Can you give information about the beating of wives?

The Details of the Question
Can you give information about the beating of wives?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The authority of man in the family, and the situation and attitude of the woman against that authority are explained in the following verses: 

"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). 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, Allah will cause their reconciliation: for Allah hath full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things." (an-Nisa: 4/34-35).

Let us try to understand the issue by interpreting those two verses:

That not the husbands but all men are defined as protectors and maintainers (qawwamun) in the 34th verse are based on two reasons.

a) Allah gave some people better talents than others; therefore, men are equipped with more appropriate properties than women in terms of protection and administration. 

b) Men undertake the responsibility of sustaining the family and other financial responsibilities. According to some interpreters, the first one of those reasons is an unchangeable property of the human nature; in general, mind and reasoning are predominant in men, and feelings are predominant in women. Physical strength is important in terms of protection and men are more powerful in it. The second reason does not originate from the human nature but from habits, customs and attitudes. Those functions of men were more intense in the age when Islam emerged; those functions still continue considerably today. According to the rules of the Islamic law, man is responsible for the sustenance of the family all alone and he has responsibilities with financial aspects like mahr (dowry), diyah (blood money), jihad/military service.

What authorities and duties does being “qawwam” contain? The interpreters and mujtahids who answered the question by taking into consideration not only the lexical meaning of  it but also the practices, customs and traditions attributed the term qawwam, which meant “standing over something, dominant, caring, looking after” the meanings of “leadership, administration, education, protection, defending, improvement, earning and production”. Throughout history, men have undertaken those tasks and attributes more than women. The meaning that is attributed to the word is “head of the family”.

It is understood from the verse that men are generally superior in terms of administration, defense and protection but when the subsequent sentences are taken into consideration, it will be seen that domination and administration prevail in the family. The founding elements in the family are the husband and the wife. There are religious, ethical and legal rules that constitute, administer and direct that basic structure.  If the rules are obeyed, there will be no problem. If the parties break the rules and transgress each other’s rights, various measures and sanctions to restore the order and to realize justice will step in. In the verse mentioned above, the transgression of the wife is dealt with; in the 128th verse of the same chapter, the rebellion (nushuz) of the husband is dealt with. The woman is defined with two words: salihah (virtuous; righteous; pious) or nashizah (rebellious), based on the aspect whether she fulfills her duties in the family or not. Salihah women fulfill their duties truly both at the presence of their husbands and other family members and when they are not present; they do not transgress the rules adopted by the society, do not betray their families and do not disgrace their honor. What should be done against women who show signs of rebelling the law (nushuz) and have the risk of being nashizah; how should the order and law of the family be maintained? At this point, the Quran gives the duty to the husband first with the attribute of the head of the family. If the husband cannot maintain the order despite the measures that have been taken and if it is feared that the family will break up, arbitrators will step in. In the verse, what the husband can do to stop the woman who rebels the law and tries to destroy the legitimate family order are listed as follows: to give advice, to leave her alone in bed and beat her. To give advice and to leave her alone in bed did not bring out any problems but the measure of beating has become an issue of dispute especially in our age in terms of women’s rights and human honor. As a matter of fact, when the books of interpretation (tafsir) and hadith are examined, it can be seen in the following extracts that there are interpreters who interpret the verse differently and say that it is not permissible for a husband to beat his wife even when she rebels.

The most important base of the measure and judgment of beating except the verse above is the related hadiths. In the hadiths that are healthier and sounder than the ones that state the opposite, our Prophet (pbuh) forbids beating the women and calls them “worthless” and asks the men, "How will a person who lashes his wife like a slave during the day go into the same bed as her at night?" (Bukhari, "Nikah", 93; Abu Dawud, "Nikah", 60).  What the old interpreters mentioned as the reason for the revelation of that verse is interesting in that it shows the opinion of the Prophet about “beating of wives”, which was a common practice among Arabs. Sa'd b. Rabi' of Ansar slapped his wife who had rebelled and his father-in-law complained to the Prophet about him. Our Prophet said, "Let the woman slap her husband in the same way" but before it was carried out, the verse we mentioned above was revealed; it was understood that the husband could beat his wife in that case and the order of the Prophet was canceled. (Jassas, 188; Ibnu'l-Arabi, 415).

The form and amount of the beating were dealt with and it was recorded as a general rule that the beating should not harm the woman, should not leave any marks and her face should not be hit. According to some interpreters, the beating is completely symbolic; for instance, according to Ata, it should be carried out with something like miswak (special, soft branch of a tree with which teeth are cleaned and which is as long as a toothbrush) (Jassas, 189; Ibn Atiyya, 48).

Ata, one of the second-generation interpreters, dealt with the sanction to be imposed on the women who transgressed the law and the hadiths regarding beating the women together and reached the following conclusion: the husband can show his anger and fury but cannot beat his wife who has rebelled but has not cuckolded. Two tafsir scholars – one is old, the other is contemporary - that explained that approach of Ata based their judgments on different reasons. According to Abu Bakr Ibnu'l-Arabi, Ata said the beating mentioned in the verse expressed permissiveness and the hadiths that forbade beating women in general expressed and brought about the judgment of abomination and said, in conclusion, “the husband cannot beat his wife.” According to Ibn Ashur, one of the contemporary interpreters, Ata had the opinion that verses and hadiths brought different judgments for different situations and concluded  that giving advice and refusing to share the same bed belonged to the husband and that imposing sanctions like beating, etc based on the degree of rebellion and transgression belonged partly to the husband ad in general to the authorities and administrators. If the husband beats his nashizah wife lightly and without harming her (in order to train her and to protect the family), he will be allowed to do it; but if he transgresses and abuses that permission, the authorities can definitely forbid men from beating their wives (V, 43-44).

The judgment that the woman can be beaten lightly by her husband not because she has adulterated but because she has rebelled, transgressed the family rights, rejected her husband that she has loved and been together for a long time is also dealt with historically. According to Ibn Ashur, the permission of beating was given based on the customs, traditions and moods of some societies and levels of the community; it is not permissible everywhere and all the time. A husband can beat his wife in case of nushuz only if beating is not regarded as blameworthy, abnormal, contemptuous, harmful and contrary to law in the community that they live in, and if the fury of the husband can be felt by the wife only through beating; the permission is valid only for those communities and situations. The following words of Hazrat Umar comparing the people of Madinah and Makkah in terms of domination over women show that the relations and attitudes can change as the communities change: " We, muhajirs (immigrants from Makkah), dominated over our wives; they always obeyed us; When we came to Madinah, we saw that the women of Madinah were dominant over their husbands; then, our women started to resemble them and act like them." (Bukhari, "Nikah", 83; Ibn Ashur, V, 412).

As some scholars like Ata stated, the fact that Hazrat Prophet (pbuh) never resorted to the permission of beating (Ibn Majah, nikah 51) and said, “he who beats his wife is not a good person” (Hazimi, al-itibar, 142) can be evaluated as proof that although the permission of beating is present in the Quran as a deterrent, it is not appropriate to use that permission (cf. Ibn Ashur, an-Nisa, the interpretation of the verse, 4/34).


What is meant by fearing disloyalty and ill-conduct of the woman? There exists the permission of beating the wife, but why is the woman asked to show patience when her husband commits the same sin?


Is there a logical explanation of the judgment “ the husband having the right to beat his wife when she commits”? Men are more powerful than women at a rate of ninety-nine per cent. If the spouses want to continue the marriage, they have no alternative other than “making peace and compromising”. The Quran offered that way through the following advice:

If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men's souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practice self-restraint, Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (Nisa, 4/128).

In the verse, two reasons are given for men to be qawwam: The first one is natural endowment, which is expressed by the sentence, “Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other.” However, that sentence has such a subtlety that although it indicates the superiority of men in terms of being the head of the family, it does not explicitly say, " Allah has given men more (strength) than women"; thus, it does not attribute absolute superiority to men, and indicates that women can be superior by having the qualities that men do not have. (Elmalılı, N/ 1348-19)

In that natural endowment, that is in the ability of management and administration, some women may be more successful than their husbands. In that case, the second reason (in the field of business, the role based on gender) necessitates men to be “qawwam”, by giving the responsibility of sustaining the household, hence the responsibility of winning the bread. It is the reason of being “qawwam” formed by the efforts of men, not as a natural endowment. To express it in the words of Elmalılı, "then the men who cannot fulfill their responsibilities, who try to grab the money and property of their wives and who do not protect the honor of their families are not regarded as “real men” "(ibid N/1350). Therefore, they cannot be the men who are allowed to beat their wives. (see Qurtubi V/169)

One of the key words mentioned in the verse is “nushuz”. The word "Nushuz" means uprising, rebelling, not showing respect to each other’s rights and disgusting each other, etc based on the meaning of being high in the root of the word. (see Qurtubi V/ 170-171; Elmalılı N/1351; Ibn Kathir N/257) Then, the man that is given the right to beat is the “real man” who has the quality of being “qawwam” (see Elmalılı, ibid); and the woman that is allowed to be beaten is the woman that is “nashizah”: Besides, as it is understood from the rest of the verse, the situation has become so bad that it is feared that the marriage will “break up”.  In other words, at this point, either the “real man” will be given the authority to give the “nashizah” that brought the marriage to the verge of break-up a slight punishment as if he is a sergeant and the problem will be solved without giving way to break-up, or the break-up of the family will be allowed despite all kinds of social, psychological and economic harms. The verse advises the first way. Thus, the family secrets will also be prevented from being revealed in courts .

The following words that the Prophet (pbuh) said in his Farewell (Hajj) Sermon regarding the issue explains the verse in a way: “Fear Allah in respect to women. They are your helpers given to you by Allah. And it is your right that they do not make admit anyone of whom you do not approve to your home. If they do so (if they allow the people you do not approve of in your home), you can beat them – without causing them suffering. It is your duty to provide them with their food and clothing in accordance with the custom.”(Muslim, hajj,147; Ibn Kathir, the interpretation of an-Nisa 34th verse)

As it is seen, the reason of beating the woman is related to admitting a person that the man does not want into the house in the hadith. “The person that the man does not want or like” means a person who causes suspicion. 

As a matter of fact, not fulfilling the duties that she needs to do in the house means nushuz/rebellion but the most critical point in terms of the man is doing something that makes the man suspect. It is understood that the “nushuz/rebellion” mentioned in the verse means a “suspicious situation” that dynamites the peace in the family.

As a matter of fact, it is possible to see from the sentence: “Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard” present in the related verse (an-Nisa 4/34) such an indication. The fact that the Quran describes that familial “rude attitude” in a subtle and “very polite” phrase shows its subtlety of expression and kind style. 

The beating of a woman who paved the way for such a situation lightly – as it is expressed in the hadith – will serve as a reasonable valve for the man preventing him from exploding like a blown up balloon, from breaking up the marriage at once; it will also enable the devilish seditions and delusions that are aroused in his brain to be let off gradually.  However, the presentation in the verse as “first give advice, then stay away from her and then, as the last resort beat her” is a painting of wisdom that people who believe in Allah’s justice, knowledge and wisdom should contemplate on and try to comprehend.

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