Can a Muslim Man REALLY Beat His Wife? The Most Misunderstood Verses

Well, as usual, my Facebook page has served as a springboard for another blog post.  Here’s what’s up.  I had seen some postings by friends who are going through divorces, usually as a result of domestic violence suffered at the hands of their husbands.  Many Muslim women, especially reverts, have the incorrect understanding that according to Islam, they are supposed to just put up with the violence, be patient, and expect their reward in Jannah.  I rather forcefully disagreed, as I posted on my wall:

As Salaamu Alaikum (Peace be upon you) and hello everyone. For my Muslim sisters who are suffering from domestic abuse:

All the stuff that Islam teaches about patience, about forgiving and enduring, usually refers to the normal issues that crop up in marriage. If his mother is not nice to you, smile and deal with it. If he’s not earning a lot of money and your apartment is small, be patient. If he forgets your anniversary or always leaves the toilet seat up, forgive.

There is NOTHING in Islam that teaches a woman that she has to be patient with, endure, or forgive ongoing physical and emotional abuse. Let me say it again:

THERE IS NOTHING IN ISLAM THAT TEACHES A WOMAN THAT SHE HAS TO BE PATIENT WITH, ENDURE, OR FORGIVE ONGOING PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE!

In some societies and in some cultures, women have NO recourse when their husband abuses them. Their family considers THEM to be the shameful one and they tell the woman that she has brought on the abuse, or that she should just deal with it. If a woman in a third-world country has absolutely no recourse, no one to go to, and will literally starve on the street, she may be forced to endure the abuse and then she can cry to Allah, and her reward and his punishment will be in the afterlife.

BUT: If you live in a country that offers you resources, offers you an escape, then by all means TAKE IT. Here in the U.S., you might be able to move in with a family member (even if that member is not Muslim and doesn’t like Islam, it can be a temporary solution). You can go to a homeless shelter or woman’s place. Not the greatest place, but inshaAllah (God willing) no one will beat you there or call you stupid, ugly, lazy, or useless. There are programs available through religious and secular organizations, and if the Muslim community will not step up to help, then get to Catholic Family Services or whatever group can help you. You are not abandoning your Islam, you are trying to better a horrible situation.

Islam does not require the women of the Ummah to be miserable, to put up with abuse, to be doormats or punching bags. Men and women are EQUAL in the sight of Allah, and if you are married to an individual who treats you worse than he would treat a stray dog on the street, then you have a right to end the marriage and become the best you that you can be.

If you are in an abusive marriage and you DO get a talaaq, if your physical safety is at risk you do NOT have to stay in the marital home during your ‘iddah, as is normally done. You can go to a safe place to finish your ‘iddah.

PLEASE my dear sisters in Islam. You are a beloved servant of Allah. If you are being abused and the abuse does not stop (and it rarely does), you have a right to divorce in order to move on and develop a healthy life – it’s vital for you AND for any children you have.

This post resulted in someone asking about the supposed permission in the Holy Qur’an for a man to strike his wife.  I remembered that this came up a few years ago during a class I used to teach in the virtual world of Second Life, and I also remembered that I wrote a notecard about it for the class.  I haven’t been inworld in Second Life for a while, but I found my old self and signed in and was able to recover the note in a few minutes.  This is the note, reproduced in total below.  It is long, because this is a very important topic and I had to cover it in a clear and understandable way.  If you REALLY want to understand what the permission is, you’ll take the time to read.  If it’s too much bother for you, well, that probably means you don’t want your preconceived notions of Islam challenged, but read it anyway:

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim Salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah

In our sisters’ halaqah (Islamic lesson) this Saturday we discussed the rights and responsibilities of women in Islam. We touched on a woman’s right as a human being and in relation to her family. One topic which is always a hot-button issue among Muslims (and an endless source of criticism of Islam by non-Muslims) is the permission in the Holy Qur’an that is given for a man to strike his wife. I discussed this in the class, and the sisters wish for me to reproduce that part of the lecture here.

 I like to use real-life examples in order to make clear the issue we are discussing. First of all, the relevant verse from the Holy Qur’an:

 “As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allaah is Ever Most High, Most Great” [al-Nisaa’ 4:34].

 It is absolutely vital that we Muslims have a correct understanding of this verse, the circumstances under which it was revealed, and the manner in which it should be instituted. Unfortunately, among ignorant people, this verse has been taken out of context as a right to physically abuse women.

 Let me say in no uncertain terms: Physical abuse of women is not permitted in Islam, should never be condoned, and should be spoken out against and prevented in all cases. Violence against woman cuts across all societies, all religions, and all income levels. It is not a particularly “Muslim” problem, but it does exist among the Muslims and we must be at the forefront of the world community in eliminating it. In order to do that we must understand what consists of proper admonishment in Islam.

 To teach you what is allowed and what is not, let me give the following example:

 ”Mo” and “Sarah” are married. They are a Muslim couple who live in a country with a majority Muslim population, but which has non-Muslim laws and an open society. Sarah works with a mixed group of Muslims and non-Muslims as a teacher. The couple is moderately religious.

 One day, Sarah decides that she wants to go out after work with some of the ladies from her work. She tells her husband that they are going to go out to a club, one that has mixing of men and women and serves alcohol. She says she is not going to drink but just hang out with her friends. Her husbands tells her that she is not permitted to go to such a place. Sarah becomes angry. “Oh, yeah? You’re not the boss of me! I’m going to go out with my friends!” At this point, she is clearly intending to commit a serious sin. What should her husband do?

 AT THIS POINT, HE DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO STRIKE HIS WIFE.

 The correct thing for Mo to do is to sit down with his wife and point out the reason that what she is about to do is wrong. He can show her verses from the Holy Qur’an detailing the evils of alcohol. He can read her hadiths from authentic books about not mixing with non-mahram (unrelated) men. He can tell her he is forbidding her out of concern for her Islam.

 ”Well, I can take care of MYSELF, thank you very much”, Sarah says sarcastically. “What, you think I’m going to go flirt with a guy or drink a beer? I just want to spend time with my friends from work. You go out with your friends all the time!”. She still seems intent on seeking out this sin, so Mo does not know what to do.

 AT THIS POINT, HE DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO STRIKE HIS WIFE.

 Mo decides to call his mother-in-law, Sarah’s mother, and ask her to talk to her daughter. He doesn’t get an answer so he calls the Imaam at the masjid, asking him to come over. The Imaam comes over and tries to talk to Sarah, reminder her of her duty to Allah and that she must obey her husband. Still, Sarah is rebellious. She feels like she is being put upon and that no one wants her to have any fun. She still plans to go out with her friends after work on the weekend. Her husband is frustrated and wonders what to do next.

 AT THIS POINT, HE DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO STRIKE HIS WIFE.

 In frustration and sadness, that night he refuses to sleep with her. He sleeps on the couch in the living room and refuses to be intimate with her. No fond words, no gentle touch, no marital relations. He is angry but trying to control himself. He prays and makes du’a. Over the next few days, Sarah still is insistent that she wants to go out and “party” with her friends.

 Finally, at THIS point, her husband, having exhausted all efforts to reason with her, now has the right to strike her in order to bring her around to understanding the seriousness of the situation. The limits of this striking are clear, and this is very important: he may not use any implement to strike her that is bigger in size than a miswak, the size of a toothbrush. He may not strike so as to leave a mark, and he may not strike her on the face. The hit is not permitted in order to cause physical harm; it is a last-ditch effort to wake up the rebellious wife.  And if it is felt the strike will be of no use, then he is not permitted to resort to it.

 Why allow the hit at all, even though it is more symbolic than hurtful? Isn’t it humiliating for a woman to be hit by her husband? Isn’t hitting barbaric? It IS a shameful thing to have to resort to, but it is shameful on the part of the woman who is persisting in disobedience to Allah. But, if a woman is being seriously rebellious and will not bend or realize what she is doing is a sin, it is better to suffer this symbolic strike then end up divorced, which would be the next step in this sad story. So the stick is a last resort before a potential divorce. It is a hated thing, but the most hated thing that is permissible in Islam is divorce, so the strike is less hated than that if it is truly necessary.

 Hopefully, you can see from the imaginary story above, the woman has to be doing something that is very serious in order to justify the range of punishment that may end in being struck. Abandoning the prayer, going out of the house in skimpy clothing, flirting with men, drinking alcohol or using drugs…. None of this happens overnight and Allah willing a loving, trusting marriage based on Islam will help prevent any woman who fears Allah from coming close to committing such sins. But as we are all frail human beings, we all make mistakes, and some mistakes are more serious than others.

 Now, there is a huge list of things which do not qualify as a serious issue. You can’t hit your wife because she burned dinner, or she shrank your underwear in the wash, or she didn’t iron your shirt. You can’t hit her because you’re mad at your boss and you want to take out the anger on someone else. You can’t hit her because she said an angry word to you. Why would it even OCCUR to you to hit your wife, your sister in Islam, your intimate partner to whom you give kisses and gentle touches, the mother of your children, someone’s daughter? Violence against your wife, who is supposed to be your other half, the means of completing your religion, should never enter your mind. Even the permissible striking is done, not in anger, but as a correction out of concern for your marriage and her soul. In the real world, the necessity to strike one’s wife should be vanishingly small. And of course, we are always so keen to follow the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and he never, NEVER hit any of his wives. So a real man will emulate this habit as much as he rushes to emulate the Prophet’s manner of dress or eating or praying.

 Now, I believe that most men are basically decent, but that they are simply ignorant of the ruling in regards to striking their wives. If a man grows up in a home where he witnesses his father treating his mother with respect, he will emulate that when he marries. But even a good man can hit his wife out of ignorance and anger, and this type of strike can ruin a marriage even more quickly than any perceived fault on the part of the woman. It is vital for men to know their religion so they know the boundaries that they may not cross.

 Statistics tell us that men who abuse women almost always grow up in homes where they witnessed their fathers abusing their mothers. It is a tragic lesson imposed on children’s fragile minds that sticks with them for the rest of their lives. But just as we do not have to follow the religion of our fathers when that religion contradicts Allah’s laws, we do not have to follow the path of violence that was taught from an early age. Just as you can repent for disbelief, you can repent from believing that violence against women is permissible. Marriage is the foundation of the Ummah, and only if we can build a solid foundation of Islam, mutual respect, hard work, and love, will we be able to rebuild the Ummah and become true Khalifahs of this world.

 Anything in this commentary that is correct is from Allah, and anything that is incorrect is from the Shaitan and my own nafs. May Allah help us to be sincere believers who never give up seeking knowledge, and may Allah help us to change our behavior when we are confronted with evidence of the truth.

 And Allah knows best.

 Fi Aman Allah,

 Noorah (Noorah Haalan is my avatar in Second Life)

 

 


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