The Quran, chapter 4 (An-Nisa), verse 34:
- Other translation of the Verse 434
- Discussion of translations
- Background on the roles of men and women in Islam
- Equality of genders throughout the Quran
- Male and female relationships in the times of the Prophet
- Examples from the Prophet
- Debates and discussion about the text
- Part 1 Authority of men and its reasons
- 1 God has favoured some over others
- 2 Men are responsible of maintenance of women
- Part 2 Characters of pious women
- 1 Obedient or Qanitat
- 2 Guarding the unseen
- Part 3 Rebellious women and advice
- 1 to admonish them
- 2 to leave them alone in beds
- 3 to beat them iribhunna and daraba
Men have authority over women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. 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. — translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
Transliteration: ar-rijālu qawwamūna ʿala -n-nisāʾi bimā faḍḍala - llāhu baʿḏahum ʿala baʿḍin wa bimā ʾanfaqū min ʾamwālihim fa-ṣ-ṣāliḥātu qānitātun ḥāfiẓātun l-il-ghaybi bimā ḥafiẓa -llāhu wa-l-lātī takhāfūna nushūzahunna fa-ʿiẓūhunna w-ahjurūhunna fi-l-maḍājiʿ w-aḍribūhunna fa ʾin ʾaṭaʿnakum falā tabghū ʿalayhinna sabīlan ʾinna -llāha kāna ʿalīyyan kabīran
In the Qur'an, verse 34 of Surah an-Nisa (abbreviated as 4:34) concerns the issue of marital relations in Islam. This verse is interpreted by some Muslims as giving women a degree of autonomy over their own income and property but obliging them to comply with the husband's wishes should they be congruent with Islamic principles and beneficial to the marriage. The verse is also interpreted to mean that men are also obliged to be responsible for maintenance of their female relatives.
There are a number of translations of this verse from the Arabic original, and all vary to some extent. Some Muslims, such as Islamic feminist groups, argue that Muslim men use the text as an excuse for domestic violence.
In the Prophet's farewell sermon as recorded in al-Tabari's History, and similarly in a hadith collected by Abu Dawud, he instructed husbands to beat their wives, but not severely (فَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ ضَرْبًا غَيْرَ مُبَرِّحٍ fadribuhunna darban ghayra mubarrih) if their wives allow someone they don't like to sit on their beds. Ibn 'Abbas, a companion of the Prophet, is recorded in the Tafsir of al-Tabari for verse 4:34 as saying that beating without severity is using a siwak (toothbrush) or some such thing. There are sources that say that Muhammad himself never hit a woman and forbade it. In a hadith collected by Abu Dawud, Muhammad told men not to hit their wives on the face.
There have been several fatwas against domestic violence. Feminist writers have argued that society during Quranic times differed from modern times, especially in how children were reared and raised, creating a need for gender roles. However, these scholars highlight that the Qur'an can be interpreted differently as society changes.
The first part of the verse about men having authority over women is meant for obedience towards God, not the husband.
Other translation of the Verse 4:34
Men are guardians over women because Allah has made some of them excel others, and because they (men) spend of their wealth. So virtuous women are those who are obedient, and guard the secrets of their husbands with Allah’s protection. And as for those on whose part you fear disobedience, admonish them and leave them alone in their beds, and chastise them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely, Allah is High, Great.
- as translated by Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, see verse at alislam
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. 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.
- as translated in Sahih International, at Quran.com
Men are (meant to be righteous and kind) guardians of women because God has favored some more than others and because they (i.e. men) spend out of their wealth. (In their turn) righteous women are (meant to be) devoted and to guard what God has (willed to be) guarded even though out of sight (of the husband). As for those (women) on whose part you fear ill-will and nasty conduct, admonish them (first), (next) leave them alone in beds (and last) beat or separate them (from you). But if they obey you, then seek nothing against them. Behold, God is most high and great.
- Translation by Ahmad Shafaat
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband's property). As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.
- Translation by Muhsin Khan
Men are guardians of women, because Allah has made one superior to the other, and (also) because men spend their wealth (on them). So the pious wives are obedient. They guard (their chastity) in the absence of their husbands with the protection of Allah. But those women whom you fear will disobey and defy, admonish them; and (if they do not amend) separate them (from yourselves) in beds; and (if they still do not improve) turn away from them, striking a temporary parting. Then if they become cooperative with you, do not seek any way against them. Surely, Allah is Most High, Most Great.
- Translation by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri
Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great.
- Translation by Marmaduke Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran
Discussion of translations
The sheer number of translations of the Quran and this verse in particular demonstrates that there is no one exact, literal translation of this text. Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation, The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, was published first in 1938 and has become one of the most popular English translations. This is largely due to the extensive footnotes Ali includes, and its subsidization from the Saudi Arabian Islamic officials.
Background on the roles of men and women in Islam
The Qur'an states that men are the guardians of women, and thus responsible for earning livelihood for the family and female relatives. Women, however, are given a degree of autonomy over their own income and property, provided this autonomy is exercised in a way that is agreeable to the wishes of the husband, provided his wishes not be in violation of Islamic principles. Nevertheless, they are responsible for educating the children, as God has given the one preference over the other. Man is also considered to be the head of the family. The Qur'an recommends that wives be obedient and adaptable to their husbands. Wives should also keep the secrets of their husbands and protect their honor and integrity. Islamic scholars consider this important in running a smooth family system.
Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah Hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Qu'ran 2:228)
For both men and women, zulm- known in English as actions of 'cruelty' against someone- is explicitly prohibited.
Equality of genders throughout the Qur'an
The equality of men and women is discussed in many places throughout the text. The bible and Quran both blame Adam and Eve for the original sin has the snake talks to both of them.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.(Genesis 3:6) Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame (Qur’an 7:20)
The Qur'an is also very specific that both men and women should receive equal punishment for wrongdoings (24:2), and that both men and women are seen as equals under God, and will be rewarded for their faith by entering Heaven (4:124).
The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes(Qur’an 24:2)
Whoever does good deed,- male or female- and he is believer, he will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to him. (Qur’an 4:124)
Male and female relationships in the times of the Prophet
In her book Qur'an and Women Amina Wadud writes about the importance of women in the time of the Prophet. During this time, women did not have access to the technology that women today have; giving birth and raising children was much more difficult due to diseases and lack of healthcare knowledge. For this reason, Wadud writes, "The Qur'an establishes his [the husband's] responsibility as qiwamah: seeing to it that the women is not burdened with additional responsibilities which jeopardize that primary demanding responsibility only she can fulfill." The need to reproduce and raise children contributed to the importance of gender roles in the time of the Prophet.
Ayeshaa Chaudhry writes that many Muslims have this fundamentally flawed way of examining the text, writing that “Despite the potential for such verses [4:34] to have multiple plain-sense meanings, living Muslim communities place these interpretations in conversation with the pre-colonial Islamic tradition”
Examples from the Prophet
The late Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Tabataba'i(1903-1981 AD) provides the following exegesis on 4:34 from both Sunni and Shi'ite sources in his Mizan:
Ibn Abi Hatim has narrated through Ash’ath ibn ‘Abdil-Malik from al-Hasan that he said: “A woman came to the Prophet complaining against her husband that he had slapped her. The Messenger of Allah said: “Retribution”. Then Allah revealed the verse, “Men are maintainers of women… (4:34); so the woman returned without retribution [ad-Durr 'l-munthur, as-Suyuti]. [as-Suyuti] has narrated it from the Prophet through other chains too. Some of them say that the Messenger of Allah said: “I wanted one thing (retribution), but Allah decided otherwise"...there were some instances where Allah had amended some prophetic orders by adding to or deleting from it, but it was only in his administrative order, not in matters of the law ordained by him for his people, otherwise it would have been an invalid nullification...the Messenger of Allah used to wonder aloud: "How can you embrace the woman with a hand you had hit her with?". It is narrated also in al-Kafi through his chain from Abu Maryam from Abu Ja’far (Imam Muhammad al-Baqir) that he said: “The Messenger of Allah said: “What! Does one of you hit his wife, and then attempt to embrace her?". Countless such statements are found in the traditions; and one may understand from them the Islamic views on this subject.
Al-Tabari(839-923 AD) wrote that, "The Prophet never raised his hand against one of his wives, or against a slave, nor against any person at all." In fact, when the Prophet faced rebellion of his wives, rather than beat him, Al-Tabari accounts that he instead, "stayed away from his wives for 29 nights."
Debates and discussion about the text
In response to nushûz, admonishment, leaving wives in their beds and idribihunna are permitted. Islamic scholars agree such actions can not be undertaken for any reason other than those mentioned in the Qur'an (see nushûz).
Part 1: Authority of men and its reasons
This allots men authority over women due to following reasons: 1: Because God has given some more strength than others. 2: Because men spent from their property to support women i.e., clothing, residence, and sustenance.
The word is also used at Al-Quran 4:134. Here it is said that believers should be Qawwamun with fairness.
1: God has favoured some over others
One of the reason men being Qawwamun over women is that God has favoured some over others. It is again unknown who is fa vored more but context implies that men are favoured men over women.
2: Men are responsible of maintenance of women
Second reason of men being Qawwamun over women is that because men are responsible of earning for women.
Part 2: Characters of pious women
The verse declares that pious women are: 1: Obedient 2: Guarding the unseen as God prescribes.
1: Obedient or Qanitat
The verse commands women to be qanitat. The term has been used in Quran 33:35 to refer to men and women alike, who are obedient to God. Some commentators use the term to mean obedience to the husband, while others assert that it means obedience to God. Some "scholars" agree that the husband does not have absolute control over his wife, and her first loyalty is to God.
2: Guarding the unseen
Hafizat is derived from hafaz meaning to guard. The subjective form is hafiz meaning a person who guards and hafizah meaning she who guards. Hafizat is plural of Hafizah. It means that good women guard themselves in the absence of Husband as God prescribes.
Part 3: Rebellious women and advice
And those whose rebellion (nushûz) is feared. It is advised 1: to admonish them 2: to leave them alone in beds 3: to beat them
1: to admonish them
The first response to nushuz is wā'z (‘وَعَظ’), meaning to first admonish or scold the wife of her behaviour. There is strong agreement amongst Muslim scholars that this admonishment must be conducted in a spirit of reconciliation.
2: to leave them alone in beds
Should the nushuz continue, the next step is to refuse to share the bed with the wife. Again Muslim scholars emphasize on the spirit of healing while conducting this action.
3: to beat them (iḍribūhunna and daraba)
Muslim scholars who permit hitting, emphasize that it must not be harsh, but rather light. Muslim men are never to hit their spouse's face, nor to hit them in such a way as would leave marks on their body. Scholars suggest that the response administered should be in proportion to the fault committed. Traditionally the idea of beating was "with a toothbrush" or "with a folded handkerchief."
Many jurists interpret iḍribūhunna as "more or less symbolic." Others, however, argue that a mere symbolic administration would be pointless and rather should be an "energetic demonstration" of the love of the husband. But it is agreed that the demonstration should not seriously hurt the wife.
The 2007 translation The Sublime Quran by Laleh Bakhtiar translates iḍribūhunna not as 'beat them' but as 'go away from them'. The introduction to her translation discusses the linguistic and shari‘ah reasons in Arabic for understanding this verb in context. The Prophet never beat his wives, and his example from the Sunnah informs the interpretation of this verse. This interpretation is supported by the fact that some other verses, such as 4:101 which contains word darabtum (derivation from daraba), demonstrate also the interpretation of Arabic word daraba to have meaning 'going' or 'moving'.
The Islamic scholar Tahir-ul-Qadri has given the same translation in his translation of the Quran "Irfan-ul-Quran" ("(...)and (if they still do not improve) turn away from them, striking a temporary parting.(...)").
This translation is further supported by the fact that the word "darabtum" is used in the same Surah (4:94), which means to "go abroad" in the sake of Allah and which is derived from the same root word ("daraba") as "idribuhunna" in 4:34.
The book Woman in the Shade of Islam by Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha stated that a man may "beat" his wife only if it occurs without "hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any cost."
A widely used 1930 English translation of the Koran by British Muslim scholar Marmaduke Pickthall determined the verse to mean that, as a last resort, men can "scourge" their wives. He did not view a form physical contact as the correct understanding of the text.
Some jurists argue that even when hitting is acceptable under the Qur'an, it is still discountenanced.
In his book No god but God, University of Southern California scholar Reza Aslan, stated that false interpretations of the text have occurred because Koranic commentary "has been the exclusive domain of Muslim men."
The Islamic prophet Mohammed himself, according to Islamic tradition, never once struck a woman in argument. This fact is sometimes cited in debates about the text.
Muslim feminist writer Asra Q. Nomani has argued,
Indeed, Muslim scholars and leaders have long been doing what I call "the 4:34 dance" -- they reject outright violence against women but accept a level of aggression that fits contemporary definitions of domestic violence.
Feminist writer Amina Wadud writes in her book, Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam,
No community will ever be exactly like another. Therefore no community can be a duplicate of that original community. The Quran never states that as a goal. Rather the goal has been to emulate certain key principles of human development; justice, equity, harmony, moral responsibility, spiritual awareness and development.
Ibn Ishaq has said that Muhammad in his The Farewell Sermon said wives, should not commit any open indecency (fāḥishah).
If they do, then God permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely".