There are few verses in the Quran that excite the opprobrium of critics of Islam more than surah 4, verse 34.
Muhammad Asad’s translation of the verse 34 goes:
Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has ordained to be guarded. And as for those women whose ill-will (44) you have reason to fear, admonish them first; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them (45); and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!
In the Prophet Muhammad’s final sermon he taught his companions that, ‘I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example (the Sunnah), and if you follow these you will never go astray’. It is instructive to read Asad’s commentary on this verse (see especially note 45 below):
44 The term nushuz (lit., “rebellion”- here rendered as “ill-will”) comprises every kind of deliberate bad behaviour of a wife towards her husband or of a husband towards his wife, including what is nowadays described as “mental cruelty”; with reference to the husband, it also denotes “ill-treatment”, in the physical sense, of his wife (cf. verse 128 of this surah). In this context, a wife’s “ill-will” implies a deliberate, persistent breach of her marital obligations.
45 It is evident from many authentic Traditions that the Prophet himself intensely detested the idea of beating one’s wife, and said on more than one occasion, “Could any of you beat his wife as he would beat a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?” (Bukhari and Muslim). According to another Tradition, he forbade the beating of any woman with the words, “Never beat God’s handmaidens” (Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hibban and Hakim, on the authority of Iyas ibn ‘Abd Allah; Ibn Hibban, on the authority of ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas; and Bayhaqi, on the authority of Umm Kulthum). When the above Qur’an-verse authorizing the beating of a refractory wife was revealed, the Prophet is reported to have said: “I wanted one thing, but God has willed another thing – and what God has willed must be best” (see Manar V, 74).
With all this, he stipulated in his sermon on the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage, shortly before his death, that beating should be resorted to only if the wife “has become guilty, in an obvious manner, of immoral conduct”, and that it should be done “in such a way as not to cause pain (ghayr mubarrih)”; authentic Traditions to this effect are found in Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i and Ibn Majah. On the basis of these Traditions, all the authorities stress that this “beating”, if resorted to at all, should be more or less symbolic – “with a toothbrush, or some such thing” (Tabari, quoting the views of scholars of the earliest times), or even “with a folded handkerchief” (Razi); and some of the greatest Muslim scholars (e.g., Ash-Shafi’i) are of the opinion that it is just barely permissible, and should preferably be avoided: and they justify this opinion by the Prophet’s personal feelings with regard to this problem.
Categories: Responses to anti-Islamic Polemics