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Domestic Violence: Excavating Shariah Series- Part 2

written by Theresa Corbin

Part 1

As a faith community, we are facing a serious crisis in human (and God given) rights violations. Many of those “in charge” are and have been misusing religious texts to cripple more than half of our population- women.

We are a global community and these issues have infected our lives on a global scale. Because of these issues, Saadia Haq and I are “Excavating Shariah” in an attempt to chip away at the fiqh interpretations (human understanding of the Shariah (Islamic) law) that have either intentionally or unintentionally ignored the female experience, oppressed women, or co-opted women’s religious dedication.

We take it as a serious matter that Islam has been wrongfully used as a weapon against women. We feel we have the right and an obligation, as Muslims, to speak on these issues. Currently we are “excavating” the affront that is Domestic Violence.

Domestic violence is a global issue. According to WHO “Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime. Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.”

It is a men’s issue. But there are some (or rather many) who claim that Islam gives men the right to physically harm their wives.

In Islam, marriage is based on on love and mercy, as we read in the Quran:

{And among His signs is this: That He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest, peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect.} (Quran 30:21)

To me this, and a number of other verses and traditions that describe the tenderness a marriage should have, means that marriage should be a safe space. How can these pillars of love and mercy stand, how can marriage be a safe space when one party believes they have any right to harm the other party in that relationship, much less a “religious right”.

Those who claim that men have any right to commit domestic violence, use the following verse as evidence:

{But those [wives] from whom you fear discord – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], (the form for Daraba is used here: wadribuhuna– usually translated as beat or strike) them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.} (Quran 4:34)

The verse itself is talking about taking three steps when very serious marital discord (not just petty arguments) arises from the wife’s side (the Quran also deals with discord instigated from the husband and how to deal with it, but that is a topic for another post).

These steps should create an environment where neither the husband nor the wife reacts in the heat of anger or passion that often leads one to commit violence. Step one: talk it out. Appeal to each other’s intellect. Step two: if you can’t figure it out in conversation, then stop sharing your bed with her.

The third step is only taken when the previous have failed to create reconciliation.

And this is where we have to do two things when studying the Quran. We have to remember that 1- context is king. And 2- the Quran is an Arabic text, so we should understand the Arabic words used.

1- Context is King

We do not take the Quran in piecemeal. We understand the Quran in context of itself (30:21), in the context of history, and through the example of the Prophet (PBUH). Aisha (RA), one of the greatest scholars of Islam, said that the Prophet was a walking Quran, meaning his life was an example of the context and content of the Quran.

If we look to the how the Prophet (PBUH) was the living example of the Quran, we find that the Prophet never hit a woman, and never advocated for husbands to beat their wives, not even lightly. In fact, he instructed the exact opposite. Mu’awiyah al-Qushayri (a companion of the Prophet) said:

I went to the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) and asked him: What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: ‘Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them’.  (emphasis added-Sunan Abu-Dawud)

2- Arabic Meanings

Even in light of this example, the phrase used in the verse in question (Quran 4:34) is often translated as “beat them”. But we must look at the Arabic used in the Quran to determine all that it implies and means.

The word used in the verse is: “wadriboohunna”. Arabic linguists say that this is derived from the root, “daraba”, which has a number of meanings; including, “beat” or “leave”. 

Some scholars argue that the word in this context and in the very clear light of the Prophet’ s example does not mean “beat” but it means “leave”. It is exactly like saying someone should “beat it” in English, just like Michael Jackson sang: just beat it.

You might be saying to yourself, well sure the Prophet never had to “beat” his wives because he never experienced marital discord. This is false. The Prophet (PBUH) did experience discord with his wife Hafsa on one occasion, and with all of his wives at once on another. And what did he do? He certainly did not beat them.

Both times he left.

This is just one example of how verses of the Quran and even Prophetic traditions are taken out of context and expanded to afford men more authority and a status of while women’s rights and roles are minimize and disappeared.

As Muslims, men and women, if injustice is being done to us, we have a right to seek justice. There is no patience with injustice. There is only sabr (patience) in seeking justice. As Muslims, it is our religious obligation to prevent our brothers from oppressing others.

The Prophet (PBUH) taught us to:

‘Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one.’ People asked him, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor? The Prophet said, ‘By preventing him from oppressing others.’ (Bukhari)

For a scholarly opinion and the Prophetic and historic context watch Omar Sulaiman’s video on domestic violence:


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6 thoughts on “Domestic Violence: Excavating Shariah Series- Part 2

  1. My husband and I were discussing this after I read it, and a few other articles related to the verse.

    I asked him what “nushuz” means, in terms of why “wadribuhunna” would be permitted. He and I went back and forth about pronunciation, with me saying “noo-shooz”; and finally he said, “Ah….nah-shez.”

    He said, “Oh, it’s when a woman leaves the house without —”

    And my daughter jumps in, “Her shoes!” (“No-shooz”)

    Yes, precisely. A husband is permitted to beat his wife if she leaves the house without her shoes.

    And THAT, my friends, is how disputes in fiqh are born.

    Thanks for this article. It’s a great discussion. Jazak Allahu khair!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Assalamu’ Aalaikum Theresa

    I have a problem with “2-aRABIC mEANINGS. You said that DARABA will mean LEAVE in this context. But I beg to differ here. If we understand this verse Quran 4:34 through hadees, then it does say to beat if husband witness manifest indecenct behaviour or any infidelity. For reference read Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1163 / Sunan Al-Kubra Al-Bayhaqi 8849/ Sahih Muslim 1218 a . But beating should be in such a way that it doesn’t break her skin or leave a mark or scar or injure her badly. The purpose behind this is not to hurt or humiliate the woman, rather it is intended to make her realize that she has transgressed against her husband’s rights, and that her husband has the right to set her straight and discipline her. This shows it is more of a psychological thing than a physical one and the purpose is only to maintain the chastity and mutual love and affection of the spouses. If a wrong conduct of the woman is not checked then surely the relation will be adversely effected.The companions of Prophet Muhammed (p) and the Tabi’een (individuals who did not meet the Prophet but met his companions) such as, Abdullah bin Masud (d. 650), Ibn Abbas (619 – 687), Sa’id bin Al-Musayyib (637 – 715), Ash-Sha’bi (d. 722-23), Al-Hasan (d. 728), Ibn Sirin (653 – 733), Mujahid (642 – 722), Ikrimah (d. 723), Sa’id bin Jubayr (665 – 714), Abu Qilabah (d. 722-23), Abu Salih, Ad-Dahhak (d. 723), Zayd bin Aslam (d. 753), Ata Al-Khurasani (670 – 752), As-Suddi (d. 745), Sa’id bin Hilal and others have said that ‘Fahisa Mubayyina’ means “adultery” or advancing sexual desire or lust (cheating) to another man.

    Next you quoted Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Hafsa. Prophet and Hafsa R.A. only had argument and SHE retorted to Allah’s messenger that made HIM sad and he spent days alone. So Hafsa R.A. didn’t to any such thing that deserves beating. Islam doesn’t allow to beat wife in case of any difference of opinion or in case of any heated argument. It only allows husband to beat when there is manifest indecent behaviour.

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    1. I understand your position and have to respectfully disagree. There are multiple meanings of the word Darabah. I have actually taken a more strict meaning (leave) than some. But I ask you, why take the one meaning that means “physically beat”? Is is simply because some scholars do so? Is this not a form of blind following? Was this the interpretation of the Prophet and His companions?

      Allah tells us not to read our desires into ambiguous verses. {It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise – they are the foundation of the Book – and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah. But those firm in knowledge say, “We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord.” And no one will be reminded except those of understanding.} (3:7)

      This verse with a word darabah that has so many meaning is a stellar case in point. Men, not you but some for sure, have a desire use force to get what they want. I think that history itself with witness to this fact. It may be easy and suitable from the some men’s perspective to wish to use beating or force to rectify a situation to his favor. But I will tell you that any person who is not seeing your point of view and you use physical force to make them “see it” no matter how lightly the force is applied, the opposite will be the outcome. The person beaten will go further away from the perpetrator because physical force is a way to intimidate and humiliate. Think about it. Does this work for you? If someone smacked you upside the head or even just took a miswak and hit you with it, would you be more inclined to love them and see things from their side?

      It the person being beaten does actually respond in favor of the one beating them, then the beater has only created a captive with Stockholm syndrome. And how is this a relationship with mutual understanding, with both parties being helpers to one another, and having mercy and affectionate love? I must say that meaning of the word darabah contradicts a lot of Quran and hadith. Live with them in kindness. Do not revile or beat them. Allah put mercy and affectionate love between spouses, etc. This is too much evidence to the contrary to say that this is the specific meaning of an ambiguous word.

      More to this point, and this is where I agree with you, this darabah (whatever meaning you take) is only in the case of infidelity. Many men, and some scholars encourage them to take this verse to mean that they can beat their wives in any case that they are displeased with them. This is a horrifying reality many women in our ummah face. Even if their husband thinks there is too much salt in their dinner, they feel that “religiously” they have the “right” to strike them. This is why I cited the case of Hafsa, because many people have this gross misinterpretation and understanding. And many scholars will not speak out against this and say, NO! I have studied all of this for years. Kindly watch the video I linked and this shorter one here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlEc8z3n-Bg

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