The Place of Women in Pure Islam
by M. Rafiqul-Haqq and P. Newton
Chpt 4, Husband's Rights
1. MAN MAY BEAT AND SEXUALLY DESERT HIS WIFE
The Qur'an describes the natural relationship between the husband and the
wife as one of love and mercy : "He has set between you love (mawaddah) and
mercy." Q 30:21. A contemporary scholar, Sayyed Qotb sees that the love and
the mercy spoken of in this verse as the natural feelings the man has for
the opposite sex that was planted by the creator. Earlier scholars saw that
"love" between the husband and the wife in the above verse refers to the
sexual act, while "mercy" refers to the offspring of the man and his wife.
The important thing to note is that this love and mercy is not found in the
man apart from the woman, but it is a mutual thing found in both. And the
Qur'an commands men to "Consort with them (women) in kindness (ma'ruf)."
Q 4:19 According to the Dictionary of Qur'anic terms and concepts the word
"ma'ruf" means "customary law; enjoining good and forbidding evil."
Elsewhere the word is translated many times as equitable as in Usif Ali's
English translation of the Qur'an53 In other words when women behave properly
they are to be treated kindly, the treatment must be equitable according
to the customary laws.
There is also a Hadith that describes the good husband; "The best of you
are those who are the best to their wives." (that Hadith is mentioned
only by Tirmizi). But how far this goodness will go in difficult times, when
the wife does not behave properly?
The man according to the Qur'an has the responsibility to admonish his wife,
and the right to desert her sexually, and to beat her to correct any rebelliousness
in her behaviour.
The Qur'an states:
"Righteous women are therefore obedient, É And those you fear may
be rebellious (nushuz) admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them."
Some translators add the word lightly after 'beat them' in Q 4:34. Others
like Mohammed Pickthall and Rodwell translate the word 'edrebouhon - beat
them' as 'scourge them'.
The occasion in which Q 4:34 was revealed sheds more light on the meaning
of that verse. Most commentators mention that
"the above verse was revealed in connection with a woman who complained
to Mohammad that her husband slapped her on the face (which was still marked
by the slap). At first the Prophet said to her: 'Get even with him', but
then added : 'Wait until I think about it.' Later on the above verse was
revealed, after which the Prophet said: 'We wanted one thing but Allah wanted
another, and what Allah wanted is best.'"
The beating in the previous incident can hardly be described as light, unless
that is what is meant by light beating. This beating comes as the last corrective
measure when sexual desertion fails. Light beating after sexual desertion
is an anticlimax that serves no purpose. But firm beating is the logical
progression from admonishing, then sexually deserting, finally beating her.
This beating must be stronger than sexual desertion to have any effect. This
beating however is not like the whipping of a slave. But "a beating without
causing injury" (agreed upon)
So the man has the right to beat his rebellious wife as long as that beating
is not like the whipping of the slave and will not result in injury.
The translator of Mishkat Al-Masabih wrote in a footnote of Fatwa by Qazi
Khan that said beating the wife mildly is
"allowed in four cases (1) When she does not wear fineries though wanted
by the husband, (2) When she is called for sexual intercourse and she refuses
without any lawful excuse, (3) When she is ordered to take a bath [to clean
herself] from impurities for prayer and she refuses and (4) When she goes
abroad without permission of her husband"
In another footnote the translator of Mishkat Al-Masabih said,
"No wife shall refuse her husband what he wants from her except on religious
grounds ie. at the time of menstrual flow or fasting. Some theologians regard
this refusal as unlawful as the husband may get enjoyment from his wife in
other ways, by embracing, kissing etc. The duty of the wife is to give him
comforts in his bed whenever he wants her."61 (emphasis added)
This beating is the husband's unquestionable right. Ibn Kathir in his commentary
mentioned a Hadith on the authority of zal Ash'ath Ibn al-Qays who was visiting
'Omar and at that time. 'Omar took his wife and beat her, then said to Ash'ath:
'Memorise three things from me, which I memorised from the prophet who said:
"The man is not to be asked why he beat his wife ..."'
Man's right to 'beat his wife' does not belong to the distant past. The
Guardian Weekly reported,
"In 1987 an Egyptian court, following an interpretation of the Koran proposed
by the Syndicate of Arab Lawyers, ruled that a husband had the duty to educate
his wife and therefore the right to punish her as he wished."
Sayyed Qotb a modern scholar and commentator tries to justify the provision
for a man to beat his wife, found in the above Qur'anic verse:
"The facts of life, and the psy chological observations of certain forms
of deviations indicate that this approach (beating the wife) is the most
appropriate one to satisfy a particular form of deviation, reforming the
behaviour of the person...and gratifying her...at the same time! Even without
the existence of this form of psychological deviation, perhaps some women
will not recognise the power of the man whom they love to have as their guardian
and husband, except when the man conquers them physically! This is not the
nature of every woman. But this kind does exist. And it is this kind that
needs this last treatment to be set straight, and remain within the serious
organisation [marriage] in peace and tranquillity."
Some intellectuals, referring to the above quotation, said:
"Women's rebelliousness (nushuz) is a medical condition. It is of two kinds:
The first is the condition when the woman delights to be the submissive partner
who finds pleasure in being beaten and tortured. This is what is called Masochism.
The second is when the woman loves to hurt and master and dominate the other
partner. This is what is called Sadism. Such woman has no remedy except removing
her spikes and destroying her weapon by which she dominates. This weapon
of the woman is her femininity. But the other woman who delights in submission
and being beaten, then beating is her remedy. So the Qur'anic command: 'banish
them to their couches, and beat them' agrees with the latest psychological
findings in understanding the rebellious woman. This is one of the scientific
miracles of the Qur'an because it sums up volumes of the science of psychology
about rebellious women."
The above two quotations state that the Qur'anic injunction to beat the
perverted masochist woman will cure her from her disorder. But will it rather
increase her perversion by giving her the pleasure she sought? Will giving
alcohol to the alcoholic be his remedy too? And why beat the sadist wife?
Why not let her have her own way too, like the masochistic one? Why not let
her beat and torture others? Even if this treatment is of benefit to the
minority of women who are perverted, does this justify the command to beat
the wife who rebels for any and every reason?
Whether or not the beating of wives is justified, this is the man's right,
and his alone.
The man who fears rebelliousness in his wife must admonish her first. If
that does not work, the husband has the right to desert her sexually. If
that does not work either, he has the right to beat her.
Sayyed Qotb explains the dynamics of deserting the wife sexually if admonishing
her does not work:
"Here comes the second phase ... the man has to make a superior psychological
move against all her attraction and beauty, by banishing her to her couch,
for the couch (the bed) is the place of temptation and enticement, where
the rebellious woman reaches the summit of her power. If the man can conquer
his disposition against her temptation, then he has disarmed her from her
sharpest and most treasured weapon."
Another scholar reiterating the above said:
"This sexual desertion is a remedy that curbs the rebelliousness of the
woman, and humiliates her pride, in that which she treasures most, her femininity
... thus inflicting the most humiliating defeat on the woman. "
The man then has the right to desert his wife sexually and beat her, if
he fears rebelliousness in her. The woman, however, can not resort to such
measures, if she fears rebelliousness in her husband, as is clear from the
"If a woman fears rebelliousness or aversion in her husband, there is no
fault in them if the couple set things right between them; right settlement
It is clear from Q 4:128 & Q 4:34 that the Qur'an commands diplomacy
when a woman fears rebelliousness in her husband. But when the man fears
rebelliousness in his wife, the Qur'an commands the use of force and sexual
Bukhari gives an example of the wife's options if she fears cruelty or desertion
on her husband's part in the following Hadith:
"... narrated 'Aisha (regarding the verse:- 'If a wife fears cruelty or
desertion on her husband's part...) It concerns the woman whose husband does
not want to keep her with him any longer, but wants to divorce her and marry
some other lady, so she says to him: 'Keep me and do not divorce me, and
then marry another woman, and you may neither spend on me, nor sleep with
me.' This is indicated by the statement of Allah:- 'There is no blame on
them if they arrange an amicable set tlement between them both, and such
settlement is better.'" (emphasis added)
So according to Bukhari's sound Hadith, the recommended amicable settlement
for the woman who fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, is to
submit to her husband's will to marry another woman, and to forego her financial
and sexual rights.
Beating the rebellious wife is the last resort before divorcing her. She
must be admonished first. If that does not work, the husband has the right
to desert her sexually. The Qur'anic injunction to consort with women kindly
is not inconsistent with beating the rebellious wife and sexually deserting
her, this beating is included and part of the scope of the kind treatment.
The prophet himself, who was the kindest of all Muslims to his wives, deserted
them all sexually for one month. Imam Ghazali puts it this way: "There
is wickedness and weakness in women. Diplomacy and harshness is the remedy
of wickedness, kindness and gentleness is the remedy of weakness."