A Bishop sent the following question to me:
Verse 4:34 of the Qur’an reads: “As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and strike them.” Is this a justification of domestic abuse and violence against women?
I answered him as follows:
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
My Brother, the “striking” in this verse is a symbolic gesture meant as a last resort for men whose wives refuse to stop committing major sins. There are very strict restrictions upon this concession and it is not a justification for a man to physically harm his wife.
Allah the Most High said:
“Do not harm them in order to straighten them.” (Surah At-Talaq, 65:6)
Ubada ibn As-Samit reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Do not cause harm or return harm.” (Sunan ibn Majah)
The commentators of the Quran agree that the striking mentioned in verse 4:34 is “without severity or intensity or pain” (ghayru mubarrih).
Ikramah reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Strike them if they disobey you concerning good conduct, a striking without severity.” (Tafsir At-Tabari)
Ata’ reported that: Ibn Abbas said:
“It is a striking without severity.”
“I said to Ibn Abbas, “What is a striking without severity?” Ibn Abbas said:
“It is with a tooth stick or something similar.” (Tafsir At-Tabari)
“It should be a striking with a folded handkerchief or his palm, and he should not strike her with whips or clubs.” (Tafsir Ar-Razi 4:34)
Rather than being a physical punishment, this striking is a teaching mechanism intended to direct the wife’s attention to the severity of her behaviour. The Prophet would do so with his male companions as a means of catching their attention.
Abu Dharr reported that:
“The Prophet struck my chest with his hand and he said…” (Sahih Muslim)
In this example, the Prophet struck Abu Dharr on the chest before giving him an important lesson about leadership. The Prophet did not intend to hurt him, but rather he wanted to get his attention.
In fact, some of the early Muslims understood the “striking” to be metaphorical and not physical at all.
“A man should not strike his wife if he commands her and prohibits her and she disobeys him, but rather he should show his anger.” (Ahkam Al-Quran 4:34)
Indeed, the Prophet never struck a woman or a servant with his hand. This is truly the righteous prophetic model which Muslims should emulate.
Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, reported that:
“The Messenger of Allah never struck anything with his hand, neither a servant nor a woman.” (Sahih Muslim)
In light of this, the best action for a Muslim is to never strike his wife. The action of striking the wife carries the ruling of disapproval (makruh), meaning a Muslim will be rewarded for not doing so.
Iyas ibn Abdullah reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Many women have come to the family of Muhammad complaining about their husbands striking them. These men are not the best among you.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)
In another Hadith, the Prophet again criticised men who beat their wives.
Abdullah bin Zam’ah reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“How does one of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then embrace her?” (Sahih Bukhari)
The Prophet would also warn women in the community about (marrying) men who would beat their wives. Fatimah ibn Qais reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, warned her about marrying a man who was known to beat women, saying to her:
“As for Abu Al-Jahm, he frequently beats women. Rather, you should marry Usama.” (Sahih Muslim)
For this reason, the early scholars discouraged Muslims from striking their wives even in a symbolic manner.
Imam Ash-Shafi’i said:
“Striking is permissible but avoiding it is preferred.” (Tafsir Ar-Razi 4:34)
On at least two separate occasions the Prophet separated a man from his wife because he was physically abusing her.
Ali ibn Abu Talib reported that:
“The wife of Al-Walid ibn Uqbah came to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and she complained to him saying, “O Messenger of Allah! Indeed, Al-Walid has beaten me!” The Prophet said: “Say to him: The Prophet has protected me. She did not stay but for a while until she returned and she said, “He did not give me anything except more beatings!” The Prophet tore a piece of cloth from his shirt and he said: Say to him: Verily, the Messenger of Allah has given me protection. She did not stay but for a while until she returned and she said, “He did not give me anything except more beatings!” The Prophet raised his hands and he said: O Allah, you must deal with Al-Walid for he has sinned against me twice.” (Musnad Ahmad)
Yahya ibn Sa’id reported that:
“Habibah bint Sahl was the wife of Thabit ibn Qais and it was mentioned to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, that they were married and she was his neighbour. Thabit had struck her, so she appeared at the door of the Messenger of Allah and she said, “Thabit and I can no longer be married.” The Prophet said to Thabit:
“Take what she owes to you and let her go her way.” (Sunan Ad-Darimi)
Finally, we must remember that the Prophet strongly encouraged Muslim men to treat women in general, and their wives in particular, with the utmost respect and chivalry.
Abu Hurairah reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“The most complete of the believers in faith are those with the best character, and the best of you are the best in behaviour to their wives.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi)
In another narration, the Prophet said:
“I enjoin upon you good conduct toward women.” (Sahih Bukhari and Muslim)
Hence, the Quran does not allow Muslims to harm or “beat” their wives. Rather, the “striking” mentioned in the verse is a symbolic measure and last resort meant to grab the wife’s attention to her violation of the marriage contract, although a Muslim will be rewarded for avoiding it.
Can a Woman Retaliate If Her Husband Beats/Slaps Her?
A woman complained to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that her husband slapped her on the face (which was still marked by the slap). At first the Prophet said to her: “Get even with him”, but then added: “Wait until I think about it”. Later on, Allah supposedly revealed 4:34 to Prophet Muhammad, after which the prophet said: “We wanted one thing but Allah wanted another, and what Allah wanted is best”. (“At-Tafsir al-Kabir” on 4:34, Razi)
Umm Salama, the Prophet’s wife, complained about the preferential treatment of men. Shortly thereafter, a man from the Ansar struck his wife. The Prophet decreed that as he struck her, he will be struck. But then the verses were revealed and the Prophet ruled that there is no retaliation between husband and wife.
It is Haram in Islamic Shariah for a wife to beat her husband. This matter is condemned in its nature and practice, because it is the husband who is the protector and maintainer of his wife. His right upon her is great; she has to obey him, fulfill his order and seek his pleasure and ways of making him.
The obedience of a woman to her husband is one of the greatest acts of worship that bring her closer to Allah and to His pleasure.
Umm Salama, may Allah be pleased with her said: “The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) said: ” Any woman who dies while her husband is pleased with her will enter Paradise.” Reported by Thirmidhi who classified it as a sound Hadith.
The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) also said: “If I was to order someone to prostrate to someone else, I would order the wife to prostrate to her husband.” Reported by Al-Thirmidhi with a sound chain of narrations.
The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) said about the responsibility of a wife towards her husband and her home, her obedience to him, (preserving his rights and fulfilling his duties. And being kind to him). “The wife is responsible for the house of her husband and his children, all of you are care-takers and all of you are responsible for your guardianship.” Reported by Bukhari and Muslim.
The woman who disobeyed her husband or treated him badly should repent and regret what she has done to her husband.
Gaskiya, it is haram and totally improper for a husband to beat/hit his wife badly, and a woman, hitting back would worsen the situation simply. And I don’t remember a single situation, during Prophet’s (pbuh) time where a lady hit her husband.
In this case, the wife can take the case to their elders for solution instead of hitting back, and also it is permissible for her to ask for a divorce (this is what is called khula’ or khul’i), because living with this man and anyone like him is something that is unbearable, especially if the elders fail to find a solution. Perhaps Allah will compensate her with someone better than this man. If she cannot find another husband, then staying without a husband in her parents’ house, where she will be cared for and respected, will be better for her than staying with this man, so long as she does not fear that she will be tempted or will fall into haram things. But if she fear that she may be tempted, then being patient and bearing worldly troubles by staying with this man will be better for her than having to bear the punishment of Allah.
Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, from Okene, Kogi State Nigeria.
Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau can be reached through +2348038289761.