My husband beats me and he says tha...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

My husband beats me and he says that it is his God-given right according to Islam. Does Islamic law support this?


I am an American Muslim who converted to Islam and married a Muslim man in the US. My husband tried to convince me that in Islam the husband has the legal right to beat his wife, threaten her and terrorize his kids. I am a constant reader of the Quran and I understood that my husband’s stance is not correct. Before my conversion I was moved by the compassionate and merciful nature of Islam. Does the Shari’ah give the husband the right to beat his wife as he claims? 


Islam is a religion of mercy and God described his beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the Quran as a mercy to all the world. 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, whom should be treated with mercy and compassion. The Prophet continuously 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” (Quran30:21).


In this regard, the Prophet declared that the excellent husband is the one who shows impeccable 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, Islam encourages leniency and softness in fixing mistakes and correcting errors. The Prophet called for softness and leniency in all affairs. 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 was 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 God and he would not avenge for himself except when the prohibitions of God had been violated, only then would he 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 God an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in God and the Last Day and [who] remembers God often” (Quran 33:21).

When it comes to the issue of beating women, it was 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, God is ever Exalted and Grand” (Quran 4:34).


The issue of the adamant refusal of woman to engage in consensual sexual relations with her husband is a major issue which has a social and moral impact, this is due to the wife depriving the husband of his matrimonial rights. God in turn guided the husband to try multiple alternatives to convince the wife to revive the intimate relations between them. These alternatives are designed to suit different cultural backgrounds and customary practices, one is to act delicately in regards to how these alternatives are acted upon as cultural differences exist from one woman to another. Cultural background and customary practices should be at the forefront of consideration when utilizing these various alternatives, ultimately the goal is reconciliation and the revival of strong matrimonial relationships.

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 to diminish her dignity. 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 a beating which causes harm to the wife or leaves any marks or bruises on her body. The striking should be light and soft with a toothbrush or siwak. The reason behind the beating 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 colossal difference between striking with a light object like tooth brush, which causes no harm, and that of an item which causes severe harm and humiliates 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 sign of the woman’s intention of refraining from having a sexual relationship with her husband. More importantly the scholars prohibited the husband from beating if he knows that this alternative will not help in convincing his wife and solving the problem. They also prohibited the husband from 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 believes 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 believes that resorting to severe 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 stated that the husband should be beaten up and disciplined if he wronged his wife or was not mindful of her rights.


Other scholars emphasized the same, and stated that beating the wife should not be done using whips or sticks or anything of the like. Beating should only be done with a siwak or with a 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-harmful beating as the one that does not leave any marks along with the necessity of avoiding the honored places on the body such as the face or the sensitive places such as the genital organs.


This kind of light beating is permissible in the Islamic Shari’ah with strict conditions that are confined to certain cultural environments that some cultures may not be 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, is that the Prophet prohibited beating women. And when some women came to complain that their husbands beat them up, the Prophet was angry and said that those who beat their wives are not the best among men.


This means that beating is not allowed to be practiced in all cases. And the absolute prohibition of beating comes when it becomes harmful or done with the intention of revenge. Also it should only be 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.

Al- Taher ibn ‘Ashour reiterated this understanding in his Quranic exegesis “al- Tahrir w-l Tanwir” in which he explained that all of the scholastic opinions on this issue indicate meticulous awareness of people’s different cultural environments 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 an affront to their dignity. In these kinds of cultures, expressing dissatisfaction of the wife 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 rights of husbands to use beating as an alternative. This is especially the case 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 exegesis “Ahkam al Quran” and reported that the renowned scholar ‘Atta ibn Rabah said that the husband should not beat his wife, but is only allowed to express his anger. Al Maliki among other scholars interpreted the verse to mean that the husband is only allowed to show his dissatisfaction, and that 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. 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 returns to have 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. What is unfortunately happening in some Muslim societies of harming women is the result of not abiding by the merciful teachings of Islam. Also, 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.


God the Almighty knows best.

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