For many years I prayed to Allah (swt) to help me understand the end of verse 4:34, because I could not understand why Allah would allow hitting in a marriage:
“Husbands should take good care of their wives, with (the bounties) God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in their husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them (of the teachings of God), then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them: God is most high and great.” (4:34)
I feel that Allah answered my dua through a Youtube video by Islamic Scholar Nouman Ali Khan (the link is below).
Khan also struggled with understanding verse 4:34. He visited Islamic Scholar Muhammad Abdel Haleem of Oxford University to gain clarification. Below is an explanation of what he learned.
The Theme of Surah An-Nisa
First of all, when we seek to understand a verse of the Holy Quran, we must first understand which chapter it is placed in. We must understand the theme of its chapter, in this case Surah An-Nisa.
Surah An-Nisa is about laws regarding extreme and unusual cases. One verse says, for example, that a man cannot marry his mother or sister. This is an unusual case because most people agree that such a marriage is wrong.
Nouman Ali Khan states, “This belongs to surah Al-Nisa so we must ask what conversation is this ayat a part of? Allah (swt) is talking about the most unusual cases…laws are for criminals so they cover the most unusual cases.”
An Exceptional Case
After discussing the theme of surah An-Nisa, Khan explains that verse 4:34 allows hitting only in the exceptional case of a wife caught cheating on her husband, i.e. committing adultery.
If the husband has a suspicion that she is cheating on him, he should advise her, then not share the same bed, and then if he actually catches her with another man, he is allowed to hit her in this very extreme case.
Khan explains that the hit cannot be hard and cannot leave a mark, according to hadiths. He states:
“So this is only for a case of repeated infidelity of a wife and it drives a man nuts and he ends up losing his cool.”
Therefore, this verse only applies to a man who sees his wife committing adultery with another man.
Khan consulted with multiple Islamic scholars who all agreed with this interpretation of the verse. The question is: Why are so many Muslims not aware of this verse’s true meaning?
This verse is really about protecting the fidelity and loyalty within marriage.
Here is an authentic hadith which supports the same interpretation:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) at the Farewell Pilgrimage stated, “If they (your wives) are guilty of open lewdness (i.e. sexually inappropriate behavior), then refuse to share their beds, and hit them, but not severely. But if they return to obedience, (then) do not seek means (of annoyance) against them. You have rights over your women and your women have rights over you. Your rights over your women are that they should not let anyone whom you dislike sit on your bed and they should not let anyone whom you dislike enter your house. Their rights over you are that you should feed and clothe them well.”
(Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 1163 – he said this is a saheeh hasan hadeeth. Also narrated by Ibn Maajah, 1851)
Nouman Ali Khan ends the video by urging people in abusive relationships to seek help:
“If you hit people you have a problem. If you’re in an abusive marriage you need to get help–tell someone.”
This video was so meaningful to me because many Muslims misunderstand this verse. As Nouman Ali Khan says,
“…To have a problem with an ayah and you’re a Muslim–there’s something that needs to be resolved here…No ayah should be considered a curse or negative.”
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Hadiths that Clearly Condemn Wife-beating
- “Never beat God’s handmaidens.” (Narrated by Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ibn Hibban and Hakim.)
- On the authority of ‘Abdallah bin Zam’a, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Could any of you beat your wife as he would a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?” (Narrated by Bukhari (vol. 6, p. 153), Muslim and other authorities.)
- On the authority of Iyas ibn Abdullah ibn Abi Dhi’b, it was reported to the Prophet (pbuh) that some of his Companions beat their wives, whereupon he said, “Certainly those are not the best among you.” (Classified as Sahih. Narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Al-Nasai, Ibn Hibban and al-Hakim. See Mausu‘at al-Sunnah, “Abu Dawud,” Vol. 8, no. 2146. (Tunis: Dar al-Sahnun and Dar al-Dawah, 1992), 608.)
- On the authority of Aisha (ra), “The Prophet never beat any of his wives or servants; in fact he did not strike anything with his hand except if he were to struggle in the cause of God…” (Fath al-Bari Vol. 9, p. 249.)