Some contemporary Muslim apologists often squirm over this relatively straightforward verse from the Quran (4:34) - which gives men the right to beat their wives if they even have a "fear" of disloyalty or disobedience. Their rhetorical aerobics inspired us to write a separate article:
Wife Beating Good Enough for Muhammad, Good Enough for You
Others are not nearly as squeamish. Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradhawi, one of the most respected Muslim clerics in the world, once made the famous (and somewhat ridiculous statement) that "It is forbidden to beat the woman, unless it is necessary." He went on to say that "one may beat only to safeguard Islamic behavior," leaving no doubt that wife-beating is a matter of religious sanction.
Dr. Muzammil Saddiqi, the former president of ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America), a mainstream Muslim organization, says it is important that a wife "recognizes the authority of her husband in the house" and that he may use physical force if he is "sure it would improve the situation." (source)
Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Muhammad Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the head of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious institution says that "light beatings" and "punching" are part of a program to "reform the wife" (source).
Dr. Jamal Badawi endorses corporal punishment as "another measure that may save the marriage" (source). He isn't clear on how striking a woman will make her more inclined toward staying with her assailant, unless the implication is fear of more serious consequences if she leaves.
Egyptian cleric, Abd al-Rahman Mansour, said in a 2012 televised broadcast that, in addition to discouraging the wife from filing divorce, beatings would inspire the wife to "treat him with kindness and respect, and know that her husband has a higher status than her."
During Ramadan of 2010, another cleric named Sa'd Arafat actually said the woman is "honored" by the beating (source). No one else seemed terribly surprised or upset by this.
An undercover report from progressive Sweden in 2012 found that 60% of mosques there actually advised beaten women not to report the abuse to the police. These women were also told that they must submit to non-consensual 'sex' with their husbands.
In the birthplace of Islam, about half of Saudi women are beaten at home. "Hands and sticks were found to be used mostly in beating women, following by men’s head cover and to a lesser extent, sharp objects." (source)
In 2016, the Council of Islamic Ideology proposed a bill - ironically named the Protection of Women against Violence Act - that actually included exceptions for "lightly beating" defiant wives. (source)
According to Islamic law, a husband may strike his wife for any one of the following four reasons:
- She does not attempt to make herself beautiful for him (ie. "let's herself go")
- She refuses to meet his sexual demands
- She leaves the house without his permission or for a "legitimate reason"
- She neglects her religious duties
Any of these are also sufficient grounds for divorce.
Respected Quran scholars in the past interpreted verse 4:34 with impressive candor. Tabari said that it means to "admonish them, but if they refused to repent, then tie them up in their homes and beat them until they obey Allah’s commands toward you." Qurtubi told wife-beaters to avoid breaking bones, if possible, but added that "it is not a crime if it leads to death."
Muslim apologists sometimes say that Muhammad ordered that women not be harmed, but they are actually basing this on what he said before or during a battle, such as in Bukhari (59:447), when Muhammad issued a command for all the men of Quraiza be killed and the women and children taken as slaves. (Having your husband murdered and being forced into sexual slavery apparently doesn't qualify as "harm" under the Islamic model).
But, in fact, there are a number of cases in which Muhammad did have women killed in the most brutal fashion. One was Asma bint Marwan, a mother or five, who wrote a poem criticizing the Medinans for accepting Muhammad after he had ordered the murder of an elderly man. In this case, the prophet's assassins literally pulled a sleeping infant from her breast and stabbed her to death.
After taking Mecca in 630, Muhammad also ordered the murder of a slave girl who had merely made up songs mocking him. The Hadith are rife with accounts of women planted in the ground on Muhammad's command and pelted to death with stones for sexual immorality - yet the prophet of Islam actually encouraged his own men to rape women captured in battle (Abu Dawood 2150, Muslim 3433) and did not punish them for killing non-Muslim women (as Khalid ibn Walid did on several occasions - see Ibn Ishaq 838 and 856).
In summary, according to the Qur'an, Hadith and Islamic law, a woman may indeed have physical harm done to her if the circumstances warrant, with one such allowance being in the case of disobedience. This certainly does not mean that all Muslim men beat their wives, only that Islam permits them to do so.