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Last Updated: 2010/11/09
Summary of question
Why does the Quran say that you can beat your wives?
Why does the Quran say that you can beat your wives?
Concise answer

Perhaps one may think about the third tactic or remedy at the first glance (after admonition and banishing wives to bed apart) that Islam wants men to be free to exercise power and force on women in any manner they want and that they are allowed to make women surrender to them by beating, boxing, slapping and kicking them whereas the case is truly not as such. If a woman is disloyal, disobedient and rebellious in the sense that she does not fulfill her obligations and she is defiant to the extent that admonishing and banishing her to bed do not have an impact on her and there is no remedy other than taking a severe action, a man has been allowed to use the third tactic to make her carry out her obligations and fulfill her commitments.

Detailed Answer

There is a verse in the holy Quran which says, “…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 leave them alone in their sleeping-place and beat them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.”[1]

The question that arises here is: Does Islam allow punishing of women? Keeping in view the meaning of the verse and the narratives explaining it and the discussions made in the jurisprudential books and also the explanations offered by today’s psychologists, the answer to the above question does not seem to be very complicated.

The object of “beating” is not to exercise power or to crush wife’s frail and tender body.

Perhaps one may think about the third tactic at the first glance (after admonition and banishing them to bed apart) that Islam wants men to be free to exercise power and force in any manner they want and that they can make women surrender to them by beating, boxing, slapping and kicking them whereas the case is not as such.

Obviously, beating has degrees. An ordinary and painless spanking is beating whereas beating someone to the extent where one barely can move is also counted as beating. In fact, it is not considered but killing when only a person’s heart ceases to throb and his body becomes motionless!

The important point is who should determine the extent and limit of beating? Does a man have the right to decide the limit of beating himself? Can he on his own choice crush his wife who is the sweet basil and the beautiful and lively flower of creation? Can he beat her by flagging, boxing, slapping and kicking her to the extent that she withers out, turns frail and feeble? Where and when is beating wife allowed? What kind of beating is intended? Who should determine its limit, husband or another authority?

The necessity of wife’s obedience to her husband is restricted to conjugal matters and the husband does not have the right to force her to do the washing up, cleaning, cooking and the likes. The problems concerning household chores should be solved through understanding, sincerity, cooperation, sacrifice and selflessness of both husband and wife. Therefore, the husband even does not have the right to reprimand or rebuke his wife for not doing these jobs what to speak of bullying and beating her.

The man should know that he has not brought home a maidservant or a slave woman; rather he has brought home a partner, colleague, friend and helper, one whom he can expect to be available for sexual pleasures only. Therefore, the three tactics concerns with wife’s disobedience in conjugal matters and they have nothing to do with things that are normally done in a family environment for the sake of cooperation and voluntary assistance.[2]

If a woman is recalcitrant, the three remedies - admonition, leaving them alone in the sleeping places and beating - have to be applied one after another in that sequence, although they have been mentioned together, joined with the conjunctive 'and'. First comes admonition; if that fails, then leaving her alone in the sleeping place; if that too proves ineffective, then the beating. This gradual process is inferred from the sequence wherein these remedies are increasing in intensity from leniency to severity. The third remedy is a form of physical punishment. However, as it has been mentioned in jurisprudential books, the punishment should be light so that it may not lead to an injury or fracture of her bone or her body turning pale.[3]

It is even mentioned in some narrations that Imam (a.s.) said, “beating them means hitting them with a tooth-brush”[4]. Indeed, the purpose of corporal punishment is the continuation of matrimonial relations and keeping warm the family environment.

Last but not least, the verse may be seeking the cure of an illness. Psychiatrists nowadays are of the view that some women are suffering from a state of mind which is called ‘masochism’ which means getting pleasure from one’s own suffering. If this condition gets intense in them, then a slight physical punishment would serve as a remedy and would give her calm and tranquility.[5] We cannot ascribe this view to the Holy Quran and there are also some people who are firmly opposed to it.[6]

[1] - Al-Nisa: 34

[2] - Dr. Ahmad Behishti, Family in the Quran, p.111.

[3] - Tafsir Nomouneh, vol.3, p.415; See also answer No.1433 (site 990), the meaning of “beat them”.

[4] - Tafsir Noor al-Thaqalain, vol.1, pg.478.

[5] - Tafsir Nomouneh, Vo.3, p.415.

[6] - Family in the Quran, pg. 111 onward.

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