Does my husband have the right to b...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

Does my husband have the right to beat me up?

Does my husband have the right to beat me up?

Question 2: I am an American Muslim who converted to Islam out of a solid conviction. I got married to a Jordanian Muslim in a mosque in Chicago in the US. My husband tried to convince me that in Islam the husband has the legal right to beat up his wife and threaten her and terrorize his kids. I am a constant reader of the Quran and I sensed that my husband’s stance is not right as through reading the Quran I was moved by the compassionate and merciful nature of Islam. So is my husband’s claim of his full right of beating me is backed up by Islamic law?


Islam is a religion of mercy and God described his beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the Quran as mercy to all the worlds. God says “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” (21:107) The Islamic Shari’ah has placed a great emphasis on the rights of the weak who should be treated with mercy and compassion. The Prophet numerously emphasized that women in many situations fall under the category of the weak along with the orphans. It was reported by al –Nasai and Ibn Majah with a sound transition as Imam al Nawawi stated in his book “Riyad al- Salehin” that the Prophet said “ O God be my witness that I admonish people about disregarding the right of the two weak parties: the orphan and the woman”.

The woman is in need of mercy because of the nature of her physical structure and her need for someone to take care of her affairs. For this reason the Prophet described women to be similar to a soft glass which should be handled with gentleness and care. That is the reason behind the emphasis of Islam on dealing with the wife with kindness and care and God reiterated that the basic building blocks of matrimony are mercy, affection and serenity. God says “And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought. (30:21)

In this regard, the Prophet declared that the excellent husband is the one who shows utter care to his wife and utmost kindness in dealing with her. It was narrated by lady ‘Aisha that the Prophet said “the best among you is the best towards his family and I am the best towards my family” (al- Tirmidhi). Similarly the Islamic Shari’ah encouraged leniency and softness in fixing mistakes and correcting errors. The Prophet called for softness and leniency in all affairs as lady ‘Aisha narrated that the Prophet said “When leniency becomes part of any matter, it beautifies it and when it is extracted from it, it mars it” (Muslim).

The Prophet showed an excellent example of gentleness. It was reported that lady ‘Aisha said “the Prophet never beat any of his wives or servants; in fact, he did not strike any living being with his hand except in the cause of Allah and he would not avenge for himself except when the prohibitions of Allah had been violated, only then he would retaliate." (Muslim).

Indeed the Prophet’s noble biography provides us with an excellent manual for men on how to deal with their women. God says in the Quran “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.” (33:21)

When it comes to the issue of beating women, it was only mentioned once in the Quran when God says “But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.” (4:34)

The issue of the adamant refusal of women to engage in consensual sexual relation with her husbands is a major issue which has its social and moral impact as the wife in this case deprives the husband of his matrimonial rights. God in turn guided the husband to try multiple alternatives to convince the wife who is adamant on depriving the husband of his legal rights. These alternatives are designed to suit different cultural backgrounds and customary practices with which the woman was brought up along with paying attention to the specific nature of the character of the wife which differs from one woman to another. All these elements should be put in consideration in our attempts of using these different alternatives as the ultimate aim is to resort to the most effective alternative which would lead the matrimonial relationship to the shore of safety. These alternatives are not arranged in any specific order and thus the husband has to converse with his wife gently and remind her with her duties before God. Also the husband is allowed to forsake sleeping in the same bed with his wife as a way of placing pressure on her to rethink her position without causing her harm or directing any sort of injustice to her. The scholars allowed for the husband to abandon sleeping in the same bed with his wife with the condition of not causing any psychological pain or harm for the wife otherwise it would be impermissible to resort to this alternative.

As for resorting to beating as an alternative, the scholars have unanimously agreed that beating in the verse does not mean causing harm to the wife or humiliation of her dignity and explained that the permissibility of beating is restricted to specific cases and confined to certain environments in which beating is not looked down upon as a degradation of women. In other words, beating is not an obligatory alternative at all and even when it is necessary in certain cases to resort to it, it should not be the kind of severe beating which cause harm to the wife or leave any marks or bruises on her body. The striking should be rather light and soft with a tooth brush or siwak and the like as the reason behind this light stroke is to show the husband’s anger and express his disapproval of the wife’s negative attitude towards him. This means that it is totally impermissible for the husband to use a tool which is specifically and deliberately designed for beating. It goes without saying that there is a big difference between striking with light objects like tooth brush which causes no harm and between severe beating and deliberate humiliation of the woman.

Although the scholars placed very strict conditions on the purpose and the tool of beating, they reiterated that resorting to this alternative should be the last option for the husband and he should have exhausted all other options before turning to beating. Also it is not permissible for the husband to abandon the matrimonial bed or resort to beating on the basis of an expected or foreseeable signs of the woman’s intention of refraining from having a sexual relationship with her husband. More importantly the scholars prohibited for the husband to resort to beating if he knows that this alternative will not help in convincing his wife and solving the problem and they also prohibited for the husband to resort to beating if he knows that there are other alternatives that he can turn to which would help in fixing the situation other than beating. Moreover, the scholars prohibited for the husband to resort to beating if he knows that even light striking would hurt his wife and leave marks on her body.

Imam al Hattab al Maliki stated in his book “Mawahib al Jalil” (4/ 15-16) that if the husband thought that the probability of fixing the situation by resorting to beating is not high, he is not allowed to beat his wife. And in the book “al Jawahir” it is said that if the husband thought that resorting to terrifying beating would be the only effective way in changing his wife’s position, he is not allowed to resort to beating at all”.

The scholars rather stated that the husband should be beaten up and disciplined if he wronged his wife or weren’t mindful of her rights such as when he removes his wife’s virginity using his finger and it was reiterated by Imam al Dardir in “al- Sharh al- Saghir” that it is prohibited for the husband to remove his wife’s virginity with his finger and the husband should be disciplined for it”.

Other scholars emphasized on the same meaning and stated that beating the wife should not be done using whips or sticks or the like as striking should be only with siwak or with hand to express blame and censure as stated by Ibn ‘Abbas. Also Ibn Abi Hatem narrated in his explanation of the verse of beating that al Hassan al- Basri defined the non-harming beating as the one that is not effective and does not leave any marks along with the necessity of avoiding the honored places in the body such as the face or the sensitive ones such as the genital organs.

This kind of light striking is permissible in the Islamic Shari’ah with strict conditions that are confined to certain cultural environments that the Western culture is not familiar with. The Quran was sent to all people from different walks of life and address people from different cultural backgrounds.

One of the salient proofs that the issue of beating women as an alternative is not absolutely permissible in all times and all places and under all circumstances is that the Prophet prohibited beating up women and when some women came to complain that their husbands beat them up, the Prophet was angry and said that those who beat up their wives are not the best among men.

This means that beating is not allowed to be practiced at its full fledge in all cases and the absolute prohibition of beating comes when it becomes harmful or done with the intention of revenge. Also it should be only practiced in cultural environments which consider this method as a way of showing blame and expressing dissatisfaction and is not seen as a way of belittling women or encroaching upon her dignity and self esteem. Also even in the kinds of environments which allow such method, noble men refrain from using this alternative.

Al- Taher ibn ‘Ashour reiterated this understanding in his Quranic exegesis “al- Tahrir w-l Tanwir” in which he explained that all the reported news on this issue indicate meticulous awareness of people’s different cultural environment and customary practices. For example, the Bedouin culture does not consider beating women as an assault and women do not consider such an act as a humiliation to their dignity. In these kinds of cultures, expressing dissatisfaction of the husband in this manner is well understood by the women as a way of blaming and not as an assault.

The governing authority has the right to place restrictions on the right of husbands to use beating as an alternative when men deliberately abuse this right and use it as a tool for severe beating or venting their anger and revenge which automatically lead to domestic violence that sever the amicable ties of the family. For this reason some scholars prohibited beating women altogether such as the luminary scholar al Qadi ibn ‘Arabi al Maliki who wrote in his Quranic exegsis “Ahkam al Quran” and reported that the renowned scholar ‘Atta ibn Rabah said that the husband should not beat up his wife but is only allowed to expresses his anger. Al Maliki among other scholars interpreted the verse to mean that the husband is only allowed to show his dissatisfaction and these scholars rejected the authenticity of the prophetic traditions which allow light beating.

There is no doubt that severe beating, lashing and physical punishment which is called in our contemporary world as domestic violence is emphatically prohibited by the consensus of all scholars and all people should stand united against it. Practicing violence against women has nothing to do with the Islamic teachings. The Islamic legislative sources encourage mercy and compassion in the matrimonial life between the husband and the wife and do not find any justification for harming women. Therefore the Prophet was akin to prohibit beating in all its forms and al Bukhari reported that the Prophet said “ Would a man beat his wife like he beats his slave and then wants to have an intercourse with her at the end of the day?”

In the Islamic Shari’ah the general overarching ruling is the prohibition of causing harm in all its forms and what is unfortunately happening in some of the Muslim societies of harming women is the result of not abiding by the merciful teachings of Islam. Also in the Islamic countries the current civil laws which stem from the Islamic Shari’ah criminalize violence against the wife and consider it harm which requires compensation for the psychological damage that was caused to the wife along with giving her the right to seek divorce while guaranteeing her full rights.

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