Archive for the ‘Marriage in Islam’ Category


Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “One who treats

badly those under his authority will not enter Paradise.”

Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 3358 Narrated by AbuBakr as-Siddiq

There is a lot of talk about Islam and the way it treats its women. If I began on the unprecedented rights that Islam gave to women, I would need a lot more than just a post to do that justice. However, the focus here and in a lot of other places these days is on the declaration of a German judge who recently acquitted a Muslim man for beating his wife, citing verses of the Quran in his defense. Expectedly, there has been quite a furore about this.

Does the Quran really condone wife beating? It has become more of a norm to judge things without their context. “Lame” you may say. But I say, context is everything. Having been a student of Pragmatics, I know.

I would like to quote a very revealing email I received from a member from a google group that I subscribe to. A debate was struck in the group and Brother Mubeen more than quelled it with a very accurate, very logical and authentic explanation to the whole issue.

Here’s an excerpt:

…”Beat your wife” is a phrase that doesn’t go down too well with me either (and you can check with my wife on that).

But then, yes, there is (only) a (single) reference to beating one’s wife in the Qur’an, and males have conveniently abused it by twisting it out of context to justify their actions that have no place in Islam.

Let us read the ayat where it appears. The translation is by Yusuf Ali, and I quote…

“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 disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) 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).” Surah Nisa, Chapter 4, Verse 34.

Let us read it carefully. The only reference to beating your wife comes in this verse, and the reasons are clearly defined – disloyalty and ill-conduct. Not for half-cooked food, or for speaking her mind, or for falling prey to his incomprehensible suspicions. And certainly not for demanding a humane treatment in marriage for the rest of her life… Only for disloyalty and ill-conduct, period.

And the routes to use are also made absolutely clear – first, admonish them; then refuse to share a bed, and then if that does not help, then beat them lightly. Please dwell on a key word – lightly.

Many scholars have written a lot about this. And the clear instructions from them are –

1. A man has no liberty to hit his wife for any small reason.

2. Beating your wife is permissible only in the most extreme circumstances (disloyalty and ill-conduct), and only after all other possible means are exhausted. This could include staying away from them, explaining to them, getting one elder from each side of the family to intermediate, admonishing them etc.etc.

3. And even on beating, I refer back to the key word – lightly. Scholars have interpreted this to mean that a man cannot hit his wife on her face – no stinging slaps. He cannot hit her with any instrument that would cause her extreme pain, nor can he hit her so hard that it leaves marks behind. So there! It implies that all that a man can do – after all other means are exhausted – is a light beating that would cause embarrassment to make her change her ways. He is definitely not allowed to take out his frustrations on the human punching punching bag conveniently available to him, and then justify his actions by pointing to religion. By doing this, we men are just opening up the doors of Hell for ourselves.

In this context, let me also mention that while there is only one reference here about ‘beating your wife’, this ayat starts by saying “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women…”

And there are numerous other verses in various ayats about the rights of women in Islam, their ownership of property being their own, and the way they ought to be treated, the respect that men must give them et al. To quote just one ayat, again from the same chapter…

O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may Take away part of the dower ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.” Surah Nisa, Chapter 4, Verse 34.

How many men read this line, and live it…“on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity”. Please note the “On the Contrary”.

The last line is also particularly of importance, If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.”, which tells a man that he is not at freedom to divorce his wife giving the excuse that he does not like her.

I would recommend reading Chapter 4 (Surah Nisa – meaning Woman in Arabic) in detail with translation to all who want to understand the rights and duties of women in Islam…”

And if that was not enough, spare a moment to what the Prophet (PBUH) told us in his hadeeth:**

  • “Among my followers the best of men are those who are best to their wives, and the best of women are those who are best to their husbands. To each of such women is set down a reward equivalent to the reward of a thousand martyrs. Among my followers, again, the best of women are those who assist their husbands in their work, and love them dearly for everything, save what is a transgression of Allah’s laws.”

  • “A Muslim must not hate his wife, and if he be displeased with one bad quality in her, let him be pleased with one that is good.”

  • “The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is.”

What triggered this post was in fact a New York Times article that I read. It was about Ms. Laleh Bakhtiar, 68, an Iranian-American, who is a doctorate in educational psychology and is now working on the translation of the Quran “because she found the existing version inaccessible for Westerners.” Now this again could be a cause of much contention. The Quran is one holy scripture that stands true to the tests of time, in terms of untampered authenticity. ‘Not a single change since it was revealed’, you may argue, ‘what does she mean by “existing version”‘?

Well, I agree, divine scriptures cannot be changed or re-interpreted to suit their audience’s cultural schemas. They would no longer be divine then. But wait a bit- Ms. Bakhtiar spent months on the the word ‘daraba’ that comes in the aforementioned verse. The word, cites the NYT, has been interpreted in nearly 20 different ways, ranging from the moderate ‘ pet, tap, chastise’ to the more severe ‘ beat, hit, strike, flog’, etc. Ms. Bakhtiar, however, minutely (and repeatedly) pored over the Arabic-English Lexicon by Edward William Lane and found “among the six pages of definitions for “‘daraba” was “to go away”‘.

Ms. Bakhtiar was very pleased with her finding. While her interpretation of the “exact” meaning may still be debatable, it nevertheless encompasses the tone of the entire verse. And oh yes, like Ms. Bakhtiar, I haven’t come across any tradition that ever cites the Prophet ever beating any of his wives. Forgive me if I am mistaken on this count, however, the Prophet’s life has ben recorded to the most miniscule detail.

Ah yes, the debate never ends that easily. There are issues and some more issues, like what is Islam’s take on feminism and gender equality and then some more. I have battled these demons on a personal front too. And it would take more than just a post to do justice to that. But I have realized one thing: like it or not, it’s a man’s world out there; even in the most adamant face of feminism. And yes, “…because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other…” (Surah Nisa, Chapter 4, Verse 34.) And it would be vain to argue over who has more physical prowess. That is why perhaps Islam concentrates on “gender equity” rather than “gender equality”. One’s duty is to maintain. The other’s is to look after. Well, it might not be always as reductive as that. However, basically I guess it’s just a division of responsibilities rather than a ‘demeaning’ of them. 🙂

For more on that I recommend this.

**Though I do believe in the authenticity of these hadeeth, having sourced them from the University of South California’s site on the Compendium of Muslim Texts, I do not have the reference right now. Would be very much obliged if someone could help me with that. Jazakallah.


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