Quran Facts | 4:35 – Beat Your Wife If She Disobeys You
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4:35 – Beat Your Wife If She Disobeys You

Introduction

It is alleged that the Holy Quran and the Islamic tradition is oppressive to women. Verses of the Holy Quran are showcased by detractors as promoting the inferiority of women, misogyny and abuse against women.

 

On the contrary, the Holy Quran and the Islamic tradition have probably the greatest historical legacy of the emancipation and empowerment of women. The Holy Quran unequivocally announces the equality of men and women in several verses such as 16:98– Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and  We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works.

 

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) had a direct hand in this legacy. One of the first acts of the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) to shift attitudes towards women was halting the practice of female infanticide. He announced that daughters were a blessing upon the household they were born into: A person who is blessed with a daughter or daughters and makes no discrimination between them and his sons and brings them up with kindness and affection, will be as close to me in Paradise as my forefinger and middle finger are to each other.” (Muslim II, Section Beneficence).

 

As is sometimes alleged, Muhammad (on whom be peace) was clearly not a misogynist, rather a great benefactor in the emancipation and empowerment of women. He spent his career as a trader working for a woman named Khadijah who later became his wife. Throughout his ministry he regularly consulted her in matters and decisions as the leader of the Muslim community. Islam accorded women the right to accept or refuse a proposal for marriage, and the right to inheritance and ownership of property. While acknowledging that men and women have been endowed with different roles and functions in society, the Quran exhorts on equality between men and women in the eyes of God in that both will be rewarded solely on the basis of their deeds (see section below ‘Fundamental Teachings of Islam About Women’).

 

The women of the family of prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) became revered figures and great examples among Muslims which aided in shifting attitudes about women. His first wife Khadijah (ra) was a business leader and his trusted advisor. His daughter Fatimah (ra), known for her piety, was a great example to the Muslim community. And his wife Ayesha (ra) came to be known as a religious and community leader.

Men are guardians over women because Allah has made some of them excel others, and because they (men) spend of their wealth. So virtuous women are those who are obedient, and guard the secrets of their husbands with Allah’s protection. And as for those on whose part you fear disobedience, admonish them and leave them alone in their beds, and chastise them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely, Allah is High, Great. (4:35)

 

Allegation

This verse perhaps has the greatest media exposure with detractors alleging that it permits a man beat his wife if she is disobedient to him. The allegations further press that the verse is the root cause of the physical abuse of women in Muslims societies. This is wholly false. Rather, the verse outlines a diligent and just process of dealing with a terrible act of subversion of the family unit.

 

Context

The verse begins by defining the role that God has endowed men and women with. Men are usually the bread winners of the family. Being the head of the household also brings responsibility and the desire to uphold and protect the sanctity of the family unit. Naturally, the wife is an integral part of this order and the word ‘obedient’ here means to uphold the values that establish the integrity of the family, not to obey the husband in any matter, whether moral or immoral.
 
The Arabic word translated as ‘disobedience’ in this verse is “Nushuz” which can have wider implications, such as subversion or rebellion. The implications here are naturally severe. The first response given in the verse is to separate beds thereby mitigating the social problems of marital rape and abuse of the woman in situations where anger and rage can take hold. Then, if the problem persists, the verse says to ‘chastise’ her. The Arabic word ‘daraba’ translated as chastise is sometimes translated as a physical striking but can also mean to strongly reprimand. Its interpretation as ‘chastise’ is justified given the great role the Holy Quran and Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) played in the emancipation and empowerment of women. A saying of the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) states: “The best among you is he who is best in his treatment towards his wife.” (Abu Daud)
 
Further evidence establishing the fact that this verse is not about wife-beating is the very next verse 4:36 which reads as follows:

And if you fear a breach between them, then appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk. If they desire reconciliation, Allah will effect it between them. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (4:36)

 

Verse 4:36 speaks of appointing arbiters and attempting to effect a reconciliation. If the purpose here was to physically subdue the wife into submission, it would not speaking of arbitration and reconciliation.


Fundamental Teachings of Islam

The Holy Quran and Islamic fundamental teachings hold one of the greatest historical legacies advocating equality between men and women and according rights to women in an era wrought with misogyny. Although men and women have fundamentally different roles in life and society, the Holy Quran clearly emphasizes equality between men and women as is clear from the following verses:

Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him – Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward. (33:36)

 

So their Lord answered their prayers saying, I will not allow the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another. Those therefore, who have emigrated, and have been driven out from their homes, and have been persecuted in My cause, and have fought and been killed, I will surely remove from them their evils and will cause them to enter gardens through which streams flow – a reward from Allah, and with Allah is the best reward. (3:196)

 

They (your wives) are a garment to you, and you are garment to them. (2:188)

 

But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date-stone. (4:125)

 

And think of the day when thou wilt see the believing men and the believing women, their light running before them and on their right hands, and it will be said to them, ‘Glad tidings for you this day! Gardens through which streams flow, wherein you will abide. That is the supreme triumph. (57:13)

 

Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works. (16:98)

 

The following verse exhorts a gender not to covet that which, as an endowment and creation of God, makes one gender excel the other. For example, men having more physical strength than women. The verse exhorts that both men and women will be ultimately rewarded per their deeds and righteousness.

 

And covet not that whereby Allah has made some of you excel others. Men shall have a share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned. And ask Allah of His bounty. Surely, Allah has perfect knowledge of all things. (4:33)

 

These verses make the equality of men and women abundantly clear. Males and females are repeatedly mentioned on an equal footing in attaining spirituality, the ultimate success in the eyes of God Almighty.

 

This is further reinforced in Hadith literature which are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) such as the following examples:

 

‘It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge’ (Ibne Majah)

 

‘The best among you is he who is best in his treatment towards his wife.’ (Abu Daud)

 

‘Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.’ (Nisai)