In regards to gender relationships, a single Verse is perhaps the most widely misunderstood in the Holy Quran regarding men and women. The Verse States:
“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, hit them lightly. But if they obey you once more, seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand” (Quran 4:34)
Before one comes to a hasty conclusion, it’s imperative to understand that the Holy Quran came down to Prophet Muhammad PBUH and that he then interpreted it for us. It would be problematic and inaccurate for people to interpret Verses individually in isolation without reviewing other Verses of the Quran and Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH). One needs to hear the explanation of the Verse from the Prophet Muhammad PBUH.
It also would be problematic to ignore the life story of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, as he lived his life based on the Holy Quran and Sunnah. The exemplary manner in which he lived his life and dealt with others is a prime example for us to learn from and emulate, as God created him as our best role model.
The Holy Quran provides teachings and guidance regarding all aspects of life. According to Islamic scholars, this Verse offers guidance in extreme and not typical cases. It pertains to a wife rebelling against her husband through immoral acts of lewdness, adultery, or disloyalty to her marriage; for example, through having an affair with another man or committing an act of vulgarity, bringing shame to her family. The Holy Quran advises the husband to advise his wife, reminding her to be conscious and fear God. This process of inquiry also may include a course of professional counseling.
If time passes and the issue does not improve through advice and counseling, the husband can continue to sleep in their bed but should abstain from having intercourse with his wife. After some time, if her behavior still does not improve, then as a last resort, the husband would display his concern by tapping her lightly with a small twig the size of a pen, inflicting no pain but making a meaningful symbolic gesture. This gesture symbolizes his disgruntled state, showing her his upset and anger by awakening her and warning her of the gravity of the situation in which she now finds herself. We learn this from our Prophet Muhammad PBUH.
It’s imperative to emphasize that this light tapping is a last resort, a remedy intended to fix the situation before the problem leads to divorce, breaking up the family. It’s also important to emphasize that this light tapping is only symbolic and is intended to show her the grave severity of the situation. This light tapping must leave no marks or swelling in its wake. The faith of Islam does not allow a man to abuse or strike his wife — or any woman — and many Islamic teachings decree the seriousness of this matter.
One must realize that it would not be uncommon or at all shocking for men, who sometimes are prone to violence, to lose their cool and hit their wives if they catch them in the act of infidelity. This Verse guides husbands, telling them that they may not harm their wives; instead, they should express their disapproval and anger in a way that their wives understand their pain. The Arabic verb in this Verse, “Tharb,” is incorrectly translated in English to mean hit or beat or strike — but these words hold a different, much more harsh connotation than what the Verse is referring to.
Husbands never must abuse this Verse, as it applies to rare, extreme cases in which the wife is out of control. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, some of his companions misinterpreted and misapplied it. A group of women approached the wives of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, complaining that their husbands beat them. Once Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, heard, he replied: “Those men are not the best of you,” Numerous narrations of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, prohibit any beating or aggressive force against women. Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, stated, “Do not beat the female slaves of Allah” (Sunan Ibn Majah 1985).
Prophet Muhammad PBUH is a role model for all husbands, and humanity is to learn from him and emulate how he conducted himself and lived his life. Prophet Muhammad PBUH’s wife, Aisha, said he struck none of his wives or servants. Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, instructed that kind treatment was the only way to honor one’s wife. He said: “The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives” (Sunan Ibn Majah 1977).
No act of domestic violence committed by a Muslim to his wife could be traced back to any text from the Holy Quran or the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH because no such verses exist. If a Muslim is found abusing his wife, he is not adhering to the rulings of Islam, which are given to him by His Creator, the All-High, and Prophet Muhammad, PBUH. If you look at Muslim judges who based their decisions and sentences based on the Holy Quran and Sunnah throughout history, you will find that when a man strikes his wife, he is punished; because no such acts are allowed in our beautiful religion of Islam.
The Bible, by contrast, allows a master to beat his male or female servant half to death with no punishment because the servant is considered their property. “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two since the slave is their property” Exodus 21:20–21.
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