Wife beating in Islam? The Quran strikes back! (Explanation Sura Nisa Ayat 34)
The Quran: chapter 4, verse 34. It is considered by some to be the most controversial verse of this book as it has been traditionally interpreted to allow wife beating by the husband. There has been much discussion of this verse, criticism as well as justification, in online forums, articles, books, magazines, TV, online videos etc. More recently, disputes have arisen amongst those classifying themselves as muslims with regard to the correct meaning of this verse, with some translations of The Quran now opting for a different understanding.
The word in question in 4:34 is “idriboo” / ٱضْرِبُو for which the Arabic root is Dad-Ra-Ba (ض ر ب).
Some translators use “go out”, “move about”.
This is taken literally and non-literally by translators.
With regard to the translation of DRB in the above verses there is variation, depending on translator, e.g. some use variations in 17:48, 25:9, 43:58, 43:17.
For this verse some use “collides”, “puts/shows forth” (e.g. Ibn Kathir), “points out” (e.g. Al Jalalayn).
The verse is literally saying the effect of “DRB on/over their ears in the cave” lasted several years. This seems to suggest God kept them isolated in the cave, when they were hiding out, thus cut off from the outside world. Mustansir Mir in “Verbal Idioms of The Qur’an” says it is an idiom meaning to prevent someone from hearing something, sealing off, or put to sleep. The only other related example in which DRB with something is done on/over something else is 24:31, when covers are cast over chests.
Fakayfa itha tawaffathumu almalaikatu yadriboona wujoohahum wa adbarahum
In the above two verses, translators commonly use “beat / strike / smite”, and whilst this may seem acceptable on the surface this translation does have significant problems when examined more closely:
To explain away these anomalies it could be suggested 8:50 and 47:27 refer to post Judgement not at death, which would be much more plausible if DRB is interpreted in a punishment way, i.e. beat/strike, but no trasnlator or tafsir/interpretation I have read gives this option.
M. Asad translates it as “swing their legs”, and in his notes says: The phrase yadribna bi-arjulihinna is idiomatically similar to the phrase daraba bi-yadayhi fi mishyatihi, “he swung his arms in walking” (quoted in this context in Taj al-‘Arus), and alludes to a deliberately provocative gait.
Some use “turn/keep away”, “disregard”, “move” and even “should We omit reminding you” (e.g. Mustansir Mir, “Verbal Idioms of The Qur’an”). Simply, “put forth” can also be used, and it may be interesting to note that “AAan kumu / from you” was used, possibly to show instead of ‘to put/show forth from one place/person to another place/person’ (i.e. the default action of DRB) the process is actually reversed, i.e. taken away from one place/persons.
Some use “set-up”, “separated”, “placed”. However, “duriba” is in the passive form, meaning: the subject is being acted upon, i.e. the wall receives the action expressed in the verb, thus the translation of “separated” is inappropriate here.
Some use “show”, “strike”, “assign” (e.g. Lane), “choose” (e.g. Tabari). It is important to note that Moses was given the above instruction even before setting off in his journey, and when he reaches the sea he doesn’t automatically know what to do and awaits guidance from God and receives it by way of inspiration (see 26:61-63). If we couple this information with the fact that Moses did not literally strike a dry path, it shows that it is highly unlikely DRB in this instance had a meaning of “strike”, hence perhaps many translators not translating it as such.
idrib bi AAasaka al hajara fa infajarat min hu = strike with your staff the rock, then vented from it (twelve springs)
idrib bi AAasaka al hajara fa inbajasat min hu = strike with your staff the rock, then gushed from it (twelve springs)
It is likely that in the above case, the rock cracked or breached, see 2:74 “…from them are those that split/breach so that water comes forth…”. It is possible in these verses that a meaning of “put forth” or “point out” could be used.
The above is commonly translated as “strike him (the murdered person) with part of it (the heifer/cow)” taken from the previous verses. The traditional commentators say this act brought the murdered person back to life and he identified his murderers in this case. However, this understanding becomes extremely weak when all the evidence is taken into account, which we will now analyse, beginning with an accurate translation according to the Arabic:
M=masculine, F=feminine, P=plural, S=singular
And when you (M,P) killed a soul (F,S), then you (M,P) accused each other in it (F,S), and God shall bring out what you (M,P) were hiding/concealing. [2:72]
Please read M.Asad’s notes on the above:
Muhammad Asad – End Note 57 (2:73)
Muhammad Asad – End Note 58 (2:73)
Thus, applying the most likely option, we have: “idriboo him (i.e. each one accused) with some of it (the murder)”.
All we need now is to consider “idriboo” to see if there is a meaning that fits. Lane’s Lexicon states that DRB on its own can mean “to point or make a sign”, i.e. point out or indicate. When we re-read the context of 2:72-73, it becomes obvious the perpetrators were accusing each other (i.e. pointing the finger at each other, so to speak) to conceal the truth that they did it, so God was to bring forth what they were concealing: so We said “point out him with some of it (the murder)”. The only ones doing the pointing/accusing were the guilty. Thus, whomever of them (i.e. of the ones accused) was pointed out by the others also accused was assigned some part/responsibility of the murder. In this way, they could not escape what they had done, and indeed, God exposed them and brought out what they were concealing. The end result was that they took collective responsibility, each of him a part. Sharing of a sin/crime if a group were responsible is mentioned elsewhere in The Quran, e.g. 24:11.
Further, other Classical Arabic meanings of DRB can also be used, such as: cite, propound, indicate, assign, put/show forth.
Interestingly, in the tafsir of “al-Jalalayn” (see altafsir.com) it says the revived murdered soul pointed out his murderers. Ironically, this comes close to the truth; possibly indicating a remnant of the true understanding of this verse still remained, and likely became superficial/superstitious over time.
As a side note, for an understanding of “ddaara’atum”, see Lane’s Lexicon. In it, it specifically states the translation we have used. By deduction, we can work out it does indeed mean “you accused each other”. The whole phrase literally means “you averted/repelled/pushed away each other”. What are they averting/repelling/pushing away? The Quran tells us, it is “feeha = in it”. Thus, the only possibility is they are literally pushing away in the dead body (highly unlikely), OR, they are pushing away in the murder, and logically, the latter can only mean they were pushing away the accusation or the sole responsibility for it. This is further proven by what follows, when it says they were concealing/hiding. Thus, one simply needs to ask: what can they (the ones who did it) possibly be concealing by repelling each other in the murder? The translation option then becomes obvious.
To conclude, the understanding presented here fits the grammar, the Arabic, Classical Arabic meanings, logic, cross-referencing the subject of murder, specifically, that there is life in al qisas/equivalence (the law of just recompense) for those who use their intellect, 2:179, and provides us with a self-contained explanation.
According to traditonal interpretations 38:44 was a symbolic strike by Job/Ayyub (upon his wife) with blades of grass, meaning a light/negligible strike was used.
M. Asad’s note
Ibn Kathir (1301-1372 CE)
Tafsir Al-Qurtubi (1214-1273 CE)
Tafsir Al-Jalalayn (authors: 1459 & 1505 CE)
Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas (authors: 687 & 1414 CE)
It should be noted that NONE of the above contradicting authors cite any Traditional narrations/ahadith to give weight to their interpretations. This could be because no such Traditional narrations/ahadith exist for this verse, and if they do not, then it is unclear where exactly these stories originated from. It is possible they were an embellishment or simply made up to explain the verse. This can be further confirmed by the Biblical account where there is no mention of this incident. It should also be noted that even though The Quran mentions Job briefly (4:163, 6:84, 21:83, 38:41-44), some aspects of his story are not mentioned in the Biblical version and vice versa.
The traditional interpretation is also problematic for another significant reason: if true, it would be the only example of an oath being expiated by way of symbolic gesture in The Quran. In 5:89 and 2:224-225 it clearly states that God will not hold us to account for thoughtless words in our oaths, or those not intended by the heart. And provides us ways to redeem if we break earnest/sincere oaths, e.g. by charity, abstinence/fasting.
So, is there an alternative translation and understanding of 38:44? Since DRB and “dighthan (~bundle/handful)” have multiple meanings, there are several possibilities according to Classical Arabic dictionaries, however, upon closer examination of the story of Job in The Quran, the most probable answer is actually contained therein:
And Job when he called unto his Lord: “I have been afflicted with harm, and you are the most merciful of the merciful.” [21:83]
And recall Our servant Job, when he called upon his Lord: “The serpent/cobra* has afflicted/touched me with distress/difficulty and suffering/punishment.” [38:41]
“shaytan” is not often translated as serpent/cobra, but it is a well known Classical Arabic meaning. In the entire Quran, there are 88 occurrences of shaytan (loosely translated as ‘opposing force’ be it from oneself or elsewhere), but only two occurrences in which shaytan is the one doing the afflicting/touching (Root: Miim-Siin-Siin), and they are 38:41 and 2:275. In both occurrences, the meaning of shaytan strongly points to serpent/cobra:
Those who consume usury, they do not stand but as one might stand whom the serpent/cobra confounded* from its touch. That is because they have said: “Trade is the same as usury.” While God has made trade lawful, and He has forbidden usury. Whoever has received understanding from His Lord and ceases, then he will be forgiven for what was before this and his case will be with God. But whoever returns, then they are the people of the Fire, in it they will abide eternally. [2:275]
i.e. their footing/position/mentality/reasoning is weak, in disorder, corrupted, they cannot think/speak sensibly etc.
Further, 38:41 is the only occurrence where shaytan is the cause of either distress/difficulty (Nun-Sad-Ba) and/or suffering/punishment (Ayn-Thal-Ba), implying this is a unique usage. If we also couple this with knowledge of the usual methodology applied by shaytan which is false promises, deceit, temptation, delusion etc we can see that 38:41 and 2:275 are different, i.e. shaytan is applying a different methodology here, so the obvious question is to ask why? The evidence points to because in these two occurrences it means serpent/cobra. The Quran also uses this meaning for shaytan in 37:64-65 (“It is a tree that grows in the midst of Hell. Its sheaths are like the heads of serpents/cobras”).
However, the strongest evidence is the perfect sense it makes within the context of 38:41-44, and what Job was asked to do, all of which are commonly recommended after a snake bite:
1) wash – i.e. the wound and/or oneself, which helps calm oneself, lessen risk of infection and possibly reduce any symptoms of fever.
However, the last point may also mean “do not fail in your oath/duty” after recovered, because Job was likely travelling in the land when this happened to him, probably spreading God’s message, thus God is effectively telling him to not be deterred from continuing in this once recovered.
Another interesting discovery is that even in the story of Job in The Bible, “satan” is referenced as inflicting a physical harm, Chapter 2:7 ” So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot even unto his crown.” After this part, his friends came to him, and implies he was in pain/grief and in a recovery period and did not speak (perhaps on purpose, i.e. “do not incline towards falsehood”), after which he showed signs of despair, like giving up, but eventually his condition was restored, and became blessed again. Quite often, The Quran corrects myths, the story of Job is perhaps just another example.
Some use “stricken”, “covered”, “cast”, “stamped”, “imposed”. This word form is in the perfect passive, meaning the people referenced have received the action expressed in the verb DRB. Mustansir Mir in ‘Verbal Idioms of The Quran’ explains this idiom as: the image is that of pitching a tent, i.e. covering someone over with shame or disgrace; or one splattering a wall with sticky mud, shame and disgrace have been made to “stick” to a person.
Some use “smite”. Translators are divided when it comes to the issue of who is being addressed by this command, even though the verse itself clearly states who is being addressed at the start, and that is the angels/controllers. In terms of what is more likely, it should be noted that this verse is likely addressed to the controllers than to the believers, due to the Arabic construction (i.e. no obvious break in addressee throughout and the first “fa” refers to the controllers, thus the second “fa” most likely does also) and it is in the imperative mood, meaning it is a command to be followed. Thus, it is impractical and illogical to command all believers when in battle to strike above/over the necks and each/every finger from the enemy. Especially since there is no need for doing both! Therefore it more likely refers to the controllers, as we shall now examine:
When your Lord inspires* to the angels/controllers** “I am with you so keep firm those who believed. I shall cast terror into the hearts/minds*** of those who reject; so strike above/over the necks, and strike from them every/each finger/extremity.” [8:12]
*imperfect tense, i.e. an action in the process of being done.
The verse seems to imply then: God will instil/cast terror into the heart/minds of those who reject, and then nature’s forces take their course, resulting in affecting anything above the neck, e.g. the throat/mind/thoughts/senses/breathing and limbs/fingers of the rejecters, i.e. likely causing impairment of their performance. Instilling a sense of terror/fear in someone often results in their mind/thoughts/senses being affected/paralysed, and often results in trembling/shaking, especially transferring to the hands, which would likely result in weak fighting skills (swordsmanship or accuracy of arrows) when in battle. It is also interesting to note that when someone is fearful or anxious/nervous, their throat often becomes dry and precipitates an involuntary gulp reaction, i.e. a manifestation of fear/anxiety. Physical manifestations of anxiety: trouble concentrating, feeling like your mind’s gone blank, dizziness, shortness of breath, muscle tension, fatigue, headaches (source).
The above understanding may also help clarify the confusion some translators have about 8:17 on who really did the defeating and who really did the casting (Arabic: rama, root: Ra-Miim-Ya). As it likely refers to the use of “cast” (Arabic: olqee, root: Lam-Qaf-Ya) done by God in 8:12. Also see 33:26 for comparison. Interestingly, if we take “rama” to mean “throw or cast” as in arrows or pebbles in 8:17 as done by some translators, then obviously the believers did not strike above the necks and each finger, making this interpretation even less likely. As is common, there are conflicting accounts between the traditional tafsirs on 8:17 and what was thrown, e.g. Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi (arrow), and Tafsir al-Jalalayn (pebbles), and Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs (dust). See M.Asad’s note on 8:17 which mentions several possible explanations.
Some use “hit”, “smite”, “strike-off”. Whilst this is the most common translation, it should be noted that it is taken by many as an idiom (e.g. Al-Jalalayn, Ibn Kathir), meaning slay or kill. This seems a plausible interpretation as in a battle of swords and arrows no commander would order his soldiers to aim for the necks alone. Similarly, “put forth” could also be used. Interestingly, Mustansir Mir’s book mentions a similar expression “daraba raqabatahu” and renders it as “to cut off somebody’s head / kill somebody”.
However, upon closer examination, there is an alternative translation, which seems the most likely based on the evidence:
So, when you encounter those who have rejected/concealed, then put forth /bring about the captives; until when you have subdued/overcome them, then strengthen the bind. Then after either grace/favour or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens. That, and had God willed, surely He would have gained victory Himself from them, but He tests some of you with others. And those who get killed in the cause of God, He will never let their deeds be put to waste.
Notes for the above translation:
As a side note, it is interesting to note the difference in phrasing of this verse compared to 8:12, giving further weight to each of them having different meanings as discussed.
Some use “smiting”. In this example, Abraham turned upon man-made idols, breaking them into pieces, see 21:58. Since they were likely stone idols, it is unlikely to mean “beat” as this would be an impractical and very difficult way of breaking/smashing idols, hence no translator used this translation. For similar reasons, literally striking WITH the right hand is also unsuitable, unless understood properly. Even though nearly all translators use “striking” it is important to note that this doesn’t really give the full picture of what likely happened. If someone is right-handed, they can easily lift one statue up and slam it on the ground or against a rock or other statues, in order to break them into pieces. This is the most likely scenario. This interpretation is encapsulated in many sources. The following Classical Arabic dictionaries (Lisan ul 3arab; Al-Sah-haah fil lugha; Al Qamoos al-Muheet and Maqayees allugha) have three renditions:
M. Asad sees the phrase in question as a metonym for “with all his strength”. Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas (see altafsir.com) perhaps recognised a problem with the literal translation, as it states he used an axe! Mustansir Mir says it is an idiom meaning “strike with full force”.
End Notes for Part 1
It has been shown that there is not one clear occurrence in The Quran in which “beat” is the meaning of DRB.
It seems that the default meaning of DRB is “to put/show forth (from one person/place to another person/place)”. This core meaning fits into every occurrence, and thus could be seen as its basic/core meaning. Lane’s Lexicon states that its meaning is “to put into commotion” which is similar. Of course, with various prepositions and subject matter, this basic meaning can be refined and better rendered depending on situation.
It is interesting to note from (11) and (12) that in similar contexts, The Quran switches from a non-literal/physical use of DRB (e.g. indicate) to a literal/physical use of DRB (e.g. strike / put forth / point out), by stating what the physical objects are and their interaction with the preposition “bi (with/by)”.
The only verses in which the preposition “bi” is used with DRB are 24:31, 57:13, 26:63, 2:60, 7:160, 2:73, 38:44, 37:93, and in all these occurrences the meaning is a physical usage:
wal yadribna bi khumurihinna AAala juyoobihinna = and let them draw/cast with their covers over/on their chests [24:31]
It is interesting to note that these are the only two verses with preposition “bi” that require careful study in order to reveal the most likely answer, thus for these two verses it is likely several interpretations may have existed. If physical/literal strike was one interpretation, then these verses could have been used to favour a physical/literal striking in 4:34.
(immediate context before 4:34 is wealth/inheritance, and after is kindness/giving)
And do not envy what God preferred/bestowed with it, some of you over others. For the men is a portion of what they gained, and for the women is a portion of what they gained. And ask God from His favour, God is knowledgeable over all things. [4:32]
“idriboo” has been left untranslated for now.
“supporters/maintainers” (Arabic: qawwamoon, root: Qaf-Waw-Miim) occurs in the same form in:
M. Asad: The expression qawwam is an intensive form of qa’im (“one who is responsible for” or “takes care of” a thing or a person). Thus, qama ala l-mar’ah signifies “he undertook the maintenance of the woman” or “he maintained her” (see Lane’s Lexicon, Volume 8, p2995). The form qa’im can be found in 4:5 and 5:97.
“…bima (with what) faddalaAllahu (God preferred) baAAdahum (some of them) AAala (over) baAAdin* (another/others)…” *masculine
The keyword being “some”. Thus, whichever way it is translated it proves the obvious, that not all men are preferred/bestowed equally, and/or not all men are preferred/bestowed more than women. Also, the term “preferred” is general, unless made specific in context, and in this case may refer to distribution of wealth, e.g. inheritance, as mentioned by similar phrasing in 4:32. Since spending of wealth is mentioned separately the preference likely refers to the fact that men do not have the physical burden of pregnancy hence are in a more favourable position to work/provide by default, or simply that some men are in a position to work whilst other men may not be.
“dutiful/devout” (Arabic: qanit, root: Qaf-Nun-Ta), is used in The Quran to mean “dutiful/devout/obedient to God” in all verses and in some verses is used to describe both man and woman [2:116, 2:238, 3:17, 3:43, 4:34, 16:120, 30:26, 33:35, 33:35, 39:9, 66:5, 66:12]. There is one exception to this, when in 33:31 it states “qanit to God and His messenger”, but this still implies it is in the context of God’s commands. For example, the root Tay-Waw-Ayn is commonly used to mean “obey” in The Quran without the dutiful/devout connotation, thus if obedience to the husband was meant this word would have been more appropriate.
“…guardians/protectors to the unseen/private with what God guarded/protected…” – may be related to what came before, i.e. implying part of being dutiful/obedient is to be this. When used for humans in this way, the unseen (al ghayb) cannot refer to THE unseen, i.e. the same unseen as God knows THE unseen, thus must refer to what is unseen/hidden/private from the people at large and/or her husband, but not to the person addressed. Seems to imply that whatever God ordered to be guarded (i.e. via scripture) in private/unseen, this is what they should guard. Also see 12:52 for an example of betrayal in the ghayb/unseen/private.
“…And as for those women you fear…” (Arabic: takhafoona, root: Kha-Waw-Fa) is in the imperfect form, meaning an action in the process of being done, NOT completed. This should be carefully compared to 4:128 in which this same word is in the perfect form (i.e. an action done/completed). Thus, in 4:34 the fear being felt by the husband is an ongoing thing, about something that may or may not take place. It is important to note that the context strongly implies that the husband does not wish to end the marriage, hence him “fearing” and the conflict-resolution measures that follow.
“uprising” (Arabic: nushuz, root: Nun-Shiin-Zay) is the literal meaning and in context means rising up (above relationship/marital limits).
“…then/so you shall advise them…” (Arabic: ithoo, root: Waw-Ayn-Za), and does not indicate in a harsh manner, as can be seen by its occurrences in The Quran, for example 31:13-19. The “fa” meaning then/so means whatever follows can only apply to the wife in whom the husband fears nushuz, not others. It also implies that what follows is a sequential order of recommendations and not simultaneous.
“…and abandon them in the bed…” (Arabic: hjuroo, root: ha-Jiim-Ra), means forsake, leave off, desert, abandon [see 19:46, 73:10, 74:5].
“so/then if they obeyed you…” (Arabic: ataAAna, root: Tay-Waw-Ayn) is in the perfect form, i.e. an action done/completed.
“And if YOU feared disunion/breach/rift between them…” (Arabic: shiqaqa, root: Shin-Qaf-Qaf), and the “feared” before it is in the perfect form, i.e. an action done/completed. The “you” is in the plural form and can only refer to the community/court/authority/etc.
“…then appoint a judge…” (Arabic: ibAAatho hakaman, roots: Ba-Ayn-Thal, Ha-Kaf-Miim), literally means to put in motion or send/appoint a judge/arbiter. The Arabic confirms that the plural “you” can ONLY refer to someone/something in a position to put this in motion, so it cannot mean either side’s family for example. Also, appointing an arbiter from each side is not a simple task as it would require representations from husband and wife or each side of the family, and suggests the process has become formalised, i.e. judicial. This clearly confirms the court/authority is involved at this stage.
“reconcile” (Arabic: islahan, root: Sad-Lam-Ha), literally means to make right, and has an implication that a wrong or something negative exists to make right.
They ask you for divine instruction concerning women. Say, “God instructs you regarding them, as has been recited for you in the book about the women orphans who you want to marry without giving them what has been ordained/written for them, as well as the powerless children, and stand for orphans with equity. Whatever good you do, God has full knowledge of it. [4:127]
Analysis of 4:128 and context
“And if a woman feared…” (Arabic: khafat, root: Kha-Waw-Fa) is in the perfect form, meaning an action done or completed. In contrast to 4:34, it is not an ongoing fear, it is perfect tense, i.e. the action of fearing happened by the subject. In other words, what follows is what to do if “nushuz or iAAradan” is feared to have taken place or is feared to be happening. This is a crucial distinction. Interestingly, even though it is in the past tense, the word “feared” is still used, and not “found” or “committed” for example, meaning it still does not refer to something obvious/blatant in the wife’s presence, and there is an element of relativity/subjectivity to it. This is an important point to reflect upon.
“…uprising or turning away…” (Arabic: iAAradan, root: Ayn-Ra-Dad) literally means “turning away” and is stated separately from “uprising /nushuz“.
“…then there is no blame upon them that they reconcile between themselves a reconciliation; and the reconciliation is better…”
“miserliness/selfishness” (Arabic: al shshuhha, root: Shiin-Ha-Ha) literally means non-giving / stingy, and is understandable in the context of reconciliation, compromise, possible compensation etc. It also links with 4:127.
“conscientious/forethoughtful” (Arabic: tattaqoo, root: Waw-Qaf-Ya) literally means guarding or guarding oneself by means of something, i.e. by being forethoughtful/conscientious/mindful/preserving of one’s duty, guards oneself from any possible punishment from God.
“…so do not deviate all the deviation…” (Arabic: fala tameeloo kulla al mayli, root: Miim-Ya-Lam), see 4:27 for similar occurrence (Arabic:tameeloo maylan AAatheeman).
“… as one hanging…” (Arabic: ka al muAAallaqati, root: Ayn-Lam-Qaf) literally means like/as the suspended/hanging/stuck.
“And if they separate…” (Arabic: yatafarraqa, root: Fa-Ra-Qaf) is in the dual form.
The sequence for 4:34-35 is as follows:
fear uprising/disloyalty –> advise them –> abandon them in bed –> idriboo them –> authority feared breach/rift thus appoint arbiters –> reconcile or separate/end
To understand the sequence of events, we must fully understand the divorce procedure according to The Quran:
As a side note, the last point is also mentioned in traditional Islamic law and sources, see M.Asad’s note on 2:229. This system would also protect the male if he were to marry a female who only did so for his money or the marital gift then she wished to end the marriage later, because since the contract-breaking party compensates the other partner, she would have to do so accordingly. Similarly, this would protect the female if she were to marry a male who only did so for lustful reasons then wished to end the marriage later, as he would then have to compensate her.
*Also possibly provides a time limit due to a practice of the time in which husbands did not have sex with their wives but also did not divorce them, see 58:1-4, 33:4; i.e. leaving them in a state between marriage and divorce. Similar to what is implied by 4:129.
**And the same goes for the lesser situation of ‘cooling-off’ period. Obviously, the wife would not be removed from the home for the lesser serious ‘cooling-off’ period then brought back just for the post-divorce interim period.
***Inference from 2:226 is that resumption of sexual relations is equated to reconciliation, thus no initiation of divorce. Hence, same proviso for post-divorce interim period, i.e. sex = reconciliation.
From the plural usage in the following verses it can be seen that the court/authority becomes involved post-divorce/talaq:
Thus, from 4:35, a question arises: in this case has the authority/court become involved before or after divorce/talaq? The traditional/common understanding is that divorce/talaq has not taken place, and the dispute can be resolved or the marriage terminated by the arbiters themselves, in conjunction with the court/authority. This information is not explicitly mentioned in The Quran, but it seems the implied and logical sequence of events. What is not explicitly mentioned however is that whilst it is clear the authority has become involved by 4:35 and is appointing arbiters, ishow and why has the authority got involved? How does the authority know the extent of disagreement between the couple? How did they find out there was a problem in the first place? Who told them? To answer these questions, we will now analyse this seemingly unaddressed problem:
It has been argued that idriboohunna in 4:34 means “separate (from) them” (‘Quran: a Reformist Translation’) or “go away from them” (‘The Sublime Quran’ by Laleh Bakhtiar), which interestingly has some support in the traditional commentaries and fits better than “strike/beat”. However, I feel this translation is possible only as long as it does not imply divorce/talaq, as The Quran always uses the word talaq to mean divorce AND since the contract-breaking party compensates the other, it would be unfair for the husband to initiate divorce when he has done nothing wrong in this case. There are other problems with this understanding:
There is one example in The Quran which has aspects similar to the situation in 4:34, shown below:
Previous context is sexual relations between a married couple:
In this situation the husband swears to be away sexually from the wife, up to a period of 4 months, after which, he must return to normal marital relations or divorce. In this example, swearing away is not some sort of routine thing, as it clearly implies the sequence can end in the husband divorcing his wife. And of course, we can reasonably assume if a couple are happy with each other sexual relations would be the norm. A maximum of 4 months is likely given as it protects the affected spouse from being in this unfavourable position for a long time with no resolution, e.g. see 58:1-4, 33:4, and similar to what is implied in 4:129.
Another example from The Quran in which events are mentioned prior to a divorce can be found in 66:1-5. In this example, the wives of the prophet disclosed a private matter, then it goes on to say they should ask God for forgiveness, but if they band together against the prophet, then this situation may lead to divorce. Interestingly, wives banding together could be considered a form of uprising/nushuz, but the options given here are only: repent/amend or divorce. Again, no mention or implication of beating/striking.
An interesting example also appears in 58:1-4 in which a woman argues with the prophet complaining about her husband, and how the husband has estranged/alienated her by claiming her to be as his mother’s back, which was a practice of the time, making the wife unlawful for himself but also not technically divorcing her allowing her to remarry, i.e. leaving her stuck/suspended.
This understanding would make The Quran cater for all possibilities, giving this view further weight. The onus is on whoever is in the wrong to either amend or initiate divorce/release, and this gives us the following theoretical possibilities:
For the court/authority to be involved at situation 7 also makes logical and practical sense because in a situation of unfairness a court/authority is needed for mediation/resolution. Since whichever partner initiates divorce/release may have to provide compensation, a mechanism must be in place to solve the problem if the partner in the wrong refuses to do so, most probably in order to protect their wealth. This link to wealth also perfectly explains the context surrounding both verses, 4:34 and 4:128, and why neither partner who is potentially in the wrong is initiating divorce/release, i.e. the wife in 4:34 and the husband in 4:128. It is recommended to re-read the verses bearing this understanding in mind. As we can see a coherent, logical and practical explanation is easily formed with this understanding. It should be noted that the next step after bed separation is authority involvement (e.g. divorce is made official) in 2:226-227, which matches the order in 4:34-35 and maintains internal consistency.
Also, however the court/authority came to find out about the couple in 4:34-35, how did the court/authority come to find out about the couple in 58:1-4 in the exact same situation of breach/rift, i.e. no resolution? She cited the husband to the authority. If the traditional position somehow implies the couple used a different method in 4:34 to make the authority aware of the situation, then they have to explain why the difference between the two examples, without causing a logical and practical inconsistency. For example, in “K. al nasikh wa-l-mansukh” by Abu Ubaid al-Qasim b. Sallam (d. 224AH/839), one of the earliest works in its field, it comments on the tafsir/interpretation of 4:35 and says “the story establishes the principle that the spouses may withdraw their invitation to the authorities to act”. Thus, it is clear from the traditional commentary the spouse would inform the court/authority of the problem, before they intervened. This provides a perfect link with DaRaBa and all points to one answer: in a situation of no reconciliation and the partner in the wrong will not initiate divorce/release, the step prior to the authority intervening is for one partner to cite/indicate the other (to the authority).
Interestingly, it is often noted that for the husband, iAAradan/alienation by the wife is not mentioned in 4:34, yet it is mentioned in 4:128 when done by the husband, but if we imagine that the husband is trying to advise/counsel his wife and it does not work, then abandons her in bed, making her reflect further, and this does not work, then this does imply an element of alienation by the wife to her husband, i.e. she is not listening to him, she is unresponsive, not compromising, they are growing apart. This would make the two situations much more alike in comparison.
Since shiqaqa means breach/rift without talaq/divorce in 4:35, then arbitration should be called for in 4:128-129, as this is a clear example of breach/rift IF the situation continues as is, but arbitration is not automatically called for: why? This identifies why The Quran states in 4:128 “…then there is no blame upon them that they reconcile between themselves a reconciliation, and the reconciliation is better”, i.e. better than an irreconcilable breach/rift between them. As it implies at this point, others would be involved or at least can get involved if requested, but there is no blame upon them that they attempt to reconcile between themselves first.
The only difference between the two situations is the husband is fearing (imperfect tense, i.e. action in the process of being done, incomplete) in 4:34 and taking conflict-resolution steps, and in 4:128 the wife feared (perfect tense, i.e. action done/completed), so this logically implies once the spouse reaches the stage of feared a wrongdoing has happened or is happening THEN others can be involved BUT there is no blame upon them if they reconcile between themselves first. In fact, it is effectively a recommendation prioritising reconciliation. In other words, do not hastily escalate the situation and get the authority involved. As a side note, in addition to logic and context, this also provides more evidence that to take one’s time in trying to resolve the situation, i.e. do not execute all 3 steps (advise, abandon in bed, idriboo) in 4:34 all at once.
For sake of clarity, let’s then re-arrange the steps to show the sequence for 4:128 if the husband didn’t do the right thing and left her hanging/stuck/suspended (i.e. no resolution):
A perfect match with 4:34!
In both 4:34 and 4:128, the spouses try to reconcile first, and if it does not work one spouse cites the other/situation to the authority who can then get involved. Thus, the sequence of events in 4:34 and 4:128 are identical. All the information reinforces and compliments each other. Interestingly, there may be no other explanation that is possible that could provide such equality and coherence, i.e. idriboo MUST mean “cite/indicate, point out, declare, put/show forth” otherwise it will create inconsistencies, and any inconsistencies would have to be explained.
With regard to inconsistencies, one of the most important criteria to appreciate when trying to understand the message of The Quran is to bear in mind its rather imposing and impressive claim:
Do they not ponder on The Quran? If it was from any other than God they would have found in it much variance/inconsistency/contradiction.[4:82]
We will now examine other information from The Quran itself to see if this helps us determine the more likely answer (beating/striking or something else).
The meaning of “beat” in 4:34 is problematic with the following verse as it is highly unlikely a peaceful conflict resolution step such as arbitration would be recommended after allegedly permitting physical violence. In addition, 4:36 discusses and emphasises being kind/good to all, and is linked to 4:34-35 by “wa/and”, which makes this context even less favourable to the traditional understanding.
To “fear” something may happen or is happening does NOT prove anything, i.e. that a wrongdoing has actually taken place. So if equivalence is required for an actual wrongdoing [16:126, 42:40], then it cannot be more for a suspected wrongdoing. If there were any imbalance in this in The Quran, this would make it logically/conceptually inconsistent and therefore would be tantamount to an internal contradiction. This is unacceptable.
It advises to use discernment, clarify, investigate information before acting upon it [see 4:94, 17:36, 49:6] but there is no mention of doing this in 4:34 before allegedly beating/striking one’s wife, which would be highly unusual.
Even during open war, believers are ordered to be compassionate, offer protection if requested, not transgress limits, and this is with people who were potentially trying to kill them [see 2:190, 9:6, 16:126, 42:41-42] so to even suggest having more compassion in this case than with one’s own wife would be unusual.
4:34 implies husband wants to reconcile, proven by him undertaking a series of conflict-resolution steps and “if you fear”, thus it is unlikely he would do anything that would harm his chances of achieving this goal, i.e. to beat his wife.
2:229 addresses the community and shows there is potentially blame if something is taken away from the wife in terms of dower, unless they BOTH agree. This and other places in The Quran tell us it is a sin do so, but if we assume beating is allowed then how is the community meant to be satisfied the wife did indeed agree to give up some of her dower of her own freewill? Quite simply, they cant. Thus, it is unlikely The Quran would recommend a course of action which makes its other principles hard or perhaps impossible to confirm or follow. It is therefore highly unlikely beating would be allowed.
3:134 The ones who spend in prosperity and adversity, and who repress anger, and who pardon the people; God loves the good doers.
Post divorce during interim period 65:6 “…and do not harm/afflict them to straiten/distress/hardness on them…”
Further, if 4:34 allows wife beating then this means when The Quran says do not straiten them, or reconcile with them to cause harm etc, this implies to do such a thing would be to commit a wrongdoing thus would give the wife a legitimate cause for divorce or compensation, i.e. The Quran recommends a course of action which provides women with a valid reason for divorce, giving a logical and conceptual inconsistency. To deny this would require some artificial demarcation to be made-up of what injustice or unfair treatment is and why the wife cannot seek requital. Interestingly, in the alleged sayings of prophet Muhammad (i.e. Traditional Ahadith) he is said to react exactly in this way and gives permission for the wife to retaliate in the same manner upon hearing a husband struck his wife [possibly due to his understanding of 16:126, 22:60]. Of course, the traditional accounts dismiss his reaction by saying he was wrong in this and 4:34 was revealed showing that a husband could apparently beat his wife. Suspect stories like these are often found in Traditional Ahadith when unusual (i.e. non-Quranic) beliefs/practices are put forward, e.g. kissing of the black stone is extremely unusual for a strictly monotheistic anti-idolatry faith such as islam but to explain this practice away the narrator says he wouldn’t have done it himself if he never saw the prophet do it, or when Abu Huraira tells Umar of the testimony of faith in which he includes Muhammad’s name Umar knocks him to the floor for uttering such a thing but then Abu Huraira produces sandals from the prophet implying this is his evidence for the legitimacy of what he is saying. There are many similarly dubious reported sayings in the Traditional Hadith books.
Is it a coincidence that the other more obvious examples in The Quran of a person DRB to another person (2:73 and 38:44) have been severely mistranslated and the distortion just so happens to favour the meaning of striking/beating? In a misogynist environment, which The Quran was revealed in, it is possible that not so long after initial revelation the interpretation of these verses became twisted in favour of returning such justification for men to oppress women. The evidence of the do not beat one’s wife mixed within the traditional narrations/hadith shows possibly that they were not able to eliminate the evidence against it completely.
If The Quran is as it claims: complete [6:114-115, 18:10], clear [2:99, 6:126, 7:52, 11:1, 44:2], fully detailed [12:111, 16:89], contains all necessary examples [17:12, 18:54] etc then if DRB means beat/strike in 4:34, then it isn’t clarified at all, i.e. with what? where? severity? limits? Neglecting to mention these things would be highly unusual for The Quran. Is there any other example of a physical punishment like this which is not clarified? Is there any other example of a physical punishment that is issued by individuals without evidence rather than through a court/authority with evidence?
Another argument is 41:53 etc as it says we can verify the truth of what The Quran says in the world around us, but what evidence is there of effective conflict resolution in marriage by beating until agreement or symbolically striking with a small stick? (as is one interpretation amongst Traditional commentators, first put forward by Shafi about 200 hundred years after prophet Muhammad’s death) Further, according to the sequence in 4:34, the steps imply an escalation, thus if DRB is symbolic striking (as some suggest) this makes little sense as to how this would resolve the situation, and why it is an escalation. Even if this method could be shown to work, at most, it could only work in a minority of cases.
O you who believe, it is not lawful/allowed for you to inherit the women forcibly/unwillingly, and nor that you hinder/prevent/constrain/straiten them to take away some of what you gave them unless they commit* a clear lewdness. And live/consort with them in kindness, so if you dislike them, then perhaps you may dislike something and God makes in it much good. [4:19]
4:20 proves that if a husband wishes to replace one wife with another, they cannot take away anything of the dower. This reinforces and proves 4:19 refers to making life difficult for the wife, so the husband can take back a part of what he has given her of the dower and the only way that can be done is if the couple agree that they may not uphold God’s limits [2:229] or the wife releases herself [60:10]. So this verse refers to the husband treating his wife badly in some way so that she agrees to do either of these, which of course would be unjust. This causes a severe problem for the possibility that in 4:34 it means wife beating, as this would be a clear contradiction in The Quran. To further reinforce this understanding, the verse clearly states itself that it is about a husband being with a wife he may dislike, but there may be good that he does not realise. The next verse then discusses divorce which the next logical step for a husband who dislikes his wife.
Logically, if a partner is not allowed to straiten/constrain his wife to take something away from what he gave her (unless she commits clear lewdness), then if he fears or suspects lewdness, he must do less, NOT more, e.g. beat. To do so would be a contradiction.
And if you have divorced the women, and they have reached their required interim period, then either you remain together with fairness/kindness*, or part ways with fairness/kindness. And do not retain them harmfully that you transgress; whoever does so is doing wickedness to his soul; and do not take God’s revelations lightly. And remember God’s blessings towards you, and what was sent down to you of the scripture and the wisdom, He warns you with it. And be aware of God and know that God is Knowledgeable in all things. [2:231]
This shows one cannot reconcile with them to harm them, but somehow are we meant to believe the traditional interpretation that prior to divorce, it is allowed to harm them by beating, as in 4:34? In which case, The Quran would be saying a wife who has been officially divorced then the couple gets back together, should be treated better than a wife not divorced! Where is the logic/consistency in this? There is none, and would effectively promote women to choose divorce over marriage, and thus such an understanding of 4:34 is significantly problematic. Such an interpretation could be tantamount to ordering munkar (bad) and deterring from maruf (good), which is the definition of a munafiq (hypocrite) according to 9:67.
And when you (plural) divorced the women, then they reached their term/time, then do not prevent/hinder/constrain/straiten them (F) that they marry their partners/mates, if they mutually agreed/accepted between them with the kindness/fairness… [2:232]
Some say the underlined part refers to ‘former husbands’ other say it is ‘other partners’, some translations do not clarify.
If “other partners/mates”, the reasoning is as follows:
The reason I bring up this clarification is that The Quran implies mutual agreement is required between the two before marriage, giving an equal footing to each side. Thus the likelihood of any male-female dominance interpretation elsewhere is reduced and/or eliminated. It is interesting to note that traditional commentators (exclusively male) often opt for the interpretation that favours men. It is not uncommon to find a repeated pattern of misogynistic interpretations amongst translators, thus it is fairly clear that this was the environment the early interpretations were exposed to and thus based on. In such a situation, it makes it more likely that 4:34 has been interpreted to mean beat/strike even though the evidence clearly suggests otherwise. In fact, no traditional commentator that I have read uses The Quran itself to justify such a view, which is very noteworthy.
“And he entered the city unexpectedly, without being noticed by the people. He found in it two men who were fighting, one was from his own tribe, and the other was from his enemy’s. So the one who was from his own tribe called on him for help against his enemy. Moses then punched/struck him (fa wakazahu musaa), and killed him. He said: This is from the work of the devil; he is an enemy that clearly misleads. [28:15]
It is interesting to notice here that the verb ‘daraba’ is not used at all when it is obviously about a physical act of hitting/striking. It is not “fa darabahu musa” but “fa wakazahu musa”.
What if the man is too weak to beat his wife? Is this man apparently disadvantaged by The Quran in such a case? Not to mention, some females can easily beat up males. The traditional/common interpretation artificially inserts an inequality in that a woman apparently cannot beat/strike her man. As far as I’m aware, no explanation for this is given by most (perhaps all) translators. Some might suggest that for a wife to strike her husband is ill-advised because generally men are stronger than women thus he could retaliate and harm her more, but this could equally be applied to the man! These days, a woman simply needs to take a baseball bat to him in his sleep. Perhaps they will then argue that is why it suggests the husband to abandon them in bed first! In any case, many women can beat up men easily, so I do not think this reasoning has any validity, or at least not enough to be a point for consideration.
Counter evil with good [2:148, 28:54, 13:22, 16:126, 23:96, 41:34] – thus counteracting suspected evil with physical harm would be contradictory, if done in 4:34.
If DRB in 4:34 means “beat/strike”, this would be the only example of husband as: judge, jury and executioner; the only example of guilty verdict based on a fear/suspicion; the only clear example of non-equivalent punishment; the only example of punishment for no actual/proven crime etc. These are fundamental concepts core to The Quran and cannot be put aside, unless they can be explained away without causing logical/conceptual inconsistencies.
If it is only the husband who fears disloyalty/uprising/infidelity, or even if he is sure of it, and if there are no witnesses/evidence, then he must follow the procedure in 24:6-9 and cannot take it upon himself to administer any punishment. Since a “fear/suspicion”, as in 4:34, is certainly less than being sure, it also cannot warrant any punishment. Anything to the contrary would be an internal inconsistency in The Quran’s ruling.
In 65:1, it clearly states that the husband can only evict the wife from the home if she has committed a clear/evident lewdness/immorality (fahish mubayyin), thus logically one must do less punishment for a suspected immorality as in 4:34. Thus, the only logical position left for the traditional/common understanding is to say wife battery is less harsh than eviction, thus logically acceptable. Of course, this subjective opinion has no basis in The Quran, and is a forced position resulting from their view.
The Quran does not recommend us to solve our conflicts by violence but peacefully when possible. Is there any other example in The Quran in which non-violence is met with violence?
IF the traditional view is if beating doesn’t work, then it moves onto next step which is arbitration this would imply the authority decides upon “ok, you have beat them enough, we feared no reconciliation, now it is time to appoint arbitration!”. How is this even practically possible? Do they inspect the beatings? Do they give a time limit on beating? Do they take the husband’s word for it when it comes to how much beating is enough and how long for and if it was done in an appropriate manner? These questions are of course impractical, unenforceable and somewhat nonsensical.
The traditional suggested sequence of events follows a somewhat unusual pattern in that:
Now let us look at the verses discussing the relationship between male and female, to see if wife beating fits:
Recompense for a crime/sin/injury is its equivalence, but whoever pardons and makes right, then his reward is upon God. He does not like the wrongdoers/unjust. [42:40]
Not equal are the good and the bad response. You shall resort to the one which is better. Thus, the one who used to be your enemy* may become your best friend. [41:34]
These verses show that with an enemy one should resort to action that is better, and even if one considers a spouse an enemy, one should forgive etc. Thus, if we give an example of two wives: one in whom fears uprising/disloyalty, and the other is considered an enemy, it is recommended to forgive the enemy wife whilst the suspected wife should be beaten, according to the traditional/common understanding. This would mean a harsher punishment for a lesser offence, giving another conceptual inconsistency.
Examples of unrighteous/rebellious wives in The Quran, such as the wives of Noah and Lot but no mention of striking/beating them is given.
The traditionally accepted view amongst Muslims is that verse 4:34 allows wife beating. Within this understanding, there are various shades of interpretation, depending on school of thought, sect or scholar, e.g. one can only beat lightly, it is only a last resort and thoroughly disproved of, can only be done in a certain way, can only be done once, it is a symbolic beating not causing actual harm etc. Some have even used this verse and traditional sources to sanction wife beating for other than what the context of the verse discusses.
We will now review the evidence FOR wife beating:
1) Word meaning and preposition usage: the word in question is “idriboo” (Arabic root: Dad-Ra-Ba) and specific meanings are indicated by way of prepositions. Thus, it is often claimed that DRB + object (e.g. person) only means one thing and that is strike/hit/beat.
Is this really true? Based on part 1, as discussed previously, let us look to The Quran:
Thus, this claim is only based on a wrong or poor interpretation of some verses of The Quran, most notably 2:73, 8:12, 8:50, 38:44, 47:4, and 47:27.
2) Early understandings: early interpretations/tafsirs, which were written by males, say it means “beat/strike/scourge”, e.g. see altafsir.com, qtafsir.com
All base their understanding on traditional narrations/ahadith. It is very important to note that NO commentator who puts forward the meaning of beat/strike uses The Quran itself as evidence for their view.
With regard to the origin of 4:34, various well-known commentators such as Tabari, Ibn Kathir, Razi, Baidawi, Qurtubi have different variations surrounding the context in which it was revealed, e.g. because of whom, or which incident led to it. Tabari and Razi reference a traditional narration/hadith for their reason, but its chain of transmission does not go back to prophet Muhammad or even a companion of his (source). Interestingly, nearly all commentators mention prophet Muhammad initially ruled in favour of the wife in cases of wife beating, but was apparently over ruled when 4:34 was revealed, to which he allegedly said “I wanted one thing, but God wanted another”. Qurtubi even states this was the reason 20:114 was revealed, yet other sources cite chapter 20 to be earlier revelation than chapter 4.
Ibn Abbas (alleged companion of prophet Muhammad) gave his view on the severity of hitting, and said it is as with a small stick, e.g. siwak. The famous jurist, Al Shafi (about 200 hundred years after prophet Muhammad’s death), interpreted it as a “miswak” which is a small stick used for cleaning the teeth. Another famous commentator, Razi, quotes another early jurist who said it can be a coiled scarf (mindil malfuf). It is hard to understand how striking in such a symbolic manner would help bring about resolution however. The very fact that early commentators showed variation in meaning strongly suggests there was no coherent view.
al-Ghazali, a famous commentator, mentions suspecting a wife of something based on conjecture is sinful! And when referring to 4:34 he mentions wife beating (albeit not harshly or leaving a mark) but also mentions that the wife should be separated gradually, in increasing steps, and even cites an example in which the prophet apparently separated from his wife for a month. They key point is that even though Ghazali mentions the process of separating from the wife gradually with respect to 4:34, he somehow interjects wife beating even though this has nothing to do with separating gradually. Also, if the wife is suspected of doing something disloyal not in the husband’s presence then leaving her alone for 30 days doesn’t seem to make much sense. Also, a husband’s duty of maintenance of the wife/family would still be present, thus abandoning them for such a period may not be practical.
It should also be noted that these commentators also give variations in understanding on other aspects of this verse, i.e. there is no coherent view. Also, not all early commentaries were reviewed as there are many (at least several hundred*), thus only the more popular ones were selected.
3) Traditional Narrations (ahadith):
The most commonly cited traditional narration/hadith about wife beating references the prophet Muhammad’s alleged speech during his farewell hajj:
Guillaume’s translation of Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasulallah”:
Al Tirmithi (no. 276) reported that Amro bin Al Ahwas had attended the Farewell hajj and heard the messenger of Allah say: “Lo! My last recommendation to you is that you should treat women well. Truly they are your helpmates, and you have no right over them beyond that – except if they commit a manifest indecency (fahisha mubina). If they do, then refuse to share their beds and beat them without indecent violence (fadribuhunna darban ghayra mubarrih). Then, if they obey you, do not show them hostility any longer. Lo! you have a right over your women and they have a right over you. Your right over your women is that they not allow whom you hate to enter your bed nor your house. While their right over them is that you treat them excellently in their garb and provision.”
Two versions discuss beating them because of committing “fahisha mubina” (open/clear/evident immorality/lewdness/indecency), whilst the other two do not mention this. It should be strongly noted that “fahisha mubina” is NOT the context of 4:34 in which the husband fears (imperfect) such a thing, and it clearly mentions the ghayb/unseen/private, i.e. not open/clear/evident. This clearly implies, according to these two narrations, that in 4:34 a husband cannot beat his wife because these narrations are not applicable, which is the opposite of the traditional/common understanding! If a verse had to be chosen which most closely resembles the content of this narration it would be 4:15-19, and therefore any punishment may have been in reference to that situation.
Qurtubi and Tabari both mention tying women up in the home in relation to 4:34, even though this is not mentioned in the verse. The only potential correlation of restricting women in their homes could be because of proven fahish/indecency mentioned in 4:15, and again in prophet Muhammad’s alleged speech in his farewell hajj it makes reference to such fahish. Ibn Kathir also makes mention of a husband allowed to annoy his wife if she commits a proven fahish, which could be related. Thus, there seems to be an element of overlap in interpretation, which can result in some confusion as to which verses from The Quran these traditional narrations refer to or what they have been applied to. In fact, a strong case could be made that there has been a misapplication of these traditional narrations, and if corrected, would perhaps resolve the many problems in this interpretation.
The traditional narrations/ahadith contain a mix of narrations: some alleged sayings state that prophet Muhammad disproved of beating one’s wife in any way whilst on other occasions he apparently allowed it, some say beat but not on the face, some not severely, sometimes stating husbands who do such a thing are not the best among the believers, sometimes saying the best are those who treat their women/family well, Aisha claims Muhammad did not hit a woman but reports in another narration he struck her and caused her pain etc.
Some references are shown below for the traditional narrations (click this link to read in full):
www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/hadith/abudawud/011.sat.html#011.2137 (do not strike her on the face)
Firstly, it is important to note a distinction, under the root entry: a common meaning of DRB given in Classical Arabic dictionaries is to strike with an instrument (e.g. sword, whip, cane), if it is used alone (i.e. with no prepositions/where/what/how). This seems to be its meaning by default in this construction. Interestingly, this provides a possible reason as to why some early jurists may have interpreted DRB in 4:34 to mean hit with a small stick, toothbrush stick, scarf (i.e. they needed an instrument to DRB with in this construction).
In the entry for DRB, none reference 4:34 of The Quran and therefore do not give the meaning of beat/hit/strike in this case.
In the first Classical Arabic Dictionary: Kitab Al Ayn by Khaleel Ibn Ahmad, no entries mean “to hit/strike”; some mean, indirectly: to strike with a sword: click for reference. This could imply the meaning of literally/physically striking with/without an instrument was not a common meaning for the time, or at least not the most common, and only later did it become so, as recorded in later dictionaries.
Conversely, WKZ (also used in The Quran), signifies “to punch, to strike” with no instruments by default, but can be used with an instrument if specified.
Ibn Manzour in Lisaan al Arab lists what I think is an important entry: “DRB: used for any action except a few; he DRB in trade, he DRB in the earth, he DRB in the way of God” etc. This implies the word DRB had a very wide application in usage. Similar to this is also stated in Kitab al Ayn.
The second and third verb forms of DRB are intensive and reciprocal, thus they better signify “to beat” and “to exchange blows, to fight” respectively.
To beat is repeated blows/hits/strikes, hence this meaning should be seen more as an interpretation not an actual meaning or true/literal translation. Lane’s Lexicon states “daraba” on its own means to strike once. It is possible this is also one of the reasons some saw it as a symbolic strike with a stick since by itself it can mean this and it is only once. Similarly, the later Arabic dictionary al-Munjid restricts its usage to instruments, and also states it means to strike once.
ضرب عبد الله زيداً / Abdullah struck Zaid
However, due to this word’s meaning, in this context the default meaning would be struck with sword in battle/war, e.g. killed. It is not explained as beat/hit.
The dictionaries seem to suggest the meaning “strike/beat” does not stand for “daraba” by itself. Every strike or “darba” has a different word, depending on what part to strike and using what. The verb “daraba” by itself means to strike with a sword, cane or whip; and this is from all arabic dictionaries. That is most likely why they say in the beginning of the entry: al darb: known (i.e. its meaning is known, thus it is not explained). There is DaaRaBa (form III): whip each other; a scorpion darabat (form I)= sting; a wound= hurts; dariiba (passive participle): whatever is struck with a sword. The word “known” implies it is what’s known to linguists, thus, based on the evidence in the entries: DaRaBa on its own means to strike with a sword/stick as in a quarrel or in war. The abbaside poet (al-Mutannabi) says:
(on a light, slim “horse” I passed between two big armies until I (darabtu) amongst the waves of death)
“he STT him with a stick” this is given the meaning “he DRB him with a stick”
Interestingly, under the entry of nushuz it only cites the part of nushuz: when a woman rejects her husband. It continues: “he is also nashez as per verse 4:128 also, and if he stays away from her, beat/harmed her (darabaha)”. This is interesting because if DRB is cited under nushuz, then if we apply this meaning to The Quran, it will cause a contradiction if “beat her” is chosen in 4:34, i.e. God suggests a solution to the husband to prevent a marriage ending, i.e. the steps in 4:34, but this step (e.g. DRB/beat) would give the wife a legitimate reason for ending the marriage according to 4:128 as this behaviour is nushuz. In other words, God’s suggested solution to prevent a marriage ending gives the women a legitimate reason for ending the marriage. Of course, this is highly unlikely. This information can be found in both Lisaan al Arab and Al-Sihah fil lugha.
All in all, it would seem that DRB is an expansive root, with the first form used to reflect a wide range of meanings. One of these meanings could very well be “to hit/strike another person” as demonstrated by their explanation of words from other roots, however with its wide variation in meaning, somewhat conflicting information, no specific reference to 4:34 and effectively zero comparable examples it is far from conclusive that this is its meaning in this verse. In such a situation, The Quran should be used as the criterion which clarifies usage and meaning.
Note: Before I begin this summary, I would like to state that I did not expect to discover what I did when I undertook this study. In fact, the meaning of “put/show forth, declare/cite/indicate” for 4:34 was a meaning I had read, but did not seriously consider. I only did so about halfway through my study, when the evidence began to accumulate and by the end it had become overwhelming, and I was forced to reject any and all previous understandings that I may have had. I simply could not ignore what The Quran was telling me. For the purposes of full disclosure, it should be noted that at one point I did consider “strike/beat” as a possibility, but that was until I did a complete re-analysis of the occurrences of DRB in The Quran.
A detailed analysis of every occurrence of DRB in The Quran showed there is not one clear occurrence of “beat”, and in almost all cases, this meaning is problematic or would not make sense.
No Classical Arabic dictionary gives “beat” in an example without specifying where/what/how/etc. They do not provide one example in which DRB appears with no where/what/how meaning anything other than “strike (with sword/whip/cane, kill in battle)”. None reference 4:34 at all.
If DRB is taken to mean “beat/hit/strike” in 4:34 it causes significant problems logically and conceptually, and in a few instances causes contradiction within The Quran. This is also probably why no Quran commentator, past or present, uses The Quran itself to justify this view.
The internal example of 58:1-4 provides perfect explanation and correlation for 4:128-129, and also 4:34-35. All other evidence within The Quran reinforces this finding. The understanding put forward in this work is also the only understanding to provide a logical and sequential link from 4:34 to 4:35.
All examples of DRB with a direct object and no prepositions mean “put/show forth”, providing internal consistency of usage. And when used in the same way as 4:34, i.e. applied to a person in 43:57 and 2:73 it means the exact same thing. In 43:57 Jesus is the second object of the verb DuRiBa, and in this verse it is in the perfect passive form meaning the object received the action expressed in the verb, i.e. Jesus received DRB, i.e. Jesus was put/shown forth / cited/indicated (as an example) by those disputing. In 43:57 “mathala” could be considered an adverbial accusative that names or modifies the action of the verb. So the type of “darab” of the object “Jesus” is that of an “example”. As we can clearly see a literal/physical striking of Jesus is nonsensical, and if we remove this modification of the verb, this shows when applied to a person as the object DRB on its own means to cite/indicate or put/show forth. A perfect match with 4:34 and 2:73.
There is inconsistency in early understandings regarding the origin of the verse, its interpretation, and significant overlap with other verses etc but it could be argued they agree on the basic points. Not all early commentaries have been reviewed, only the more well known ones. The evidence suggests that traditional narrations have been incorrectly associated with 4:34, and are more suited to 4:15-19.
Clear evidence exists in the traditional narrations/ahadith AND Classical Arabic dictionaries showing that if “beat/hit” is chosen it would cause contradiction amongst these sources.
In a sheer balance of probabilities as to which view is correct, it is clear The Quran says one thing, and non-Quranic sources (traditional narrations, early commentators, Arabic dictionaries) suggest another albeit with variation/inconsistency. If “hit/beat/strike” is chosen then the only possibility, without causing a contradiction with The Quran, is if it is done with absolutely no pain caused, i.e. symbolic. Anything more would be a criminal act. This may explain why some early commentators/jurists chose to interpret it in a symbolic way. Of course, this is not the meaning The Quran overwhelmingly points to, but it is the only viable option left for the traditional/common position.
Knowing this, it could be said that The Quran used the most profound and distinguishing of word choices in 4:34 and surely God would not choose His Words in a haphazard manner. If multiple options exist, then a word meaning must be chosen that is consistent with the spirit of The Quran and certainly not one that contradicts its content [see 39:18]. We must remember that a book is sometimes only as good as its reader. Whatever disposition a person has will determine HOW they understand The Quran. Their moral convictions will determine what they will get from it and how they will interpret it, what they choose to apply. More importantly, it will determine which definitions of any given word they will gravitate to and seek to uphold. In part, this is the beauty of The Quran: it can bring out what is already within us: our true selves.
I would like to end with reflecting on the concept inherent in the traditional/common understanding of 4:34, and that is to punish another based on a fear/suspicion because one is in a position of power to do so. An act inherently unjust to the ordinary person, but when it comes to practices in the name of a religion, people will commit the most heinous of acts, no matter how irrational. But how wicked is such an act? Let us all turn to The Quran for an answer.
And God judges with the truth, while those they call on besides Him do not judge with anything. Certainly, God is the Hearer, the Seer.
Would God sanction believers to act in a manner that in any way could be likened to the greatest of all tyrants?
I call upon all my dear brothers and sisters in faith to reflect upon this information and the guidance given to us in The Quran, for if one does not read and try to apply a guide, then one cannot expect to be guided. If one does not utilise light to illuminate their surroundings then they will not be able to see. If one does not open themselves up to receive, then they will remain closed. It is that simple. The time has come to free ourselves from the chains and shackles that we have built for ourselves like the past communities before us who corrupted God’s Words with man’s words, holding us back from walking the path God intended for us: to promote peace, freedom, betterment and justice for all. Surely, such a community would be worthy of God’s blessings. No community can succeed if they oppress half of their number, no community can succeed if they shackle half their potential, and no community can succeed if they turn away from God’s message. This is God’s promise, and He will surely fulfil His part, the time has come to fulfil ours.
And We have cited in this Quran every example for the people. But man was always most argumentative. [18:54]
Shall I seek other than God as a judge when He has sent down to you the book fully clarified? Those whom We have given the book know it is sent down from your Lord with truth; so do not be of those who have doubt. And the word of your Lord is completed with truth and justice, there is no changing His words. He is the Hearer, the Knower. And if you obey the majority of those on Earth they will lead you away from God’s path; that is because they follow conjecture, and they themselves do nothing but guess. [6:114-115]
God puts forth the example of a man who has for his masters several partners that dispute with each other, and a man depending wholly upon one man. Are they the same? Praise be to God; most of them do not know. Surely, you will die, and they will die. Then, on the Day of Resurrection, you will quarrel at your Lord. Who then is more wicked than one who lies about God, and denies the truth when it comes to him? Is there not in Hell an abode for those who deny the truth? [39:29-32]
May God grant us the strength to overcome the greatest of all obstacles: ourselves.
God was not to change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves… [13:11]
The men are supporters/maintainers of the women with what God bestowed on some of them over others and with what they spent of their money, so the righteous women are dutiful; guardians to the unseen with what God guarded. And as for those women you fear their disloyalty, then: (first) you shall advise them, and (second) abandon them in the bed, and (lastly) cite them. So if they obeyed you, then seek not against them a way; Truly, God is High, Great. [4:34]
This work would not have been possible without the many people who have contributed to this topic (both for and against), and without the resources now available to anyone wishing to study The Quran in detail. For these stepping stones, I am indebted and truly thankful. If my work has helped strengthen the foothold of future generations who seek to walk the path, then all praise is due to God.
This work reflects my personal understanding, as of February 10th, 2010. Seeking knowledge is a continual process and I will try to improve my understanding of the signs within ‘the reading’ (al quran) and out with it, unless The God wills otherwise. All information is correct to the best of my knowledge only and thus should not be taken as a fact. One should always seek knowledge and verify for themselves when possible: 17:36, 20:114, 35:28, 49:6, 58:11. If God willed, the outcome of this work will be beneficial.
All comments are welcome, especially corrections, please use the feedback form.
And do not follow what you have no knowledge of; surely the hearing, the sight and the heart, all of these, shall be questioned about that. [17:36]