Domestic Abuse in Light of Verse 4:34

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by Mathabah.org
Answered by Shaykh Yūsuf Badāt

Question:

Verse 34 in Sūrah Al-Nisā apparently explains that men are favoured over women. According to most English translations we find the word “beating”, that is if a wife shows immoral behaviour. Please clarify the true meaning of the verse, as there are many people who seem to be very confused about it.

Answer:

Thank you for the question. May God bless you tremendously.

The verse you have referred to is as follows:

“Men are caretakers of women, since God has made some excel others, and because of the wealth they have spent. So, the righteous women are loyal, [and] guard [the property and honor of their husbands] in [their] absence with the protection given by God. As for women of whom you fear rebellion, convince them, and leave them apart in beds, and discipline them. Then, if they obey you, do not seek a way against them. Surely, God is the Highest, the Greatest.” (Qurʾān 4:34)

Points and Clarifications Derived from the Above Verse:

  • God is not suggesting that men are superior, rather God is clarifying that men are “care-takers” of women. This is why in Islam a man must be responsible for the well-being and financial stability of four women; mother, wife, daughter and sister. This point also shows that the honour is for women in this aspect. This is a brief of the actual meaning of the word “Qawwām” in the verse, meaning the man is the caretaker of the woman.

  • The Arabic word ‘ḍarb’ has many meanings. Refer to Arabic linguistic manuals and Fiqh terminology. It can certainly mean ‘beat’ but here the verse, in today’s context, the more appropriate translation would be ‘take measures of discipline and reconciliation’. The purpose of the verse is to give advice to the couple to improve the marital situation and eliminate problems. Beating or domestic violence will not solve the problems rather intensify them, due to physical hurt, police charges, court cases, restraining orders, separation, jail time, children and extended family being stressed etc.

  • The best explanation of any verse is in the life and example of the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him). It is very clear that despite having challenging situations, at times, in his marriages, he (peace and blessings upon him) never ever beat his wives nor did he ever engage in any form of abuse.

  • Disciplinary measures to solve marriage problems in today’s time and age would entail family therapy, counselling, pre and post-nuptial agreements, anger management therapy, problem solving workshops etc.

We hope this helps clarify the verse.

And Allāh Knows Best

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