I am pregnant and my husband beats me up. Is he allowed to hurt me?
I am pregnant and my husband beats me up. Is he allowed to hurt me?
Islam is the religion of mercy. God the Almighty describes His beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) as a mercy to all creatures. He says: "We sent you not (O Muhammad), but a mercy for all creatures" [21:107].
Islamic law confirms the right of the weak to mercy and considers women to be among the two categories of people who are weak (orphans and women) and who deserve mercy. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said: "Oh God! I prohibit the violation of the rights of the two weak [categories] of people: orphans and women" [recorded by Al-Nasa`i and Ibn Majah with fair chain of transmission as declared by Imam Al-Nawawi in his book Riyadh As-Salihin).
A woman, more than any other person, deserves mercy due to her weak physical constitution and her need, at most times, for someone to protect and maintain her. For this reason, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) compared women to glass because they are delicate, gentle and physically weak. He told Anjasha: "Oh Anjasha! (Take care) and drive slowly with the glass vessels [i.e. women] on board" [Bukhari and Muslim]. Muslim scholars understood this meaning and applied it in the loftiest manner to the extent that it was among the things that formed their scholarly methodology with regard to women. They said: "Femininity is a permanent weakness that necessitates constant care."
Good treatment is the foundation of marriage in Islam
Islam commands husbands to treat their wives well. God the Almighty informs us that marital life is based on tranquility, love and mercy. He 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].
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) set a husband's good treatment of his wife the criterion for his noble character. Aisha (may God be pleased with her) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best of you to my family" [Al-Tirmidhi].
Islamic law advocates leniency in rectifying mistakes and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) called for leniency in all matters. Aisha, the mother of the believers (may God be pleased with her), narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said: "Verily, gentleness never accompanies anything without enhancing it and is never removed from anything without tainting it" [Muslim].
Treatment of women
When it comes to treating wives, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) is the best example to follow. God the Almighty says: “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].
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) never beat any of his wives. Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said: "The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) never hit anything with his hand except when fighting in the cause of God. He neither struck a servant nor a woman nor took revenge upon anyone for the wrong done to him except when the prohibitions of God were violated" [Muslim].
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) is our good example and all husbands must follow his noble actions in how to treat their wives. God the Almighty says: " 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" [33:21].
Wife beating was only mentioned once in the Quran in the context of the nushuz [disobedience] of a wife. He, the Almighty 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]. Nushuz refers to a wife's violation of moral and social codes wherein she refrains from fulfilling her duties towards her husband. In the same vein, a husband's duties towards his wife are her rights.
Different alternatives to remedying nushuz
The above Quranic verse includes different alternatives for reforming a recalcitrant wife. The method used depends on the nature of the wife, prevalent customs and traditions and the environmental culture in which she was raised, all of which influence the reformation of her behavior. It is not necessary to administer the measures mentioned in the verse in any particular order, the evidence for this being that they are joined with the coordinating conjunction 'and' and not with the conjunction 'then'. Therefore, a husband can choose to advise his wife by using gentle words that remind her of God and the duties He commanded her to fulfill towards her husband or suspend sexual relations with her in an effort to make her fulfill her duties without oppressing or assaulting her provided this does not cause her psychological harm.
Scholars have unanimously agreed that the beating mentioned in the Quranic verse does not aim to humiliate or harm a wife. It is permissible as a non-binding option which may be administered on certain occasions and in cultures that do not deem it derogatory or harmful and is a measure by which a husband may express his dissatisfaction and anger for her persistence on neglecting her duties. A husband may reproach his wife by gently striking her in a manner that leaves no mark on the body. He can do this using a siwak [tooth stick], tooth brush or anything else that is not considered a beating tool. Ibn Jurair narrated on the authority of Atta who said: "I asked Ibn Abbas (may God be pleased with them both), 'What constitutes gentle beating?' 'Using a siwak and the like,' he replied."
There is a great difference between gently beating a wife (by using a siwak and the like) and using violence against her or flogging, harming or insulting her. Scholars have said that although administering a gentle beating by using the siwak is not harmful, it must be the husband's last resort. Furthermore, there is a scholarly consensus that a husband is not to strike his wife nor suspend sexual relations merely because he anticipates her disobedience. It is prohibited for a husband to strike his wife, however gently, if he knows that she can be reformed in another manner, if this measure will not work or if it will harm her in any way. The Maliki scholar, Al-Hattab, stated in his book Mawahib Al-Jalil (4/15-16): "It is impermissible for a husband to strike his wife [gently] if he is certain that this measure will not reform her." He also said in Al-Jawahir: "It is impermissible for a husband to even discipline his wife if he is certain that she will not abandon her recalcitrance except after a severe beating."
Scholarly restrictions on beating
It is impermissible for a husband to use whips, sticks and the like to beat his wife; he must only use his hands or the siwak to admonish her as previously mentioned. Ibn Abu Hatim related in his Tafsir on the authority of Al-Hassan Al-Basri that gentle beating is that which does not leave a mark on the body; a husband may only strike his wife to discipline her and not for revenge. Under no circumstances should the beating be severe or cause physical harm.
Parts of the body to avoid
A husband must avoid sensitive areas and those parts of the body which may cause his wife humiliation. Abu Huraira (may God be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said: "When one of you inflicts a beating, he should avoid striking the face" [Bukhari and Muslim].
Based on the above, the beating mentioned in the Quran and the Sunnah is a measure to express a husband's dissatisfaction with his wife's rebelliousness and is not to be interpreted as an acknowledgement for lashing or physical punishment.
Islamic law sanctions gentle beatings in some cultures where females equate such behavior from their husbands with masculinity. The West may be ignorant of these cultures. It must be known that the Quran was revealed to humans everywhere and for all times until the Day of Judgment. As such, the Quranic injunctions encompass all social environments and cultures; otherwise instability and destruction of family life may result. Hence, permissible beating aims to reform.
Evidence from the Sunnah
Evidence to this interpretation of the Quranic verse, is that the permissibility of striking one's wife is not general in terms of circumstances, time and cultural environments. It was authentically reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) prohibited the beating of women; he said: "Do not beat God’s female servants." The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) permitted husbands to strike their wives in a gentle manner to express their admonition. Some of the Companions misunderstood the Prophet's purport and beat their wives indiscriminately. Upon this, the women complained to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) of their husbands' behavior. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) rebuked his Companions and said: "Many women came round to the wives of Muhammad to complain of their husbands [for beating them]—those men are not the best of you" [Abu Dawud in his Sunan]. This proves that beating is not absolutely permissible. It is definitely prohibited if it involves insulting, abusing or harming a wife. At a later period, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) permitted husbands to gently beat their wives only to admonish them and express their displeasure by using a siwak or the like which are not considered instruments for beating; this was the custom in the social environment of the Arabs at that time. But when some of the Companions exploited his words, he became angry and declared that such behavior decreases a husband's graciousness.
Islamic law sanctions only what customs and traditions deem to constitute reproach and a husband's displeasure with his wife's conduct. In a culture where beating is not considered an insult, the prohibition concerns severe beating that is harmful. However even then, gracious and honorable men do not resort to such behavior.
Al-Tahir Ibn Ashur wrote in Al-Tahrir wal Tanwir (5/41-42): "In my opinion, the non-Prophetic reports and narrations that permit wife beating are based on some classes of people or some customs. People are different. For example, Bedouins, males and females, do not regard beating women as an aggression [against them]. Therefore, there is no harm in maintaining its permissibility for these people since it is not considered harmful, shameful or a bid'a [innovation in religion] within marital life. Moreover, their women do not feel the extent of their husbands' anger except in this manner."
The ruler is allowed to restrict this permissibility and prevent husbands from beating their wives and even penalize them if they abuse this right. This is because God [the Legislator] permits a ruler to restrict the permissible in the interest of his subjects. In some cultures, some men misuse this permissibility and take it as a pretext to administer severe beating, vent their anger or for revenge rather than admonition, leading to animosity. To prevent this, a ruler is allowed to prevent a man from beating his wife.
Today, wife beating has become a means not only for severe physical punishment but sometimes even for revenge and therefore scholars have unanimously agreed upon its prohibition. Al-Tahir Ibn Ashur said in Al-Tahrir wal Tanwir (5/44): "Beating wives is dangerous and difficult to regulate. However, the majority of scholars restricted it to what does not cause any harm and to those who do not consider it as insult or harm. I therefore maintain that it is permissible for rulers to prevent husbands from beating their wives if they [the rulers] know that the husbands misuse the measures prescribed by Islamic law and do not apply them properly. In the existence of weak religious restraint [among the people] and to eliminate spousal harm, they are to announce that any man who strikes his wife will be punished."
It is due to this meaning that a group of scholars prohibited wife beating. The great Tabi'i interpreter, Atta Ibn Abu Rabah said: "A husband should not beat his wife even if she disobeys him but is to be angry with her" [cited by Al-Qadi Ibn Al-Arabi, the Maliki scholar, in Ahkam Al-Quran (1/536)]. Scholars interpreted the 34th verse of the fourth chapter of the Quran as a command to show displeasure only. A group of scholars agreed with the opinion of Atta. Ibn Al-Faras said: “Scholars denied the hadiths mentioned on wife beating" [cited by Ibn Ashur and reported in Al-Tahrir wal Tanwir (5/43).
There is no doubt that brutal beatings, lashings or physical abuse is prohibited based on scholarly consensus. It is incumbent upon all humans to take a stand against domestic violence which has nothing to do with Islam. The sources of Islamic legislation, the Quran and Sunnah, exhort Muslims to maintain mercy and love in their marital life and not to beat or oppress their wives by any means. God the Almighty says: "And He has put love and mercy between your (hearts)” [30: 21].
Muslim scholars oppose beating and violence against wives. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) illustrated that marital life must be based on love and mercy both of which are incompatible with beating and harm. He therefore strongly condemned wife beating in his words: "How is it that any one of you could beat his wife as he beats a slave and then have intercourse with her at the end of the day!?" [recorded by Al-Bukhari in his Sahih and Al-Baihaqi in Al-Sunan Al-Kubra]. This hadith is proof against the opinions of those who claim that Islam humiliates Muslim women and condones beating them.
The principle in Islamic law is that all forms of harm are prohibited. God the Almighty says: “And those who annoy believing men and women undeservedly, (bear on themselves) a calumny and a glaring sin” [33:58]. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said in his sermon on the farewell pilgrimage: "Shall I tell you who a believer is? He is one with whom people trust their property and lives. A Muslim is one from whose words and deeds other Muslims are safe" [recorded by Imam Ahmed in his Musnad, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih and others).
He also said: "It is prohibited to violate the sanctity of a believer without right" [recorded by Al-Tabarani in Al-Mu'jam Al-Kabir through Isma Ibn Malik Al-Khatmi. Al-Bukhari dedicated a chapter in his Sahih which he entitled "Chapter on the prohibition of violating the sanctity of a believer except when administering penalties or with a right". The hadith scholar Ibn Hajar said in Fat-h Al-Bari (12/85) that the hadith prohibits harming a believer except in two cases, administering penalties or with justifiable cause. This means that it is not permissible to beat or humiliate a believer except when administering penalties or ta'zeer (disciplinary punishments). It is known that penalties are only administered by the authority of law and not by individuals.
The domestic violence existing in Muslim communities today is a result of neglecting the teachings of Islam. As such, it is impermissible to attribute domestic violence to Islam because it has nothing to do with its teachings. The personal status laws implemented in Muslim countries today and which are derived from Islamic law, criminalize violence against wives and consider it grounds for psychological or legal compensation and for divorce while preserving all her rights.
The Islamic Charter on Family which was issued by the "International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child" and prepared by a committee comprising Muslim scholars including the Grand Mufti of Egypt (p.50) issued the following decree: "It is impermissible for a husband to resort to using violence against his wife, thereby transgressing the rulings of Islamic law, whatever the degree of dispute between them. Whoever contravenes this prohibition will be held socially and criminally accountable."