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Islam vs. Domestic Violence

ALLAH describes Mercy and Compassion between a man and his wife in several places.  How can this be reconciled with a man physically and psychologically injuring someone’s sister, daughter, cousin or niece, who is also the mother of his children, with whom he shares a home and to whom he has made solemn oaths?

Did ALLAH Command men to beat their wives?

The ayah at the core of the issue is this one:  Qur-an 4.34.  It must be read in ‘Arabic for the argument to be understood.

The word commonly translated as “beat them” is

ﭐﻀﺮﺒﻮﻫﻦ

The root of this word is

ﻀﺮﺐ

A common Árabic dictionary translates this as “to hit/beat/strike”, or more accurately as “he hit/beat/struck”.

However, Qur-anic words often take a different meaning than common usage for several reasons.  First, and this is common in many languages, historic uses of some words change over time.  The Qur-an, of course, was revealed in stages beginning over 1400 years ago.  Second, words have often have a specific Qur-anic/Islamic meaning that is either broader, narrower, or altogether different in context than its outside usage.

So does this word in fact mean strike?

We are not scholars in classical or Qur-anic Arabic, so the first possible source of difference in meaning is unavailable to our review.  The second source can be analyzed in different ways.  We will attempt two here.  The first is an analysis of the usage and meaning of this word in other parts of the Qur-an.  The second is the explanation and implementation of this ayat in the lives of the Prophet (ﺼﻟﻰﺍﷲﻋﻟﻴﻪﻮﺴﻟﻢ), his family and his companions, according to authentic narrations.

This root word, in conjugation, is found in many, many ayat (verses) of the Qur-an.  Some of them will be listed here, and the reader is encouraged to investigate them in Arabic and/or in translation if necessary.  Our comments are to point out that if this verb does indeed mean “strike”, “hit”, or “beat”, then only a nonsensical meaning can be taken from the verses it is found in.

– Qur-an 2.26- This is the first instance of this verb in the Qur-an.  Is it saying that

ALLAH is not ashamed or shy to “strike” an example?  It is translated as “use” in the AbduLLAH Yufuf Áli translation.

– Qur-an 59.22-  Does this verse say ‘such are they the examples which We (ALLAH)

“beat” for mankind, that they may reflect’?  The verb is translated as “propound”.

There are other examples of the pairing of the verb

ﻀﺮﺐ

and the noun

ﻤﺜﻞ

Which is translated as “similitude”, “example”, etc.  Perhaps this pairing gives a metaphorical meaning to the verb.  This question, as well as research into the historical and Qur-anic uses of the verb in question, should be referred to qualified scholars.

To be sure, in at least one instance in the Qur-an, the verb is used to mean “strike” or “hit”.  This is in Qur-an 2.60 when ‘Moses’(ﻋﻟﻴﻪ ﺍﻠﺴﻼﻢ) is commanded to strike a rock with his staff.

At this point, though, the possible meanings of this verb seem broad, and indeed even a simple Arabic dictionary shows that it has definitions other than just “to strike, beat, or hit”.

We should refer then, to the implementation of those who understood the Qur-an best.

No human understood or understands the Qur-an better, nor implemented it better than Prophet Muhammad himself.  Indeed, ALLAH Praises his example in Qur-an 33.21, and his character in Qur-an 68.4.  There is a narration corroborating this fact as well.  Á-isha, one of Prophet Muhammad’s wives was reportedly asked once about his character.  She is said to have responded by saying that it was the impersonation of the Qur-an. [citation needed]

What, then, was his implementation of the command in the central verse in question?

In another narration, he is said to never have struck a human or animal with his open hand. [citation needed]

Another narration is reported from Á-isha that she disobeyed him once.  He poked her with his finger until she felt pain, but no more. [citation needed]

In a lengthier narration, a rumor was going around Madina that Prophet Muhammad had divorced all of his wives.  He had secluded himself from all of them for a lengthy amount of time. Úmar, one of his companions, rushed to his house to collect the truth of the matter.  After finally being admitted, he asked if he had, which he had not, and the narration goes on to other matters.  His way of handling their misconduct, of expressing his grievance against it, and to punish it, was not through beating, hitting, or striking.  [citation needed]

Therefore, Prophet Muhammad, the best example of this and all of ALLAH’s Orders, clearly did not respond to it by beating, striking, or hitting his wives.

This does not close the argument, as there are other narrations regarding the verse in question.

There is a lengthy narration surrounding the situation surrounding this verse.  In it, women came to the Prophet after it was revealed to complain of abuse, and they were visibly abused.  The Prophet then made the announcement that “Some of you are beating your wives.  You are not the best among us.” [citation needed]

Only a scholar or one with sound knowledge of Juristic and other sciences should interpret this narration with a ruling.  However it is clear that Prophet Muhammad did not approve of men who beat their wives, and that doing so degraded one’s status.  He also did not forbid it, so the question, which should be put to scholars, is what exactly is allowed, recommended, and forbidden?

We the authors know of only two legislated Islamic instances of physical punishment between a man and his wife.  In Qur-an 38.44 Prophet Job (ﻋﻟﻴﻪ ﺍﻠﺴﻼﻢ) is commanded to beat his wife with grass.  In a narration, this is to fulfill an oath he had made to his wife in anger, but not to injure her in so doing.  The other is the narration for Á-isha mentioned above.  In both, it is clear that the physical correction is to be a symbolic, rather than injurious call to reason.

The kind of violence that would cause pain, physical and psychological, is inconsistent with the mercy that ALLAH Commands and Describes in the Qur-an between believers.  Further, upon a closer reading of Qur-an 4.34, one sees that it is even inconsistent with the context we find it in.  The verse in question elaborates steps by which a husband can correct and advise his wife.  The portion of the verse in question, as translated by ÁbduLLAH Yusuf Áli, is as follows:

As to those women on show part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct,

then admonish them, then refuse to share their beds, and then beat them…

The next verse contains a command for a couple on the verge of separation or divorce to seek arbitration within their families.  Beating a woman injuriously is grossly inconsistent with the cautionary and diplomatic nature of the process it is supposedly legislated within.

Mercy & Compassion

To look even more broadly, ALLAH describes Mercy and Compassion between a man and his wife in several places (Quran5.34, et al.).  Further, women’s rights of property and in divorce are delineated several times in various chapters (Qur-an 2, 3, 4, 65, et al.).  Lastly, Muslims in general are commanded to be merciful and kind to each other.  How can all this be reconciled with a man physically and psychologically injuring someone’s sister, daughter, cousin or niece, who happens to be the mother of his children, with whom he shares a home and to whom he has made solemn oaths?

The final facts of these arguments are two.  One, in every social stratum and region of the earth, there are men who physically and psychologically injure their wives.  Some of these men are Muslims.  As we do not advocate it, we encourage those who would to ask them why they do this.  If they will either give cultural or personal reasons for doing this, then advise them with authentic Islamic sources as proof.  If they claim that it is their Islamic right or duty, ask for their proofs, and provide the information that you have.

The second closing fact is that we the authors are not scholars, of Islam or the Árabic language.  We are neither legislating nor refuting Islamic rulings.  We remind the reader of their duty to study Islam with at least the same standards and rigor of any subject, and to consult knowledgeable people and scholars with at least the same humility that they would consult a doctor or expert of any other field.  Never should Islam be submitted to our own or others’ logic, only ALLAH’s Word is infallible in veracity and indisputability.  After that, everyone should recognize that their opinion is as good or bad as everyone else’s.

As for the women of the world who suffer from abuse from their husbands, the solution is beyond the scope of this essay.  We remind the reader that it is part of the reason of our creation (Qur-an 2.30) to command good and forbid evil (Qur-an 3.104,110).  The method of that is described in a narration attributed to Prophet Muhammad wherein he said to stop evil first by hand (or with one’s strength), and if that is not possible, then by tongue, and if that is not possible, then in the heart, after which there is no faith.  [citation needed].  Indeed, ALLAH Has Made clear the ways and means (Qur-an 5.3) to success in this life and the hereafter, and the Guidance to these is from him.

The good of what we have written is from ALLAH, and the evil or errant of it is from our selves and Satan.  We praise and thank ALLAH and ask His Forgiveness and Refuge.

ﻭﺑﺮﻛﺎﺗﻪ ﻭﺭﺣﻤﺔاﷲ ﻋﻠﻴﻜﻢ اﻟﺴﻼﻡ

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5 comments on “Islam vs. Domestic Violence

  1. I wish I had a firm grasp of this issue; as it stands. I’m in no position to contribute anything worthwhile to this discussion.
    However, I will say this: you are a highly-intelligent, well-read individual who is actually giving something back to the world through your blog.
    Well done.

    • Well you’ve contributed a lot. Thanks for reading and commenting. (We all need more traffic on our blogs, don’t we?) Your blog reminds me of my chauffeur days. It was like, what am I doing wrong that I’m depending on these people for money?

      It’s funny that we’ve never met in person, because your comment has meant more to me than any other I’ve received. It’s not the compliments, though I appreciate them. It was saying that my contribution has value. Making a positive difference in people’s lives is one of the few things that gives my life worth to me. It’s not about being noticed, or praised, or knowing that I matter, having a statue put up for me when I die. I actually care. I have a wife and daughters, a mother and sisters, grandmothers, aunts, sisters-in-law and cousins, female friends and neighbors. If somebody ever hurt them, I’d be ready to kill them, but I wouldn’t. You know why? Because it wouldn’t undo what had been done. I just want it to stop. It’s not about proselytism. Islam is the vehicle that gets me there, so it’s the one I’m seen arriving in.

      I feel peace, but it’s not complete until I see it all around me, and that means you. My peace means nothing until I’m sharing it with you…

  2. Friend’s response:

    Salaamun ‘Aleikum,

    First and foremost today is the 28th of Safar here in America. I send my deepest condolences to you for the death of the Beloved Prophet (SAWAS) on this day. Also, Imam Hasan ibn Ali (AS) died on this day. Finally, Lady Zainab binte Ali (SA) died on this day. So today is a day of great mourning for we lost these individuals from this world and they are alive, not dead, with Allaah receiving sustenance from HIM Surah 3: Verse 169.

    MaashaaAllaah the article is very nicely written. I like the LOGIC aspect of it… Allaah (SWT) says in the Quraan various times “aktharahum la ya’qilun” (most of the people have no logic). MashaAllaah but this article is well written.

    The Shias also believe that this verse means at most to tap lightly on the hand with a miswak (toothbrush stick). It is to show the symbolism of being disobedient to the husband. But of course this should only be done when the wife is truly at fault and not when he just feels like hitting her. I bet many people around the world take this verse out of context and just straight beat their wives which is sad.

    The Shias follow hadith that is related first with the Quraan and if it is against it we completely reject it even without looking at the narrators. There can be people who forged ahadith in good people’s names. So the first step in assessing any hadith is first through Quraan. Then, the next step of course is does it correlate with Islamic history, the words being used in the hadith (i.e. does it degrade the Prophet (SAWAS) or not), the chain of narrators to make sure they have not spoken one lie in the way of Allaah then we have to reject them because Allaah says in Surah 49: Verse 6 to reject the liars account by ascertaining the truth, and if you did not know that you lied, then repent.

    A big misconception amongst our sunni brothers of Islaam is that they think any hadith from Aisha is not accepted by the Shia. The thing is, is that we take hadith accepted by Aisha if only it is narrated by another reliable individual and chain such as Umm Salama. One great hadith I suggest you to read which will be fruitful is in Sahih Muslim where Aisha and Umm Salama narrate the story of the cloak incident. When Muhammad (SAWAS), Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Hussain come under the cloak and the verse of the Quraan is revealed Surah Ahzab Verse 33. This is the verse of purification and showing that these 5 are “thoroughly purified” from any defects, sins, lapse of judgement, etc. So because Aisha narrates it, it doesn’t mean we completely say no to it. We have to see the hadith and see how many other reliable people have narrated it. This specific hadith I told you about is narrated by over 20-30 different narrators, I believe is what I read, according to the tafsir of Sahih Tirmidhi, which I have at home. So we can not just reject the incident of the cloak. It is a recognized event in history just like the Battle of Badr, or Me’raaj, or any other incident accepted by all Muslims.

    There were some things in the article which I have a question on: Did Rasoollallah (SAWAS) say in Bukhari to do a complete salaat upon him? I saw it said “Sallalahu ‘alayhi wa sallam”. The actual sentence shouldn’t it be the minimum of “Sallalahu ‘alayhi wa alihi wa sallam”. This is a complete salaat upon the Prophet (SAWAS). He also said that he doesn’t like an incomplete salaat done on him. Plus, logically Rasoollallah (SAWAS) is a team player (i.e. Battle of Khandaq plans by Salman ul Farsi, etc.), and also he always wanted his family to be blessed and recognized not just him. He (SAWAS) is not selfish. Of course the longer salaat is the Durood that we all recite upon the Prophet and his family and Ibrahim and his family.

    I agree we should have peace between sects, but dialogue should never be stopped. Having an intellectual discussion especially between ‘ulemaa from these sects only helps the unity better. There is da’wah done. Also, the Quraan says that had the Prophet not spoke to them with a good tongue they would never have come to Islaam. Of course that verse is referring to the mushriks at the time of the Prophet (SAWAS), but the same concept applies to dialogue between our own muslims and different religions. This is also called appropriately as Amr Bil Ma’ruf and Nahy an al Munkar, which are two wajibaat fard in Islaam. If a person does not do this, then he or she will not see heaven. But this is a wajib e kifai (meaning that if someone else is doing this duty, then the whole muslim ummah doesn’t have to worry about the consequence of sin). One example, is Jihad e asghar, which is a wajib e kifai. If someone else is doing the jihad against the enemies of Islaam, then the rest of the Ummah will not be sinned for not fighting (hand to hand). Of course we should not support companies that support the enemies because that is the least we can do as Muslims. Allaah (SWT) goes even to lump these two concepts together with Salaat and Zakaat. He (SWT) says “establish prayers and pay the charity and enjoin in the good and forbid the evil.” Also, we have been told to basically dialogue with people as well through Surah Ali Imran Verse 110 where it says “You are the best community raised up for mankind. You enjoin right conduct and forbid evil (you do amr-bil-ma’roof and nahya ‘anil munkir) and you believe in Allah.” So through actions and the tongue one has to try to bring people to the right path if they do not know and want guidance.

    Finally, Allaah (SWT) only says to have war between believers if it gets out of hand and one group is transgressing and the other group is on the right path. Surah 49 Verse 9. So alhamdullillaah I hope noone is starting wars with each other. I have seen that many suicide bombers have come into Muslims countries and blown up shrines of the family of the Prophet (SAWAS). For instance on February 22 2006 the shrine of the 11th Imam of the Shias was blown up. He is the father of the 12th and final successor after the Prophet (SAWAS), Imam Mahdi (AJFS), who we are awaiting his return by the permission of Allaah (SWT). So it was a great day of mourning for the followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS). But still alhamdullillah we didn’t go around the world and start killing because there is no use for that. Our Prophet (SAWAS) did not do these things and we do not need to stoop to these peoples levels who will be in the pits of hellfire.

    But alhamdullillah that was a good article brother. MashaAllaah keep up the good work. InshaAllah I will try to put my pen to paper and finger to keyboard in the way of Allaah (SWT) so that I can get some rewards even after I die. InshaAllaah.

    Salaamun ‘Aleikum,

  3. Post-Script to Friend:

    That’s it. I know there’s some sectarian issues with the hadith as far as the narrators, but I try to stick with what’s consistent with the Qur-an, and after that what’s generally, or at least widely, accepted as valid. There are sciences we can apply to the authentication process, but our level of knowledge (‘our’ meaning yours and mine) is such that we can only follow the explanations, rather than investigate them. Also, ALLAH told us not to divide into sects, and only to argue with what is best. It’s a little late for me to look up the ayat to prove that now, but they’re there. In Surat-Al-Kahf (Qur-an 18) he does say that Humans are the most argumentative things, so we should avoid that and rather seek truth together in one spirit, putting aside our differences and standing firm upon ﻵﺇﻟﻪﺇﻻﺍﷲ ﻤﺤﻤﺩﺍﺮﺴﻮﻞﺍﷲ

    That statement was sufficient for Prophet Muhammad, even from a man fighting against the Muslims, yet it doesn’t seem to be enough for many of us today.

    At any rate, I need to find the hadiths I quoted. I know them from memory, but it’s only fair to the reader, and proper from my self, that I give them so the chains of narration can be verified.

    Let me know what you think, and what you’d like to contribute so we can polish and spread this piece in defense of Islam and our Sisters.

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