Wife Beating in Islam

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A scene from Submission, a film about domestic violence in Islam, by Theo van Gogh. (watch the film)

This article explores how wife-beating is promoted in the Qur'an and Hadiths, along with commentary from Muslim scholars, statistics on wife beating in the Muslim world, and common apologetic arguments made by Muslims and responses to them.


Wife-beating in the Muslim world comes from the teachings of Islamic religious texts such as the Qur'an and the Hadiths. Because of this, domestic violence has been used as a tool to maintain control and dominance over Muslim women, this has created an intensely patriarchal society where men rule women and women must submit to men.

Islamic Scriptures and Wife-Beating

Wife-Beating in the Qur'an

Domestic violence is a societal problem in many countries, but in the Muslim world it is divinely ordained and justified by the Qur'an.

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is most high.

Surah 4:34 seems to establish men as having authority over their wives and the women are to be obedient to their husbands. If the wife disobeys the husband, the husband has the right admonish them, send them to beds apart and beat them.

To have a better understanding of Surah 4:34 other translations will be quoted.

Yusuf Ali: 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).

Pickthall: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.

Shakir: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great. )

All three translations agree with each other and establish the Qur'an promotes wife-beating. The Qur'an states two methods must be used to make the wife become obedient and if they do not work, then wife-beating is permitted. It also states men have authority over women, and women are to be obedient, thus establishing an authoritarian structure with the husband as head of the wife. In fact the Qur'an states Allah created men to be maintainers of women and men are superior to women, therefore Allah did not create men and women as equals.

The Qur'an also states the prophet Job (Ayyub) was permitted to beat his wife in Surah 38:41-44:

And remember Our servant Ayyub, when he called upon his Lord: The Shaitan has afflicted me with toil and torment. Urge with your foot; here is a cool washing-place and a drink. And We gave him his family and the like of them with them, as a mercy from Us, and as a reminder to those possessed of understanding. And take in your hand a green branch and beat her with It and do not break your oath; surely We found him patient; most excellent the servant! Surely he was frequent m returning (to Allah).

Wife-Beating in the Hadiths

Some Muslims deny the Qur'an permits wife-beating and claim surah 4:34 has been misinterpreted, but in the Hadiths there are several examples, from various Hadith narrators and collectors, of Muhammad divinely ordaining wife-beating, thus confirming the correct understanding of surah 4:34.

In our first hadith, Muhammad causes his wife Aisha physical pain by striking her in the chest.

Muhammad b. Qais said (to the people): Should I not narrate to you (a hadith of the Holy Prophet) on my authority and on the authority of my mother? We thought that he meant the mother who had given him birth. He (Muhammad b. Qais) then reported that it was 'A'isha who had narrated this: Should I not narrate to you about myself and about the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him)? We said: Yes. She said: When it was my turn for Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) to spend the night with me, he turned his side, put on his mantle and took off his shoes and placed them near his feet, and spread the corner of his shawl on his bed and then lay down till he thought that I had gone to sleep. He took hold of his mantle slowly and put on the shoes slowly, and opened the door and went out and then closed it lightly. I covered my head, put on my veil and tightened my waist wrapper, and then went out following his steps till he reached Baqi'. He stood there and he stood for a long time. He then lifted his hands three times, and then returned and I also returned. He hastened his steps and I also hastened my steps. He ran and I too ran. He came (to the house) and I also came (to the house). I, however, preceded him and I entered (the house), and as I lay down in the bed, he (the Holy Prophet) entered the (house), and said: Why is it, O 'A'isha, that you are out of breath? I said: There is nothing. He said: Tell me or the Subtle and the Aware would inform me. 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 with you? She said: Whatsoever the people conceal, Allah will know it. He said: Gabriel came to me when you saw me. He called me and he concealed it from you. I responded to his call, but I too concealed it from you (for he did not come to you), as you were not fully dressed. I thought that you had gone to sleep, and I did not like to awaken you, fearing that you may be frightened. He (Gabriel) said: Your Lord has commanded you to go to the inhabitants of Baqi' (to those lying in the graves) and beg pardon for them. I said: Messenger of Allah, how should I pray for them (How should I beg forgiveness for them)? He said: Say, Peace be upon the inhabitants of this city (graveyard) from among the Believers and the Muslims, and may Allah have mercy on those who have gone ahead of us, and those who come later on, and we shall, God willing, join you.

In the next hadith, Abu Bakr (the first Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam), also strikes (his daughter) Aisha violently with his fist.

Narrated Aisha:Abu Bakr came to towards me and struck me violently with his fist and said, "You have detained the people because of your necklace." But I remained motionless as if I was dead lest I should awake Allah's Apostle although that hit was very painful.

In the following hadith, Abu Bakr informs Muhammad he slapped Khadijah’s daughter, and Muhammad responds by laughing and tells Abu Bakr his wives are asking him for more money. Abu Bakr and Umar (the second Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam) respond by slapping Muhammad's wives, Hafsa and (for the third time) Aisha. Later on Muhammad gives a decree instructing men to not beat their wives, but changes his mind once Umar informs him that some of the women have become embolden towards their husbands. The women complain to Muhammad and he responds by stating they are not the best among you and a man will not be asked as to why he beats his wife.

Jabir b. Abdullah ( Allah be pleased with them ) reported: Abu Bakr ( Allah be pleased with him ) came and sought permission to see Allah’s Messenger ( may be peace upon him ). He found people sitting on the floor at his door and none amongst them had been granted permission and it was granted to him, and he found Allah’s apostles ( may peace be upon him ) sitting sad and silent with his wives around him. He ( Hadrat ‘Umar ) said: Messenger of Allah, I wish you had seen ( the treatment meted out to ) the daughter of Khadijah when you asked me some money, and I got up and slapped her on the neck. Allah’s Messenger ( may peace be upon him ) laughed and said: They are around me as you see, asking for extra money. Abu Bakr ( Allah be pleased with him )then got up and went to Aisha ( Allah be pleased with her ) and slapped her on the neck, and Umar stood before Hafsa and slapped her saying: You ask Allah’s messenger ( may peace be upon him ) for anything he does not possess. Then he withdrew from them for a month or for twenty-nine days. This verse was revealed to him: “Prophet say to thy wives...for a mighty reward”. He then went first to Aisha ( Allah be pleased with her ) and said: I want to propound something to you, Aisha, but wish no hasty reply before you consult your parents. She said: Messenger of Allah, what is that? He said ( the Holy Prophet ) recited to her the verse, whereupon she said: Is it about you that I should consult my parents, Messenger of Allah? Nay, I choose Allah, His Messenger, and the Last Abode, but I ask you not to tell any of your wives what I have replied: Not one of them will ask me without my informing her. God did not send me to be harsh, or cause harm, but he sent me to teach and make things easy.Narrated Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri:I went to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) and asked him: What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them. Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abu Dhubab: Iyas Ibn Abdullah Ibn Abu Dhubab reported the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) as saying: Do not beat Allah's handmaidens, but when Umar came to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Women have become emboldened towards their husbands, he (the Prophet) gave permission to beat them. Then many women came round the family of the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) complaining against their husbands. So the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Many women have gone round Muhammad's family complaining against their husbands. They are not the best among you. Narrated Umar Ibn Al-Khattab: The Prophet ( peace be upon him ) said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.

In the next hadith, Ali (the fourth Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam) gives a slave-girl a violent beating in front of Muhammad.

As for Ali he said “Women are plentiful, and you can easily change one for another. Ask the slave girl; she will tell you the truth.” So the Apostle called Burayra to ask her and Ali got up and gave her a violent beating, saying, ‘Tell the Apostle the truth.’”
Ibn Ishaq: p 496

In the following hadith, a woman complains to Muhammad about her husband and shows him where he had beaten and bruised her. Muhammad listens to the husband’s side of the story and comes to the conclusion the reason why his wife is complaining is because he cannot sexually satisfy her and she wants to go back to her ex-husband, when all she is really saying is that he is abusing her. Instead of scolding her husband for beating her, Muhammad says she cannot re-marry her ex unless she has sexual intercourse with her husband first.

Also in this hadith, Aisha states that she has not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women, meaning Muslim women were suffering more than their pagan and Abrahamic counterparts.

Narrated Ikrima: 'Rifaa divorced his wife whereupon Abdur-Rahman married her. Aisha said that the lady came wearing a green veil and complained to her (Aisha) and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating. It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah's messenger came, Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes! When Abdur-Rahman heard that his wife had gone to the prophet, he came with his two sons from another wife. She said, "By Allah! I have done no wrong to him, but he is impotent and is as useless to me as this," holding and showing the fringe of her garment. Abdur-Rahman said, "By Allah, O Allah's messenger! She has told a lie. I am very strong and can satisfy her, but she is disobedient and wants to go back to Rifaa." Allah's messenger said to her, "If that is your intention, then know that it is unlawful for you to remarry Rifaa unless Abdur-Rahman has had sexual intercourse with you." The prophet saw two boys with Abdur-Rahman and asked (him), "Are these your sons?" On that Abdur-Rahman said, "Yes." The prophet said, "You claim what you claim (that he is impotent)? But by Allah, these boys resemble him as a crow resembles a crow."
Fatima bint Qais (Allah be pleased with her) reported that her husband divorced her with three, pronouncements and Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) made no provision for her lodging and maintenance allowance. She (further said): Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to me: When your period of 'Idda is over, inform me. So I informed him. (By that time) Mu'awiya, Abu Jahm and Usama b. Zaid had given her the proposal of marriage. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: So far as Mu'awiya is concerned, he is a poor man without any property. So far as Abu Jahm is concerned, he is a great beater of women, but Usama b. Zaid... She pointed with her hand (that she did not approve of the idea of marrying) Usama. But Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon himn) said: Obedience to Allah and obedience to His Messenger is better for thee. She said: So I married him, and I became an object of envy. Fatima bint Qais (Allah be pleased with her) reported: My husband Abu 'Amr b. Hafs b. al-Mughira sent 'Ayyish b. Abu Rabi'a to me with a divorce, and he also sent through him five si's of dates and five si's of barley. I said: Is there no maintenance allowance for me but only this, and I cannot even spend my 'Idda period in your house? He said: No. She said: I dressed myself and came to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). He said: How many pronouncements of divorce have been made for you? I said: Three. He said what he ('Ayyish b. Abu Rabi'a) had stated was true. There is no maintenance allowance for you. Spend 'Idda period in the house of your cousin, Ibn Umm Maktum. He is blind and you can put off your garment in his presence. And when you have spent your Idda period, you inform me. She said: Mu'awiya and Abu'l-Jahm (Allah be pleased with them) were among those who had given me the proposal of marriage. Thereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Mu'awiya is destitute and in poor condition and Abu'l-Jahm is very harsh with women (or he beats women, or like that), you should take Usama b. Zaid (as your husband).

In the authentic version of the "Farewell Sermon", Muhammad compares women to domestic animals and once again orders men to beat their wives.

"You have rights over your wives and they have rights over you. You have the right that they should not defile your bed and that they should not behave with open unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in separate rooms and beat them but not with severity. If they refrain from these things they have the right to their food and clothing with kindness. Lay injunctions on women kindly, for they are prisoners with you having no control of their persons. You have taken them as a trust from God, and you have the enjoyment of their persons by the words of God, so understand…

Now then, O people, you have a right over your wives and they have a right over you. You have [the right] that they should not cause anyone of whom you dislike to tread on your beds; and that they should not commit any open indecency. If they do, then Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain from [evil], they have the right to their food and clothing in accordance with the custom. Treat women well, for they are [like] domestic animals with you and do not possess anything for themselves. You have taken them only as a trust from Allah, and you have made the enjoyment of their persons lawful by the word of Allah, so understand and listen to my words, O people.

Narrated Amr ibn al-Ahwas al-Jushami: Amr heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) say in his farewell address on the eve of his Last Pilgrimage, after he had glorified and praised Allah, he cautioned his followers: "Listen! Treat women kindly; they are like prisoners in your hands. Beyond this you do not owe anything from them. Should they be guilty of flagrant misbehaviour, you may remove them from your beds, and beat them but do not inflict upon them any severe punishment. Then if they obey you, do not have recourse to anything else against them. Listen! You have your rights upon your wives and they have their rights upon you. Your right is that they shall not allow anyone you dislike, to trample your bed and do not permit those whom you dislike to enter your home. Their right is that you should treat them well in the matter of food and clothing.

In summation, we find in the Hadiths:

  1. Muhammad provided tacit approval of wife beating by not scolding Muslims for beating their wives
  2. Muhammad referred to women who spoke-out against abuse as "not the best among you"
  3. Muhammad forbid Muslims from questioning men who beat their wives
  4. Muhammad allowed others to hit his wives (the very women whom all Muslims adore and refer to as "the Mother of believers")
  5. Three of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs beat women
  6. Muhammad reaffirms the command of wife-beating in his parting sermon
  7. Muhammad himself struck his wife in the chest

It is clear from all of the above that wife-beating has been an accepted part of Islam since its inception. Muhammad was not against domestic violence and indeed permitted wife-beating in Islam.

Early and Modern Muslim Scholars on Wife-Beating

Muslim scholars have written a lot of commentary in relation to wife-beating in the Qur'an. Here we will only quote a few scholars:

And remember Our servant Ayub, when he invoked his Lord (saying): "Verily, Shaytan has afflicted me with distress and torment!' (Allah said to him): "Strike the ground with your foot. This is (a spring of) water to wash in, cool and a drink." And We gave him (back) his family, and along with them the like thereof, as a mercy from Us, and a reminder for those who understand. "And take in your hand a bundle of thin grass and strike therewith (your wife), and break not your oath." Truly, We found him patient. How excellent a servant! Verily, he was ever oft-returning in repentance (to Us)!
Ayyub, peace be upon him, got angry with his wife and was upset about something she had done, so he swore an oath that if Allah healed him, he would strike her with one hundred blows. When Allah healed him, how could her service, mercy, compassion and kindness be repaid with a beating So Allah showed him a way out, which was to take a bundle of thin grass, with one hundred stems, and hit her with it once. Thus he fulfilled his oath and avoided breaking his vow.
Tafsir Ibn Kathir
"When a husband notices signs of rebelliousness in his wife (nushuz), whether in words, as when she answers him coldly when she used to do so politely, or he asks her to come to bed and she refuses, contrary to her usual habit; or whether in acts, as when he finds her averse to him when she was previously kind and cheerful), he warns her in words (without keeping from her or hitting her, for it may be that she has an excuse. The warning could be to tell her, "fear Allah concerning the rights you owe to me," or it could be to explain that rebelliousness nullifies his obligation to support her and give her a turn amongst other wives, or it could be to inform her, "Your obeying me is religiously obligatory"). If she commits rebelliousness, he keeps from sleeping (and having sex) with her without words, and may hit her, but not in a way that injures her, meaning he may not (bruise her), break bones, wound her, or cause blood to flow. (It is unlawful to strike another’s face.) He may hit her whether she is rebellious only once or whether more than once, though a weaker opinion holds that he may hot hit her unless there is repeated rebelliousness."

If the wife does not fulfill one of the above-mentioned obligations, she is termed "rebellious" (nashiz), and the husband takes the following steps to correct matters:

(a) admonition and advice, by explaining the unlawfulness of rebellion, its harmful effect on married life, and by listening to her viewpoint on the matter;

(b) if admonition is ineffectual, he keeps from her by not sleeping in bed with her, by which both learn the degree to which they need each other;

(c) if keeping from her is ineffectual, it is permissible for him to hit her if he believes that hitting her will bring her back to the right path, though if he does not think so, it is not permissible. His hitting her may not be in a way that injures her, and is his last recourse to save the family.

(d) if the disagreement does not end after all this, each partner chooses an arbitrator to solve the dispute by settlement, or divorce.
Reliance of the Traveller
How should the beatings go? Maybe a light slap on her shoulder, or maybe a not-so-light pinch, or a kind of gentle shove. He should make her feel that he wants to reform her, and let her know that he is displeased with her. It is like saying: None of the measures that work with sensitive people work with you. A word would be enough for any wife with lofty morals, but with you, words do not help.

Then he attempts a new direction, appealing to her femininity and emotions, by making her feel that he doesn't want her or love her. When this doesn't work, he says to her: With you, I have reached a stage which is only appropriate for inhumane people - the stage of beating.

Beating is one of the punishments of religious law. What kind of people are beaten? Virgin adulterers, both men and women, are beaten as a means of discipline. Who else is beaten? A person who committed an offense and was sentenced by the judge to beatings. Who else is beaten? Someone who committed a crime. By beating his wife, the husband is saying: You've committed a grave sin that merits beatings."
Egyptian Cleric Galal Al-Khatib Explains Wife-Beating in Islam
MEMRI: Special Dispatch, No. 2229, February 5, 2009
With regard to wife beating... In a nutshell, it appeared as part of a program to reform the wife. [According to the Koran], first 'admonish them,' [then] 'sleep in separate beds, and beat them.'...This method appeared as part of the treatment of a rebellious wife. I am faced with two options – either the family will be destroyed by divorce, or I can use means that may bring my wife, the mother of my children, back to her senses. The first means is admonishment...The second means of treatment is 'sleeping in separate beds.' Why? Because this targets the honor... A lot could be said about this. The strength of a woman lies in her ability to seduce the man. The man is strong and can do whatever he wants, but the woman has a weapon of her own. This weapon can be targeted. Many women will come back to their senses, when they realize that this is what's involved...By Allah, even if only one woman out of a million can be reformed by light beatings... It's not really beating, it's more like punching... It's like shoving or poking her. That's what it is.
Discipline. The husband has the right to discipline his wife if she disobeys him in something good, not if she disobeys him in something sinful, because Allaah has enjoined disciplining women by forsaking them in bed and by hitting them, when they do not obey. The Hanafis mentioned four situations in which a husband is permitted to discipline his wife by hitting her. These are: not adorning herself when he wants her to; not responding when he calls her to bed and she is taahirah (pure, i.e., not menstruating); not praying; and going out of the house without his permission.
What are the rights of the husband and what are the rights of the wife?
Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 10680

Statistics on Domestic Violence in the Muslim World

Given the fact wife-beating is divinely ordained in Islam, one must wonder how this effects the Muslim world. Here are some statistics on domestic violence in the Muslim world:

Nearly 90 percent of Afghan women suffer from domestic abuse, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Despite that, there are less than a dozen shelters like this one in Afghanistan, usually run by non-governmental organizations. Abusers are rarely prosecuted or convicted, and most women are afraid to say anything. "Their mothers are beaten by their fathers. They're beaten by their fathers, by their brothers. It's a way of life," said Manizha Naderi, director of WAW.[1]
Statistics in Iran show that 66% of Iranian women, at the beginning of the marriage have been at least physically abused once. Some forms of physical abuse that occur include: biting, bondage, imprisonment in their own home, scratching, hair pulling, and even starving.[2]
A recent report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) registered 139 cases of violence against women in the northern region of Kurdistan in the second half of 2008 alone. It said 163 women were killed as a result of domestic violence in Kurdistan in 2009. Experts suggest the number is less than 5 percent of the real estimates.[3]
91% of university students polled by the Jordanian Human Right Center approve of wife beating. An earlier study by another organization found out that a majority of WOMEN also supports the right of a husband to beat the wife[4]
According to the [National Family Council] report:
83% of Jordanian women approve of wife beating if the woman cheats on her husband
60% approve of wife beating in cases where the wife burns a meal she's cooking
52% approve of wife beating in case where she's refused to follow the husband’s orders[5]
A study published in June 2006 in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, based on interviews with 300 women admitted to hospital for childbirth, said 80 percent reported being subjected to some kind of abuse within marriage. At times, the violence inflicted on women takes on truly horrendous forms. The Islamabad-based Progressive Women's Association (PWA), headed by Shahnaz Bukhari, believes up to 4,000 women are burnt each year, almost always by husbands or in-laws, often as “punishment” for minor “offences” or for failure to bring in a sufficient dowry. The PWA said it had collected details of nearly 8,000 such victims from March 1994 to March 2007, from three hospitals in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area alone.[6]
The number of incidents of violence against women increased by 13 per cent in 2009, says a report by the Aurat Foundation set to be released on Wednesday. The report states that 8,548 incidents of violence against women were reported in 2009 compared to 7,571 incidents reported in 2008. Of these, 5,722 were reported to have occurred in Punjab, followed by 1,762 in Sindh, 655 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 237 in Balochistan. Similarly, 172 cases of violence against women were reported in Islamabad, the report said.[7]
Palestinian Authority area
Launched in January 1999, the [Women's Empowerment] project first established a research team, trained by Dr Abdo, which in turn began training community leaders on gender-based research methods. They have used these skills to interview a representative sample of 120 women from refugee camps, villages, and cities in the Gaza Strip to determine the incidence of gender-based violence. The preliminary results are alarming: half of the women interviewed to date have been victims of violence. "Violence against women in Gaza basically means domestic violence," says research consultant Aitemad Muhanna. "Women are beaten by their husbands, beaten by their fathers, and even beaten by their brothers." Women are beaten for not fulfilling traditional roles — such as cooking, cleaning, or tending to their appearance — to a husband's satisfaction. Other abuses include harsh insults, sexual abuse among family, and marital rape.[8]
One in three wives in Qatar suffer physical or psychological violence from the side of their husband[9]
London-based Refugee Workers Association Woman’s Group (GIK-DER) revealed disturbing news last week [in November, 2006] that up to 80% Turkish and Kurdish women are victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment. At the same time 70% of Turkish and Kurdish husbands cheat on their wives.[10]
According to a government study titled “Research on Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey,” 41.9 percent of Turkish women are subjected to physical and sexual violence. Women at a “low-income level” are assaulted at a rate of 49.9 percent, while the number for higher-income women is still high, at 28.7 percent.
. . .
Altogether, 33.7 percent of women said they considered suicide as a solution to their problems.[11]
According to a report by UN Women released in early July of last year [2011], Turkey tops Europe and the US in the number of incidences of violence against women. Official statistics reveal that four out of 10 women in Turkey are beaten by their husbands.[12]
South Mediterranean Region
Violence against women in the home is the main emergency needed to be tackled by the Mediterranean's southern shores. The phenomenon affects between 40% and 75% of married women, who suffer mainly at the hands of their husbands. This is the glaring figure contained in a study carried out by the Euromed Gender Equality Programme (EGEP), which has been presented at a conference held in Brussels. The 'Programme to enhance quality between men and women in the Euromed Region', which is financed by the European Union as part of neighbourhood policy, focussed on nine partner countries between 2008 and 2011: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Syria and Tunisia.[13]

Response From Muslim Women

Because domestic violence is divinely ordained in Islam, it is an epidemic in many Muslim countries. Even though it is divinely sanctioned, some Muslim women have found the courage to speak against domestic violence and reach out to other Muslim women who are suffering, although some of these advocates still deny the fact Islam sanctions wife-beating.

My husband first tried to strangle me until I fell unconscious, then he tried to smash my face.

Every violent man will be able to see the suffering that he causes and every woman afraid of falling into a similar situation will be able to avoid what happened to me

Later he took me to the hospital while I was still unconscious and dropped me off at the gate. He didn't give them my name, my family's telephone number or anything about me.

When my mother finally arrived, the doctor told her I had only a 3% chance of survival.

The reason why he beat me up was very trivial, we had an argument in which we exchanged no more than four sentences.

He had no reason for attacking me this way, but it wasn't the first time he was violent, although he had never been that violent before.

Encouraging victims

I kept silent until now because I didn't want to see my family being torn apart. I thought that maybe if I was patient enough I could make him change.

Now that I've made my story public, I'm scared. I've almost been through death, so I guess it's pretty normal that I now fear for my life and for my children's lives.

I decided to have my picture published so that it would be a lesson for others, for every man and every woman.

I'm just hoping that the judge will be fair to me and that my husband receives a punishment equal to what he did to me. No more, no less Every violent man will be able to see the suffering that he causes and every woman who is afraid of falling into a similar situation will be able to avoid what happened to me.

Some people have called me a heroine for doing so, but I don't know why.

Maybe people have appreciated that I dared to talk about a taboo subject so that others don't face the same thing.

In my opinion it isn't about being heroic, but about talking about what happens in reality.

However uncomfortable it is, it's better to talk about reality than to pretend that nothing bad is ever happening.

I believe I've encouraged other victims of domestic violence to follow suit.

I'm now campaigning with a human rights organisation which has received many letters and I have also received personally many letters of support from women saying that they will fight back.
Beaten Saudi Woman Speaks out
BBC News, April 30, 2004
Toward the end of her marriage, Rabia Iqbal said she feared for her life.

Iqbal was born in New York to parents who had immigrated to the United States from the tribal areas of Pakistan. She had a strict Muslim upbringing and when she was 16, her parents arranged her marriage to a 38-year-old man. She claims her husband turned violent during their 10 years of marriage.

When she finally left him, she did not know where to turn. Going home wasn't an option, she said.

"My parents ... made clear that they would disown me," Iqbal said. "My father even said ... 'You're lucky you live in America because if you lived back home, you would have been dead by now.' "

She was hiding out in her office at work when a friend put her in touch with Robina Niaz, whose organization, Turning Point for Women and Families, helps female Muslim abuse victims.

"It was such a relief ... to speak about things that ... I thought no one would understand," said Iqbal, who has received counseling from Niaz for more than two years and calls Niaz her "savior."

"Robina understood the cultural nuances ... the religious issues," Iqbal said.

"There's a lot of denial," she said. "It makes it much harder for the victims of abuse to speak out."

When Niaz launched her organization in 2004, it was the first resource of its kind in New York City. Today, her one-woman campaign has expanded into a multifaceted endeavor that is raising awareness about family violence and providing direct services to women in need.

Niaz's mission began after a difficult period in her own life. Born and raised in Pakistan, she had earned a master's degree in psychology and had a successful career in international affairs and marketing when she moved to the United States to marry in 1990.

"It was a disastrous marriage," she said.

As Niaz struggled to navigate the American legal system during her divorce, she said she appreciated how lucky she was to speak English and have an education. She realized that many immigrant women without those advantages might be more likely to stay in marriages because they didn't know how to make the system work for them.

"If this is how difficult it is for me, then what must other immigrant women go through?" she remembered thinking.

After volunteering with South Asian victims of domestic violence, Niaz, who speaks five languages, got a job using those skills to advocate for immigrant women affected by family violence.

But Niaz's focus changed on September 11, 2001. "I was no longer a Pakistani-American ... I looked at myself as a Muslim."

Niaz said the backlash many Muslims experienced after the terror attacks made abuse victims more afraid to seek help; they feared being shunned for bringing negative attention to their community.

"Women who were caught in abusive marriages were trapped even more," recalled Niaz.

In 2004, Niaz used her savings to start Turning Point for Women and Families. Today, her work focuses on three main areas: providing direct services to abused women, raising awareness through outreach, and educating young women -- an effort she hopes will empower future generations to speak out against abuse.

Crisis intervention services are a critical element of Niaz's efforts. Through weekly counseling sessions, she and her team provide emotional support to the women while helping them with practical issues, such as finding homeless shelters, matrimonial lawyers, filing police reports or assisting with immigration issues.

Niaz has helped more than 200 Muslim women. While most of Turning Point's clients are immigrants, the group helps women from every background.

While Niaz has support from many people in New York's Muslim community, she acknowledges that not everyone appreciates her efforts. She keeps her office address confidential and takes precautions to ensure her safety.

"There have been threats ... but that comes with this work," she said. "I know that God is protecting me because I'm doing the right thing."

There are a few brave Muslim women who openly admit the truth. One of these is the Daily Beast’s Asra Q. Nomani, author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam, who rather eloquently refers to Muslim denial of wife-beating in the Qur'an as the "4:34 dance".

Look at one literal reading of the 34th verse of the fourth chapter of the Quran, An-Nisa, or Women. "[A]nd (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them," reads one widely accepted translation. Based on a literal reading, Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha concludes that when dealing with a “disobedient wife,” a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of “the importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam.” If that doesn't work, he can “leave the wife's bed.” Finally, he may “beat” her, though it must be without “hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any cost.”

Such appalling recommendations occur because we haven't yet universally drawn a line in the sand, as Muslims, and said that this verse may have been progressive for the seventh century when women were supposedly beaten indiscriminately, but it isn't compatible with the modern day, if read literally. Instead, we do something called the "4:34 dance," suggesting that the light beating be the result of everything from hitting a woman with noodles (yes, you read that right) to a traditional toothbrush, called a “miswak,” from the root of a plant.
Get Over the Quran Burning
Asra Q. Nomani, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2010

Objections Made by Muslim Apologists

Given the fact wife-beating is sanctioned in Islamic religious texts, Muslim apologists try to deny this. Here are some arguments made by Muslim apologists.

Pamela K. Taylor is the co-founder of Muslims for progressive values, former director of the Islamic Writers Alliance and strong supporter of the women Imam movement. On Faith Panelist Blog she states:

The brutal and gruesome murder of Aasiya Zubair Hassan has prompted a great deal of soul searching in the Muslim community. National organizations, the local community, imams, Muslim social workers, activists and writers have all agonized over how the community did not do enough to protect Aasiya, despite evidence that her husband, the man charged with killing her, was known to be violent. They have called for imams to preach against domestic violence as against the standards of Islam, and for communities to stand in solidarity with Muslim women who complain of abuse, rather than counseling patience or questioning if there is anything they might have done to cause the abuse, or that they could change in order to avert future abuse.
To be sure, domestic violence is indeed against the teachings of Islam, and murder of family members is especially repugnant. The Qur'an teaches that men should remain with their wives in kindness, or separate from their wives with kindness, and specifically that they should not stay with their wives in order to do harm to them (2:229, 2:231). It offers a vision of spousal equality when it prescribes a decision making process within the family of mutual consultation (2:233), and labels both husband and wife with the term "zauj" (4:1 and others) and describes them as protecting garments for one another (2:187).
Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam
Pamela K. Taylor, The Washington Post, February 27, 2009

Either Taylor is ignorant of some of the teachings in the Qur'an and the Hadith, or she willfully ignores those passages and twists some of the wording to suit her own needs. It has been mentioned before in previous paragraphs the Qur'an and the Hadiths sanction wife-beating, men are superior to women, and Muhammad did strike his wives and did not scold his followers for beating their wives.

Physical and/or emotional abuse has no place in this vision of marriage. Indeed, when women came to the Prophet complaining of their husband's treatment, the Prophet admonished the men saying that those who treated their families poorly were not among the best of men. Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri, one of the companions of the Prophet, reports "I went to the Apostle of Allah and asked him, 'What do you say about our wives?' He replied, 'Feed them with the food you eat, clothe them as you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them." (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, the Book of Marriage, Number 2139)
Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam
Pamela K. Taylor, The Washington Post, February 27, 2009

Many others repeat Taylor's claim that Muhammad taught his followers "the best of you (Muslims) are those who do not hit their wives," but Taylor's apologetic attempt relies upon the ignorance of her readers, for this claim is in fact false. As we have mentioned previously, it was actually the women who complained of abuse to Muhammad, which he refers to as "not the best among you".

Narrated Abdullah ibn AbuDhubab: Iyas ibn Abdullah ibn AbuDhubab reported the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon_him) as saying: Do not beat Allah's handmaidens, but when Umar came to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) and said: Women have become emboldened towards their husbands, he (the Prophet) gave permission to beat them. Then many women came round the family of the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) complaining against their husbands. So the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Many women have gone round Muhammad's family complaining against their husbands. They are not the best among you.

Taylor continues to state in her article.

The fulcrum of this patriarchal interpretation is verse 4:34. Translations vary wildly, ranging from those defining men the the defenders of women to those who render it as men being in charge of women. (The Arabic word, qawamun, comes from a root which means to stand up, thus men are called to stand up for women.) The verse goes on to say that devout women protect that which Allah would have them protect in their husbands absences. Again, the interpretations vary wildly -- from those who read it quite literally, describing pious women as devoted to Allah, to those who take it mean women should be devoutly obedient to their husbands. It continues, saying that if men fear "nushuz" (understood variously as openly rebellion, adultery, spiritual negligence, or wifely disobedience), they should admonish their wives and then separate from them in sleeping arrangements. And then the third phase -- the word used is "daraba."

Daraba is used for many, many things in the Qur'an, from sexual intercourse to parting company, from metaphorically striking a parable to physically striking a person or thing. The vast majority of commentators, have understood the meaning of 4:34 to mean hitting. Modern interpreters such as Ahmed Ali and Laleh Bakhtiar, have made a case that this interpretation is wrong.

Bakhtiar's argument is particularly strong.
Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam
Pamela K. Taylor, The Washington Post, February 27, 2009

Taylor mentions Laleh Bakhtiar, a Muslim apologist who states Islam does not preach violence against women and Daraba in Surah 4:34 means to send away. Bakhtiar has written her own version of the Qur'an with surah 4:34 stating to send her away. Her mistranslation of this verse has caused controversy among Muslim scholars and the ISNA of Canada is refusing to sell her book in their bookstore. Contrary to Taylor's claim, there is nothing "particularly strong" in her argument about Daraba, it once again relies upon the ignorance of her readers. To a native Arabic speaker, this argument holds no weight and has been refuted in our article Beat your Wives or "Separate from Them"? (Qur'an 4:34).

She described her approach to this verse in a lecture I attended two years ago. She told the audience that she went to many, many scholars and asked them, "Did the Prophet ever hit his wives?" To which all them replied, "No, he never hit his wives." This is directly supported by a hadith narrated by his wife Aishah, who reported "The Messenger of Allah never struck a servant of his with his hand, nor did he ever hit a woman. He never hit anything with his hand, except for when he was fighting a battle in the cause of Allah." Bakhtiar then asked the scholars, "And the Prophet always obeyed Allah, correct?" To which the answer was an emphatic "Yes, the Prophet was the embodiment of the Qur'an."

"Then, how," she asked, "do you explain that when he had problems with his wives, he admonished them, he refrained from sleeping with them for a month, but he never went to the third step and hit them? Was he being disobedient to Allah, or have we misunderstood verse 4:34?" To which, she says, the scholars had no answer.

Her answer is that we have misunderstood 4:34, and that we have to look at what the Prophet actually did after that month's separation -- which was to offer his wives the choice of divorcing him or remaining with him while resolving to avoid the behaviors he found so objectionable. While, she translates "daraba" as "to go away from them," (which is the most common usage of the term in the Qur'an), it seems that it might be better rendered as "to strike a bargain with them."
Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam
Pamela K. Taylor, The Washington Post, February 27, 2009

These conversations between Laleh Bakhtiar and "many, many scholars" most likely had never occurred, since Bakhtiar's approach to surah 4:34 fails once you realize Muhammad did hit his wife Aisha and he also referred to women who speak-out against their abusive husbands as "not the best among you". Any Muslim scholar worth his salt would be aware of this and would have little difficulty in dismantling her weak arguments against the legitimacy of wife-beating in Islam.

Another common argument is the admittance that beating your wife is permitted, but only lightly, saying the beating should be carried out with a 'miswak' (a traditional toothbrush made from the branch of a Salvadora persica tree). But this miswak defense is not derived from the Qur'an or the hadith literature, therefore it has no validity within Islam. Others base their argument for a light beating on the following translation:

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).

Note that the word “Lightly” is in parenthesis. This is because the word does not appear in the original Arabic rendition of verse 5:32, nor is it inferred. It is purely the wishful thinking/deception of a translator whose work was aimed at a western audience, namely Yusuf Ali. Other popular translations do not contain this addition.

Furthermore, in the previously quoted sahih hadiths, Aisha stated "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!", meaning the woman who had hoped for compassion from Muhammad was beaten until she was badly bruised. Aisha also stated that Abu Bakr struck her violently with his fist, and Muhammad striking her had caused pain. Evidently, wife-beating in Islam during Muhammad's life, was not something 'symbolic' or a 'gentle tap' on the female body.

Ignoring Muhammad's comparison of women to domestic animals, some may point to the authentic farewell sermon and his instructions to “beat them, but not severely,” However, what one considers to be a severe beating is subjective, and within the context of Islam the definition of a “severe beating” is wholly dependent on what Muhammad saw as severe. Muhammad's indifference towards the suffering of his female followers demonstrates his belief that beating your wife black and blue (or green) is perfectly acceptable behavior. Clearly Muhammad's idea of what constitutes a 'severe' beating and that of the modern worlds is miles apart.


Wife-beating is divinely sanctioned in the Qur'an and Hadiths, and is viewed as a method to keep the wife under control, Despite some of the statements made by Muslim apologists, wife-beating is institutionalized in Islam. Muhammad had no problem with telling his followers it is ok to beat their wives and had total disregard for the safety and emotional well-being of his female followers when they complained to him about their husbands. In fact he had no problem with hitting Aisha and with Abu Bakr and Umar hitting his wives.

The article also shows the deceptive means Muslim apologists use to cover up the fact the Qur'an and Hadith sanction wife-beating by using other verses of the Qur'an in an attempt to support their view that Islam promotes equality between men and women, wife-beating is forbidden and surah 4:34 has been misinterpreted. The problem with their argument is it only reveals the inconsistencies of the Qur'an, and their arguments have been refuted, by Islamic scholars and the Hadiths.

This page is featured in the core article, Islam and Women which serves as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this topic Core part.png

See Also

  • Wife Beating - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Wife Beating

External Links



  1. Atia Abawi - Afghan women hiding for their lives - CNN, September 24, 2009
  2. Maryam Nayeb-Yazdi - The violence that may never end - Iranian.com, February 15, 2006
  3. Afif Sarhan - Iraq’s Domestic Violence Plight - Islam Online, May 31, 2009
  4. All together now: YES for wife beatings! - 360 East, May 7, 2006
  5. Natasha Tynes - Disturbing report on wife beating in Jordan - Mental Mayhem, April 10, 2005
  6. PAKISTAN: Domestic violence endemic, but awareness slowly rising - The Advocates, March 11, 2008
  7. Violence against women rises by 13% Violence against women rises by 13% - The Express Tribune, June 29, 2010.
  8. Doug Alexander - Addressing Violence Against Palestinian Women - The International Development Research Centre, June 23, 2000
  9. Qatar: divorce peak caused by women, survey - ANSAmed, February 23, 2012
  10. http://www.toplumpostasi.net/index.php/cat/9/news/9633/PageName/English
  11. Murder a fact of life for women in Turkey - Hurriyet Daily News, February 20, 2011
  12. Yonca Poyraz Doğan - Women's groups outraged by Cabinet's drastic changes to violence bill draft - Today's Zaman, March 1, 2012
  13. Mediterranean: EU Study, Domestic Violence Between 40%, 75% - ANSAmed, May 9, 2011