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Tap a Wife? Why, if ever?

Updated: Jun 7

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, ever Merciful. 

My ex-(Ahmadi) Muslim Twitter friend @ReasonOnFaith requested me to address the instruction/permission given in verse [4:34] to hit a wife. This he said was his strongest criticism of the Qur'an being the revealed Word of God. The verse may be translated as follows: 

[4:34] Men are guardians over women because Allah has made some of them excel others, and because they (men) spend of their wealth. So virtuous women are those who are obedient, and guard that which is hidden with Allah’s protection. And as for those on whose part you fearnushuz, admonish them, and leave them alone in their beds, and tap them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely, Allah is High, Great.

There are a lot of subjective misunderstandings about the meaning of this verse both within the muslim world as well as among non-Muslims. I'd like to point out at the outset that the verse does not condone domestic violence. Violence is defined as: "behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something", and the verse doesn't teach this. What it teaches can be likened to 'slapping the vein' by an anaesthetist or nurse to make it prominent, as per the following excerpt from a medical article: 

"If the peripheral veins are not prominent and need to be made more prominent, gentle slapping of the skin overlying the vein may make it more prominent. The mechanism by which this occurs is unclear. This slapping must not be too firm as pain may cause reflex vasoconstriction." [Source: https://pmj.bmj.com/content/75/886/459]

A comment by a registered nurse on this practice shows her concerns: 

Since entering the field of nursing 13 years ago , I have watched nurses, anesthetists, doctors, NPs, PAs, etc...employ different techniques to facilitate IV insertion. Recently, I have observed hand slapping or flicking of veins to promote vein dilation. I spoke to my nurse manager, a doctor of anesthesia and two nurse anesthetists about the situation. I suggested that it could be misconstrued as assault and battery, as well as cause harm to an aging population. My suggestion did not go over well. One anesthetist flat out refused to stop the practice, the other anesthetist argued that so long as the patient was told that their hand would be slapped, and why, was sufficient..."  [Source: https://iv-therapy.net/topic/hand-slapping-or-flicking-vein-promote-vein-distension

The last time I had a surgical operation, the anaesthetist slapped the back of my hand several times as he was having difficulty locating a suitable vein. So, I am giving an analogy I can testify to as happening in practice in the real world, as I have myself experienced it. I am not aware of any taboo on using the same technique on female patients. There is a concern that a charge of domestic violence, or 'assault and battery' can, is, and will be made against [4:34] by some, but we shall soon learn that it is unreasonable to misconstrue the verse in this way. 

My friends' article can be read here: 

https://reasononfaith.org/my-beliefs/#PermissionToBeatOnesWife

He asked me to first address (on twitter) the 3 questions he'd raised, which are as follows:

"Consider a hypothetical: what if Quran 4:34 did not allow a man to beat his wife. In such a scenario, would you then:


Criticize the Qur’an for being incomplete?


Claim that the Qur’an was missing needed prescriptions for harmonious and healthy marital relations among some elements of society, where men feared disobedience from their wives?


Claim that the Qur’an lacked the moral high ground since it did not have this provision to beat one’s disobedient wife?


Of course not. Therefore, you have just proven to yourself that we human beings can do better. If not to me, at least admit it to yourself."


My response was, and remains: 


Yes, I definitely would. No, because the question shows a misunderstanding of the verse. No, because the question shows a misunderstanding of the verse. 


He then asked me to explain what I meant by 'a misunderstanding of the verse'. My response was that understanding the word 'nushuz' to mean a 'wife's disobedience of the husband' was a mistake. The same word is used in [4:128] with regards to a wife's fear of her husband's 'nushuz', viz:


[4:128] And if a woman fear nushuz or indifference on the part of her husband, it shall be no sin on them that they be suitably reconciled to each other; and reconciliation is best. And people are prone to covetousness. If you do good and are righteous, surely Allah is aware of what you do.


My friend said that the word 'qawwaam' at the start of the verse suggests that it was correct to understand it to mean disobedience in the case of [4:34], but something else in the case of [4:128], an argument which I found questionable. For one, qawwaam means a maintainer, protector, and manager of affairs, obedience not being a meaning given to the word:


He then suggested that as the (preceding statement in the) verse states that (righteous) women are obedient, which indicates that they have to be obedient to the husband, whereas this is not stated in the case of the husband in [4:128]). I pointed out that the word 'obedient' was from the root QNT in Arabic, which is (essentially) used for obedience to Allah in the Qur'an, for men are also described as Qaanitoon, and to show this I offered a link to Corpus Qur'an, viz: 


http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=qnt#(4:34:16)


(ReasonOnFaith & I  continued our conversation on twitter on this issue after this, but I remember it being a light exchange. A discussion ensued with others, which showed that they eventually agreed that it was not sensible to think that there should be an absolute taboo on hitting (even lightly) a woman or wife under any circumstances. There are some aggressive criminal women and the state takes the necessary action to prevent their crimes or acts of violence against other citizens. In the case of the home, a husband should intervene if the wife is walloping the kids (which is unIslamic by the way, with the Promised Messiah a.s. labelling it as a form of shirrk i.e. idolatry, to think that one's corrective punishment will be more likely to lead to reform rather than supplications to Allah).


Conflating it with the emotive issue of domestic violence may be what clouds people's minds on understanding the wisdom of the verse, but as stated above, this is unwarranted.

Now, it is true that obedience to the husband is emphasised in muslim circles, but it is clearly not a religious obligation of the wives of believers stated anywhere in the Qur'an, let alone emphasised in it, and for understanding the Qur'an correctly, we need to see whether there is any such emphasis or even command in the Word of Allah itself. If there are verses ordering a woman to obey her husband, then responding in a reasonable manner to (any) disobedience on her part may be deemed justifiable by some. However, I am yet to see any verse of the Qur'an commanding women to obey their husbands in everything or even anything, so it  becomes highly questionable if this verse is understood to prescribe punishing wives for disobedience of their husband. 


Moreover, those who still insist on their claim that nushuz in [4:34] means any act of disobedience of the husband by the wife, would have to explain to us why the normal word for disobedience in Arabic, derived from root ʿayn ṣād yā (ع ص ي), which occurs 32 times in the Qur'an, as shown in the link below, is not used in the verse [4:34]. 


http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=ESy


https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english-arabic/disobey


Thus, it can only refer to a disobedience to Allah in some way. A careful study of the context could tell us what sort of disobedience this might be. The verse states that virtuous women are obedient to Allah, and guard that which is hidden/unseen/secretive, i.e. one's chastity, in the way Allah has instructed that it be preserved. Having stated in what way the righteous women are virtuous, it then proceeds to talk about a different type of women, those who are not so virtuous, on whose part one fears nushuz. The natural reading, in context, would be that these women are disobedient to Allah with regards to guidelines on how to preserve their own chastity. This is how the Holy Prophet s.a. appears to have understood the verse as is evident from his instructions on the matter in his farewell sermon (with the addition in brackets of Qur'anic verses which lend support to his interpretation), viz: 


"O people! Verily, you have rights over your women, but they have rights over you. It is your right upon them to conjugal relations, and for none to enter your houses save with your consent, and that they do not commit manifest lewdness [faahishah mubayyina 4.19], which if they do, God has given you leave to separate them from your beds [for up to 4 months, as per 2.226], and [then, if the immoral crisis persists] beat them [4.34], but lightly [not harshly, not hurting or harming or harassing them, as per the instructions given in 65.6]. And if they refrain [from lewd rebellion] and obey, then their care and maintenance is upon you, according to custom, and fear God in respect of your women and treat them kindly [4:19]. Have I not so counselled you? O God, I bear witness." [Sermon of the Prophet s.a. at the Farewell Pilgrimage, e.g. https://sunnah.com/urn/640930


It is a matter of wonder that muslim scholars appear to have widely ignored this deemed 'sahih' hadith when understanding the meaning of nushuz in verse [4:34]. This prophetic hadith restricted the meaning of nushuz to faahishah mubayyina, but male scholars tend to widen it's scope to include any act of disobedience on the part of wives. 


The interpretation of [4:34] given by Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih II  r.a. tallies with this deemed 'sahih' hadith, and is officially translated from the Urdu original as follows: 


"In case of disagreement between the husband and wife, the husband has no right to chastise or punish the wife except for manifest immorality. In such a case four respectable residents of the neighbourhood must testify that she has been actually guilty of immoral conduct. He must, however, begin by admonishing her. If she persists in her conduct he should separate from her for a period which must not exceed four months. This means discontinuance of conjugal relations but the husband will still be bound to maintain the wife. If the period of separation exceeds four months, the husband will be compelled by law to resume conjugal relations with the wife. If the discontinuance of conjugal relations also has no reforming effect on her conduct and the testimony of four righteous men of the neighbourhood is forthcoming, she may be chastised by the husband but her bones must not be injured and no bruise or mark should be left on her body. All this, however, is prescribed only in cases of manifestly immoral conduct. A husband has no right to punish his wife for other faults or neglect of duty." [Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam, by Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih II (ra) p. 238-239] 


The book can be accessed here: 


https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Ahmadiyyat-or-The-True-Islam.pdf

Some would question the need for four witnesses in such a case. Four witnesses are also required for sins of immorality other than fornication/adultery, as seen in [4:15]. Of course, if the husband himself witnesses it, there would be no need for them, as it has not yet gone before a judge [24:6-9], a thing which is being proactively prevented. Perhaps Khalifa II r.a. mentions this lest the husband acts on a false charge of glaring lewdness. However, as he is instructed to admonish her first, rather than immediately physically striking her, a pious wife would be able to dispel any unfounded fears or false charges. 

In his brief Urdu commentary of the Qur'an, known as 'Tafsir-e-Sagheer', Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II r.a. elaborated on the meaning of 'nushuz' when translated as disobedience, that it does not mean zina (adultery) but such sins which are lesser than zina, but by means of which a person becomes disgraced in the (Islamic) neighbourhood. He also goes on to state that if a man is unjust in this regard, a woman has the (Islamic) permission to report him to the judge. This can be viewed in the original Urdu here: 


https://www.alislam.org/quran/view/?page=114&region=TS&CR=


A question which arises from this discourse is why some Muslims on the one hand tone down the meaning of daraba (strike) from a hit (possibly with the hand, as no instrument is mentioned) down to doing so with a handkerchief or feather. It may be that they do so because they realise that hitting harshly for disobedience of, or disagreement with, the husband is both unIslamic and unreasonable, given that a number of other verses talk about love and tenderness between spouses, and instructs dealing with women kindly. In addition, there are ahadith which state that the Prophet s.a. himself never beat any of his wives, ahadith prohibiting beating women completely, and others which state that those who hit women are not the best among men. 


The Islamic sense of justice and mercy would lead someone to think that punishing for mere disobedience of the husband on a matter of disagreement between spouses, is dictatorial and hence unIslamic, and the Islamic emphasis on kind treatment of wives in Qur'an and some ahadith would further make him reluctant to understand [4:34] to instruct hitting one's wife, however mild this may be. There are a smaller number of conflicting and questionable ahadith as well which might be taken to suggest otherwise, but the majority of them favour the kind treatment of wives, and indeed, family members in general. 


Hence, they feel the need to dilute down on the nature of the beating to something so light as to make it meaningless as a deterrent against nushuz as understood in the sense of a monstrous immoral rebellion against the commands of Allah on chastity. Some even suggest other meanings of the Arabic verb 'daraba' such as to strike a parable, or to depart from the wife, even leaving the marital home himself. Whilst such meanings are indeed used in the Qur'an itself, there is always a valid grammatical reason for doing so in such cases, such as the particle 'an' following the verb 'daraba', or a clear indication that it is a parable (mathal), such that the normal meaning of 'hit' no longer applies.


It is like the particle 'on' added after the word 'hit' changes it's meaning of a strike to a discovery (as in to hit upon an idea) or some form of flirtation (as in to hit on a lady). However, there is no apparent reason in [4:34] to depart from the evident meaning of 'daraba', i.e. to hit. And if the intention was to promote domestic violence or a thrashing, the wording may well have been "wadribuhunna darban", which would give it emphasis, or wa-daRRibuhunna, which would intensity and repetition in the act of striking, though this second possibility requires verification that such a usage is in accordance with the norms of Classical Arabic.


It appears to me that the purpose of the permission to a light beating, as mentioned in the authoritative explanation by the Prophet s.a. himself, may be somewhat like the sight of a police car might cause a driver to check his or her speed. The same act by a physical weaker wife is however rather unlikely to deter a husband in nushuz, hence it would be futile to issue this kind of instruction to wives. Such a husband may in fact retaliate which would turn into a bigger problem for the wife herself. Hence [4:128] wisely does not instruct/permit a wife to hit her lewd husband for his nushuz. The following article might help explain the reasons for this:


http://effectivenessplus.com/fear-authority-figures-come/


Whilst the husband is not in the position of an authority (ulil amr), but a loving and caring spouse, he is given temporary permission to use his might (the article uses the word 'power') for good, in the sole case of a fear of nushuz, but only after attempting to dampen down her lustful inclinations by means of wise loving counsel and ceasing conjugal relations (whilst continuing wise admonishment), and then instructed to cease to exercise his might immediately the nushuz abates.


The action of the word daraba can be as light an action of casting cloth over ones body as in the words: 'wal-yadribna bi khumuri-hinna 'alaa juyoobi-hinna' i.e. and that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms [24:31]. I am not suggesting that the wording used in [4:34] is as light as casting a piece of cloth, for these are other verses which indicate a harder strike when using daraba, depending on the context of the verse. The wording used in verse [4:34] doesn't appear to me to indicate using anything other than one's own hand, the padding of the palm of the hand apparently making it even lighter than using a miswak or toothbrush, or a twig as suggested by some, whilst the use of a handkerchief suggested by others would defeat the very purpose of it as I understand it. 


In any case, keep in mind the reported words of the Prophet s.a. that if at all a man has to beat his wife (for nushuz i.e. manifest immorality) it must be restricted to being light so that it would not leave even a light mark. In any case, my feeling is that good pious men would have difficulty carrying it literally out even if the signs of nushuz are evident, just as it became a severe trial for Abraham a.s. to carry out what appeared to him to be a divine command. This is due to the otherwise so much emphasis on love and kindness in family relations. So, whilst the permission persists within the Noble Qur'an, it appears to me that it serves more as a deterrent against impiety.


Al-Mufridāt Fī Gharībil Qurān by Imām Rāghib is the most widely accepted, authentic dictionary of the Holy Quran, and under the root letters for nushuz, it has the following entry:


"Nushuz by a woman means: (1) She holds a grudge against her husband, and (2) rebels against him, and (3) has an extra-marital relationship."


This tallies with the interpretation of the Prophet Muhammad s.a. that nushuz in [4:34] means faahisha mubayyina, i.e. glaring lewdness. 


Another concern that some people have is that the word 'fear' suggests that a man could beat his wife on the basis of his suspicion that she will disobey him, or even if they accept that nushuz does not mean disobedience, but a glaringly obscene act.  However, let us for arguments sake accept that it might allow him to take action on the basis of his suspicion, even then he is restrained or prevented from taking any physical action by the instruction to first admonish her. If his suspicion is unfounded, she would be able to present her clarification and his suspicions would be dispelled. However, there are two reasons why this concern may not all that valid in the first place: 


[1] A study of the word fear appearing in the Qur'an does not appear to indicate that the word fear (khawf) is used to refer to cases of unfounded suspicion. 


http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=xwf


[2] The Qur'an warns that suspicion can be a sin, so we are to avoid it, rather than act upon suspicions without proper investigation: 


[49:12] O ye who believe! avoid most of suspicions; for suspicion in some cases is a sin.

If we don't have the evidence, nor have we witnessed any flagrant lewdness, than there is no justification for any further action, which may be why Khalifa II r.a. has mentioned the need for four eyewitnesses in this regard, which would apply if he has heard rumours about her from others, but not if he has witnessed it himself.


Had male scholars not misinterpreted 'nushuz' as meaning (any/all forms of) disobedience to the husband, they may not have felt the need to depart from the evident meaning of 'daraba' of 'to hit'.  


It is essential for Muslims not to deny that this verse does permit a man to hit (albeit lightly) a rebellious wife who refuses to cease pursuing a path of immoral/obscene uprising despite her husbands' noble attempt to counsel or persuade her by gentle wise words and showing displeasure by his action of leaving her on her own in the bed. Not only does the verse serve as a deterrent against unchaste rebelliousness, it also serves to keep hypocrites away from their association with the party of righteous believers. If a woman is unchaste, and will incline towards extra-marital affairs whilst married to a pious believing man, it is best for everyone that she informs believers of her reservations about the Qur'an as the revealed Word of Allah, even if by using this very verse as her 'reason' or 'excuse' for doubting the divine authorship of the Qur'an. There is much wisdom in the Word of Allah, but we don't always understand. 


Whilst commenting on the verse, Hadhrat Maulana Hakeem Nuruddin r.a. remarked that married men like this verse (they also seem to like many dubious ahadith, by the way). The reason appears to be their eisegesis of it. So far, we have seen that it places a responsibility on men as 'qawwaam' or maintainer/guardian. The words 'if they then obey you' seems to them to imply that wives are supposed to obey their husbands in everything, whereas this is clearly an over-stated case, an erroneous assumption in fact. We have already seen that the word 'qaanitaat' essentially means obedience to Allah, and the word 'nushuz' does not mean disobedience of the husband either, as some men tend to think.


Likewise, taking the wording the wording 'if they then obey you' to mean obedience is automatically implied is yet another case of 'wishful thinking' on the part of some men. The thought that it is a religious requirement of wives to obey the husband can lead to anger and aggression when she doesn't immediately comply, and eventually to domestic violence, so it is best advised to obtain one's religious principles from a proper study of the Wise Word of Allah. 


Firstly, it is not even a command to the wife to obey the husband, a command which is found nowhere in the entire Qur'an, as previously pointed out. Rather than make this assumption, is it not more likely, if we analyse the verse objectively, that the words relate to the instruction to admonish her? Then if she desists from pursuing her lustful whims and fancies as her husband has admonished her, she would be obeying that specific instruction to desist from wrongdoing, and then the husband is told not to seek a way against her, which would mean that he should not use her violation of essential principles of decency as an excuse to impose any restrictions on her, including making her forever subservient to him as a punishment for her violation in anything at all, or to remind her of it or backbite against her, or speak harshly to her, let alone to make her 'submit to the husband in everything', as instructed by a man to wives elsewhere. Even if he feels upset with her in his heart, the following verse is there to guide him towards consorting with her in kindness even if he dislikes the memory of her lewd conduct, which she has repented of: 


[4:19] O ye who believe! it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; nor should you detain them wrongfully that you may take away part of that which you have given them, except that they be guilty of a glaring lewdness; and consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.


Incidentally, this verse shows the necessity of consent for nikah, i.e. marriage/intercourse. In any case, everything returns to the Qur'anic norm of a kind, loving and tender relationship between spouses, without any religious requirement for obedience, other than to Allah, and even that is on the basis of free-will. The verse is so protective of the rights and comfort of wives that a reasonable person who is not biased by religious prejudice against Islam and ponders over the verse with a genuine attempt to understand it, and does so objectively, will be compelled to acknowledge the depth of divine wisdom in it. 


Is there any religious or other law that can compete with it or even come near it in it's profound wisdom? Those books or laws which do not cater for such an eventuality are deficient, which is why I stated to my twitter friend @ReasoOnFaith that I would criticise the Qur'an for being incomplete if it did not have this verse within it (assuming I come realise it's need of my own accord). It is for this reason I do criticise others books for their deficiency in this regard. That lustful inclinations may drive a spouse towards an extra-marital affair, and can become a real crisis for the other spouse, and indeed, any children, who would suffer the natural consequences of disruption in their family life, is evident from this site, among others: 


www.ashleymadison.com


One can search for further evidence that extra-marital affairs are quite common-place, especially so among those who are not 'saalih' or 'saalihaat' (i.e. virtuous men and women), and 'qaanitoon' or 'qaanitaat' (i.e. men and women who are obedient to Allah). Keep in mind the following prohibition, which shows that whilst an extra-marital affair leading to intercourse damages any marriage, it is even more detrimental to an Islamic marriage, as it is forbidden for the other spouse to maintain intimate relations: 


[24:3] The adulterer (or fornicator) shall not have nikah (marriage/intercouse) with any but an adulteress (or fornicatress) or an idolatrous woman, and an adulteress (or fornicatress) shall not have nikah (marriage/intercouse) with any but an adulterer (or fornicator) or an idolatrous man. That indeed is forbidden to the believers.


Thus the fear of a Muslim husband would be for many reasons, including the fear that any pregnancy on her part resulting from an undetected or un-prevented extra-marital affair may lead to the birth and upbringing of children in household that would not be his own. 

As for those who have misunderstand the word 'nushuz' to apply to a wife who may be described as (Hindi) 'khapatti' (which may be translated as 'a troublesome woman' in English), as mirza tahir sahib had wrongly suggested:


(http://www.askislam.org/mp3/MEI_19840716_06.mp3; @ 5:15-6:45 mins),


they have apparently not considered the following verse, which would be more applicable in the case of such a wife: 


[64:14] O ye who believe! surely among your wives and your children are (some that are really) your enemies, so beware of them. And if you overlook and forgive and pardon, then surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.


Thus, rather than invent novel and erroneous interpretations based on our own personal desires, why is there so much reluctance to accept the understanding of the verse reportedly given by the Prophet s.a. himself, taking 'nushuz' to mean lustful desires resulting in manifest lewdness leading towards an extra-marital affair? Have they not been guilty of 'tafsir bil ra'y', i.e. 'interpretation based on personal opinion' which they warn other people not to do? As little of the Prophet's s.a. interpretation of the Qur'an has actually reached us, the information in ahadith literature being fragmented and uncertain anyway, we do have to ponder thoroughly over the Qur'an to understand it properly. 


This does not actually fall under the category of 'tafsir bil ra'y' (i.e. commentary based on personal opinion), as we would be understanding the Qur'an from the Qur'an. But if we misinterpret the Qur'an on the basis of dubious and contradictory ahadith reports, which are therefore false and perhaps even forged, then would it not become a form of 'tafsir bil ra'y', as it becomes a matter of opinion whether the hadith is correct or not? Is this what has not been done in the case of the verse [4:34] by completely ignoring the understanding of the Prophet s.a. as given in deemed sahih reports of the farewell sermon? 


Though I am still open to reconsider my understanding of the verse, I feel that as it is a moderate view, neither inclined to a rigid/hardline extreme nor to a liberal one that seeks to dismiss the Arabic wording and grammar, it will be more acceptable to most believing Muslims, men as well as women. However, there may still remain some concerns due to an erroneous understanding of the verse, and exaggerations thereof. I recently came across this site (4th January 2019), which I intend to study, InshaAllaah, even though, as I've pointed out, the verse [4:34] is certainly not condoning 'domestic violence':


http://idealmuslimah.com/family/domestic-violence.html


A Christian lady yesterday (16th April 2019) suggested in a group meeting in which I was requested to present my notes on the verse, that hit/ting is a punishment, but I pointed out that the objective is reform, possibly also for the sake of any little children, and far removed from punishment. The dream of Ibrahim a.s. [37:102-111] became a severe trial, and both were rewarded for their endurance. Likewise, it can become a great trial for a good man to tap his wife. Reminding her of the permission to tap may itself make her turn away from sin, the wise deterrent resolving the crisis. And Allah s.w.t. knows best.


(This article is being developed)


[19:76] Allah increases in guidance those who follow the guidance. [20:47] Peace be upon those who follow the guidance.

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