Saturday, June 11, 2011

LESSON 9: “Wife-beating in 4:34”

LESSON 9: “Wife-beating in

“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.”

The problem comes from the word “idribuhunna” which has traditionally been translated as “beat them.” The root of this word is actually “DaRaBa”. If you look at any Arabic dictionary, you will find a long list of meanings ascribed to it. It can be said that “DaRaBa” is the “number-one” multi-meaning word in Arabic. It has so many different meanings that we can find numerous uses in the Qur’an:

To travel, to get out: 3:156; 4:101; 38:44; 73:20; 2:273

To strike: 2:60,73; 7:160; 8:12; 20:77; 24:31; 26:63; 37:93; 47:4

To beat: 8:50; 47:27

To set up: 43:58; 57:13

To give (examples): 14:24,45; 16:75,76,112; 18:32,45; 24:35; 30:28,58; 36:78; 39:27,29; 43:17; 59:21; 66:10,11

To take away, to ignore: 43:5

To condemn: 2:61

To seal, to draw over: 18:11

To cover: 24:31

To explain: 13:17

Ayah 4:34 verse cannot be ordering husbands to beat their wives for a simple reason. If a man fears ill-conduct from his wife, he is advised to do three things. Now if we take the instruction to “beat”, then a Muslim man must admonish his wife, leave her alone in her sleep-place and beat her all at once! Secondly, a husband’s wife will not be able to “obey” him (or rather “lay to rest his fears”) if he hospitalises her. If he does not “beat her” enough, then she will either laugh at him (enticing him to continue) or obviously go for a divorce. There is no threshold set.

The meanings of “going abroad from” or “set an example to” are compatible if we take these instructions with the others.

“…thus does Allah beat (yadribu) truth and falsehood…”

“…thus does Allah set forth truth and falsehood…”

Another example of the mistranslation of “DaRaBa” can be found in 38:44. Almost every translation injects a silly story to justify their rendering of the passage. Here is how Yusuf Ali translates the first portion of this ayah, which is about Job:

“And take in the hand a little grass, and strike therewith: and break not (the oath).”


Yusuf Ali in the footnote narrates the following traditional story: “He (Job) must have said in his haste to the woman that he would beat her: he is asked now to correct her with only a wisp of grass, to show that he was gentle and humble as well as patient and constant.”

However, without assuming the existence of this strange, male-viewpointed story (which has no other reference in the Qur’an), we can translate the ayah henceforth:

“Take in your hand a bunch and set forth with it, and do not break your oath; surely We found him patient; most excellent the servant! Surely he was frequent in returning (to Allah).”


(The “bunch” would most likely refer to servants as in “those whom your right hands possess” (4:3)).

One final example:

“O you who believe! when you go abroad (darabtum)in Allah’s way, make investigation, and do not say to any one who offers you peace: You are not a believer. Do you seek goods of this world’s life! But with Allah there are abundant gains; you too were such before, then Allah conferred a benefit on you; therefore make investigation; surely Allah is aware of what you do.”

Qur’an 4:94

Note how in Sura 4 there is used “daraba” (
and “darabtum” (4:94), which are derived from the same root. The words are in the same Sura, indicating that “daraba” in means to desert or leave since that is what its derived word conveys in 4:94.

In 2:128, Allah (SWT) gives women similar rights to men. These rights would hardly be similar if men were allowed to beat their wives for disobedience.

Additionally, the word “Nushuz” (often translated as “opposition” in
) has another meaning. If we study carefully we will find a clue that leads us to translate that word as embracing a range of related ideas (from “flirting” to “engaging in an extramarital affair”). Indeed, it could be any word that reflects the range of potential disloyalties in marriage. The clue is the phrase before “Nushuz” which reads: “…they honour them according to God’s commandments, even when alone in their privacy.” This phrase emphasizes the importance of loyalty in married life, and helps us to make better sense of what follows.

Interestingly, the same word “Nushuz” is used later in the same chapter (4:128). However it is used to describe the misbehaviour of husbands, and not wives. In one view, the traditional translation of “Nushuz”, that is, “opposition” will not fit in either context. The understanding of “Nushuz” as marital disloyalty, in a variety of forms, is clearly appropriate for both
and 4:128.

“And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.”


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