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How Muslim Men Beat Their Wives, "Lightly"

Part 1 | Part 2: Was Prophet Muhammad a wife beater?

A frequently misquoted and misunderstood verse of the Qur'an pertaining to women in particular, is verse 34 in Surah An-Nisa, The Women (4:34).
"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], strike them.
But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand." (Qur'an,4:34) [Sahih International translation]

I am not wishing to strike a debate over Qur'an interpretations or what rights whomever has over another. The opening statement 'Men are in charge of women', has caused enough Muslim feminised quarrels and that is also not what I am alluding to; Allah knows He has given men roles and women theirs, if they disagree with them, que sera, sera.

It is the second statement from this verse that unfortunately is used as the justification for our recurring crime: domestic violence. And it is this that I am intending to reallign and correct, insha-Allah.

Too many times I have seen Muslim men justify their emotional and physical violence towards the women in their lives, with the verse 4:34. It did not sit right with me when I was a child and as an adult, I see it is still a gross violation of human security.

A Muslim marriage is based on sakina, a tranquility or stillness and deep intimacy, shrouded by rights and corresponding responsibilities. A family unit extends outwards from this, so the varying relationships are balanced with compassion, happiness and boundaries. All forms of violence are forbidden in these relationships. However, discipline and punishments do exist. To teach a naughty child we take away their loves, to correct a misguided adult we shock them into humility. Humiliation and scars are not part of this Divine formula.

A Quick Explanation Of 4:34

I am following the closest Qur'an translation on the 'net: Sahih International. Read the verse again from "But those wives from whom you fear arrogance..." to the end. This is a Shari` ruling (from the Shari`ah); a right of obedience that Muslim men have in marriage. When a wife disobeys her husband in the rights he has over her, then he is allowed to reprimand her to gain her obedience again.

First he must talk to her and give nasiha (advice); if the wife is stubborn he is permitted to chastise her by giving her the cold shoulder, i.e. "I'm sleeping on the couch" (this really hurts). As a final resort, after a few nights, he is permitted to "strike her" ONCE. Yes, there is physical contact involved, keep reading below. A superior striking is by a powerful word, a shock to the system, even a threat to say 'change yourself!' as a parent would to shock your child (although even scare tactics in Islam are not healthy).

The Shari`ah Says "Strike" 100x And ONCE

The exact ruling on "striking" began way back in Islamic history during the life of Prophet Ayoub `alayhis-salam, peace be upon him. When Ayoub (as) was tested with illness his wife used to beg Allah to cure him and Shaytaan taught her a word of disbelief to say in the form of a prayer. She told this to her husband who became angry and vowed to strike her one hundred lashes.

A Prophet never breaks his word, so in this conflicting moment of his love and misguided anger Allah order Prophet Ayoub (as) to stick to his oath by taking one hundred thin stalks of grass (think barley), tying them together and hitting her with them, once.
[Source: T. Al-Qurtubi, Vol. 15, p. 212]

Allah commanded,
"And take in your hand a bundle of thin grass and strike therewith (your wife)..." (Qur'an, 38:44)

Clearly, we can see that Muslim men are permitted to "strike" their wives with stalks in one swoop-like action, without breaking skin. I adopt this last-resort method with intolerable children and they learn to understand I am very upset, since it's the final strike; even though there is no physical pain they do not like being punished by a light back-hand smack and sent to 'the naughty step', they rush to apologise through their grinning 'I'm sorry's".


To get the root of the problem, the first Qur'an translations unintentionally translated the Arabic phrase "Idribuhunne" with the English "beat them". This is incorrect.

The root of this word idribuhunne is "Da-Ra-Ba". If you look at any Arabic dictionary you will find a fairly long list ascribed to this multi-meaning word. Below are the various meanings of da ra ba and their use in the Qur'an.[i]

Further, the controversial Qur'an translator Laleh Bakhtiar, found that idrib could have up to 26 different meanings, and best translated as "to go away" or "to leave," not some form of "to beat."[ii]

In widespread translations of the Qur'an, by Yusuf Ali and Shakir, that phrase "beat them lightly" is used the most. Pickthall went with "scourge them" which means to whip them, needless to say creating great suffering and oppression.[iii]

While these are excellent translations and great reward goes to the translators insha-Allah, they are incorrect. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf remarked in a study session,
“How can you beat someone, lightly? The hadith of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that every man is like a shepherd is for that reason–a shepherd is compassionate and merciful. He does not beat the animals, he knows he can easily get his flock to follow his direction. Beating is haram... There should never be any physical beating. Nobody should be hit; discipline is not violence. This is a “non violent strike” – no strike that causes tissue harm, or bruises... The obedience here [for the husbands] are to do with huquq (rights).”
Therefore the point of contention only begins when a wife refuses to fulfill a haq, a right of her husband, without a valid reason. A husband can never react violently or threaten her with divorce. You can either beat someone, or not, there is no such thing as beating someone lightly to teach them a lesson or because God said you could.

Part 1 | Part 2

Image: Telegraph

Marriage counsellor since 1996

[i] Compiled from Quran-Islam.org

Published on Muslims In England.com and 1st Ethical Trust.


  1. 4 – And he (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Fear Allaah with regard to women, for you have taken them as a trust from Allaah and intimacy with them has become permissible to you by the words of Allaah. Your right over them is that they should not allow anyone to sit on your furniture whom you dislike; if they do that then hit them but not in a harsh manner. And their right over you is that you should provide for them and clothe them on a reasonable basis.” Narrated by Muslim, 1218.

    What is meant by “they should not allow anyone to sit on your furniture whom you dislike” is that they should not allow anyone whom you dislike to enter your houses, whether the person disliked is a man or a woman, or any of the woman’s mahrams [close relatives to whom marriage is forbidden]. The prohibition includes all of them. From the words of al-Nawawi.

    The hadeeth may be understood as meaning that a man has the right to hit his wife, in a manner that is not harsh and does not cause injury if if there is a reason for that, such as her going against his wishes or disobeying him.

    ‘Ata’ said: I said to Ibn ‘Abbaas, what is the kind of hitting that is not harsh? He said, Hitting with a siwaak and the like. [A siwaak is a small stick or twig used for cleaning the teeth - Translator]

    The purpose behind this is not to hurt or humiliate the woman, rather it is intended to make her realize that she has transgressed against her husband’s rights, and that her husband has the right to set her straight and discipline her.

    And Allaah knows best.

  2. Are you really a marriage counselor? Sorry, I know that wasn't the point of the post.

    Thanks for sharing this. I didn't know that domestic violence was a common occurrence in Muslim households. JazakAllah for sharing.


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