Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], beat them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. [Quran 4:34 ]
When a word has more than one meaning, we take the meaning that suits the context. This holds good for any language. Let us consider the word ‘beat’. It has several meanings. The common meaning is: to hit repeatedly so as to inflict pain.
However, the meaning of the word ‘beat’ depends on the context. For example: if you read “Roger Federer beat Nadal in the Wimbledon final”, what would you understand? Will you understand that Federer hit Nadal to inflict pain or will you understand that Federer defeated Nadal in the final game? Obviously, you will go with the latter.
Although the word ‘beat’ was used in that sentence, we gave a completely different meaning depending on the context. Keeping this in mind, let us analyze the verse.
The Arabic word used in the verse which has been translated as “beat them” is Waldribuhunna which comes from the root word Dharaba. This Arabic word Dharaba has close to 100 meanings. Some of them are; to beat, to move, to tap, to set forth, to make a clear statement or proclamation etc.
Context of the verse:
Before we get to know the correct meaning of the word dharaba used in the verse, let us understand the context. This verse speaks about the context of divorce when the couple has a severe disagreement. This can be understood by reading the next verse, chapter 4: verse 35
The verse suggests the following measures when there is a disagreement between a husband and wife.
- Advise them
- Separate them from bed
- Waldribuhunna (the correct meaning of this word is given below).
Correct meaning of Dharaba in the verse:
Considering the context carefully, the correct meaning of the word Dharaba for the verse in question is “tap gently or percuss” as we can understand from the hadiths given below.
How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then he may embrace (sleep with) her?
(SahihAl-Bukhari, vol.8.hadith 68).
There are other traditions in Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i, IbnMajah, Ahmad bin Hanbal and others, to the effect that he forbade the beating of any woman, saying:
Never beat God’s handmaidens.
It was reported to the Prophet (pbuh) that some of his Companions beat their wives, whereupon he said,
Certainly those are not the best among you
[as reported by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and al-Nasai. IbnHibban and Al-Hakim classify it as sound, as narrated by Iyasibn ‘Abdullah ibn Abu Dhiab]
Prophet (peace be on him) once, when angry with his servant, mentioned to him, saying,
If it were not for the fear of retaliation on the Day of Resurrection, I would have beaten you with this miswak (tooth-cleaning stick)
[as reported by IbnMajah and by IbnHibban, in his Sahih].
So the scholars conclude if a husband resorts to tap his wife lightly, then it can be with an object like Miswak (toothbrush).
Based on the Qur’an and hadith this measure of tapping them gently may be used in the cases of lewdness on the part of the wife or extreme refraction and rejection of the husband’s reasonable requests on a consistent basis. However, it is important to note that the Prophet (peace be on him) never resorted to that measure regardless of the circumstances.
Islamic teachings are universal in nature. They respond to the needs and circumstances of diverse times, cultures and circumstances. Some measures may work in some cases and cultures or with certain persons but may not be effective in others. By definition, a “permissible” act is not required, encouraged or forbidden. In fact it may be better to spell out the extentof permissibility, such as in the issue at hand, rather than leaving it unrestricted and unqualified, or ignoring it all together. In the absence of strict qualifiers, persons may interpret the matter in their own way, which can lead to excesses and real abuse.
Any cruelty, family violence, or abuse committed by a “Muslim” finds no support in the revelatory texts (Quran and Hadith).Such excesses and violations are to be blamed on the person (s) himself, as it shows that they are paying lip service to Islamic teachings and injunctions and failing to follow the true example of the Prophet (peace be on him).