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«Nada Ibrahim and Mohamad Abdalla Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia A Critical Examination of Qur’an 4:34 Abstract This article examines ...»

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Consequently, all Muslim schools of jurisprudence state that a wife is no longer obliged to remain at home, and the Shafi'i school of thought states that she is entitled to have the marriage annulled if she wishes to do so. In summary, “he is no longer a caretaker or entitled to oblige her to remain at home because he has vitiated the objective of http://www.q-news.com/protecting her by marriage, for the aim of marriage is her security” (as cited in Keller, 1995). If a husband fulfils his religious obligations towards his wife, then he can be in “charge of her interests, supervision, and discipline” (Keller, 1995). Salman al-Oadah, a contemporary Islamic law

scholar summarizes the legal implications of qawwamuna as :

Men are held liable for handling the affairs of women and are responsible for the women under their care. A husband, therefore, has the responsibility of taking care of his wife, protecting her, defending her honor, and fulfilling her needs regarding her religion and her worldly life. It does not mean – as all too many people have falsely assumed – that he has the right to behave obstinately towards her, compel her, subject her to his will, suppress her individuality, and thus heinously negate her identity (Al-Oadah, n.d.).

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There is disagreement among classical and contemporary scholars about the meaning of nushuz in verse 4:34. This word is often translated into English to mean “disobedience” (Bewley & Bewley, 1999, p. 73), “flagrant defiance” (Hammad, 2007, p. 138), “ill-conduct” (Al-Hilali & Khan, 1993, p. 131), and “misbehavior” (Murad, Badawi, & Hutchinson, 2000, p. 84). As with the English translations of the word wadribuhunna, nushuz needs to be understood in context.

Yuksel (n.d) explains that the “intended meaning of the verb cannot be separated from the other aspects of the same verse referring to nushuzahunna,” which should be more accurately translated as “disloyalty” (within marriage). Other Muslim scholars define nushuz as a severe act of disobedience that threatens the sanctity and continuation of marriage, considering that the marital bond is a pledge (Qur’an, 4:21) entered into by both partners (AbuSulayman, 2003).

Further, the 13th century classical scholar, judge, and Qur’anic exegete Imam Baydawi defined nushuz as “disobedience” (Abou El Fadl, 2006). The 12th century jurist Ibn Rushd said that “a nashiz is a deviant woman who refuses to pray, fast, or cleanse herself from impurities” (Abou El Fadl, 2006, p. 109). Since the word nushuz is also used in the Qur’an (4:128) to describe men’s behavior, should the meaning of “disobedience” be applicable to a husband also?

Likewise, if nushuz means arrogance, defiance, and disobedience in the case of the wife, does it mean the same thing in the case of a husband? In response, Muslim jurists stated that “nushuz, in the case of a wife, means disobedience, and in the case of a husband, means a grave and known sin (fahisha mubina)” (Abou El Fadl, 2006, p. 110). However, is it not possible that nushuz in the case of a wife should also mean a “grave and known sin,” and not simply “disobedience”? Abou El Fadl believes that this is a plausible meaning particularly if we take the farewell sermon by

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O people, I command you to treat women with kindness for they are your support. You have no other rights over them unless they commit a grave and known sin (fahisha mubina). If they do, abandon them in beds and beat them lightly, but if they comply do not transgress against them (Abou El Fadl, 2009, p. 110).

If the Prophet used the expression fahisha mubina (a grave and known sin) to mean nushuz, then nushuz in verse 4:34 cannot simply mean “disobedience” of the wife but a “grave sexual sin”, or “sexual lewdness” (Abou El Fadl, 2009, p. 110). Haddad (2000) agrees that nushuz in the verse is a euphemism for adultery because a wife’s primary marital responsibility is spelled out in the hadith as “not allowing whom you hate to enter your bed or your house”.

Therefore, nushuz refers to some serious level of misbehavior which could threaten the continuation of the marriage, not just some minor annoyances and the natural give-and-take between partners. The issue of nushuz is particularly important in Islamic law as this is the one condition where jurists agree that the wife revokes her right to maintenance by her husband (Abd al Ati, 1977, pp. 157-159), and where the imperative wadribuhunna may be practiced. But what exactly is meant by wadribuhunna?

The Meaning and Legal Application of Wadribuhunna Haddad (2000) reiterates that wife beating is clearly outside the teachings of Islam, and that verse 4:34 does not refer to permitting violent acts against women, emphasizing that those claiming that Islam sanctions wife beating have decontextualized the verses and misrepresented Islam entirely. Haddad indicates that the verse 4:34 does not imply physical beating, since the Arabic root word of the verb wadribuhunna is also used to indicate washing the face with water and to travel the earth. When asked if wadribuhunna in 4:34 is interpreted as a command or a recommendation, he responds “Not even a recommendation” quoting Al-Shafi'i’s argument “wa al-darbu mubah, wa al-tarku afdal - and hitting is permitted, but not hitting is preferable”

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Furthermore, Haddad argues that in this context the final pilgrimage sermon of Prophet Muhammad needs to be understood, wherein the Prophet explains, “My last recommendation to you is to treat women well. Truly they are your helpers and you have no right over them beyond this, except if they commit clear indecency (adultery). If they do this then refuse to share a bed with them and beat them without indecent violence (fadribuhunna darban ghayra mubarrih)”.

The final wording “ghayra mubarrih” means without violence or intensity. To elaborate further, “Mubarrih” is defined as “violent, intense, severe, acute, sharp, excruciating, tormenting, and agonizing”. Al-Tabari states that “ghayr mubarrih means ghayr sha’in, which means not disgraceful, outrageous, obscene, and indecent [beating]” (Haddad, 2000). Thus, any Muslim who beats his wife violently or causes injury commits a grave sin and should be held accountable. Therefore, Haddad concludes that it is incorrect to assume that Islam permits wife beating.

Abou El Fadl (2006) attempts to provide a context and rationale for the meaning of the term “beat” or “daraba” in Arabic, by presenting the bigger picture of Islam. Wherein the overall ethos of Islamic law does not permit violence generally (less so against other Muslims) how could it be sanctioned as a normal, permissible practice against women, or wives? He argues that the meanings concerning “beating” in verse 4:34 must be examined within the context of other verses of the Quran, hadith, and how scholars have understood them. Thus wadribuhunna referred to in the verse is only relevant in the situation where a married woman has committed open adultery and that to “beat” a woman simply because she is disobedient cannot possibly be a legitimate understanding. He states that the greater maqasid or higher objectives of Islamic law regarding marriage indicate that the beating of women is forbidden in Islam; that the

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situations. Many Prophetic traditions generally relating to beating and violence in Islamic law support this view. Thus, IPV is a separate issue from the context of the verse and such actions should be condemned unconditionally.

Abou El Fadl (2006) alludes to the fact that the word “beat” (e.g., as used in “to beat around the bush” or “beat it”) in English has many meanings, indicating that “beat” and “strike” in English are not simply limited to violence inflicted with the hands. It is in the same light that he examines the meaning of the Arabic verb used in verse 4:34, stating that “daraba” can cover an equally wide range of meanings. These include: to travel, to get out, to strike or beat, to set up or establish, to give, to condemn, to ignore, to seal, to cover, and to explain, among other meanings, stating that typically this verb has a lot of associated meanings in any dictionary.

Consistent with this contextualization, those who render the English translation of wadribuhunna to mean beat/strike/scourge argue that it should “not be on the face, or cruelly, or with anything which might leave a mark on the body”, and that “his strokes should be symbolic, the law forbids that which leaves bruises or other marks” (Murad, Badawi, & Hutchinson, 2000). In other words the “beating” is conditional, and is “symbolic” as argued by Murad, Badawi, and Hutchinson: If a man has to administer physical correction to a wife, his strokes should be symbolic, the law forbids that which leaves bruises or other marks. A wife with a complaint against her husband’s treatment may apply to a magistrate to deal with the matter (Murad, Badawi, & Hutchinson, 2000, p. 84).

There is agreement that if all fails a husband may “discipline” his wife when there is clear evidence that she has committed nushuz, through a symbolic hitting that is not humiliating, injurious, or deformative. This symbolic “hitting” should be with a miswak (a small natural

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the proviso that this symbolic “hitting” should be ghayr mubarrih. Additionally, the symbolic “hitting” should not be on the face for it is prohibited in the shari’ah to hit anyone on the face; a sinful act that requires monetary compensation (qawad).

Al-Qaradawi (1982), describes “beating” to be permissible (if all other measures fail) only in some extreme cases of a wife’s rebellion. He defines it as beating lightly with the hands, avoiding the face and other sensitive parts. He stresses that in no cases should the husband resort to a stick or any other instrument that might cause pain and injury (Al-Qaradawi, 1982, p. 205).

Badawi states that under no circumstances does the Qur’an encourage, allow, or condone IPV, but in extreme cases in an effort to salvage a marriage the husband may administer a “gentle tap with a miswak” without causing any physical harm to the body or leaving any mark; stressing that this option is a last resort after exhausting all other prerequisite steps (Badawi, 1995, p. 13).

Yet other scholars like Taha Jabir Alalwani and Maher Hathout, hold the view that even light tapping is not appropriate (FTI, 2007). They argue that verse 4:34 should be interpreted in light of the historical and environmental context. Taking it as an absolute to apply to any time or any person is erroneous, given that the Qur’an orders one to live with his wife in kindness and equity. These scholars also argue that to interpret the word wadribuhunna to mean “hitting” is to err with the practice of the Prophet who during a severe situation of marital discord, practiced a period of separation (or boycott) from his wives, which renders the meaning of wadribuhunna to “boycott them” and not “beat them”.

It is evident from the above discussion that no classical or contemporary Muslim scholar has ever argued that wadribuhunna actually means “beat” your wives, despite the fact that this is how English translations render the meaning. In fact, these scholars made every attempt to

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understood to be a last resort in a marriage that has become seriously dysfunctional due to the nushuz of the wife. By extension, under no other circumstance can a husband inflict any type of abuse on his wife, regardless of social, psychological, or cultural influences that may be imposed on the husband.

Additionally, and to make matters more stringent, during the gradual three steps of reconciliation specified in verse 4:34, it is emphatically stressed that if marital harmony is restored following any of the first or second steps (before wadribuhunna), then it is legally binding on the husband “not to engage in any further acts that may annoy the wife” (Badawi, 2007, p. 424). If the husband abuses this legal guideline by resorting to the second or third step where the first suffices, then his action is prohibited and he is liable to pay compensation under Islamic law (Abd al Ati, 1977, p. 158). All of these steps are articulated in verse 4:34 and elaborated by Islamic law, to safeguard the wife from being abused when in a state of nushuz.

Under no other circumstance is the imperative wadribuhunna applicable for it goes directly against verse 4:34 and Islamic law.

In cases where all these three measures fail, then to rescue the collapsing marriage and secure the rights of each spouse, the Qur’an provides a just arbitration system in verse 4:35 with

the condition that both parties must have the desire for reconciliation:

And if you fear a breach between the two, then appoint a judge from his people and a judge from her people; if they both desire agreement, God will effect harmony between them, surely God is Knowing, Aware (Qur’an, 4:34).

This arbitrary system is particular to the issue of nushuz and in no way implies a situation of IPV. In situations where a wife’s safety may be at risk as a result of IPV, this process of arbitration may place the wife at further risk, which is why a desire for reconciliation is stressed

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method the Qur’an uses is more results-oriented than dogmatic, where both parties are dealt with equitably and with justice. If reconciliation with the help of arbitrators from each side fails, and marital harmony does not seem to be restorable, then the couple may seek divorce. Even at this stage, the Qur’an directs the husbands “not drive them (the wife) out of their houses, nor should they themselves go forth, unless they commit an open indecency” (Qur’an, 65:1).

Also, husbands should not use divorce as an excuse to harm the wife in any way, rather the injunction is to “retain them with kindness or divorce them with kindness” (Qur’an, 65:2), and:

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