In this blog post, I plan to touch upon a controversial verse of the Qu’ran. The verse is controversial insofar as it states a commandment of Allah that is appalling and absolutely unacceptable from a postmodern, Western, secular perspective.
From the Qu’ranic perspective, under certain conditions, it is permissible for a man to beat/strike his wife. Following is a table listing various translations of the 34th verse of Surat An-Nisa:
||Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.
||Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.). As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.
||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.
||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).
||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.
||Men are the ever upright (managers) (of the affairs) of women for what Allah has graced some of them over (some) others and for what they have expended of their riches. So righteous women are devout, preservers of the Unseen for. And the ones whom you fear their non-compliance, then admonish them and forsake them in their beds, (Literally: a madajic= reeclining) and strike them, (i.e. hit them lightly) yet in case they obey you, then do not seek inequitably any way against them; surely Allah has been Ever-Exalted, Ever-Great.
Now, a secular humanist from the West as well as a Pakistani agnostic like me will ask the following question:
How on earth Allah (if He exists) issue such a decree?
A number of Islamic scholars have provided a number of answers, which I will try to analyze in this blog. As far I see, none of the answers really make any sense.
To start off with, let’s see what Zakir Naik, the granddaddy of Muslim debaters, has to say about the issue.
To the question asked by a lady about wife beating, Zakir Naik said the following around 1:13 into the video:
Suppose if you have a son. And you live in a 9 story building and your son wants to jump from the 9 story building. He wants to jump and he wants to argue with you, what will you do? If you tell him don’t jump yet he wants to jump, what will you do? Sister, what will you do?
The lady replies that she will hit the child and quickly admits that she understood the point.
However, I completely fail to understand the point. First of all, I believe Zakir Naik draws a wrong analogy. The disobedience of an adult woman cannot be likened to the disobedience of a child. As an adult, the wife is a grown up individual, free to choose whatever she wants. Even if the wife chooses to perform an illogical or unreasonable act, I see no reason for man to beat the wife in order to prevent her from doing the act.
In fact, I believe it is not appropriate to even hit a child, no matter how rowdy or disobedient a child becomes. One should, instead, think of clever and ingenious ways to tackle such a problem child with tender love and genuine care. Anyway, this is another topic.
Continuing on with Zakir Naik, we see that he claims that no one has the right to beat unnecessarily or without reason. However, according to Zakir Naik, to say that no one has right to beat at all under any circumstance is not correct. Zakir Naik says that if someone tries to rob his house, he has the right to stop him. He says that if someone comes to molest his wife or sister, he will not keep quiet.
Again, as far as I see, beating an attacker in self-defense is no where similar to beating a wife who has disobeyed the husband.
Around 2:12 in the video, Zakir Naik says the following:
If she breaks or if she disobeys or breaks Shariah, there are various rules and regulations, then, even that time you don’t beat her, you admonish her.
My contention is that examples of specific circumstances under which it is allowed to beat one’s wife are not provided by Islamic scholars. For instance, according to the teachings of the Qu’ran and Sunnah, can a man beat his wife if the wife disobeys him by not cleaning the dishes or washing the laundry? Or can a man beat his wife if the wife is found to be sleeping with another man (or a woman for that matter)?
These type of questions are always side-stepped by Islamic scholars like Zakir Naik, who never explicitly state the conditions under which a man can truly hit his wife. In fact, if one watches the video, one will immediately realize how quickly Naik says “there are various rules and regulations” and moves on without elaborating more on such rules and regulations.
Why scholars like Naik fail to answer such questions is not clear. However, I’d venture to say that perhaps, the scholars, like the most of us, know within their hearts that one simply cannot beat one’s wife under any circumstances. Yet they cannot say so because to beat one’s wife is a clear verse of the Qu’ran and denying the verse would be tantamount to denying the word of Allah.
A Muslim must accept each and every verse of the Qu’ran. And lightly beating one’s wife, under certain unspecified and utterly unclear circumstances, is a permission granted by Qu’ran. A Muslim, ergo, needs to accept this as a part of his/her faith.
In the 21st century, the wife-beating verse clearly jeopardizes Islam. Hence, a number of false analogies and flimsy arguments are provided by Islamic scholars to justify the wife-beating verse of the Qu’ran.
Consider the response by Abdul Raheem Green on the issue of wife-beating.
He, like Zakir Naik, starts off with an analogy on the following lines. He says that it’s the responsibility of the government to care for its people. The duty of a government is to catch criminals such as thieves and murderers and rapists. Governments are allowed to use some form of force to arrest such people. Every government, every country has a police force to arrest people, to prevent riots and evil in the society.
Around 1:55 in the video, he says:
So we recognize that those in authority have the right, to use force if they have to, to prevent some evil taking place.
It’s pointless to write more about his argument as it is fairly obvious. Like Zakir Naik, he’s relying on a false analogy in likening the disobedience of wife to the disobedience of criminals. This just goes to show the kind of reasoning used by Muslim scholars in general to justify the beating of one’s wife.
I searched more and found yet another Muslim preacher speaking about the issue of wife-beating.
According to Zakir Naik and this other Muslim speaker, beating one’s wife (lightly) is an ultimatum of sorts. It is the last resort. According to both these preachers, one can hit one’s wife lightly with a miswaak.
Now, I do not believe that hitting lightly with miswaak will have any affect on one’s wife. The following sentence, in my opinion, nicely summarizes the position of Islamic scholars and highlights the utter absurdity of their justification:
After admonishing and refusing to share the bed, a husband beats his wife lightly with a miswaak, just so she can realize her mistake.
The argument is at best laughable and its highly unlikely that a light beating with a miswaak can set one’s wife on the right course, so to speak.
Secondly, I just fail to see how the permission of “a type of physical reprimand in order to bring her [the wife] to goodness” (in the words of Abdul Rahman Green) can truly bring a wife to goodness. If anything, a physical beating will only make the wife hate her husband more.
The unknown Muslim preacher, furthers says, around 1:33 in to the video:
When as a last resort a woman is not listening and she does not want to look at you when you are talking to her, you may draw her attention by tapping her. That is the term.
Now this, in my opinion, is clear intellectual dishonesty. How can one possibly discipline one’s wife by tapping her lightly? This just doesn’t add up and make sense especially in the context of the verse in question. The verse seems particular in its instruction of disciplining the wife, as Sa’d Arafat seems to suggest in the following video.
Most Islamic scholars are full of shit and just plain dishonest. I hate using such harsh terms to describe people. But that’s what the situation is with the Muslim Ummah.
For me, the wife-beating issue is really simple to understand and deal with, if Muslims let go of trying to justify the words of Allah.
According to my understanding, it is basically a difference of cultural perspectives. I believe that the 6th Century Arabian culture was markedly different from the 21st Century American culture. What may have been acceptable back then is not acceptable now. Wife beating was acceptable then. It is not acceptable now. Period.
It’s fairly possible that what is acceptable today may not be acceptable in the future. I believe that socio-cultural values change and evolve with time. It is very difficult to speak of universal values even though people would argue on the existence of such values.
Why would Allah be concerned on how a husband should deal with his wife? This is a question only Allah can answer. And since, according to the Muslim narrative, Allah will not be speaking with humanity any more after the demise of Prophet Muhammad, Muslims are only left to speculate at best.
Muslims, therefore, in my opinion, need to grow up and should stop trying to justify that which cannot be justified.