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Wife beating is OK in Al-Islam

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Question/Criticism: Islam teaches men to beat women.

Answer: 

Wife beating is one of the most common charges made against the religion of Al-Islam. It is broadcasted in the media as if wife beating is common-place to Al-Islam. We have seen classic examples on TV, especially in countries like Afghanistan, where men are shown beating women. At the same time these depictions are made mostly with no reference to Islamic texts showing where wife beating is endorsed or justified. The behavior of these men and the reporter's narrative is presented as proof positive that Islam justifies wife beating. I am sure we all could imagine if the same were done by taking cases of Christian men beating their wives and broadcasting it as proof positive of Christianity's endorsement of wife beating. 

But for those who point to Islamic sources for wife beating, there are only two that they list. One is from Hadiths and the other is from Qur’an. I will address the source from Hadiths first.

Hadith "Claim" to Support Wife Beating:

The following Hadith, which is supposedly narrated by Aisha (ra), is used by some to show Islamic justification for wife beating: 

I said: "Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be ransom for you, and then I told him (the whole story)." He said: "Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me?" I said: "Yes." He struck me on the chest, which caused me pain, and then said: "Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly?"

 But it was this same Aisha (ra) who also said the following:

Al-Nasai has reported 'Aisha (ra) as saying: “The Prophet  (saaw) never beat any of his wives or servants; in fact, he did not strike anything with his hand except in the cause of Allah or when the prohibitions of Allah were violated, and he retaliated on behalf of Allah.”

So how are we to understand this seeming contradiction? Well it is easy. We need to look for more evidence. Most importantly we need to look at what the Prophet himself said about Hadiths:

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, there is no doubt that, there will be Hadiths coming after me, claiming that I have said things. So you MUST test those Hadiths from the Qur'an. If it is really according to the Qur'an only then accept it, otherwise reject it. (Sanan Dar Qatni, Vol-2, Book – Imrani Abee Musa, Matba Farooqi – 513)

Of the Prophet (saaw), Aisha (ra) also said that he was “a walking Qur'an. He taught what he lived and he lived what he taught.” Is the Hadith quoted above about the Prophet (saaw) striking Aisha (ra) on the chest something we should accept or is it something we should reject? Does it go against the Qur'an? Let’s look into this further.

1. From the Qur'an:

There are thousands of Verses in Qur’an and thousands of Hadiths. If indeed Islam endorsed wife beating there would be hundreds if not thousands of Hadiths and Verses about it. But, according to the enemies of Islam, there is only one Verse and only one Hadith that is pointed to as “endorsing” wife beating. In comparison there are numerous Verses from the Qur'an and Hadiths that outright condemn wife beating and endorse equitable, kind and fair treatment of women. Here are a few:

And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. [30.021]

This shows that love and mercy to achieve a state of tranquility for husband and wife is what Allah intended not brutality and harm.

O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- reverence Allah, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you. [4.001]

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). [49.013]

Both Verses above show that male and female are created from a single soul. Our essence is the same and we are incomplete until we become one with our other half. We are to reverence the “wombs that bore us” which is an open endorsement by the Qur'an on how we should regard our women. Hurting them would be the same as hurting ourselves.

Regarding separation/divorce, the Qur'an says:

"When ye divorce women, and they fulfill the term of their ('Iddat), either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; but do not take them back to injure them, (or) to take undue advantage; if any one does that; He wrongs his own soul."  [2:231]

"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." [4:19]

Treating our women with harshness or a way to cause harm to them is forbidden in the Qur’an. But love, mercy, kindness, equity and reverence are highly endorsed.

2. From the Hadiths:

Narrated Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri: I went to the Messenger of Allah  (saaw) and asked him: What do you say about our wives? He replied: Give them food that you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them. (Sunan Abu Daawood 11:2139)

Narrated Mu'awiyah ibn Haydah: I said: Messenger of Allah, how should we approach our wives and how should we leave them? He replied: Approach your tilth when or how you will, give her food when you take food, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not revile her face, and do not beat her. (Sunan Abu Daawood 11:2138)

“Narrated Abu Hurairah (ra): The Prophet  (saaw) said: The most perfect Muslim in the matter of faith is one who has excellent behaviour; and the best among you are those who behave best towards their wives.”  (Reported in Jami At-Tirmidhee)

“The Prophet  (saaw) said: The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and the best of you are those who are best to their wives." (Ibn Hanbal, Hadeeth No. 7396)

“The Prophet  (saaw) said: The best of you is one who is best towards his family and I am best towards my family.” (reported in Jami At-Tirmidhee).

"It was reported to the Prophet  (saaw) that some of his Companions beat their wives, whereupon he said, 'Certainly those are not the best among you’.” (as reported by Ahmad, Abu Daoud, and al-Nisai. Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim classify it as sound, as narrated by Iyas ibn 'Abdullah ibn Abu Dhiab).

Right before his death, at his final sermon to Muslims, the Prophet (saaw) addressed issues that were of the most vital importance to the Muslim community. In doing so, he addressed the importance of women and their rights. Here is what he said:

O People! It is true that you have certain rights with regards to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.

Quranic "Claim" to Support Wife Beating 

The second basis that is used to justify wife beating is from the Qur’an. The single Verse that is used for that is the following:

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). [4:34]

Rather than look at the English translations of the Verse in question (4:34), let us consider the Verse in the original Arabic. The part of the Verse which is usually translated "...and beat them" reads like this in Arabic “...wadhribuuhunn (wa idhribuuhuun)." The root of "idhribuuhuun" is "daraba", "beat". There are many words in Arabic derived from this root. Other examples include "dharabtum", which is used in Verse 4:94, and is usually translated in English, "go forth/go out/go abroad". Whilst it is possible to translate "idhribuuhuun" as "beat/strike", just as in English it is equally possible to translate it as "beat it" i.e. leave, "separate", "part". The Verse that follows this Verse goes on to talk about appointing arbitrators from each side and strive for reconciliation. The Prophet never beat anyone much less any of his wives. When there was any marital discord, he went away. In this context, is it not more likely that the correct meaning of the word "idhribuuhuun" is "leave/separate/part"?

The word "idhribuuhuun" is a command, an imperative form of the verb, yet a command the Prophet did not carry out when it meant “beat” but he did carry it out when it meant “go away.” Therefore the Sunnah of the Prophet is “not to beat.” The word daraba or its imperative form in verb form I, "idhribuuhuun", has 25 meanings. Why take a meaning that goes against the legal and moral principles of the Qur'an that harms someone when the Prophet did not do it?

Further, the word "idhribuuhuun" in it's meaning as "beat" does not mean beat in a violent way to incur physical damage. The Arabic word that means beat to incur physical damage is “hatumhoo”. The Qur'an did not use the word “hatumhoo” it used "idhribuuhuun", which is a word meaning more an action to show displeasure without causing physical harm. It is striking such that even a baby won’t be harmed. It is difficult to translate because in English when we use the word strike it implies harm but in Arabic this word does not imply physical damage or harm. Most translators in an attempt to get close to the meaning in Arabic translate "idhribuuhuun" as strike lightly. Some have even translated this word as a tongue lashing. But it does not mean the physical brutalization and beat down of women as the enemies of Al-Islam would like it to mean. If it did, then the leader for all Muslims, the Prophet (saaw), would have demonstrated it. The Prophet (saaw) never beat any of his wives. The prophet (saaw) walked away rather than get into confrontations with them.

You may ask, if all this is true, how is that this Verse has been consistently mistranslated by so many for so long, and the vast majority of scholars have argued that beating (if only lightly) is permissible? To answer this question, we have to consider the context in which Qur'an was revealed. The Holy Prophet  (saaw) was almost unique among his people in his fair treatment of women. The society into which he was born was a patriarchal and misogynistic one, where burying baby girls alive was commonplace and accepted. The Holy Prophet  (saaw) changed all of that, but when he died, the old patriarchal and misogynistic elements came back, and they came to dominate. It is worth noting that during the 'Abbasid era, the taking of concubines (slaves for sex) was widely considered to be preferred over marriage. Why? Because these men did not like the idea of having wives with rights (even in that misogynistic climate, free women had a great many rights compared with slaves). It was also in this era that many attempts were made to stamp out free thought, and in many ways, sadly, many of our scholars have not moved on very far from then.

 

Conclusion 

The overwhelming evidence from the Qur'anic Verses and examples of our Prophet (saaw) undeniably proves that Al-Islam does not promote, condone, or encourage wife beating. I reject the single Hadith quoted above about the Prophet (saaw) striking Aisha’s chest. This rejection is based on what the Prophet (saaw) himself stated we should use to reject Hadiths when they are not in line with the teachings in Qur’an. Along with the Verses and Hadiths mentioned above, there are hundreds more to prove that Islam condones good, fair and kind treatment of women. The claims of support for wife beating in Al-Islam by reference to one Hadith and a total misunderstanding of one Qur'anic Verse, are totally drowned out by the numerous clear evidences in the Qur'an and Hadiths against wife beating. Conclusively, wife-beating is not what Al-Islam is about. It is not what Qur'an says, and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saaw) clearly did not condone it.

Granted, it may be true that there may be some men in the Islamic world who beat their wives. But no basis for that can be drawn from the authentic teachings in Al-Islam and examples from the life of the Prophet (saaw). What can truthfully be said about the men who beat their wives is that they are not following the teachings in Qur’an or the example of the Prophet (saaw).

 

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