“and beat them”?? suura 4 verse 34

Salaamat  wa  Aadaab 

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i  attempt  in  this  blog  post  to  respond  to  misogynistic  readings, explanations,  interpretations…  of  Sura 4 : Verse 34  of the Qur’aan. These  advocate, prescribe, recommend  that  the  husband  in  a  strained  marriage  use  physical  punishment  on  his  wife.
i  Totally  dis-agree  with  this  interpretation.  

Sura 4 : Verse 34 
Transliteration  of  Arabic Text:

Ar’ri’jaa’lu … ha’fi’zal’laa’hu
Wal laa’tii ta’khaa’fuu’na nu’shuu’zu’hun’na
Fa i’zuu hun’na
Wah ju’ruu’hun’na fil ma’dhaa’ji
Wadh ri’buu hun’na
Fa in a’tai’na’kum
Fa’laa tab’ghuu a’lai hin’na sa’bii’laa

= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Allaamah Yusuf Ali  translates  as  follows:

As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct [Wal laa’tii ta’khaa’fuu’na nu’shuu’zu’hun’na],

[step one/1 –>]  [then]admonish them (first) [Fa i’zuu hun’na],
[step two/2 –>]  (next), refuse to share their beds [Wah ju’ruu’hun’na fil ma’dhaa’ji]

[step three/3 –>]  (and last) beat them lightly [Wadh ri’buu hun’na];
but if they return to obedience  [Fa in a’tai’na’kum],

seek not against them means (of annoyance) [Fa’laa tab’ghuu a’lai hin’na sa’bii’laa]”

i  (munir hasssan)  have  modernized  the  translation.

NB: i Will comment on the first part of this verse – Ar’ri’jaa’lu … ha’fi’zal’laa’hu – in a separate blogpost.



My  Alternative Translation  of  Suura 4 : Verse 34 :

“And as for those women whose nu’shuuz  [???] you fear

[step one/1–>]   fa/then advise them  

[step two/2–>]  [there  are  TWO  conflicting  possible  translations, interpretations  to  Wah ju’ruu’hun’na fil ma’dhaa’ji” ]
Translation1: [if this does not yield results] do not share the bed with them
Translation2: share  the bed with your wife but  do  not  be  intimate 

“[if this fails and you still fear their nu’shuuz] then

[step three/3–>]  leave them [temporarily or permanently] [Wadh ri’buu hun’na]

fa/then if they obey you [and stop nu’shuuzing] then
[overiding command that  applies  throughout  the  process,  at  each  of  the  three  steps,  and  after  the  process,  whatever  the  outcome–>] DO NOT
 seek against them any means [of annoyance] WHATSOEVER” 


NB:  note  the  different  translations  for  step  three/3  [Wadh ri’buu hun’na]  between  Yusuf Ali and  myself:

Yusuf Ali [step three/3 –>]:  (and last) beat them lightly

Munir Hassan [step three/3–>] leave them [temporarily or permanently]  
The  semantic  pool,  the  denotative  spectrum, of  wadh ribuu  is  vast.  what  we  see  in  mega dictionaries  like Lisaanul Arab,  Taajul Uruus and  lughawi  commentaries, glosses,  scholia… is  the  tip  of  the  iceberg.
Literary  investigation  yields  that  the  root  dha/ ra/ ba  is polysemic, multi-connotational,  that  is  it   has  many meaning  and  these  meaning  are  not  necessarily  related and  may  even  be  contradictory.
dha/ ra/ ba may  mean  inter  alia
1.  to hit
2.  to  travel afar [dha’ra’ba fil ar’dhi]
3.  to  severe ties, to  part ways  for  example  in  the  case  of agnate  rivalry if  Zaid and Saleem  are  brothers  the sentence   [dha’ra’ba  ZaidUN  SaleemAN. Zaidun is the faa’il /doer  and  Saleeman  is  the  maf’uul/object. Meaning Zaid severed  ties  with  Saleem,  or  Zaid  parted  ways  with Saleem.  note  the  case  endings  in  the  Arabic  original. Arabic  is  an  inflective  language.]   


My  Tafsiir/Explanation 

The verb “ta’khaaa’fuu’na” is 2nd person/mu’khaa’tab, masculine, plural.
This aa’yah/verse is an instinctive outpouring of love and an infinitely wise and tactical solution to a marriage in crisis in a patriarchal context .

The psychological literature dealing marital problems and with marriages where the spouses are separated for periods must be consulted to gain insight into the aayah, this aaya can also guidance to lawmakers, therapists, police,  social  workers,  the legal profession…

The Quraan must not be confined to Plato’s cave-like treatment as is the case in so-called Daa’rul U’luums and so-called Islamic universities, these are places where the Muslim mind is bludgeoned. 
Commentary on the quraan must be multidisciplinary and reflect the complex reality which this Aa’yah addresses.

The aa’yah refers to a particular group of men who because of their lifestyle and profession and human weakness experience particular problems in their married life, as  do  their  wives.
These are men who,  to earn a living in the harsh desert milieu,  are absent from their wives  for stretches at a time.

Issues of faithfulness pose a particular challenge to marriages of this type for both parties.

i Do not want in any way detract from the suffering of women in anyway whatsoever.

It is also important to note that marriage in subsistence situations are most challenging.

The Quraan has a thorough grasp of the social and psychological dynamics of patriarchy and works  to  provide  an  equatable,  practicle  solution in  this  challenging  context.

In  the  context  of  patriarchy  the  Qur’aan  in  Sura 4: Verse 34 addresses the power center, the male spouse – and  puts  him  his wife and other roleplayers (the original context is tribal) through a process of solution finding, the matter  must  not  be  left  to  drag  indefinitely  to the  detriment  of  both  parties,  acrimony  must  not  be  left  to  brew.  

First the Qur’aan asks the male if he really has cause to doubt his partner. There must khauf/fear; not wahm/suspicion, etc…

The fear must relate to nu’shuuz – absolute infidelity and/or an incorrigible pattern of conduct that is contrary to the aims and objectives of a marriage.

Even in this case the Qur’aan, an infinite Maternal  ocean of love, addresses the male, a power center in the context of patriarchy with the words:  FA i’zuu hun’na [then advise them]: advise your spouse as to your problems, your concerns, enter in a dialogue, an i-thou reciprocation of concerns, any  meaningful  constructive  solutioneering,  sincere  effort  must  be  at  least  bilateral.  

The FA/then is of immense importance – Ustaad Maulana Saa’lih Sa’laa’hud’diin (R) said that the hu’ruuf/particles, prepositions, conjunctions  give  great  meaning  to  the  Qur’aan. They are like the force of gravity. They prevent things from spinning out of control. They create order.

FA here demands a cooling period: Do not jump into accusations, arguments…
Put your mind in a freezer for a while.

The male is ordered to engage the mind; he must alone and with the counsel of able, reliable, willing persons, with mind and heart verbally engage his wife, there must be no beating at all, in this context a light beating is an oxymoron. This will and must of necessity give the wife the opportunity to express herself. This is step one/1. 

If the problem is solved at step one/1:  FA i’zuu hun’na [then advise them]  then the OVER-RIDING  command of Fa in a’tai’na’kum Fa’laa tab’ghuu a’lai hin’na sa’bii’laa [DO NOT seek against them any means [of annoyance] WHATSOEVER] must be applied; the male must never impugn his wife in the slightest ever again.

If the process of  step one/1:  FA i’zuu hun’na [then advise them] does told solve the marital discord then the male is advised to share the marital bed with his wife but not to force himself carnally onto her: Wah ju’ruu’hun’na fil ma’dhaa’ji. This proximity should create opportunity for dialogue and exploration as to the future of the union.
Wah ju’ruu’hun’na fil ma’dhaa’ji can be taken to mean that spouses should not share the marriage bed. They should separate. This separation will give each spouse time to reflect over the union and its viability.
 This is step two/2.

If the problem is solved at step two/2: Wah ju’ruu’hun’na fil ma’dhaa’ji,  then the OVER-RIDING command of Fa in a’tai’na’kum Fa’laa tab’ghuu a’lai hin’na sa’bii’laa must be applied: “Fa/then if they obey you [and stop nushuuz-ing, then do not seek against them any means [on annoyance] whatsoever].” The male must never impugn his wife in the slightest ever again.

The directional flow, vector, of the aa’yah unlocks its meaning.  This point  cannot be overemphasized.

Divine maternal love seeks to solve the problem, prescribing violence – verbal or physical – is  counterproductive and saying  that  the  reading  that  prescribes  violence is  correct  undermines  the  intelligence,  leadership… of  Nabi Muhammad.
The method offered is

introspection, dialogue, appropriate mediation.

If all this fails what is the next step? 

If all efforts at removing discord, ill-will, suspicion, discontent… fail then the power holder in the union in a patriarchal context is finally commanded to leave his wife completely. He must never comment at her in the market, while passing in the street, at the public well, at the start of the separation he may not go to her place of residence to argue, cause a ruckus or any disturbance whatsoever. The marriage for all intents and purposes be terminated. The female must not live in a hell of suspicion, insult… at all.


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