Relationship between Husband and Wife

Quran does not support ‘Wife-beating’

by Shahid Aziz

The Light (UK), March 2006 Issue (pp. 4–6)

The following is the English translation, by Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali, of verse 34 in chapter 4 (The Women) of the Holy Quran:

اَلرِّجَالُ قَوّٰمُوۡنَ عَلَی النِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللّٰہُ بَعۡضَہُمۡ عَلٰی بَعۡضٍ وَّ بِمَاۤ اَنۡفَقُوۡا مِنۡ اَمۡوَالِہِمۡ ؕ فَالصّٰلِحٰتُ قٰنِتٰتٌ حٰفِظٰتٌ لِّلۡغَیۡبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللّٰہُ ؕ وَ الّٰتِیۡ تَخَافُوۡنَ نُشُوۡزَہُنَّ فَعِظُوۡہُنَّ وَ اہۡجُرُوۡہُنَّ فِی الۡمَضَاجِعِ وَ اضۡرِبُوۡہُنَّ ۚ فَاِنۡ اَطَعۡنَکُمۡ فَلَا تَبۡغُوۡا عَلَیۡہِنَّ سَبِیۡلًا ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ کَانَ عَلِیًّا کَبِیۡرًا ﴿۳۴﴾

“Men are maintainers of women, with what Allah has made some of them to excel others and with what they spend out of their wealth. So the good women are obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded. And (as to) those on whose part you feel desertion, admonish them, and leave them in the beds and chastise them. So if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely Allah is ever Exalted, Great.”

There is much misunderstanding about this verse. The first word, which is misunderstood, is qawamuna. If we look at various translations in Urdu or English, it is translated in many different ways. All of them, except the one that I have just read out to you, make men rulers of women. It is translated as men are in charge of women, men are superior to women, men are prominent to women, etc. Interestingly George Sale, Christian translator of the Quran of the 18th century, actually gives reasons why men would be superior to women. For example, he says that it is only men who are duty bound to go out and fight in the way of Allah and this is what makes them superior to women.

Where men and women are concerned when it is said qama-l-rajulu ala-l-marati it means ‘he maintained her’. Remember here by women, it does not mean just wife it also means children in the household. Therefore, it is a husband’s duty to provide for both his wife and his children. Then the reason is given why men are appointed as maintainers of women. It is because Allah has made some of them excel others with what they spend out of their wealth. The first thing that we must remember is the reason why this extra duty was imposed upon men. In Islam a husband is duty bound to look after his wife and children. The wife may help her husband, if she chooses, with her wealth or money but she is not duty bound to do so. This is an extra duty placed upon them. The question is why man was made responsible for this. Usually men have to go out to get a job, do a business, do some trade or engage in some activity to provide some means of support. Women by their very physical nature are unable to do the same all the time. That does not make them inferior in any way. If this duty was imposed on a woman and if she became pregnant then certainly in later stages of her pregnancy she would not be able to go out to work. After she bears a child, again, she needs rest and she cannot work or run a business. What will happen to that family? It is purely for these practical reasons that the duty is imposed upon men. It does not make them in any way superior. Allah has made men excel because they have been made duty bound to spend out of their wealth or money on them.

Islam is a practical religion and it takes into account physical differences between men and women. If people are going to say this is unfair then what about the saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad that each day of a woman’s pregnancy is rewarded as if she had fasted all day and prayed all night. Hadith also says that bearing of a child is rewarded by God in the same way as if she had performed Hajj [Pilgrimage] and that Hajj had been accepted by God. Many people perform Hajj but not everyone’s Hajj is accepted. Men cannot be rewarded in this way because, obviously, men cannot become pregnant and they cannot have children. So this is unfair because men are physically unable to get rewarded in this way. Hadith says that heaven or paradise lies at the feet of the mother and not the father, so you could again say that men are discriminated against. But this is simple recognition of the physical difference between men and women.

Some people would try to make us believe that men are greater in intellect or superior in other ways because the verse goes on to say

فَالصّٰلِحٰتُ قٰنِتٰتٌ

“so the good women are obedient”.

Again, this been misunderstood or mistranslated to mean good women are obedient to their husbands. If you look at the phrase, obedience here is to God; that women should obey God’s instructions and God’s commands. You could argue that what the verse is saying is that men have been made maintainers of women because they are the ones who spend on their households, etc., and therefore they would want their wives to obey them unquestioningly. But here what God is telling them is that unquestioning obedience is due to God only, and not to their husband. That is not to say that they are not to listen to or discuss things with their husbands. This means that if there is a contradiction between what the husband is asking and what God has asked them then they must obey God and not their husband.

The other point is

حٰفِظٰتٌ لِّلۡغَیۡبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللّٰہُ ؕ

“guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded”.

This means that wives should guard and protect their husband’s rights in the same way as Allah has protected women’s rights.

Now the verse goes on to say:

وَ الّٰتِیۡ تَخَافُوۡنَ نُشُوۡزَہُنَّ

“And as to those on whose part you fear desertion”.

The word used here is nashuz which Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali translated as


but it means to hate or to rise up. The use of such a strong word actually means or shows that this is not a simple disagreement between the husband and the wife. This is not like a husband asking his wife to make him a cup of tea and the wife refusing. This is actual hatred being shown by the wife for her husband. Another translation of the word is:

“if they rise up”

and rising up and displaying of hatred is more than slight disagreement like what colour do we paint this room or do we go to this film or that film and such things. In fact, God also says to men that it may be you do not like your wives but remember that it may be someone in whom God has placed abundance of goodness, and that they should try and see the good in them. So, what should you do if there is breach which is so serious. The first thing you should do is talk to them and say to them that their behaviour is not correct. You should talk to each other and come to some kind of agreement. Attempt to sort out your disagreement. The next thing you do is to separate yourself from the wife who is behaving in this way and you say, I will go and sleep in a different room. We have quite often seen marriage counsellors say that the situation is having a bad effect on you, so you should go and live with your parents until things cool down. People in modern society do exactly these things.

Now we come to the most controversial, and perhaps the most misapplied word. If the above attempts fail you

وَ اضۡرِبُوۡہُنَّ


This is usually translated to mean that the husband should then hit or beat the wife. I fail to see how, when other means of reconciliation have failed, a beating is going to resolve the situation. The root word daraba is used in many places in the Holy Quran. In the same chapter [Chapter 4], verse 101 says:

وَ اِذَا ضَرَبۡتُمۡ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ

“And when you journey in the earth”.

Here the same word is used to mean journey. In another place it says:

اَنِ اضۡرِبۡ بِّعَصَاکَ الۡبَحۡرَ ؕ

“and march on to the sea with thy staff” (The Holy Quran, 26:63).

Here the same word is used to mean march. Again further on it is said:

وَ اضۡرِبۡ لَہُمۡ مَّثَلًا

“And set out to them a parable” (The Holy Quran, 36:13).

Again, it is said:

وَ لَمَّا ضُرِبَ ابۡنُ مَرۡیَمَ مَثَلًا

“And, when the son of Mary is mentioned as an example” (The Holy Quran, 43:57).

Here the root word darb is used to mean

‘set out’

to them or mention.

So, rather than

“hit her”,

it can also mean that if the wife displays open hatred towards you, then first talk to her. If that does not work you separate yourself from her. If there is still no change in her attitude, then try to convince her by giving examples. Say to her, look at that family where a woman was behaving in this manner and what effect it had on the household and on the children and so on. Do you really want the same thing to happen to your family? Or that the wife in that family behaved in this way and they got divorced and look at the problems.

You can also translate it to mean that you send her away, for example, to her parents, to see if they can achieve reconciliation between the two of you. Towards the end of the last Islamic century Shaikh Mahmud Shaltut of Al-Azhar gave some interesting interpretations of some passages of the Holy Quran which went against the traditionally held views. He gave a very interesting interpretation of this verse and he said that daraba can actually mean

“cut off the wife’s maintenance”.

His argument is that men are responsible for their household, for maintenance, paying for clothing, food, repairs and so on, and also give their wives some money for themselves. He says that if the wife is showing open hatred towards her husband and nothing would convince her that this is not a nice way in which to behave then the husband is no longer bound to financially support her. This argument also makes sense that if the wife hates her husband then why should he spend money on her. The point I am trying to make is that there are many translations of this phrase here and all of them are equally valid.

I suggest to you that criticism and hitting and negative actions have much less effect in changing someone’s attitude or behaviour then positive actions. If you encourage people, if you talk to them with love and consideration, that is much more likely to bring about change in their behaviour rather than if you criticise them and hit them.

This idea of sending the wife away if there is great disagreement is also supported by the verse which follows, where the Holy Quran speaks of appointing people to arbitrate between the husband and the wife. This is hardly likely to succeed if the husband has been beating his wife.

A further objection is that this verse only speaks about the wives and makes no mention of the husbands. There are two answers to this. First, most legislation in the world speaks of males in the singular (‘he’). This does not mean that the law does not apply to women or to groups of men. It is understood that the law covers these groups as well. In fact, the law of interpretation of statutes makes a one line statement to this effect. In addition, the Holy Quran says:

وَ لَہُنَّ مِثۡلُ الَّذِیۡ عَلَیۡہِنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ ۪

“And women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner” (The Holy Quran, 2:228).

Thus the same applies to the husband.

I know people who interpret these things in very traditional ways will disagree with me but the Holy Quran is not a closed book. It is not a book whose understanding was closed 1400 or 1300 or 1000 years ago. Understanding of the Holy Quran will continue to improve and if we remain stuck at how people understood the Holy Quran 1000 year ago, people will lose faith. We need to know how to apply the rules and regulations at this stage in a changed society. It is only then that we will become successful in competing with other religions of the world.

Editor’s Notes:

1. In his footnote on 2:60 where Maulana Muhammad Ali translates darb as “march on” and not “strike”, he writes:

Darb means striking, smiting, marching on, going from place to place, setting forth a parable, and carries a number of other significances. In fact, darb is used to indicate all kinds of actions except a few.”

2. Only a few verses before chapter. 4, verse. 34, it is stated in 4:19:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا لَا یَحِلُّ لَکُمۡ اَنۡ تَرِثُوا النِّسَآءَ کَرۡہًا ؕ وَ لَا تَعۡضُلُوۡہُنَّ لِتَذۡہَبُوۡا بِبَعۡضِ مَاۤ اٰتَیۡتُمُوۡہُنَّ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ یَّاۡتِیۡنَ بِفَاحِشَۃٍ مُّبَیِّنَۃٍ ۚ وَ عَاشِرُوۡہُنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ ۚ فَاِنۡ کَرِہۡتُمُوۡہُنَّ فَعَسٰۤی اَنۡ تَکۡرَہُوۡا شَیۡئًا وَّ یَجۡعَلَ اللّٰہُ فِیۡہِ خَیۡرًا کَثِیۡرًا ﴿۱۹﴾

“O you who believe, it is not lawful for you to take women as heritage against (their) will. Nor should you straiten them by taking part of what you have given them, unless they are guilty of manifest indecency. And treat them kindly. Then if you hate them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it.”

Therefore “kind treatment” is always required, and a man’s dislike for his wife may be harmful to him as he may be turning away from a very good thing.