

In advanced western countries, the heavy fines imposed for traffic violations, business transactions, industrial productions, construction, etc., are mainly means of prevention and are not intended to harm or insult the violators. In a society, to the extend that the civil and criminal laws are developed, the necessity for punishing the violators in business dealings and warnings against punishment will increase, and not only threat will not subside, depending on the spread of social dealings it may even increase.

A comparison of advanced countries with those of the third world will reveal the difference in the importance factor reserved for studying law in colleges, the number of law offices across the country, volumes of law books, variety of different types of insurances as security against legal actions, and legal public relations in all sectors of the society. This comparison show that the threat of punishment for violations and treachery is neither limited to third world countries nor is it a thing of the past.


4- Clarification of the Subject Matter Through Comparison and Allegory

Imagine a classroom wherein one of the students has stepped out of the norm of the class and is being disturbing to the class. Clearly the initial duty of the class instructor at this stage is to talk with the student in a kind language. Most of the students will not go beyond this point and will obey the teacher. For the student who would continue to disturb the class, the teacher will resort to threats of lowering the student’s grades and denying him/her the chance of taking the class examinations. It does not seem that any student will continue to disturb the class as a result of this type of threat. In spite of all these if the student carries on with the disturbance the teacher will be left with only two options: either he/she has to let the student continue to disturb the class and put up with the disturbance in which case the class will not continue and this will be a violation of the rights of the rest of the students, or the teacher can temporarily evict the student from the class.

The question is whether the latter action on the part of the teacher, after following preliminary steps in trying to calm the student, is an insult to the student or, is it construed as taking a step which is beneficial to the rest of the students? It is true that no school is founded for the purpose of punishing the students, and punishment should never be used collectively, but does not punishment have its place in exceptional cases when there are no other way of dealing with a situation based on logic and reasoning?

Not only such action by itself will prevent undesirable acts, but the fear of executing such action also will have an important preventive value. The family too, as the prime and important unit of society needs physiological and psychological requirements for the well-being of men, women, children and parents. Clearly, nothing other than kindness, affection, and devotion would be acceptable for continuation of the family, but it is a fact that not all people will respect the rights of others at all times. As a matter of fact, the penal codes, common or religious laws, in societies are enacted for the exceptional cases and mainly as means of prevention. These codes have far reaching effects and should not be applied to all by generalization.



Answers to Probable Questions


1- Why Does a Wife Not Have the Right to Beat Her Husband?

Considering the obvious physiological advantages of men over women, one has to consider if such recommendation would be wise and if indeed it would not lead to conflict and fight whose outcome would not seem to be in the favor of the woman. In any event, the laws should address acts of treachery with respect to the rights of both husband and wife, and the consequences of such action should be considered equitably.

Other Qur’anic Verses teach us about the remedy to a man’s bad behavior, violence, wrong doing, and treachery. When the wife cannot reciprocate the husband’s oppressive behavior, referring the matter to the legal system would seem to be the solution to the problem. As a matter of fact, Chapter Al-Mojadelah (4) in the Qur’an starts with a woman making a complaint to the prophet and establishes a just way to address the right of women taken from them.


2- Never Insult

It is said that a man who raises his hand on his wife does not deserve to share her life and she has to separate from him! Of course, no man has such a right and the Prophet of Islam said, “How can you raise on your wife the hand with which you protect her?” But the question is which man and which woman? Clearly, under the normal living condition and for majority of people physical force is not acceptable and the insult and contempt brought upon a woman by such action is unforgivable. But consider the insult and contempt that a woman brings on her husband by committing treachery and by not guarding that, which according to the Qur’an: حَافِظَاتٌ لِلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ … “… God would have them guard.” Judge for yourself as to which is more of an insult and contempt: the treachery committed by the wife, or the beating of the wife because of her actions? If the meaning of insult is to consider someone inferior, is the inferiority worse due to treachery or due to exacting punishment because of treachery?


3- Divorce Is Better

It is said that any woman would prefer divorce over being beaten. Firstly, there is no statistics to support such claim. It is possible that such feelings will be stronger a few hours or a few days after a family quarrel, but after the feelings have subsided, hardly any woman will be willing to abandon her children and her family life with all the good and bad memories. Secondly, the experience of going through a divorce and its bitter consequences for the family members will take more of a toll than using force in case of treachery. Thirdly, the Qur’an in Verse 35 of Chapter Al-Nesa mentions divorce as a last resort and only if the other three steps mentioned earlier do not produce satisfactory results:

وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُوا حَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهَا إِنْ يُرِيدَا إِصْلَاحًا يُوَفِّقِ اللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا

If ye fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, God will cause their reconciliation: For God hath full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things (5)

As a matter of fact, this step shows that it is only a tool and will never have positive consequences in all cases. Nevertheless, there are those whose disloyalty and unfaithful acts in marriage can only be prevented by divorce. Fourthly, as has been mentioned in this article, the subject of beating does not apply to women at large and as such it does not lead to the issue of sexual discrimination, rather, it is exclusive to those women who commit treachery and thus dishonor marriage vows, and to those who have completely ignored sound advice and peaceful remedies


4- Why Not Refer the Case to a Judge?

It is said that if a woman has already committed treachery, and peaceful means and temporary cessation of marital relation have not produced satisfactory results, the man still has no right to use force to prevent his wife from continuing her extramarital affair, and the case has to be referred to the judicial system.

This seems to be a logical step, but let us see how practical and advisable it is. Usually, family problems are kept within the privacy of the family and hardly any of the neighbors are privy to such family matters. The help and advice of close relatives would result in a solution to the problem and the nature of shared family life usually results in the matter becoming a thing of the past. Whereas, exposing family matters and spouse’s treachery or extramarital affair in a court of law and bringing the case to judgment would reveal private family matters to the fore the husband and wife, or the whole family for that matter, become the talk of town, and this by itself will cause other frictions. If a couple by themselves or with help of relatives cannot resolve their issues they should not expect much in the way of problem solving from the judiciary system who will only administer the laws and will not consider the feelings and sentiments of the parties involve.

Now suppose the scenario where the matter has been referred to the court and the justice system rules against the woman and she is to be punished for her actions. Who will carry out this punishment? Does the husband have the zeal or the courage to have a stranger carry out this punishment? Which is worse for the woman? Is she ever likely to return to her home and family after such experience?

Beyond all these, with all the extend and vastness of the judicial system in a country and with all the judges and with all the laws on the books, how can this system consider the millions of cases existing in a country and to spend the country’s resources to deal with personal and family matters? In societies where the law reigns supreme, with all the laws and procedures on the books, have family fights, personal attacks, and extramarital relations stopped, or have they become more widespread?


5- This Is Old Talk

It is said that these cumbersome laws belong to fourteen centuries ago, to a primitive society, illiterate and void of cultural values; that today’s women are free, independent, and professionals, have their own income, purchase their own homes and can manage their own affairs. They do not need man’s alimony or subsistence. Nowadays, when there are laws addressing such issues as women’s rights, men do not play an important role in the lives of women. The time for man chauvinism and superiority is over!

As mentioned earlier, the rights that God has prescribed for men and women are for the benefit of both sexes, and they become meaningful in the context of being together such that if portions of this set of laws is altered it would raise doubts about the fairness of the whole package. For example, the laws regarding dowry, woman’s share of inheritance, and beating of women (under special circumstances) belong to societies and circumstances where men are responsible for the well being of the family and are the only bread maker and protector of the family. Under these circumstances, a woman (who has no monetary responsibility for the family) ’s share of inheritance being half that of a man and the rest of the conditions can be explained. But if these conditions change and if women work alongside men to make a living and share the monetary responsibilities of providing for their family, then one should consider the question as to whether it is beneficial for the women and the family to remove women as the focal point of the family, and child raising and nourishing, and place them in the rough environment of making a living? Will this not impose more severe harm on the society? Under these circumstances God too would consider it unjustified to ordain the woman’s share of inheritance to be half that of man’s and for her husband who has paid no dowry and is under no financial obligation to consider his indulgence in sensual and carnal pleasure to be his God-given right, and on top of all that not permit his wife to even leave the house! God knows best (والله اعلم). In general, it is not logical to pass judgment on divine and religious laws and to evaluate the effectiveness of such judgment for the society in other than a religious setting without regards to the criteria established by religion.


The following is a summary of the foregoing:

  1. The subject of beating one’s wife is an extremely rare occurrence and is resorted to only in cases of treachery and extramarital affairs (نُشُوز) and only after all other steps have been exhausted without success.

  2. The divine decree is revealed for the purpose of eradicating rough and bloody encounters between the husband and wife and to keep the knowledge of such affairs in the privacy of the family, not as recommendation and encouragement for beating one’s wife.

  3. These laws are meaningful in the framework of mutual rights and responsibilities and would be meaningless without the husbands strict adherence to his responsibilities.

  4. The purpose of these laws is prevention not punishment.

  5. Without regard to a series of predetermined laws and without employing prudent and efficient means one cannot resort to forceful means.

1) Qur’an 4:34

2) The verb ضَرَبَ which is mentioned in the Verse as the third step, is a simple and light display of force appropriate to the unlawful act committed and is intended only for the purpose of preventing the recurrence of such act (not for revenge because of anger or zeal.) According to the prophet, this display of force should not cause injury or a color change to the skin and it should be carried out by using a bunch of sweet basil.

3) Qur’an 24:4

4) Qur’an Chapter 58

5) Qur’an 4:35