Does the verse mean to hit (strike) or beat?

The Details of the Question

- What is the meaning of the word darb mentioned in verse 34 of the chapter of an-Nisa?
- In some translations, it is interpreted as to beat, in others as to hit and in yet others as to separate, to distance. What is the correct interpretation?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Let us quote the translations of the verses in question first:

“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)

First of all, the Quran advises the husband to be patient and tolerant in the face of his wife’s deeds that disturb him. (1)

The Prophet (pbuh) warns his ummah regarding the issue by saying, “The most perfect of believers in terms of belief, the best ones in terms of ethics, and the best ones among you are the ones who treat their women in the best way; (2) many women complain to the family of Muhammad about their husbands. Those who beat their women are not the best ones among you.” (3)

The Quran and the Sunnah set some rules for the termination of marriage when the continuation of the marriage becomes impossible.

In verse 34 of an-Nisa and verses 1, 2, 6 and 7 of at-Talaq, recommendations for eliminating those conflicts are included when the continuation of marriage is in question. They are the measures to repair the harmed marriage. In the verse, when the nushuz (disobedience, ill-conduct, disloyalty) of a woman is in question, admonishing (giving her advice) is recommended first.

Advice does not mean to command, to order, to scold, to insult. The Quran is the best book of advice. (4) Almighty Allah gives advice to His servants in the best way. (5) The Messenger of Allah also gives advice (6)

Therefore, to give advice means to deal with an issue in detail and to explain it in a way that the addressee can understand. As Khalil b. Ahmad puts it, “Advice is the best reminder of what is good in a way that affects the heart.” (7)

If such advice is duly given, it will benefit many of the women with nushuz and nothing else will be needed.

If that stage does not yield results, it is recommended to leave them alone in their beds, to give up sexual intercourse, to separate rooms, not to talk, and to get cross with them. (8)

That separation should be keeping at a distance, which the Quran calls hajr jamil (9), which never includes violence, but takes place with kindness and goodness.

An important part of those with nushuz will be cured at this stage and the issue will be settled.

When the Incident of Ila is considered, we can say that some of the problems experienced between the Prophet (pbuh) and his wives reached this stage and that the problems were resolved at this stage.

Jurists say that this period of separation can last for a month at most.

If it does not yield any results, the stage of beating them slightly will be in question. It is not an obligation, but an option. Scholars say that it is better to leave this stage. If beating does not help, this way is not used at all. If the dispute has been taken to the court, the husband cannot beat his wife. (10)

The beating should be light, should not give pain to the woman, should not leave any marks on her body, and should be symbolic. (11) Ibn Abbas states that this beating can be hitting with a miswak, which is obviously a symbolic hitting. (12)

Jurists put forward some financial and penal sanctions for the husband in case this practice exceeds the aim of restoring family relations and protecting family unity (improvement) and reaches the level of punishment and harms the woman. (13) Authorities may even take decisions that men who beat their wives will be punished, considering that husbands may go to extremes in hitting them. (14)

Regarding the issue, the Quran mentions the oath that the Prophet Ayyub (Job) took to beat his wife Layya and the formula for salvation from this oath:

“And take in thy hand a little grass, and strike therewith: and break not (thy oath). Truly We found him full of patience and constancy. How excellent in Our service! ever did he turn (to Us)!” (15)

According to narrations, the Prophet Ayyub took an oath during his illness that he would flog his wife a hundred times when he got well because his wife had wronged him. Then, Almighty Allah recommended a formula that would not hurt the woman and would enable him to fulfill his oath. (16)

It is understood that some problems arose in the family of Ayyub and the Prophet Ayyub, who is a symbol of patience, had to take an oath that he would beat his wife; Allah guided him to solve that problem.

Jurists consider this verse as clear proof that a husband cannot beat his wife excessively. Mujahid, one of the scholars of Tabiun, states that the verse is not peculiar to the Prophet Ayyub and that it concerns everyone. Ata, one of the scholars of the same generation, stated the following in his answer to the question whether it was possible to act on that verse: “Everything revealed in the Quran needs to be fulfilled and obeyed.” (17)

As a matter of fact, according to a narration from Aisha (ra), the Prophet (pbuh) never hit a woman, a child, or a servant. (18)

The following universal words of the Prophet (pbuh) addressing humanity in his Farewell Sermon summarize the message of the verse:

“And indeed, I advise you to be good to the women because they are but captives with you over whom you have no power than that, except if they come with manifest evil behavior. If they do that, then abandon their beds and beat them with a beating that is not harmful. And if they obey you then you have no cause against them.” (19)

Some scholars interpret the word darb used in the verse as sending them away from home. However, the root darb is used in many verses. In many verses, the word darb, without a preposition or with the preposition lam, is used in the following senses:  

- Example / giving a striking example (20),
- When used with the preposition ba, Moses striking his staff on a stone or the sea (21);
- Clasping / tying the headscarf (22),
- Walking by stomping one’s feet on the ground (23);
- The Prophet Abraham’s breaking the idols (24);
- The Prophet Ayyub’s hitting his wife (25);
- The Israelites hitting the part of the cow on the body of the dead (26);
- Erecting/building a wall between believers and hypocrites in the Hereafter (27),
- Without a preposition, “angels taking lives by hitting” (28).

In those uses, hitting is in the foreground. The narration in our sources regarding the reason for the revelation of the verse (29) also supports this meaning. It is used in the sense of traveling with the preposition fi. (30) In this usage, the meaning of taking the road comes to the fore.

It is used without a preposition in the verse in question, which means it is not appropriate to interpret it as being sent away from home.

However, it is not appropriate to translate it as beat because beating evokes continuity in action.

Therefore, the translation in the form of hit (strike) is more appropriate when the issue is considered within the framework of the Quran’s integrity. As a matter of fact, the Prophet Ayyub’s hitting with the sheaf he held once and the Prophet Moses hitting the stone or the sea with his staff is not beating, but hitting once.

To sum up, the following points stand out in the verses in question:

- The verse determines the obligations and attitudes of the spouses toward each other and the sharing of duties within the family. The family that the Quran wants to be a model consists of righteous and obedient spouses who observe Allah’s limits; peace / livelihood / harmony is essential in that family. The reason why those qualities are mentioned first in the verse is to direct women to those good qualities.

- If the source of family problems is the woman, a gradual solution is proposed. According to this solution, the steps of giving effective advice first, getting cross with her as a psychological sanction after that, and if it does not help, the stage of hitting should be carried out. This method, which is to be applied in the order mentioned in the verse is not for every woman in the family, but for women with problems. Then comes the stage of presenting the problem to two arbitrators to be determined among the relatives of the woman and the man. At this stage, the spouses share their problems only with those designated arbitrators, and the arbitrators make their decisions within the boundaries of equity.

Even when the case is referred to the arbitrators, the primary goal of the spouses and arbitrators should be to ensure the reconciliation of the spouses and to keep the family together.

The main purpose of all those methods is to prevent the family from breaking up and to ensure the continuation of the peaceful coexistence of the family. Divorce is a permission that is recommended to be applied as the last resort.

There are many verses in the Quran in which the boundaries and framework of divorce are drawn; and there is a separate chapter (at-Talaq) allocated to the issue of divorce. Thus, it is seen that divorce is freed from arbitrariness and bound to certain rules. As it is seen, divorce is not dependent on a word that comes out of the man’s mouth as some people think. It is the last resort that imposes heavy responsibilities, especially on the man.

In each of those stages, the parties should keep in mind that Almighty Allah observes them and that they are responsible to Him for their actions. In this context, it is very significant that the verses in question end with the words Aziz (Mighty), Hakim (Wise), Alim (Knower) and Aliyy (Sublime). Thus, everyone is reminded to fulfill their responsibilities; it is particularly emphasized that they should not go beyond the limits in any issue, that otherwise they will face Almighty Allah, who knows everything in detail, who makes his decisions with wisdom and justice, and who has unmatched power and might. (31)

Footnotes:

1) see an-Nisa 4/19.
2) Tirmidhi, Rada 11.
3) Abu Dawud, Nikah, 42.
4) see Aal-i Imran 3/138, al-Maida 5/46, Yunus 10/57, Hud 11/120, an-Nur 24/34.
5) see al-Baqara 2/231, an-Nisa 4/58, an-Nahl 16/90, an-Nur 24/17.
6) see Saba‘ 34/46, an-Nisa 4/63.
7) Abu Zahra, Zahratut-Tafasir, 3/1667.
8) Tabari, Jamiul-Bayan, 8/290; Abul-Hasan Ali b. Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Habib al-Basri al-Mawardi, an-Nukat wal-Uyun, thq. as-Sayyid b. Abdul-Maqsud b. Abdirrahim (Beirut: Darul-Kutubil-Ilmiyya, nd.), 1/480.
9) see al-Muzzammil 73/10.
10) Bekir Topaloğlu, İslam’da Kadın (İstanbul: Rağbet Yayınları, 2016), 79.
11) Tabari, Jamiu’l -Bayan, 8/290; Qurtubi, al-Jami’, 5/168.
12) Abu Zahra, Zahratut-Tafasir, 3/1667.
13) Günay, “Nüşûz”, 33/304; Abu Zahra, Zahratut-Tafasir, 3/1667.
14) Ibn Ashur, at-Tahrir wat-Tanwir, 5/37.
15) Sad 38/44.
16) see Tabari, Jamiu’l-Bayan, 21/211; Abul-Faraj Jamaluddin Abdurrahman b. Ali b. Muhammad al-Jawzi al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi, Zadul-Masir fi Ilmit-Tafsir (Beirut: Daru Ibn Hazm, nd.), 1216.
17) see Qurtubi, al-Jami’, 15/212.
18) Muhammad b. Sa’d b. Muni‘ Abu Abdillah al-Basri, at-Tabaqatul-Kubra, thq. Ihsan Abbas (Beirut: Darus-Sadr, 1968), 8/204.
19) Tirmidhi, Rada, 11.
20) see Ibrahim 14/24; an-Nahl 16/75, 76, 112.
21) see al-Baqara 2/60; al-A’raf, 7/160; Taha 20/70; ash-Shuara 26/63.
22) an-Nur 24/31.
23) an-Nur 24/31.
24) as-Saffat 37/93.
25) Sad 38/44.
27) al-Baqara 2/73.
28) al-Hadid 57/13.
29) see al-Anfal 8/12, 50; Muhammad 47/4, 27.
30) A man beat his wife. The women applied to the Prophet and complained about her husband. The Messenger of Allah wanted to retaliate against her husband. Thereupon, Allah revealed the verse, “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women.” The Prophet called the man and recited the verse to him and said: I wanted to do something, but Allah wanted something else. see Tabari, Jamiu’l-Bayan, 8/290.
31) see Ali Akpınar, Ali Akpınar, Aile İçi Sorunların Çözümünde Kur’ânî Yöntem (Nisâ Suresi 34. Ayeti Bağlamında), İlahiyat Akademi: Altı Aylık Uluslararası Akademik Araştırma Dergisi, 2020, issue: 11, pp. 1-18.

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