Domestic Violence: Does Islam give Husband the right to beat his Wife?

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)” [Surah An-Nisa, 4:34]

The above ayah is quite possibly one of the most misunderstood and misused verses in the Quran. This misunderstanding seems primarily to hinge on the translation of the Arabic word ‘wadhriboo’ which comes from the root ‘dharaba’. This word is commonly translated as ‘beat’, however, our Islamic Advisors and Consultant Shuyookh have told us that the Prophet (pbuh) explained this as ‘dharban ghayra mubarrih’, which translates as ‘a light tap, as light as a feather stroke that leaves no mark’ which was interpreted by early scholars as a symbolic gesture utilising a miswak. So even if it does mean ‘beat’, it is nothing more than a figurative action.

We know that Arabic is a rich complex language, and we also know that so much can be lost in translation when we try to exchange one language for another. Arabic words can have multiple meanings, and some can even have seemingly contradictory meanings, but our understanding of the word should depend on the context. The word ‘dharaba’ is explained as to hit, to strike, to percuss, to impress, to set a clear example, to tap, to walk in stride, to pat, to forsake, to part, to leave, to avoid and to separate.

But potentially the most controversial meaning we can come across is that it can be interpreted as ‘to have intercourse’. This is the view of Raghib, a scholar of the Quran and the Arabic language, who says that the meaning is metaphorical, and he quotes the expression dharab al-fahl an-naqah: ‘the stud camel covered the she-camel,’ which is also quoted by Lisan al-‘Arab (an extensive Dictionary of the Arabic Language). Basically I guess, in modern parlance, he is talking about ‘make-up sex’.

So, to use this ayah as evidence for a husband’s right to beat his wife is highly debatable. Especially in the light of hadith:

The Prophet of Allah (pbuh) said, “How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then embrace (sleep with) her?” [Muslim & Bukhari]

When someone says to me that their husband has the right to beat them because it is clearly stated in the Quran, I may respond along the following lines:

“He has the right to beat you? Okay, I’m not an ‘Aalim so let’s just say he has… but to what extent? Maybe to the point where you are covered in bruises and your limbs are black and blue… Or could it be to the level that he draws blood, from your lips or your nose or maybe even your ears?… Or perhaps to the degree that you lose consciousness and spend minutes or hours on a cold hard floor with no-one but your young children to take care of you and them…”

This sometimes causes a stunned reaction that is followed by tears, floods of tears. Tears of anguish as it dawns on them that no-one has the right to abuse them, but also tears of relief as they seem to understand that I am also questioning whether they deserve that sort of treatment, whether anyone deserves to be treated in such a manner. All too often, the victims of domestic violence come to a place, usually after months if not years of abuse, where they believe what their abuser has said to them about it always being their fault. They think that they have earned those beatings due their behaviour, misdemeanours, lack of knowledge, their not trying hard enough, etc. etc.

May Allah protect us all from such hardships and help those of us who’ve lived through it to heal. May He give sense and realization to all the oppressors. We pray to Allah to protect the Muslim families, bless their marriages with love and harmony, and protect our children and bless them with salih spouses.

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