The Bonds of Love and Mercy

01 January, 2017
Q Hello, After September 11th, I started investigating what Islam really was and yes, it is a peaceful and beautiful religion from what I have discovered ... So, I started reading the Qur’an. Then there is this verse in the Qur’an that confuses me, in Surah 4 – verse 34: *{ [...] 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].}* Does this verse mean that you have to beat up your wife who disobeys you? That is because that is what the verse means to me from reading it straight out like that, unless there is some other meaning behind it. Please clarify.


Salam (Peace) Simon, 

Thank you very much for your contacting About Islam with your important question. 

Islam teaches that the Quran is the book of guidance from God, revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him-PBUH) and Muslims should arrange all aspects of their lives according to it.

Also, Muslims believe that the best interpreter of the Quran was the Prophet (PBUH) himself, whose life was a practical demonstration of how the divine guidance is actualized in human life. 

Allah says:

{There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.} (Quran 33:21)

And addressing the Prophet himself, Allah says:

{And you stand on an exalted standard of character.} (Quran 68:4)


Keeping the above reason verses in mind, let us see how the Prophet, who lived his life according to the Quran, treated his wives

All the eminent narrators of hadith (teachings of the prophet) such as Bukhari, Muslim, and Abu Daud quote one of the prophet’s wife as saying that Muhammad (PBUH) NEVER ever lifted a finger to his wives. 

And what is more, there are a number of hadiths that categorically prohibit wife-beating, and in one of his sayings he has equated perfect belief with good treatment of one’s wife:

Among the Muslims, the most perfect in faith is the one whose character is most excellent, and the best among you are those who treat their wives well. (Narrated by Tirmidhi.)

Also Mu`awiyah al-Qushayri narrated: 

I went to the apostle of Allah (PBUH) and asked him: ‘What do you say [command] about our wives?’ He replied: ‘Give them the same food you have for yourself, and clothe them with the same clothes you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them.’ (Reported by Abu-Dawud.) 

Let us now consider the verse you quoted in the light of the foregoing rulings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The verse is as follows:

{Men are the carers and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more [responsibility] 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 you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them [first], [next] refuse to share their beds, [and last] beat them; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means [of annoyance]: for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).} (Quran 4:34)

In fact, to fully understand the context in which the above verse stands, we have to read the verse following it:

{If you fear a breach between them twain, appoint [two] arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation: for Allah has full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things.} (Quran 4:35)

Obviously, these verses deal with marital life. In the domestic sphere, a husband and wife should lead a life of complete peace and harmony. This is essential, not merely for their own welfare, but also for a healthy society. 

Therefore, it is imperative that such discord in a marriage should be solved at the root itself as far as possible. 

Islam gives specific directions for the settlement of crises in family life. Then, when we read the verse that speaks about the case of ill conduct from the wife, we must remember that this does not mean that the husband is allowed to behave as he pleases 

Here the direction happens to be about the wife’s misconduct, while the husband is commanded to treat his wife with kindness and fairness. This is clearly laid down elsewhere in the same chapter of the Quran:

{O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dower [money given by the husband to the wife for the marriage contract] you have given them, except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing, and God brings about through it a great deal of good.} (Quran 4:19)

Moreover, the equality, along with bonds of tenderness between the two sexes is underscored in Surah 30, verse 21:

{And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may live [dwell] in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between you; verily, in that are signs for people who reflect} (Quran 30:21)

And again:

{[…] they are your garments and you are their garments.} (Quran 2:187

It is not a question of who is “better” or “superior” here; it is a question of maintaining an atmosphere in the family that is conducive to peace and harmony. Then, when there is a threat to it, it is the duty of the husband to see that nothing threatens that atmosphere.

If he sees that the wife is guilty of misconduct, he can then rectify the situation according to the verse you mentioned. 

Here, what we are concerned about is the expression: “beat them”. The original Arabic word used in the verse is: “wadriboohunna”. This is derived from the root, “daraba”, which according to Arabic linguists has a number of meanings, including, “beat”, “hit”, or “leave”. 

However, some scholars argue that the word in this context does not mean “beat” or “hit”. It means justleave [them]. And it is obvious from the example of the Prophet that leaving is best, not hitting since, as a living example of the Quran, the Prophet never did such a thing and instructed men not to hit or beat their wives.  

And Allah knows best. 

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Is There Justice in Islam Between Men and Women?

Women at the Prophet’s Time: Empowered But Humble

Are Raped Women Punishment in Islam?

Some Notions on Women’s Rights