In a modern society in which a woman has access to education, and plays a crucial role in building and maintaining society, clinging to old-fashioned notions about disciplining women via violence does not make sense. Whereas this may have been customary in previous eras, using even minimal force is considered a violation and transgression. It is strongly recommended, therefore, that Muslim men today resort to other options to advise and correct their wives when familial discord occurs. As is mentioned in the Qur’anic verse, Allah asks the believers to advise them with good words, or to separate themselves from their wives sexually. Refraining from any sort of striking is closer to the meaning of Allah in this verse and in this context.
Even earlier jurists, in accordance with their understanding that the Qur’anic verse in question considered any sort of hitting as an absolute last resort after other measures had been exhausted, discouraged striking and severely restricted it. In our context, however, we may go farther and say it is entirely inappropriate.
As with all matters, the Prophetic example is our ideal and our guide. When the women at the time of the Prophet found themselves being struck by their men, they went to him complaining about this. The Prophet became angry with his male Companions and insisted that they stop. The sunna of the Noble Prophet, therefore, is not only to refrain from such behavior, but indeed to urge others to stop and to discourage them from it.
The issue of men “beating” their wives has appeared only once in the Qur’an, “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly).”1 This marital discord (nushuz) is specifically discord based on a violation of social norms and basic etiquette where a woman refuses to carry out her marital obligations. These obligations being a right her husband posses just as a husband has obligations towards his wife which are rights she posses.
This specific situation is being addressed here where a man is given three options to bring the situation of discord back into harmony. First is admonishment through speech, the second is to refuse to approach her sexually, and the third is what is under discussion here that a man “beat” or “strike” his wife in a way that leaves no trace and causes no harm.2 This light strike is not meant itself, but rather is an action that openly displays the man’s anger and concern over the situation. It is a physical way of him saying, “I am angry”. It is also important to mention that this act is not mandatory; rather it is an option that he may use. However, the jurists have ordered men to avoid this option as much as is possible, and to express their anger in another way.
While most people focus on the aforementioned verse, there is also another aspect to this situation. Namely, that there are circumstances in which men are beat for their abuses and discord towards their wives. For example one finds in the books of positive law that, “if a man deflowers his wife by using his hand, it is considered prohibited [as it causes unnecessary pain] and he is punished for such an act.”3 We also find in the books of hadith when the women of Madina came to complain to the Messenger of God that their husbands beat them, he responded by saying, “Many women have come to the wives of Muhammad and complaining of their husbands’ actions; these men are not the best amongst you.”4
It is also interesting to note that it has never been mentioned that the Messenger of God struck his wives, and even though it is a Quranically legislated act, it is superior that one does not engage in it out of deference to the Sunna of the Messenger of God.
In some cultures it is necessary that a woman be shown a certain level of male bravado in order for her to feel the manness of her husband. However, this kind of culture is not known in the West and is completely foreign. However, the Qur’an is a book that has been revealed for all times and circumstances until the Final Hour. Therefore it has included and addressed all types of cultures and mentalities which if left unaddressed would lead to an imbalance of the status quo within the family, and would bring its destruction. Therefore, these different cultures and mentalities are addressed for the overall benefit of society.
As for spousal abuse, this is totally rejected in Islam and is best captured in the statement of the Messenger of God in which he asks rhetorically, “Do any of you beat their wives like a slave is beat then seek to have intercourse with them at the end of the day?”5