From the time the Qur'an was revealed, it has unfortunately been subject to gross misinterpretation and mistranslation by traditional sexist men, particularly in regard to the rights and roles of women in society. The most obvious example of this, which can be seen in several English translations of the Qur'an, is that of verse 4:34, where the particular word in Arabic with root Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب has been mistranslated to apparently allow beating of the wife. As ridiculous as this sounds, this misinterpretation is in-fact the result of a biased inclination of a misogynistic attitude in some men, instead of an honest reflection of the most appropriate meaning of the word. By analysing the rules of Arabic grammar, the relevant history and verses of the Qur'an, this article aims to present the reasoning and evidence behind a much more likely meaning of the verse, as well as highlight the deficiencies of interpreting the word as 'beat them' in this context. The following is a translation of verse 4:34 with the word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب left untranslated:
Men are to support women from what God has given some more than others and from what they spend from their wealth. The righteous women are those who are devoted to God, guarding the unseen as God would have them guard. Those from whom you fear discord, discuss with them, avoid them in bed and اضرب them. If they pay heed to you, do not seek a way against them. God is Exalted and Almighty. (4:34)
The word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب is a versatile word such that depending on the expression, context and usage, it can take one of several different meanings. A number of different meanings have been used in the Qur'an itself. Common to all these different meanings, is an underlying sense of the word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب , which in its natural state implies an effect of 'putting forth' something or someone, regardless of the intended meaning. Hence, Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب can take the meaning of 'hit' if the context and its usage implies that someone is 'putting forth' their hand to strike someone. However, this is by no means the only meaning of the word. In fact, the list of definitions of this word in Classical Arabic dictionaries span across several pages. The Arabic-English Lexicon by Edward Lane (d. 1876 CE) is a dictionary of Classical Arabic regarded as one of the most monumental works produced. The definitions of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in Lane's Lexicon spans across seven pages1). Lane's Lexicon was largely based on Taj al-Arus by Al-Zubaidi (d. 1768 CE), which incorporates the knowledge contained in almost all previous Arabic lexicons and lexicological works, including the Lisan al-Arab by Ibn Manzur. A total of 112 sources are acknowledged in the Preface of Taj al-Arus by Al-Zubaidi. The definitions of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in Taj al-Arus spans across eighteen pages2).
It is well-known that no language will translate word-for-word to every other language in the world and remain grammatically correct. However, for the purpose of illustrating how a word can have multiple meanings in a language depending on the expression, context and usage, it can be useful to present a few examples of this from the English language. The following are different meanings that the words 'hit', 'cut' and 'strike' can take depending on the expression, context and usage of the word. Notice how all these meanings take a non-physical and non-violent form, despite the basic word-form assuming a physical connotation.
The verb 'Hit': 3)
The verb 'Cut': 4)
The verb 'Strike': 5)
The word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب has been used throughout the Qur'an with at least ten different meanings, depending on the context, usage and expression. The following are different meanings of the word used in the Qur'an along with the relevant verse references:
To travel, to get out: See Qur'an 3:156; Qur'an 4:101; Qur'an 38:44; Qur'an 73:20; Qur'an 2:273
To set up: Qur'an 43:58; See Qur'an 57:13
To put forward: See Qur'an 14:24, Qur'an 14:45; Qur'an 16:75, Qur'an 16:76, Qur'an 16:112; Qur'an 18:32, Qur'an 18:45; Qur'an 24:35; Qur'an 30:28, Qur'an 30:58; Qur'an 36:78; Qur'an 39:27, Qur'an 39:29; Qur'an 43:17; Qur'an 59:21; Qur'an 66:10, Qur'an 66:11
To turn away, to withdraw: See Qur'an 43:5
To stamp, to tread: See Qur'an 24:31;
To condemn: See Qur'an 2:61
To strike: See Qur'an 2:60, Qur'an 7:160; Qur'an 8:12; Qur'an 20:77; Qur'an 26:63; Qur'an 37:93; Qur'an 47:4; Qur'an 8:50; Qur'an 47:27
To seal, to draw over: See Qur'an 18:11
To cover: See Qur'an 24:31
To explain: See Qur'an 13:17
Considering the different possible meanings of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب , the question is: what is the original intended meaning of this word in verse 4:34? Even if we place all the moral issues aside regarding the beating of women, the intended meaning should still make sense in the context and be logical while fitting with the rest of the Qur'an. The Qur'an advises on considering all possible viewpoints and then following only the 'best':
The ones who listen to what is being said and then FOLLOW THE BEST of it. These are the ones whom God has guided and these are the ones who possess intelligence. (39:18) الَّذِينَ يَسْتَمِعُونَ الْقَوْلَ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُ أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَاهُمُ اللَّهُ وَأُولَئِكَ هُمْ أُولُو الأَلْبَابِ
Verse 4:34 outlines steps which can be taken in order to attempt resolution of marital conflict and resolution between the couple. The second step mentioned in the verse, after 'discussing with / advising' the partner, is to 'avoid / withdraw' from them in bed. This step is a clear indication that according to the Qur'an, actions of withdrawal / separation from the partner in a marital conflict can be a useful way to attempt resolving the disputes and to approach reconciliation. It therefore makes sense for the third step mentioned in the verse to follow a similar line of thought in terms of separation / withdrawal. If we consider the use of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in verse 26:63, we see that the action of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in this verse resulted in physical separation of the sea into two parts:
We revealed to Moses, 'Strike the sea with your staff' and it SEPARATED, and each part was like a great towering mountain. (26:63) فَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ مُوسَىٰ أَنِ اضْرِب بِّعَصَاكَ الْبَحْرَ فَانفَلَقَ فَكَانَ كُلُّ فِرْقٍ كَالطَّوْدِ الْعَظِيمِ
In this context, it is clear that 'strike' does not refer to a forceful or violent strike but a mere wielding of the staff to separate the sea. Hence, this verse provides a visual example of how the Qur'an uses Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in a non-violent manner causing separation of two parts that were initially together as one. This is not unlike the unity and bond in a strong marital relationship. Also, if we look at the use of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in verse 43:5, we see that the word has been used with this meaning of 'withdrawing / turning away', further resembling separation:
Shall We TURN AWAY from you the reminder, disregarding you, because you are a transgressing people? (43:5) أَفَنَضْرِبُ عَنْكُمُ الذِّكْرَ صَفْحًا أَنْ كُنْتُمْ قَوْمًا مُسْرِفِينَ
Given the context of verse 4:34, it makes most sense for Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب to be taking this same meaning of 'turning away / withdrawing'. The word should be taken generally as a meaning of turning way / withdrawing from, ie. any type of separation, similar to the previous step of separation in bed. A suitable English word to use in the translation of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in verse 4:34 is 'shun'. The definitions of 'shun' in English dictionaries include the following:
It should be noted that whether or not this step of 'shunning / turning away' requires the husband or wife to move out of the house is not specified in the verse because it depends on each individual situation of marital conflict. Even if the verse has mentioned avoiding / withdrawing in bed, there can be other ways of avoiding or keeping away from a spouse without leaving the house. However, in a situation where there is high risk of domestic violence between a couple, a separation from the house may be appropriate to ease the tension and reduce risks of physical harm to each other.
The men being addressed in verse 4:34, instead of women, is not an important point because the same course of action in the verse can be taken by the wife, in compliance with verse 4:128. The same conditional word 'discord / marital problems' Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز has been used in both 4:34 and 4:128 for the man and woman:
If a woman fears discord (Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز) or shunning from her husband, they can reach terms of reconciliation between themselves, and reconciliation is best. Present in mankind is arrogance, but if you do good and are conscious of God, then God is ever-acquainted with what you do. (4:128) وَإِنِ امْرَأَةٌ خَافَتْ مِنْ بَعْلِهَا نُشُوزًا أَوْ إِعْرَاضًا فَلا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَا أَنْ يُصْلِحَا بَيْنَهُمَا صُلْحًا وَالصُّلْحُ خَيْرٌ وَأُحْضِرَتِ الأَنْفُسُ الشُّحَّ وَإِنْ تُحْسِنُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
If a period of separation does not help to resolve the marital conflict between the couple by themselves, then the next verse 4:35 mentions that some form of authority appoints an arbiter from the man's and the woman's side to take the case forward:
If you fear a rift between them both, arrange an arbiter from his side and an arbiter from her side. If they both want reconciliation, God will make them reconcile. God is All-Knowing and All-Acquainted. (4:35) وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُوا حَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهَا إِنْ يُرِيدَا إِصْلاحًا يُوَفِّقِ اللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا
The meaning of 'shun / leave' in this verse is especially logical because not all cases of marital discord would require referral to third parties / arbiters as mentioned in the above verse. A period of separation allows a thought-out decision to be made regarding whether this should occur. For example, if at the time of separation, the husband had already been extremely violent and abusive to his wife, the wife would have the opportunity to decide whether it is better to refer this to arbiters for a divorce. The period of separation would also stop opportunities for such physical abuse to continue. If, however, at the time of separation, there has been no physical violence and the marital disagreement can be resolved by the couple themselves, then they may decide that it is not necessary to refer the case to arbiters at all. This is of-course an important decision regarding possible divorce, so a period of separation makes sense to consider the options and make the best decision.
If arbiters need to be involved, either the husband or wife may notify a relevant authoritative body to arrange this. This may be a legal system or other government organisation dealing with marital problems. The exact protocols of this will depend on a society's norms and practices at a given time. The case may or may not need to be dealt with by a court, with members of the families involved, where a final decision regarding divorce or reconciliation can be made.
Despite the possibility of several meanings of a word, it is important that a word is being used in the grammatically correct manner for a given context and meaning. In the case of the meaning of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب as 'shun / leave', the following are relevant points to consider.
The exact pronunciation / vocalisation of words in Arabic can imply a certain form and meaning of the words being used. However, it is not well known even among Muslims that the vocalisation signs and short vowels (diacritic marks) which punctuate the present day copies of the Qur'an were in fact totally absent in the early days after Prophet Muhammad's death. The small signs and vowels were added gradually over many years – starting with small dots and eventually into a detailed system – and can be categorised into four stages, as the following illustration outlines:
1) In late 8th century / early 9th century, the Arabic script had no dots, short vowels or diacritic marks:9)
2) In 9th–10th century: Under the Abbasid dynasty, Abu al-Aswad’s system established red dots with each arrangement or position indicating a different short vowel:10)
3) In late 9th / early 10th century: A second black-dot system was used to differentiate between letters11), like fā’ ف and qāf ق :
4) In the 11th century: In al-Farāhídi’s system, dots were changed into shapes resembling the letters to transcribe the corresponding long vowels:12)
Eventually, the Qur'an was transformed into a standardised structure by the Egyptian government in 1924, comprising a complete set of diacritics, signs and short vowels (highlighted by the green arrows in the following image around the word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب ):
Now that we have seen how the text of the Qur'an evolved through the introduction of diacritics and signs, we can take a look at a real example of how Qur'anic verse 4:34 appeared in the early days after Prophet Muhammad's death. The following manuscript of verse 4:34 was discovered in Yemen in 1972. It has been traced back to the 1st century of Hijra13). We can see how there are no vocalisation signs or short vowels present at all. It should be realised that the Qur'an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad without those additional diacritics and it was left with us in the simplest form. Since the vocalisation signs relate to a vocal / oral transmission of the pronunciation / recitation of the Qur'an written years later, there is no guarantee of their reliability because they don't form part of the original text. Therefore, the addition of vocalisation signs later do not provide support for interpreting or not interpreting the Qur'an in a certain way. In the manuscript below, verse 4:34 has been outlined in green and the word with root Da-Ra-Ba اضرب has been outlined in red. Notice how they are the individual letters only written in the basic form:
According to traditional sources, the Arabic diacritics in the very beginning were introduced by means of red dots only, by Abu Al-Aswad Al-Duali - who died in 67AH / 686CE - and then further developed by Nasr ibn Asim Al-Laythi - who died in 129AD / 746CE. Sourced from the book, 'Arabic Manuscripts - A Vademecum for Readers' by Adam Gacek14):
The use of these diacritics and vocalisation signs emerged as a gradual process, initially involving red dots, then black dots, then slanting dashes. The increasing insertion of these signs into the Qur'an did not avoid opposition in the early days, both among the religious circles and people of a literary background. The following is from the book 'Linguistics in the Middle Ages Phonetic Studies in Early Islam'15):
Sources suggest that significant changes in the form of diacritics were added to the Qur'an in the ninth to tenth century (CE), two centuries after prophet Muhammad's death. Until then, many manuscripts of the Qur'an comprised mainly of a 'skeleton' of consonantal letters without short vowels and vocalisation signs. This is highlighted in the following excerpt from 'The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia'16)
An early leader of one of the 'Four Schools of Thoughts' in Sunni religion, Malik Ibn Anas (d. 795 CE), is known to have disapproved of the addition of vocalisation signs and diacritics to the Qur'an and forbade people from including them in official texts. This is highlighted in the article by Geoffrey Khan in 'Manuscripts of the Middle East17):
It was only in the beginning of the tenth century (CE) that specific readings of the Qur'an were enforced by the Abbasid authority, mainly by Ibn Mujahid who died in 936 CE. Those who refused to recite according to Ibn Mujahid's view of the Qur'an were brought to trial and punished by flogging. It was the first time after Prophet Muhammad's death that the Qur'anic text was beginning to be used more than simply an aid for recital, rather it was being used more as an official score for specific ways of reciting the Qur'an. Sourced from: 'The Cambridge Companion to the Qur'an' by Jane Dammen McAuliffe:18)
After Ibn Mujahid's intervention, copies of the Qur'an were increasingly produced according to one of his accepted readings. More and more signs were added culminating toward a fixed single version of vocalised text. Sourced from: 'The Cambridge Companion to the Qur'an' by Jane Dammen McAuliffe:19)
Today, most Muslims have no idea that the Qur'an existed in alternative forms other than the common version of the Qur'an now available with all the diacritics and vocalisation signs. In fact, the version of the Qur'an widely used throughout the world, in almost all Muslim households and mosques, is the Egyptian edition of the Qur'an first published on 10th July 1924. However, when this was first being published, there was no intention for the publication to become a canonised worldwide version of the Qur'an. The reason behind producing this edition was the Egyptian government's wish to produce a uniform version of the text to be to taught in Egypt's schools and educational institutions. Sourced from the book 'The Qur’an in Its Historical Context'20) by Gabriel Said Reynolds:
The Egyptian standardised version of the Qur'an did not aim to preserve the original ancient text of the Qur'an. On the contrary, it aimed to preserve and fix a specific reading of the Qur'an from the eighth century (CE). This is despite the fact that there were several versions of the vocalised text with the diacritics present even back in the tenth century, when Ibn Mujahid decided to intervene. Also sourced from the book 'The Qur’an in Its Historical Context'21) by Gabriel Said Reynolds:
The Egyptian government classed these variations of Qur'anic text with different versions of diacritics as 'errors'; hence they decided to destroy other versions of the Qur'anic text they did not agree with by sinking them in a river. This is similar to the actions of Uthman Ibn Affan (d. 95 AH / 714 CE) back in the first century of Hijra, who destroyed different versions of the Qur'an in favour of authorising his own version. Sourced from: 'The Qur’an in Its Historical Context'22) by Gabriel Said Reynolds:
Since the Arabic diacritics and vocalisation signs have become common in modern Arabic usage, the educational literature and books on Arabic grammar today usually make use of these diacritics when explaining basic Arabic grammar concepts. It should be borne in mind though that these diacritics did not exist in the early days as shown above.
Arabic words can take one of several forms according to Western classification of Arabic grammar. These forms can have different meanings and can be explained with the English verb 'press' as an example. The word 'press' can be put in different forms such as 'repress', 'depress', or 'pressurise' with notably different meanings:
Press: To act upon with steadily applied weight or force.
Repress: To keep under control, check, or suppress (desires, feelings, actions, tears, etc.).
Depress: To lower in force, vigor, spirits, activity, etc.; weaken; make dull.
Pressurise: To increase the pressure on a gas or liquid by putting it under greater pressure.
One of the meanings of the fourth form of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب is to 'turn away / shun / avoid', as shown by the Lexicon excerpt presented later in this article. The fourth form of the word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب is denoted by the letter Alif ا included as the prefix, forming the word اضرب. In the non-imperative / non-command form, the word is used in the past tense. The following is sourced from the book, 'Mastering Arabic Grammar' by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar23):
Unlike any other Arabic grammatical form of verb, this is the only form in which the imperative / command form of the word looks identical to the non-imperative / non-command fourth form word, making this a special case. This is highlighted by G M Wickens in 'Arabic Grammar - A First Workbook':
The imperative of the fourth form word is formed by first transforming the root word into the fourth form by adding the Alif ا as a prefix. Normally, to transform the word into imperative form, an Alif ا would also be included as a prefix; however, since there has already been an Alif ا included, a second Alif ا is not required for this purpose. In Arabic, an Alif ا as a prefix can also be used in the interrogative form, but this is not relevant here. Examples of the imperative can be seen in the following excerpt sourced from 'Modern Standard Arabic Grammar: A Learner's Guide'24) by Mohammad T Alhawary:
The following passage, from the book 'An Introduction to Modern Arabic' by Farhat J Ziadeh25), shows how a fourth form word in Arabic looks identical to the imperative of the fourth form without the diacritics added. Note the exception to this rule is only with words which end with specific letters such as Ya ي , which does not apply to Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب:
There is a common misconception that verb forms in Arabic prescribe a strict pattern of specific meaning to every type of word. However, this is not true as the form of verb itself is not enough to define a meaning of a word in any form. In other words, the meanings of a word need to be looked at individually given the form and context, rather than assuming a fixed meaning from the form pattern alone. This is explained in the book 'Arabic Grammar - A First Workbook' by G M Wickens26):
It can be understood that one of the reasons for the use of diacritics has been to disallow the ambiguity between the imperative of fourth form and the other forms of this word. Hence, without the use of diacritics in verse 4:34, the interpretation would allow the use of a fourth form verb in the imperative form. Sourced from the book 'Arabic Morphology and Phonology based on the Marah Al-Awrah'27) by Ahmad b. Ali b. Masud:
In summary, the word اضرب in verse 4:34 grammatically allows two possibilities. Either the word is being used as the imperative of the first form, or it is being used as the imperative of the fourth form meaning 'shun / leave / withdraw from'. Both these forms look the same because the imperative of the first form takes a single Alif ا as a prefix and the imperative of the fourth form also keeps a single Alif ا without being doubled in the imperative. The following illustration summarises how both forms result in the same appearance:
Therefore, this verse does not need to take the first form meaning of 'beat them / hit them'. The two other grammatical possibilities of the structure of اضرب would be, 'you shunned them' (fourth form) or 'you shall shun them' (imperative of fourth form). Given the context of the verse, the latter meaning is the only one fitting both grammatically and logically. Sequentially: the advice is to first discuss with the wife, then avoid in bed, then shun or withdraw from them, then – in the next verse (4:35) – appoint arbiters for a possible divorce. That is a logical chain of events.
In verse 43:5, the preposition 'An عن has been used to express the meaning of turn away 'from (you)'. However, this preposition is not required in all cases in order for Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب to take the meaning of separation / turning away. This is highlighted in Lane's Lexicon in the section shown below28), where the word has been shown both with and without the preposition applied (underlined in red). Notice that the word '[or]' (circled in red) has been used to show that the word may be used with OR without the preposition in order for that meaning to apply:
In the excerpt above, Lane makes reference to Taj al-Arus as his authority for using this word without the preposition. He has indicated this by use of (TA:) after the word اضرب , as he references in his preface below29):
If we look at the definition of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in Taj al-Arus, in the relevant section discussing this word's meaning of 'turn away / withdraw from', we find that Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب has been used both with and without the preposition 'An عن, just as Lane points out in his definition. In the passage below, the word ' اضرب ' without the preposition has been underlined in red. Notice that this underlined word is in the same fourth form of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب as in verse 4:34 without the preposition. Notice also that Qur'anic verse 43:5, which uses Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب with the meaning of 'turn away / withdraw from', has been quoted in the same passage30):
Verse 43:5 makes use of a non-imperative expression, 'turn away from you', whereas verse 4:34 uses an imperative expression, 'turn them away', rendered literally as 'put forth them' or 'put them forth'. One is saying 'shun them' (verse 4:34) and the other is saying 'shun from you' (verse 43:5). It is therefore not necessary for verse 4:34 to make use of the preposition 'An عن like in verse 43:5. In English, we can either translate verse 4:34 with the English preposition 'from' as: 'turn away from them / separate from them / withdraw from them', or we can translate it without using the preposition as follows:
However, it should be remembered that an Arabic word can be broad enough to be translated into more than one way in English.
In Arabic grammar, like in English, a transitive verb is one which takes a direct object, ie. there is something or someone to which the action of the verb is being performed. Conversely, an intransitive verb is by definition one which lacks a direct object. This is mentioned in the book, 'The Arabic Verb: Form and Meaning in the Vowel-lengthening Patterns' by John Benjamins31):
A particular form of verb is not inherently transitive or intransitive by nature, but is determined by its meaning and construction in a sentence. Hence, whether a verb is transitive or intransitive does not provide an absolute rule for defining the verb in a specific way. From the book, 'Arabic - An Essential Grammar', by Faruk Abu Shaqra32):
A transitive verb may or may not be used with a preposition, without necessarily changing the transitive nature of the verb or affecting its meaning in the given context. Also, the use of a preposition does not necessarily render a verb intransitive, nor does it restrict the verb to specific meanings. This is because a particular verb may have various meanings possible with or without the use of a preposition, as explained in the book, 'A New Approach to Teaching Arabic Grammar', by Abdallah Nacereddine33):
In the expression “اضرب them” in verse 4:34, the word 'them' - referring to wives / women in this context - would be the direct object pronoun, whereas اضرب is the transitive verb. Taking the basic meaning of اضرب as an imperative with a direct object, in English this takes the meaning of 'put forth them / shun them / leave them' without any need to use a preposition. Whenever the word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب is used in the Qur'an without a preposition, it has the meaning of 'putting something forth' or 'putting something forward', an expression which effectively can mean to 'turn away from' or 'go forth from' someone. Verse 43:57 uses Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب as a transitive verb with a human object, similar to verse 4:34, where Prophet Jesus is 'put forth' or put forward as an example. Keeping in mind that an act of separation or withdrawal is also effectively a form of 'putting forth' or 'going forth from' something or someone, this example provides consistency in the Qur'anic usage of the verb. In other words, the imperative expression in verse 4:34 can be rendered literally in English as 'put forth them' (or 'put them forth'), providing the meaning of shunning or leaving them.
In order to properly understand verse 4:34 and the word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in particular, it is important to define a few relevant words in verse 4:34 itself and in verse 4:128 which mentions the reciprocal situation of marital problems between the wife and husband. Having correctly defined these words, there is lower likelihood of justifying a false interpretation of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب, especially from an idea relating to 'punishment', 'disobedience' or superiority of the husband.
Verse 4:34 begins by stating that men are Qa-Wa-Ma ق و م of women. This word refers to those who stand up for, take care of, or look after others. In other words, the men have a responsibility to take care of their partners while living with them. The word certainly does not confer any level of leadership, maintenance rights, or superiority of the husband over the wife. The following is a definition of this word given in the publication, 'Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur'anic Usage' by Elsaid M. Badawi and Muhammad Abdel Haleem:34)
The word Qa-Na-Ta ق ن ت has been used in verse 4:34 to describe women who are devout and obedient to God. The same word Qa-Na-Ta ق ن ت has been used in a dozen other places in the Qur'an, where every single use of this word has been solely in the meaning of 'devoted and obedient to God'. The following are references to the twelve verses in the Qur'an using this word Qa-Na-Ta ق ن ت , all with this same meaning: verses 3:43, 33:31, 2:116, 2:238, 3:17, 16:120, 30:26, 33:35, 39:9, 66:12, 33:35, 66:5. Hence, there is absolutely no reason to change the meaning of this word in verse 4:34 to imply obedience to husbands instead of God. Such interpretation is indeed only wishful thinking and implied a level of idolatry by exchanging devotion to God for devotion to husbands. The definition of this word in 'Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur'anic Usage' is shown below.35) In relation to devotion to God, notice how the definition includes acts which clearly relate to God instead of humans, ie. 'performing the prayer', 'fearing the Day of Judgement' and 'hoping for the mercy of his Lord':
The word Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز literally means 'to rise against' and is used in both situations where the husband commits Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز (verse 4:128) and the wife commits Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز (verse 4:34). In the marital context, the word means 'marital discord / discordant behaviour / hostility'. This definition can be seen in 'Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur'anic Usage'36):
The verses 4:34 and 4:128 state that both the husband and wife can 'fear' this discordant behaviour (Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز) from the other partner, suggesting that the situation is possible both ways and is inevitably subjective to an extent in terms of who is in the wrong. 'Fear' in the context of verse 4:34 and 4:128 is used in the sense of 'apprehension', 'anticipation', or awareness of what is happening. This 'fear', or perception / opinion is inevitably subjective and naturally personal in such a situation. It can be biased because either the man or the woman can be having the right or wrong perception or fear in a given circumstance. Either the husband or the wife may be thinking they are right while actually committing Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز themselves, but the Qur'an provides guidance in a way that can be used by either partner. The fact that the same word 'fears' is used in both 4:34 and 4:128 supports the view that men and women have their own fears or perspectives in a marital disagreement. The purpose of the verses is not to give a verdict on which side's fear / perception or accusations are correct, but instead to present unbiased guidance on how to approach and deal with a marital conflict between spouses regardless of which side is having the correct fears, opinions, or arguments. Hence, verses 4:34 and 4:128 acknowledge the naturally subjective nature of marital disputes by use of a subjective word.
The first step mentioned in verse 4:34 in the case of a marital discord is the verb Wa-'A-Za و ع ظ , which is best translated in this context as 'advise / discuss / talk to'. One of the meanings of this word is to 'admonish', however in the context of a disagreement between a couple, any form of admonishing, reprimanding, or 'telling the other off' is likely to make things worse. The important first step in a marital disagreement is open communication and discussion between the couple, hence the appropriate meaning of this word in this context is one of good counsel, advice and mutual discussion. 'To advise' is one of the meanings of the word given in 'Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur'anic Usage'37):
One of the meanings of Ta-Wa-'A is to 'obey', but the word also has the meaning of 'comply with', 'pay heed', or 'make acceptable'. This word has been used near the end of verse 4:34 referring to a condition in which the previously mentioned Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز shows signs of improvement or resolution. In other words, it's a condition in which the marital situation has become 'more acceptable' for the couple and one partner has complied with the other in some way. Therefore, 'pay heed to' or 'comply with' is the best meaning of the word in this context. Since the word Qa-Na-Ta ق ن ت earlier in the verse was solely referring to obedience and devotion to God, there is no reason to assume this word Ta-Wa-'A here is suddenly implying obedience to husbands. The below excerpt is a definition sourced from 'Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur'anic Usage':38)
In verse 4:128, in the situation of a wife fearing problems from her husband, the verse mentions two possible types of behaviour from the husband: Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز or 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض:
If a woman fears Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز or 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض from her husband, they can reach terms of reconciliation between themselves, and reconciliation is best. Present in mankind is arrogance, but if you do good and are conscious of God, then God is ever-acquainted with what you do. (4:128) وَإِنِ امْرَأَةٌ خَافَتْ مِنْ بَعْلِهَا نُشُوزًا أَوْ إِعْرَاضًا فَلا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَا أَنْ يُصْلِحَا بَيْنَهُمَا صُلْحًا وَالصُّلْحُ خَيْرٌ وَأُحْضِرَتِ الأَنْفُسُ الشُّحَّ وَإِنْ تُحْسِنُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
The word 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض means to 'turn away', to 'leave' or to 'ignore', as defined in 'Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur'anic Usage':39)
The word 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض in verse 4:128 may be a direct link with Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in verse 4:34, which can also take the meaning of 'turn away', 'leave' or 'ignore'. The word 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض can be applied to both a positive or negative situation and is not itself a negative word. There are many examples of this in the Qur'an, where the word has been used as a positive / good command form with the meaning of 'turn away'; see verses: 4:16, 4:63, 4:81, 5:42, 6:68, 6:106, 7:199, 9:95, 11:76, 15.94, 28:55, 32:30, 53:29, 66:3, 23:3. If 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض in verse 4:128 is used in a context where the husband has correctly followed verse 4:34 by turning away from his wife, then the neutral nature of 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض allows a correlation to be made with verse 4:34 since the correct advice was followed by the husband. As mentioned earlier, the 'fear' from the husband or wife is subjective and opinionated, so it makes sense for verse 4:128 to keep things more open by using two words, Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز and 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض , and by using a neutral word ( 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض ) that can apply to both a negative or positive situation.
Hence, from the two subjective words Na-Sha-Za ن ش ز and 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض , we can expect two possible scenarios for the wife when reconciliation does not occur:
Worth noting is that verse 4:128 says the couple can reconcile 'between themselves' in a situation when 'A-Ra-Da ع ر ض has occured. This is relevant because the series of steps in verse 4:34 outlined above allow a clear opportunity for the couple to work things out 'between themselves' before arbiters need to be considered.
Any sane person with an ounce of conscience will see the illogical and immoral nature of the suggestion that God instructs men to beat women, apparently in an attempt to resolve a marital disagreement. For those who lack such conscience, however, it is important to point out some key arguments and contradictions with principles in the Qur'an when attempting to interpret verse 4:34 in this way.
The Qur'an makes clear that aggression against women is unacceptable, even in the scenario when a divorce may happen. Verse 2:231 states that when in a situation of considering divorce, they may not stay with women while committing Da-Ra ض ر to them. The word Da-Ra ض ر means 'harm', 'hurt', or 'injury' caused to a person, as defined in the Lane's Lexicon excerpt below40):
Verse 2:231 therefore tells men not to harm women when considering divorce:
When you divorce women and they reach their prescribed time, either keep them according to acceptable terms or let go of them according to acceptable terms, but DO NOT KEEP THEM CAUSING HARM / INJURY / HURT (Da-Ra ض ر) such that you commit transgression, for whoever does that has committed a great wrongdoing (2:231) وَإِذَا طَلَّقْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَبَلَغْنَ أَجَلَهُنَّ فَأَمْسِكُوهُنَّ بِمَعْرُوفٍ أَوْ سَرِّحُوهُنَّ بِمَعْرُوفٍ وَلا تُمْسِكُوهُنَّ ضِرَارًا لِتَعْتَدُوا وَمَنْ يَفْعَلْ ذَلِكَ فَقَدْ ظَلَمَ نَفْسَهُ وَلا تَتَّخِذُوا آيَاتِ اللَّهِ هُزُوًا وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَمَا أَنْـزَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَالْحِكْمَةِ يَعِظُكُمْ بِهِ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُواأَنَّ اللَّهَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ
Accordingly, it follows that if God prohibits 'harm' or 'injury' to the wife when given the choice of divorce and prefers divorce over any harmful behavior, then logically it must be forbidden for men to behave in a harmful way when they are not being divorced. Otherwise, an internal contradiction would be created in the Qur'an as it implies that a woman who agrees to a divorce cannot be harmed, whereas a woman who wants to stay married does so under the threat of being beaten by the husband. This, of-course, makes no sense at all as it suggests that divorce is a better option for the woman instead of staying married under the threat of violence and aggression. This is particularly contradictory as, in general, the Qur'an encourages marriage and discourages divorce (eg. see next section on encouraging reconciliation).
There are also several verses in the Qur'an which prohibit aggression and violence except in the case of injustice and war. It would be very strange for verse 4:34 to allow beating of women – an aggressive act by its nature – in contradiction with these overriding verses providing a principle against aggression and intolerance. The following are some of these verses:
You may fight in the cause of God against those who attack you, but DO NOT AGGRESS. GOD DOES NOT LOVE AGGRESSORS. (2:190) وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ
You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict them whence they evicted you. Oppression is worse than murder. Do not fight them at the Sacred Masjid, UNLESS THEY ATTACK YOU FIRST. If the attack you, you may kill them. This is the just retribution for those disbelievers. (2:191) وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُمْ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ وَلا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِنْدَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّى يُقَاتِلُوكُمْفِيهِ فَإِنْ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ كَذَلِكَ جَزَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ
You may fight them to eliminate oppression, and to worship God freely. But if they refrain, DO NOT AGGRESS; aggression is ONLY PERMITTED AGAINST THE AGGRESSORS. (2:193) وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّى لا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ لِلَّهِ فَإِنِ انْتَهَوْا فَلا عُدْوَانَ إِلا عَلَى الظَّالِمِينَ
Oh you who believe, do not prohibit the good things that are made lawful by God, and DO NOT AGGRESS; GOD DOES NOT LIKE THE AGGRESSORS. (5:87) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لا تُحَرِّمُوا طَيِّبَاتِ مَا أَحَلَّ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَلا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ
If they resort to peace, YOU SHALL DO THE SAME, and put your trust in God. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. (8:61) وَإِنْ جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
If they leave you alone, and refrain from fighting you, and offer you peace, then GOD GIVES YOU NO JUSTIFICATION FOR FIGHTING THEM (4:90) إِلا الَّذِينَ يَصِلُونَ إِلَى قَوْمٍ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُمْ مِيثَاقٌ أَوْ جَاءُوكُمْ حَصِرَتْ صُدُورُهُمْ أَنْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ أَوْ يُقَاتِلُوا قَوْمَهُمْ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَسَلَّطَهُمْعَلَيْكُمْ فَلَقَاتَلُوكُمْ فَإِنِ اعْتَزَلُوكُمْ فَلَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ وَأَلْقَوْا إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَمَ فَمَا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ سَبِيلا
In addition to contradicting the general principle against aggression in the Qur'an, violence against women also contradicts the Qur'anic principle of self-defence, ie. retaliation is only permissible in return for a similar assault or act of violence suffered. The Qur'an restricts such retaliatory action to relatively extreme cases of persecution and murder. Hence, men who beat women for petty reasons such as the wife's 'disobedience' to them contradict this principle and commit an act of injustice themselves. This is neither an act of self-defence nor retaliation. The following verses show that retaliation or punishment is only permissible in a similar proportion to aggression carried out against the victim first. In spite of this, the Qur'an advises maximum restraint whenever possible:
When you retaliate, RETALIATE WITH SIMILAR PUNISHMENT TO THAT WHICH YOU ARE INFLICTED. If you exercise patience, that would be better for those who are patient. (16:126) وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُوا بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُمْ بِهِ وَلَئِنْ صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِلصَّابِرِينَ
Those who RETALIATE WITH SIMILAR PUNISHMENT TO THAT WHICH IS INFLICTED ON THEM and then they are further attacked with unjust oppression, God will be their supporter. God is Pardoning and Forgiving. (22:60) ذَلِكَ وَمَنْ عَاقَبَ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبَ بِهِ ثُمَّ بُغِيَ عَلَيْهِ لَيَنْصُرَنَّهُ اللَّهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَعَفُوٌّ غَفُورٌ
During the sacred month, acts of aggression may be met with SIMILAR RETALIATION. Those who transgress against you, RETALIATE WITH SIMILAR PUNISHMENT TO THAT WHICH YOU ARE INFLICTED. Be conscious of God, and remember that God is with those who are conscious of Him. (2:194) الشَّهْرُ الْحَرَامُ بِالشَّهْرِ الْحَرَامِ وَالْحُرُمَاتُ قِصَاصٌ فَمَنِ اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ
Oh you who believe, THE PRINCIPLE OF SIMILAR RETALIATION APPLIES IN THE CASE OF MURDER: the free for the free, the slave for the slave and the female for the female. If remission is made by the victim's kin, grant any reasonable demand and an equitable compensation. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. THOSE WHO TRANSGRESS BEYOND THIS WILL INCUR A PAINFUL PUNISHMENT. (2:178) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِصَاصُ فِي الْقَتْلَى الْحُرُّ بِالْحُرِّ وَالْعَبْدُ بِالْعَبْدِ وَالأُنْثَى بِالأُنْثَى فَمَنْ عُفِيَ لَهُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ شَيْءٌ فَاتِّبَاعٌ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَأَدَاءٌ إِلَيْهِ بِإِحْسَانٍ ذَلِكَ تَخْفِيفٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ فَمَنِ اعْتَدَى بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ فَلَهُ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
Allowing men to beat women contradicts the principle in the Qur'an which encourages peace and reconciliation between a couple. Violence and aggression goes directly against this principle by causing harm, increasing tensions and undoubtedly increasing the chances of a divorce. The following verse clearly states that in a marital dispute, a reconciliation is the ideal outcome if it is agreeable by the couple:
If a wife fears discord or shunning on her husband's part, they may arrange an agreeable reconciliation between themselves, and RECONCILIATION IS BEST. Even though mankind's souls are swayed by greed. If you do good and practise self-restraint, God is well-acquainted with all that you do. (4:128) وَإِنِ امْرَأَةٌ خَافَتْ مِنْ بَعْلِهَا نُشُوزًا أَوْ إِعْرَاضًا فَلا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَا أَنْ يُصْلِحَا بَيْنَهُمَا صُلْحًا وَالصُّلْحُ خَيْرٌ وَأُحْضِرَتِ الأَنْفُسُ الشُّحَّ وَإِنْ تُحْسِنُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
The following verse, immediately after verse 4:34, encourages the appointing of arbiters in an attempt to reach a reconciliation between the couple if possible. It would make no sense for the previous verse to break down the marriage by saying 'beat them' and then in the following verse contradict itself by telling them to attempt reconciliation:
If you fear a breach between them both, appoint arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, GOD WILL CAUSE THEIR RECONCILIATION: For God hath full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things (4:35) وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُوا حَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهَا إِنْ يُرِيدَا إِصْلاحًا يُوَفِّقِ اللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا
The following verse encourages forgiveness and attempts at reconciliation instead of increasing aggressions or physical violence. Notice how the verse mentions the recompense for a 'harm' being a harm equal to it, which goes totally against the idea that a man can beat an 'inferior' wife as a form of 'punishment' for some perceived wrongdoing:
The recompense for a harm is a harm equal to it, but IF A PERSON FORGIVES AND MAKES RECONCILIATION, his reward will be from God: for God does not love those who commit wrongdoing. (42:40) وَجَزَاءُ سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِثْلُهَا فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ الظَّالِمِينَ
God also makes very clear that He expects justice and kindness in the way people are treated and prohibits acts of injustice and oppression. The interpretation of 'beat them' is a clear violation of this principle set by God:
God commands JUSTICE AND KINDNESS and giving to the kin. He prohibits indecency, evil and OPPRESSION / INJUSTICE. He warns you so that you may remember. (16:90) إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَى وَيَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنْكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
The following verse advises men to treat women with justice and fairness and specifically tells them to 'live with them in kindness'. The verse also encourages compromise, patience and understanding when faced with a negative situation with the partner. This is very much contradictory to the idea of using aggression and physical violence against women in a negative situation:
Oh you who believe, it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will, and do not put constraint on them in order to take part of what you have given them, unless they are guilty of serious indecency. LIVE WITH THEM IN KINDNESS. But if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing in which God has placed much good. (4:19) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لا يَحِلُّ لَكُمْ أَنْ تَرِثُوا النِّسَاءَ كَرْهًا وَلا تَعْضُلُوهُنَّ لِتَذْهَبُوا بِبَعْضِ مَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ إِلا أَنْ يَأْتِينَ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُبَيِّنَةٍ وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ فَإِنْ كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ فَعَسَى أَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا
The following verse establishes the type of bond and relationship God expects between a couple in a marriage. God expects them to live in contentment, love and mercy in reflection of a sign of God. In a peaceful marital relationship based on love, there should of-course be no room for hostility or aggression, let alone physical violence:
Among His Signs is that He has created for you soulmates from among yourselves, that you may find CONTENTMENT in them, and He has placed between you LOVE AND MERCY. Indeed, in that are Signs for those who reflect (30:21) وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُمْ مِنْ أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُمْ مَوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
Verse 24:2 of the Qur'an establishes the principle that for both men and women, equal actions lead to equal punishment:
The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. (24:2) الزَّانِيَةُ وَالزَّانِي فَاجْلِدُوا كُلَّ وَاحِدٍ مِنْهُمَا مِائَةَ جَلْدَةٍ
Taking adultery as one of the most serious wrongdoings in a marital context, it makes no sense to say that in the case of adultery there is equal punishment whereas in a lesser marital argument or wrongdoing there is unequal punishment for the husband and wife. This contradicts the principle of equal punishment because in this case, the husband assumes a right to beat his wife as a punishment for wrongdoings that he perceives from her, whereas the wife is not given the same right to inflict this punishment on the husband for wrongdoings that she perceives.
Let us consider how illogical it is to interpret the verse in this way. In this case, verse 4:34 says that when a wife causes a problem in the marriage, her husband should first talk to her about it, then leave their bed, then beat her apparently in the view of increasing his chances of reconciliation. If we check this meaning against the bigger framework with the principle of 'equal behaviour leads to equal punishment', as established in verse 24:2, this implies that when a husband causes a problem in the marriage, his wife can beat him as a form of punishment. At which, he could invoke verse 4:34 to beat her again, such that they beat each other until possibly killing each other from a continuous cycle of physical violence. Surely, this is ridiculous, makes no sense at all and is contradictory to major prohibitions in the Qur'an. On the contrary, verse 4:128 encourages reconciliation, not physical violence, in the case of a husband causing marital problems.
The Qur'an establishes that in situations where a man accuses his wife of something, but does not have any witnesses to support his accusations, he would have to at least testify to some authority - in the form of an oath - that he is not lying and that the wrath of God will be upon him if he is lying. Since this relates to witness / testimony in a marital dispute, it can occur in court proceedings which deal with civil or family disputes, where the authority would be the judge and jury:
Those who accuse their wives and have no witnesses except themselves, their testimony shall be four oaths swearing by God that he is of the truthful. The fifth oath will be that the wrath of God be upon him if he is of the liars. (24:6-7) وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ أَزْوَاجَهُمْ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُمْ شُهَدَاءُ إِلا أَنْفُسُهُمْ فَشَهَادَةُ أَحَدِهِمْ أَرْبَعُ شَهَادَاتٍ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ وَالْخَامِسَةُ أَنَّ لَعْنَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ إِنْ كَانَ مِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ
The verses continue to clarify that in such a case where the husband accuses his wife, the woman has every right to defend herself against his accusations and make a similar testimony that he is lying. Hence, the man's opinion and accusations alone cannot be taken as true for justifying any punishment, without giving the wife the right to defence and testimony:
Punishment will be averted from her if she gives four testimonies swearing by God that he is of the liars. The fifth oath will be that the wrath of God be upon her if he is being truthful. (24:8-9) وَيَدْرَأُ عَنْهَا الْعَذَابَ أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَرْبَعَ شَهَادَاتٍ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ وَالْخَامِسَةَ أَنَّ غَضَبَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهَا إِنْ كَانَ مِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ
If taking the meaning of 'beat them' in verse 4:34, this would suggest that when a man accuses his wife, for example of flirting with another man, he can make a decision himself to punish the woman by beating and attacking her without giving her a chance to defend herself as the above principle establishes. He could effectively make himself both judge and jury by denying women rights that are given to them in the Qur'an.
Whenever the Qur'an uses Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب to possibly mean a literal hit / strike, the preposition Bi ب , which means 'with / by', is always used in the context. This distinction may have been lost over the years in spoken Arabic as the non-use of such preposition in the meaning of hit / strike is unheard of in the earliest Classical Arabic dictionaries. In every case where the imperative verb Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب is used in the Qur'an to denote a 'strike', whether idiomatically or otherwise, the Qur'an always qualifies it by either one or both of the following:
(1) = What object to use to strike with
AND / OR
(2) = What part of the body or 'object' to strike
The following are verses of the Qur'an which use this meaning:
However, if taking Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in verse 4:34 to mean 'beat them', we have an unusual anomaly because the verse does not tell us either (1) what object to strike with, or (2) what part of the body to strike. This would contradict with the general usage of the word in the Qur'an because it has no association with preposition Bi ب and no clarification on what part of the body to strike or with what object. Such an isolated, unqualified rendition of the word Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب would also leave it wide open for an aggressive and uncontrolled man to beat his wife in any manner he wanted, with any level of force, attacking any parts of the body and using whatever weapons he desired. Of-course, this does not fit into the Qur'an at all and goes against the Qur'anic pattern of language when a meaning of 'hit / strike' is intended.
Many of those who take the meaning of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in verse 4:34 as 'beat them' feel secure in claiming that 'beating is the last step' in the process, 'it is only resorted to if other steps have not worked'. Despite beating being a barbaric and unjustified act even as a last step, there is another problem with this understanding in Arabic. The word Wa و , which literally means 'And', used to connect the three steps in the verse, does not necessarily imply a significant separation in time between the steps. Hence, 'discuss with them', 'avoid them in bed' and 'اضرب them' do not have to be taken as a sequential series of steps that progress to the next step only when the previous step has had significant time to pass and has failed in reaching a resolution.
The Arabic word Wa و does not always indicate a separation in time but an action that can be performed simultaneously or indeed in a relatively short sequence, unseparated by significant time-spans. Also, if the separator Wa و was to be taken as a separation of disciplinary steps, it would be unusual for the Qur'an to not outline what those time periods may be. There would be no objective criterion to judge each stage, leaving the matter entirely at the subjective whim of the husband, who may very quickly be in an extremely aggressive and angry state. Hence, linguistically, this open nature of the word Wa و in verse 4:34 would allow a man to jump straight to step 3 of the verse and beat his wife without having to make attempts at any of the previous steps.
A different example of a verse using the word Wa و shows how the word does not necessarily imply a separation in time, but instead can be a simultaneous action. In the verse following verse 4:34, verse 4:35 speaks of arranging arbitration by appointing an arbiter from the man's family 'AND (Wa و)' the woman's family:
If you fear a breach between them both, appoint an arbiter from his people AND (Wa و) an arbiter from her people; if they both desire reconciliation, God will cause them to reconcile. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (4:35) وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُوا حَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهَا إِنْ يُرِيدَا إِصْلاحًا يُوَفِّقِ اللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا
Clearly, appointing arbiters from both sides needs to be done at the same time in order to make a timely arrangement. It would neither be appropriate nor necessary for one to be done after the other with any significant passage of time.
Even in the verse after that, verse 4:36 uses the word Wa و to refer to the sole worship of one God without any partners. The verse encourages people to serve God 'AND (Wa و)' not join partners with Him:
Serve God AND (Wa و) do not join any partners with Him (4:36) وَاعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَلا تُشْرِكُوا بِهِ شَيْئًا
This is clearly not a separation in time but rather two related actions that need to be carried out simultaneously, i.e. Worship God at the same time as not associating partners with Him. There are many other examples of this in the Qur'an, such as 'obeying God and (Wa و) the messenger' - eg. verse 64:12, which are simultaneous actions done at the same time.
Even when the Qur'an uses Wa و in a context where a sequence is implied, the steps are not necessarily separated over a significant period of time and can all be done in a single session or period. For example, verse 5:6 outlines the steps taken for performing ablution:
Oh you who believe, When you stand up for prayer, wash your faces AND (Wa و) your hands to the elbows AND (Wa و) wipe your heads AND (Wa و) your feet to the ankles. (5:6) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ
These steps are also not separated by any significant time periods as they are done in immediate succession to one another in a single sitting of performing ablution. The verse provides a general sequence but does not strictly state that the steps must be performed in the specific order they are mentioned in the verse. This again shows just how open-ended verse 4:34 would become if taking the meaning of 'beat them' because a man in an angry state could simply choose in which order he wishes to interpret verse 4:34 and may decide to beat his wife sporadically on a whim.
The following are published English translations of the Qur'an which support the interpretation of 'shun / leave' as discussed in this article:
Men and women support one another, because God has given each of them more than the other, and because they spend from their wealth. So the righteous women, being loyal, maintain in their absence what God would have them maintain. As for those whom you suspect disloyalty, advise them, refrain from sleeping with them, and SEPARATE FROM THEM. However, if they return to loyalty, do not try to harm them, for God is the Most High, the Great.
Hamid S. Aziz
Men are qawwam (have charge of, are protectors, maintainers) of women in that Allah hath made them superior in strength (or advantages), and in that they expend of their wealth (in support of women). So virtuous women are devoted (or obedient), careful (in their husband's) absence, as Allah has cared for them. But those whose perverseness you fear, admonish them (first) and (then) remove them from your bedchambers, and (lastly) chastise them lightly (or punish by showing disapproval, WITHDRAWING AFFECTION, SEPARATING) ; but if they obey you, then do not seek a way against them; verily, Allah is Exalted and Great.
Men are supporters of wives because God gave some of them an advantage over others and because they spent of their wealth. So the females, ones in accord with morality are the females, ones who are morally obligated and the females, ones who guard the unseen of what God kept safe. And those females whose resistance you fear, then admonish them (f) and abandon them (f) in their sleeping places and GO AWAY FROM THEM (f). Then if they (f) obeyed you, then look not for any way against them (f). Truly, God had been Lofty, Great.
Men are the supports of women, since Allah has favoured some over others in certain respects, and since men are required to bear all family expenses from their (men's) property. The righteous women then are obedient guardians of privacy as Allah has guarded it. And as for those women, on whose part you fear refractoriness, admonish them, leave them alone in beds and TURN AWAY FROM THEM. Then if they obey you, do not resort to any punitive measure against them. Indeed, Allah is High, Great.
Men are guardians of women, because Allah has made one superior to the other, and (also) because men spend their wealth (on them). So the pious wives are obedient. They guard (their chastity) in the absence of their husbands with the protection of Allah. But those women whom you fear will disobey and defy, admonish them; and (if they do not amend) separate them (from yourselves) in beds; and (if they still do not improve) TURN AWAY FROM THEM, STRIKING A TEMPORARY PARTING. Then if they become cooperative with you, do not seek any way against them. Surely, Allah is Most High, Most Great.
Muhammad Ahmed & Samira Ahmed
The men (are) taking care of matters for livelihood on (for) the women with what God preferred/favoured some of them (men and women) on some, and with what they spent from their (M) properties/possession , so the correct/righteous females are obeying humbly , worshipping humbly, protecting/safekeeping to the invisible with what God protected ; and those whom (F) you fear their (F) quarrel (disobedience) , so advise/warn them (F) and desert/abandon them (F) in the place of lying down (beds), and IGNORE/DISREGARD/push them (F) , so if they obeyed you, so do not oppress/transgress on them (F) a way/method, that God was/is high, mighty/great.
Qur'an - A Reformist Translation
The men are to support the women by what God has gifted them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The reformed women are devotees and protectors of privacy what God has protected. As for those women from whom you fear disloyalty, then you shall advise them, abandon them in the bedchamber, and SEPARATE FROM THEM; if they obey you, then do not seek a way over them; God is High, Great.
Husbands have charge of their wives with the wealth God has given to some over others, and with what they spend out of their wealth. Righteous wives are truly devout, and they guard what God has ordained them to guard in their husbands' absence. If you have reason to fear ill-will from your wives, remind them of the teachings of God, then ignore them when you go to bed, then DEPART AWAY FROM THEM. If they obey you, do not seek to harm them. God is most high and great.
The Monotheist Group
The men are to support the women with what God has bestowed upon them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The upright females are dutiful; keeping private the personal matters for what God keeps watch over. As for those females from whom you fear rebellion, then you shall advise them, and abandon them in the bedchamber, and WITHDRAW FROM THEM; if they obey you, then do not seek a way over them; God is Most High, Great.
Men are to support women from what God has given some more than others and from what they spend from their wealth. The righteous women are those who are devoted to God, guarding the unseen as God would have them guard. Those from whom you fear discord, discuss with them, avoid them in bed and shun them. If they pay heed to you, do not seek a way against them. God is Exalted and Almighty.
Considering the above analysis, we conclude that verse 4:34 of the Qur'an does not carry any violent expression against women and had never intended for it to have such meaning. Rather, the much more likely meaning of Da-Ra-Ba ض ر ب in verse 4:34 is to 'turn away from / leave / shun' women in order to make attempts at reconciliation at times of marital discord. The use of similar wording in verse 4:128 suggests that the same steps can be taken by either the wife or the husband, regardless of who is at fault and regardless of the exact type of marital discord involved. This provides the following logical steps which can be taken by either the wife or husband if it may help resolve the tensions in their particular marital problem:
According to verse 2:231 discussed earlier, divorce would be more suitable as a final step as opposed to a marriage where there is violence against the woman or the woman living under constant threat of violence.
As for those who insist that God allows them to beat women, evil has been made good-seeming to them and they have attributed lies to God. Many simply blind-follow what their parents and forefathers have been doing in their cultures and traditions, even when they commit acts of evil and follow falsehood. God warns people against blind-following evil practices and tells them not to attribute lies to God:
If they commit evil acts, they say: "We found our parents doing it, and God ordered us to do it." Say: "God never commands evil. Do you attribute to God what you do not know?" (7:28) وَإِذَا فَعَلُوا فَاحِشَةً قَالُوا وَجَدْنَا عَلَيْهَا آبَاءَنَا وَاللَّهُ أَمَرَنَا بِهَا قُلْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يَأْمُرُ بِالْفَحْشَاءِ أَتَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ مَا لا تَعْلَمُونَ
Men who beat their wives commit a barbaric, selfish and criminal act of violence which must be punished both through prosecution in a legal system and by the punishment of God. In the verses which follow the one above, God makes clear that these people follow the works of the devil and they do this even with false belief that they are on the right path:
Some of these He has guided, whereas others have strayed into misguidance. That is because they take the devils as allies instead of God. Even then, they think they are rightly guided! (7:30) فَرِيقًا هَدَى وَفَرِيقًا حَقَّ عَلَيْهِمُ الضَّلالَةُ إِنَّهُمُ اتَّخَذُوا الشَّيَاطِينَ أَوْلِيَاءَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ وَيَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّهُمْ مُهْتَدُونَ
Despite these verses making clear that violence against women is a diabolical act of evil, we have seen in this article that such practices contradict many other principles within the Qur'an itself. The principles relating to aggression, reconciliation and equal punishment stand in addition to the overriding principles of justice, tolerance, compassion and use of our God-given conscience. Contradicting these principles after claiming to believe in them is a sign of hypocrisy. God makes a stern warning against those who fall into hypocrisy, stating that they will be severely punished in Hellfire:
The hypocrites will be in the lowest pit of Hellfire. You will find nobody to help them. (4:145) إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ فِي الدَّرْكِ الأَسْفَلِ مِنَ النَّارِ وَلَنْ تَجِدَ لَهُمْ نَصِيرًا
The following websites provide support for the interpretation of 'shun / leave' in verse 4:34 as discussed in this article:
A deeper look at the word 'Daraba' ('to beat') in the Qur'an
A look at the meaning of “Daraba” in the Quran
Does Qur'anic verse 4:34 “allow a superior husband
to beat his inferior, disobedient wife?”
Does the Qur'an really sanction beating of wives?
Errors in English Translations of the Quran
Free-Minds.org - Are women to be beaten?
Grand Qur'aan has prohibited domestic violence negating erroneous “belief” of beating one's wife
Is Beating Women Permitted in Islam?
Reflections on the Bahai teachings - Beat your wives?