One of the most controversial verses in the Quran is the infamous verse about wife beating.
[4:34] The men are made responsible for the women, and GOD has endowed them with certain qualities, and made them the bread earners. The righteous women will cheerfully accept this arrangement, since it is GOD’s commandment, and honor their husbands during their absence. If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme.
ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٰمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُوا۟ مِنْ أَمْوَٰلِهِمْ فَٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتُ قَـٰنِتَـٰتٌ حَـٰفِظَـٰتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ ٱللَّهُ وَٱلَّـٰتِى تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَٱهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِى ٱلْمَضَاجِعِ وَٱضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا۟ عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا
Many people read this verse and immediately draw the conclusion that the Quran is advocating for a husband to be able to beat their wives indiscriminately or to claim that the word “wa-iḍ’ribūhunna” ( وَٱضْرِبُوهُنَّ ) does not mean to beat. Both these conclusions are wrong.
If a person reads just ten verses ahead, they will see the verse warns against following just a portion of the Quran without taking the whole book into consideration.
[4:44] Have you noted those who received a portion of the scripture, and how they choose to stray, and wish that you stray from the path?
أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى ٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ نَصِيبًا مِّنَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ يَشْتَرُونَ ٱلضَّلَـٰلَةَ وَيُرِيدُونَ أَن تَضِلُّوا۟ ٱلسَّبِيلَ
Quran Must Be Understood As A Whole
The Quran is not just a single verse but a complete book that requires every verse to be considered before interpretations can be drawn. This is particularly true when such an interpretation goes against the straightforward verses of the Quran.
[3:7] He sent down to you this scripture, containing straightforward verses—which constitute the essence of the scripture—as well as multiple-meaning or allegorical verses. Those who harbor doubts in their hearts will pursue the multiple-meaning verses to create confusion, and to extricate a certain meaning. None knows the true meaning thereof except GOD and those well founded in knowledge. They say, “We believe in this—all of it comes from our Lord.” Only those who possess intelligence will take heed.
هُوَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ مِنْهُ ءَايَـٰتٌ مُّحْكَمَـٰتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَـٰبِهَـٰتٌ فَأَمَّا ٱلَّذِينَ فِى قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَـٰبَهَ مِنْهُ ٱبْتِغَآءَ ٱلْفِتْنَةِ وَٱبْتِغَآءَ تَأْوِيلِهِۦ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُۥٓ إِلَّا ٱللَّهُ وَٱلرَّٰسِخُونَ فِى ٱلْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ ءَامَنَّا بِهِۦ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّآ أُو۟لُوا۟ ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ
A simple test when determining if our understanding is correct or not is to determine if such an understanding creates a contradiction with other verses of the Quran. If an interpretation causes a contradiction then we must reassess our understanding.
[4:82] Why do they not study the Quran carefully? If it were from other than GOD, they would have found in it numerous contradictions.
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ ٱلْقُرْءَانَ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ ٱللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا۟ فِيهِ ٱخْتِلَـٰفًا كَثِيرًا
Aggression, Oppression & InJustice Are Prohibited in Quran
If we assume 4:34 gives husbands the authority to beat their wives, then such an understanding creates numerous contradictions to many other verses. For instance, the Quran condemns aggression and never permits believers to be aggressors.
[2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors.
وَقَـٰتِلُوا۟ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّذِينَ يُقَـٰتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوٓا۟ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُعْتَدِينَ
The Quran condemns oppression, calling it worst than murder.
[2:191] You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict them whence they evicted you. Oppression is worse than murder. Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque (Masjid), unless they attack you therein. If they attack you, you may kill them. This is the just retribution for those disbelievers.
وَٱقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ وَٱلْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ ٱلْقَتْلِ وَلَا تُقَـٰتِلُوهُمْ عِندَ ٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْحَرَامِ حَتَّىٰ يُقَـٰتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ فَإِن قَـٰتَلُوكُمْ فَٱقْتُلُوهُمْ كَذَٰلِكَ جَزَآءُ ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ
The Quran condemns force and compulsion.
[2:256] There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in GOD has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.
لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ ٱلرُّشْدُ مِنَ ٱلْغَىِّ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِٱلطَّـٰغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِنۢ بِٱللَّهِ فَقَدِ ٱسْتَمْسَكَ بِٱلْعُرْوَةِ ٱلْوُثْقَىٰ لَا ٱنفِصَامَ لَهَا وَٱللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
The Quran condemns injustice.
[5:8] O you who believe, you shall be absolutely equitable, and observe GOD, when you serve as witnesses. Do not be provoked by your conflicts with some people into committing injustice. You shall be absolutely equitable, for it is more righteous. You shall observe GOD. GOD is fully Cognizant of everything you do.
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُونُوا۟ قَوَّٰمِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَآءَ بِٱلْقِسْطِ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَـَٔانُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰٓ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا۟ ٱعْدِلُوا۟ هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ خَبِيرٌۢ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
When Is Aggression Permitted
The only time the Quran permits force is in self-defense or to eliminate oppression, and even then, the retaliation can only be proportional to the affliction. So unless the wife physically attacks the husband, the husband cannot utilize force to neutralize the situation.
[2:193] You may also fight them to eliminate oppression, and to worship GOD freely. If they refrain, you shall not aggress; aggression is permitted only against the aggressors.
وَقَـٰتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ ٱلدِّينُ لِلَّهِ فَإِنِ ٱنتَهَوْا۟ فَلَا عُدْوَٰنَ إِلَّا عَلَى ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ
[22:60] It is decreed that if one avenges an injustice that was inflicted upon him, equitably, then is persecuted because of this, GOD will surely support him. GOD is Pardoner, Forgiving.
ذَٰلِكَ وَمَنْ عَاقَبَ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبَ بِهِۦ ثُمَّ بُغِىَ عَلَيْهِ لَيَنصُرَنَّهُ ٱللَّهُ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَعَفُوٌّ غَفُورٌ
[42:39] When gross injustice befalls them, they stand up for their rights.
وَٱلَّذِينَ إِذَآ أَصَابَهُمُ ٱلْبَغْىُ هُمْ يَنتَصِرُونَ
God Advocates Patience & Forgivness
But even when a retaliatory force is justified, God still advocates for patience.
[42:40] Although the just requital for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by GOD. He does not love the unjust.
وَجَزَٰٓؤُا۟ سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِّثْلُهَا فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُۥ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ إِنَّهُۥ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ
[42:41] Certainly, those who stand up for their rights, when injustice befalls them, are not committing any error.
وَلَمَنِ ٱنتَصَرَ بَعْدَ ظُلْمِهِۦ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ مَا عَلَيْهِم مِّن سَبِيلٍ
[42:42] The wrong ones are those who treat the people unjustly, and resort to aggression without provocation. These have incurred a painful retribution.
إِنَّمَا ٱلسَّبِيلُ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ يَظْلِمُونَ ٱلنَّاسَ وَيَبْغُونَ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ بِغَيْرِ ٱلْحَقِّ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
[16:126] And if you punish, you shall inflict an equivalent punishment. But if you resort to patience (instead of revenge), it would be better for the patient ones.
وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُوا۟ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُم بِهِۦ وَلَئِن صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِّلصَّـٰبِرِينَ
[16:127] You shall resort to patience—and your patience is attainable only with GOD’s help. Do not grieve over them, and do not be annoyed by their schemes.
وَٱصْبِرْ وَمَا صَبْرُكَ إِلَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَلَا تَحْزَنْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا تَكُ فِى ضَيْقٍ مِّمَّا يَمْكُرُونَ
Quran Advocates Forgiveness & Reconciliation With a Spouse Even when Wronged
The Quran warns that our spouses and children can be our enemies, and it is best to pardon, forget, and forgive even when we were wronged for the sake of maintaining peace.
[64:14] O you who believe, your spouses and your children can be your enemies; beware. If you pardon, forget, and forgive, then GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِنَّ مِنْ أَزْوَٰجِكُمْ وَأَوْلَـٰدِكُمْ عَدُوًّا لَّكُمْ فَٱحْذَرُوهُمْ وَإِن تَعْفُوا۟ وَتَصْفَحُوا۟ وَتَغْفِرُوا۟ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
In the immediate next verse after the verse about wife beating, the Quran informs believers that if things are getting out of hand, to have arbitrators from both the couple’s family help settle the dispute.
[4:35] If a couple fears separation, you shall appoint an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family; if they decide to reconcile, GOD will help them get together. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.
وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَٱبْعَثُوا۟ حَكَمًا مِّنْ أَهْلِهِۦ وَحَكَمًا مِّنْ أَهْلِهَآ إِن يُرِيدَآ إِصْلَـٰحًا يُوَفِّقِ ٱللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَآ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا
Additionally, the Quran in 4:128 gives advice to the wife that if she is sensing rebellion or oppression, “nushūzan” ( نُشُوزًا ), from her husband, which is the same word used in 4:34 for the husband towards the wife that it is best to reconcile.
[4:128] If a woman senses oppression or desertion from her husband, the couple shall try to reconcile their differences, for conciliation is best for them. Selfishness is a human trait, and if you do good and lead a righteous life, GOD is fully Cognizant of everything you do.
وَإِنِ ٱمْرَأَةٌ خَافَتْ مِنۢ بَعْلِهَا نُشُوزًا أَوْ إِعْرَاضًا فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَآ أَن يُصْلِحَا بَيْنَهُمَا صُلْحًا وَٱلصُّلْحُ خَيْرٌ وَأُحْضِرَتِ ٱلْأَنفُسُ ٱلشُّحَّ وَإِن تُحْسِنُوا۟ وَتَتَّقُوا۟ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
The Quran prohibits wife beating
Based on these reasons, we can conclude that the Quran prohibits a husband from ever aggressing upon their wife except in the case of self-defense, and even then, God still advocates for patience and forgiveness.
Example of Intoxicants
While this may seem like a round-about way of prohibiting such things, this is the approach the Quran uses in dealing with many behavioral and societal sins such as slavery, anger, bad language, and intoxicants.
In a very cut-and-dry example referenced right before the verse warning about people who come upon a portion of the Quran and choose to stray (4:44), ten verses after the wife beating verse, it discusses observing the Contact Prayer (Salat) while intoxicated.
In verse 4:43, it states:
[4:43] O you who believe, do not observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) while intoxicated, so that you know what you are saying. Nor after sexual orgasm without bathing, unless you are on the road, traveling; if you are ill or traveling, or you had urinary or fecal-related excretion (such as gas), or contacted the women (sexually), and you cannot find water, you shall observe Tayammum (dry ablution) by touching clean dry soil, then wiping your faces and hands therewith. GOD is Pardoner, Forgiver.
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ لَا تَقْرَبُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَـٰرَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعْلَمُوا۟ مَا تَقُولُونَ وَلَا جُنُبًا إِلَّا عَابِرِى سَبِيلٍ حَتَّىٰ تَغْتَسِلُوا۟ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰٓ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَآءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ ٱلْغَآئِطِ أَوْ لَـٰمَسْتُمُ ٱلنِّسَآءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا۟ مَآءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا۟ صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَٱمْسَحُوا۟ بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُمْ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَفُوًّا غَفُورًا
From the verse above, one may have the impression that as long as they are not intoxicated during their Salat, they are permitted to be intoxicated. But, if we take the Quran as a whole, we see that intoxication is a gross sin which is an abomination of the devil that should be avoided.
[5:90] O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and the altars of idols, and the games of chance are abominations of the devil; you shall avoid them, that you may succeed.
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِنَّمَا ٱلْخَمْرُ وَٱلْمَيْسِرُ وَٱلْأَنصَابُ وَٱلْأَزْلَـٰمُ رِجْسٌ مِّنْ عَمَلِ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنِ فَٱجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
[5:91] The devil wants to provoke animosity and hatred among you through intoxicants and gambling, and to distract you from remembering GOD, and from observing the Contact Prayers (Salat). Will you then refrain?
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنُ أَن يُوقِعَ بَيْنَكُمُ ٱلْعَدَٰوَةَ وَٱلْبَغْضَآءَ فِى ٱلْخَمْرِ وَٱلْمَيْسِرِ وَيَصُدَّكُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ وَعَنِ ٱلصَّلَوٰةِ فَهَلْ أَنتُم مُّنتَهُونَ
The Best Psychology
The natural question with this prohibition is why the Quran would present these topics in such a way. Firstly, as stated in verse 4:44, this is to expose those who want to stray away from the scripture to feel justified by only focusing on a portion of the scripture. Still, for those who are sincere, it is a form of psychology to get people to create a path to leave their immoral practices from the days of ignorance and purify their souls.
The reality is that many people who convert to the religion may have bad habits and will struggle to live up to all the moral expectations laid out in the Quran on Day 1. So the Quran provides a mechanism for people to embrace the faith yet have a path to purify themselves and eventually wholly abandon all the bad habits they may have before their conversion.
For instance, a person who may have a lifestyle of drinking and comes to the faith may think it will be impossible for him to ever abstain entirely from intoxicants. Therefore, the command is that at least while they are performing their Salat that they are not to be intoxicated. As they eventually perform the Salat five times a day, it will inevitably cut down their dependence on such things to the point that they fully rid themselves of not only not ever being intoxicated but completely abstaining from consuming intoxicants in the first place.
This is the same psychology regarding wife beating. As shown above, interpreting 4:34 in isolation without taking all the other verses into consideration will lead people to think that they can beat their wives without blame. Such an understanding is flawed, like people who think they can be intoxicated while not performing Salat.
In America, it is estimated that roughly 1 in 4 women suffer from domestic violence. To assume that at the drop of a hat, a person who is predisposed to such ways of dealing with their spouse will be able to rid themselves of this destructive habit is not realistic. Therefore, the Quran provides mechanisms to create barriers between the tempers getting flared and the action until the husband eventually entirely abandons such tactics.
Firstly, the Quran prohibits alcohol and provides a path, as mentioned above, for a person who embraces Submission to rid themselves of this destructive drug that lowers inhibitions and makes people more impulsive, impairs judgment, and increases aggression. It forces them to first talk to explain their concerns. Then they are required to sleep in a different bed, which indicates that they will have time to calm down from whatever it was that bothered them, at the same time protecting the women. Additionally, they are commanded to bring in arbitrators who will be informed of the situation and help try to reconcile. The end outcome is that someone who does these steps and takes the whole Quran into account will refrain from such aggressive and oppressive ill conduct and ultimately reform themselves into a better human being.