My husband beats me and says that i...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

My husband beats me and says that it is his right. Does Islamic law back him up?


My husband beats me and says that it is his right. Does Islamic law back him up?


Islam is a religion of mercy and God described his beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in the Quran as a mercy to all the worlds. God says: “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds” [21:107]. Islamic law places great emphasis on the rights of the weak who should be treated with mercy and compassion. On many occasions, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) emphasized that women in many situations fall under the category of the weak along with the orphans. Al-Nisai and Ibn Majah recorded that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “ O God be my witness that I admonish people about their disregard for the right of the two weak [categories of] people: the orphans and women” [Al-Nawawi declared its chain of transmission to be sound in his book Riyad Al-Salihin].

A woman needs mercy because of the nature of her physical constitution and her need for someone to take care of her affairs. For this reason the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) compared women to fragile glass which should be handled with tenderness and care. This is why Islam exhorts husbands to treat their wives with kindness and care. God the Almighty says that the building blocks of matrimony are mercy, affection and serenity. 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]. In this regard, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) declared that the best husband is the one who best cares for his wife and treats her with kindness. It was narrated by Lady Aisha that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The best among you is the best to his family and I am the best to my family” (recorded by Al-Tirmidhi).

Islamic law encourages leniency and clemency to fix mistakes and correct errors. Aisha narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Leniency never accompanies anything without enhancing it and is never removed from anything without tainting it” [Muslim].

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) 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. He would not avenge himself except when the prohibitions of God had been violated; only then would he retaliate" [Muslim]. Indeed the Prophet’s noble biography provides men with an excellent manual on how to deal with their wives. God the Almighty says in the Quran: “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent model for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often” [33:21].

Beating women was mentioned only 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 a wife refusing to have sex with her husband is a major one that has social and moral consequences as the wife in this case deprives her husband of his matrimonial rights. God in turn gives a husband several alternatives to convince his wife, who persists in depriving him of his legal rights, of her wrong. These alternatives are not only designed to suit different cultural backgrounds and customs but take into consideration the different natures and characters of women. They are not arranged in any particular order.

A husband must discuss his wife’s disobedience with her gently and remind her of her duties before God. He is allowed to keep from his wife by not sleeping in bed with her to pressure her into rethinking her position. This measure is deemed permissible by scholars provided it does not harm her psychologically or otherwise. If it does, it is impermissible to resort to it.

As for resorting to beating, scholars have unanimously agreed that the beating mentioned in the Quranic verse does not mean harming a wife or humiliating her. They explained that the permissibility is restricted to specific cases and confined to certain environments in which beating is not seen as derogatory to women. In other words, beating is not obligatory at all and even when necessary, it should not cause harm or leave any marks or bruises on the body. It should be gentle such as with a tooth brush, siwak [tooth stick] or the like as the ultimate purpose is for a husband to express his dissatisfaction and anger towards his wife’s attitude. This means that it is totally impermissible for a 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 a person with light objects such as a tooth brush which causes no harm and a severe beating and deliberate humiliation.

Although scholars placed very strict conditions for the purpose and the beating tool, they maintained that this should be the last alternative a husband resorts to after he exhausts all other options. Moreover, it is not permissible for a husband to suspend sexual relations with his wife or hit her simply because he anticipates her intention to refrain from sex. More importantly, scholars have prohibited a husband from resorting to beating his wife if he believes that this measure will not bring her to the right path, he is aware of other alternatives, or if he knows that even a light beating will hurt his wife and leave marks on her body.

Imam Al-Hattab, the Maliki scholar, wrote in his book Mawahib Al-Jalil (4/ 15-16) that it is impermissible for a husband to strike his wife if thinks that this measure will not remedy the problem. And in the book Al-Jawahir, he said that if the husband thinks that the only effective way to reform his wife is by violently beating her, he is not allowed to do so.

Scholars have further maintained that a husband should be disciplined if he wrongs his wife or is not mindful of her rights, such as when he takes his wife’s virginity with his finger. Imam Al-Dardir further added in Al-Sharh Al-Saghir that a husband should be disciplined for this.

Other scholars maintained that a husband should not use whips, sticks or the like to discipline his wife; he must only use as the siwak or hands to admonish her as mentioned by Ibn Abbas. Ibn Abi Hatem narrated in his exegesis of the verse of beating that Al-Hassan Al-Basri defined non-harmful beating as that does not leave any marks on the body. He also maintained the necessity of avoiding the honored places in the body such as the face or sensitive areas such as the private parts. Gentle beating is sanctioned in Islamic law under strict conditions. It is confined to certain cultural environments that Western culture is not familiar with. The Quran was sent to all people from different walks of life and addresses people from different cultural backgrounds.

One of the salient proofs that the alternative measure of beating women is not permissible at all times and under all circumstances, is that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself prohibited it. Some women went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and complained to him that their husbands beat them. He became angry and said these husbands are not the best among men. This means that beating is not generally permissible and is categorically prohibited when it harms or is intended for revenge. It should also be only practiced in cultural environments which consider this method as a way of showing a husband’s dissatisfaction and where it is not seen as derogatory to women. However even then, gracious and honorable men do not resort to such behavior.

Al-Taher Ibn Ashur wrote this interpretation in his Quranic exegesis Al- Tahrir wal Tanwir in which he explained that all the reported news on this issue indicate an acute awareness of the different cultural environments and customs. For example, the Bedouin culture does not consider beating women an assault and women do not consider it disparaging. In these cultures, when a husband expresses his dissatisfaction in this manner, women understand that it is only a means for admonishment and not an assault.

The governing authority is entitled to restrict a husband’s right to beat his wife when he deliberately uses it to beat her violently, vent his anger or for revenge. Abusing this right ultimately leads to domestic violence that sever amicable family ties. For this reason some scholars prohibited beating women altogether such as the luminary Maliki scholar, Al-Qadi Ibn Arabi, and the renowned scholar Atta Ibn Rabah who both maintained that a husband should not beat his wife but is only allowed to expresses his anger. Al-Maliki among other scholars interpreted the verse to mean that a husband is only allowed to show his dissatisfaction. These scholars rejected the authenticity of the hadiths allowing gentle beating.

There is no doubt that a severe beating, lashing and physical punishment which is called in our contemporary world as domestic violence is categorically prohibited according to the unanimous consensus of scholars and all people should take a stand against it. Violence against women has nothing to do with Islamic teachings. The Islamic legislative sources encourage mercy and compassion in matrimonial life and do not find any justification for harming women. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was therefore inclined to prohibit beating in all its forms. Al-Bukhari reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Would a man beat his wife like he beats his slave and then sleep with her at the end of the day?”

In the Islamic law, the general overarching ruling is the prohibition of inflicting all kinds of harm. The unfortunate incidents of domestic violence in some Muslim societies are the result of neglecting the merciful teachings of Islam. The personal status laws implemented in some Muslim countries today and which are derived from Islamic law criminalize violence against wives and consider it grounds for compensation for psychological damage and divorce while guaranteeing a wife’s full rights.

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