In some parts of the Middle East and other areas of the Muslim world, a woman may be beaten severely by her husband or male relatives for something as ridiculous as not having dinner prepared on time. It is a common theme amongst some male Muslims to beat their women whenever they think it is deserved and they can rest assured that the entire Islamic Scholars will be right behind them for support.

Although this may sound bizarre, the Muslim Scholars have told people that God has ordained in His holy book that women may be beaten if their male counter-part is not pleased with them. The verse that Muslims claim gives a green light to commit violence against their women-folk is the following:

[Yusufali Translation]: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear "Nushooz" disloyalty and ill-conduct , admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) "Idribuhun" beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)." (4:34)

If indeed God had commanded men to beat their `disloyal` women, then we have no course of action but to `hear & obey`...However, there is more than meets the eye in accepting the common interpretation of verse 4:34 which is the subject of this article.

The Quran is best studied by placing all similar subject words/verses together (this approach is called `Tarteel` and has been advised by the Almighty in 73:4).

There are two key words that are central to deriving the correct meaning for this topic:

  1. Nushuz (translated above `disloyalty & ill-conduct)
  2. Idribuhun (translated above as `beat them`).

The first word `Nushooz` will give us an understanding of what the subject is all about...Is this about a woman who is disloyal and in ill-conduct (an adulteress or temptress perhaps?) Or, has this word been mistranslated based on a backdrop of social ignorance and male domination?

Nushooz means: `to rise / go above`.

This can be seen clearly in 58:11 where people are told to `Nushooz` from the place of gathering/sitting.

[Yusufali Translation]: O ye who believe! When ye are told to make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room: (ample) room will Allah provide for you. And when ye are told "Inshuzoo" *to rise up, rise up Allah will rise up, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted (mystic) Knowledge. And Allah is well-acquainted with all ye do." (58:11)

* Notice how our translator [Yusufali] has given the correct translation in the verse, whereas in 4:34 it was all about `disloyalty & ill-conduct`.

Therefore, the issue we are dealing with here is not adultery or some other act of immorality, but rather it is the subject of a woman `rebelling / going against` her husband (going above them, not acknowledging the other, not listening, deserting them, etc.).

Let us read what the Quran tells us to do when it is the man that is doing the `Nushooz` and not the woman:

[Yusufali Translation]: If a wife fears cruelty or "Nushooz" **desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men's souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practise self-restraint, Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do." (4:128)

** Again, we see our translator [yusufali] magically giving the correct meaning by translating `Nushooz` as `desertion` when it just happened that the male was the subject matter!

The Quran tells us that if the man is the one who is doing the `Nushooz` then the couple need to reconcile or part since he obviously has rebelled against his wife (can't stand to be with her, finds himself wanting to leave from her presence, etc..)...The verse does not say that the woman should `beat` the man into submission or bring her men-folk to do so in order to knock some sense into him...It says they should talk, and reconcile, since obviously this is an issue which needs people to come-back into respecting and loving one another, or part ways.

Now to move back to the verse where the woman is the one doing the `Nushooz` using the correct translation:

"The men are to support the women by what God has gifted them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The upright women who are attentive, and keep private the personal matters for what God keeps watch over. As for those women from whom you fear a "Nushooz" desertion, then you shall advise them, and abandon them in the bedchamber, and "Idribuhun" Beat them?; if they obey you, then do not seek a way over them; God is High, Great.` (4:34)

If we look at the subject matter, it is of a woman who cannot stand her man and therefore has rebelled from him...As with the example of the man being the one rebelling, there are steps to `calm things down` and to bring harmony into the marriage...Beating a woman if she can't stand her man and has rebelled against him will only make her hate him more (not exactly a logical or practical solution to the problem).

Obviously now that the subject has been better understood, it is the second word "Idribuhun" which needs examination in light of the Quran.

"Have you not seen how God puts forth (Daraba) the example of a good word is like a good tree, whose root is firm and its branches in the sky." (The Message 14:24)

"For the poor who face hardship in the cause of God, they cannot go forth (Darban) in the land; the ignorant ones think they are rich from their modesty; you know them by their features, they do not ask the people repeatedly. And what you spend out of goodness, God is fully aware of it." (2:273)

Daraba (in its natural state) means: `to put forth`

The only reason this word can sometimes mean hit/strike is because a person is `putting forth` his hand when striking someone (see 8:12, 8:50, 47:27).

"And if you could only see as the Angels take those who have rejected, they "Yadriboon" strike their faces and their backs: `Taste the punishment of the blazing Fire!`" (8:50)

Looking back at 4:34, we see that the context of the verse (solving the wife's rejection of her husband) leads us to choose the natural meaning of "Darab" which is: `to put forth` and not the alternative meaning of `strike`.

"The men are to support the women by what God has gifted them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The upright women who are attentive, and keep private the personal matters for what God keeps watch over. As for those women from whom you fear a desertion, then you shall 1) advise them, and 2) abandon them in the bedchamber, and 3) "Idribuhun" let them go forth; if they obey you, then do not seek a way over them; God is High, Great." (4:34)

The approach of choosing the `best` understanding and/or meaning is both logical and, more importantly, in-line with the guidance for study we are given by God:

"The ones who listen to what is being said, and then follow the BEST of it. These are the ones whom God has guided, and these are the ones who possess intelligence." (39:18)

What we have now is a comprehensive list of steps in order for a man to deal with his wife who wants to desert her husband and can no longer stand to be with him...

  1. Talk about it. This is obviously the simplest and healthiest method since it opens the communication channel between both parties.
  2. Abstain from sharing the same bed. This is the 2nd approach the man is advised to use if they are unable to reconcile their problem as the lack of sexual contact may lead to the wife to cool down as intimate contact may simply inflame the situation if she is unable to stand her husband.
  3. Separate from each other. The 3rd and final line of advice is designed as a 'cooling-off' period and is mainly designed to help the wife re-think and examine the situation closely without the physical presence of her husband.

The logic and clarity of the above steps are a far cry from the wife beating and bashing claims which this article started off examining....

As for those who have been promoting the evil inherited from their forefathers while claiming falsely it was from God...

"And if they commit evil acts, they Say: `We found our fathers doing such, and God ordered us to it.` Say: `God does not order evil! Do you say about God what you do not know?` Say: `My Lord orders justice, and that you be devoted at every temple, and that you call on Him, while being faithful to Him in the system; as He initiated you, so you will return.` A group He has guided and a group have deserved misguidance; that is because they have taken the devils as allies besides God; and they think they are guided!" (7:28-30)

Questions / Issues

Below are some arguments/questions which have been presented in support of the understanding to `beat women` as claimed is the true meaning in 4:34.

  • In Arabic, the word for `separate from them` is `IdribuANhun` and not `Idribuhun` as used in 4:34. Therefore `beat` is the correct meaning.

The people who raise such linguistic obstacles fail to notice that God uses the very same word `Darab` such as in 14:24 without any prefix.

"Have you not seen how God puts forth (Daraba) the example of a good word is like a good tree, whose root is firm and its branches in the sky." (The Message 14:24)

Would they claim by the very same linguistic argument that God is `beating` an example? Or, will they accept that without any prefix the word can mean to `put forth`?

  • The word `Idrib` means `beat` if applied to a living object/thing and can mean otherwise if applied to a non-living object/thing.

This is mainly an argument put forth by groups who have preconceived notions and wish to keep believing that Islam is a mindless and barbaric system. The argument holds no merit based on linguistics or Arabic grammar. In-fact, the usage of the word `Idrib` as applied in verse 24:31 puts an end to this argument as the women are obviously not being commanded to `beat` their bosoms with their shawls, but rather they are commanded to `put-forth` their shawls:

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and keep covered their private parts, and that they should not reveal their beauty except what is apparent, and let them put-forth (YaDribna) their shawls over their cleavage..." (24:31)


 By Layth Al-Shaiban (