Qur’anic Commentary On Sura’ An-Nissa’ (4):34

Shibli Zaman

It is claimed that:

Surah 4:34 is the notorious verse which advices Muslim husbands with regard to wives from whom they fear “rebellion” (“wa-llaatiy takhafuwna nushuwzahunna“) eventually to beat them (“wa- dribuwhunna“, “and beat them!”)

The issue of a given scriptural verse and its implications is twain. First, there is the actual meaning of the verse. Second, there is the way in which it was received and understood by those who received it.

Much of the problem is due to the numerous attempts at an English interpretation of the Qur’an and not a one being all that good. Let us look at the verse in its context which often neglected intentionally for the sake of the bigoted polemics. This is how it should be rendered into English based on the Prophet’s (P) own words, how his Companions (R) understood them, and how the traditional scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence ruled according to these precepts:

“Men are the vigilant custodians of women, because of what Allah has endowed upon the one over the other, in that they spend from their means. Thus are those women righteous and devout, and protective in absentia over what Allahas deemed to be secure. As for those from whom you fear insolence, (first) edify them, (second) abstain from laying together with them, (lastly) beat them. However, if they seek reconciliation, do not be hostile against them. Verily, Allah is the Exalted the Great.”

Below are the reasons for my translation listed in detail based upon the understanding of the Prophet(P), his Companions(R) and the early Muslim authorities in jurisprudence:

(1) “Men are the vigilant custodians of women…”

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al-Qawwaamoona” (sing. “al-Qawwaam“) — “Meaning vigilant to and protective” (“Ayy: mulaaziman, muHaafiTHan“)1

(2) “…because of what Allah has endowed upon the one over the other, in that they spend from their means”

bi-maa fa’al Allah ba`Dahum `alaa ba`D…” (lit. “In what Allah has endowed the one over the other) – “Meaning that they purvey for them a wedding dowry, and they spend dutifully upon them from their means, and they make sure that all their needs are met. That is the endowment Allahas put in place for them and over them…”2

(3) “…Thus are those women righteous and devout, and protective in absentia over what All?has deemed to be secure”

“Be good to them, and dignify them, for this is what was understood from the recitation of Ibn Mas’ud”3

(4) “…As for those from whom you fear insolence”

“an-Nushooz” – “….is infraction (`aSyaan); taken from ‘an-nashaz’ meaning that which is elevated from the earth…The meaning is thus: You fear her rebellion and haughtiness to what All?has ordained upon her in regards to compliance with her husband. Abu ManSoor al-Lughawy has stated, ‘Nushooz is the hatred of either one of a married couple for their spouse’. Ibn Faaris has stated, ‘A woman has committed nushooz if she has beleaguered her husband, and the husband has committed nushooz if he strikes her and beats her…”4

(5) “…edify them”

“fa-`iTHoohunna” – “Meaning with the Book of All? Meaning remind them of what All?has ordained upon them regarding being of amiable companionship and beautiful partnership with their husbands, and the level of his status over her…”5

(6) “…abstain from their beds”

“And ‘abstaining from the beds’ is that he should lie with her, but turn his back to her, and not have intercourse with her, according to Ibn `Abbaas and others. Mujaahid said, ‘Abstaining from lying with her’…al-Hasan al-Basri said, ‘For when the husband abstains from her bedside, if she is loving to her husband then this will be grieve her and she will be inclined to make things right; However, if she is hateful then her insolence will become manifest, and it will be made clear that she is haughty.”6

(7) “…and beat them”

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Allah has said, ‘and beat them’ (wa-Driboohunna) as an order from Allah that the husband should begin by edifying the woman firstly, then he should abstain from her, then if none of that proves useful then to beat…and ‘beat’ (darb) in this verse is to beat simply as a gesture and to not cause pain. It is not meant to break bones or to offend her dignity as with a punch and the like. For the intention is reconciliation and not anything other than that..and the Prophet(P) said in Saheeh Muslim: ‘Fear Allah in regards to women! For you have taken them in marriage as security from Allah and intercourse with them has been made lawful for you by the Words of Allah. And you too have rights over them that they should not allow any adversary to illicitly frequent your dwelling. If they do that then you may hit them with a hit that does not hurt’

(8) “…if they seek reconciliation, do not be hostile against them”

“Allah has said, ‘if they seek reconciliation,’ meaning they have forsaken insolence. ‘Do not be hostile against them,’ meaning do not respond to them in furor in words or actions. This is a forbiddance in regards to oppressing them after they have become determined upon goodness and are firm in good conduct. Meaning do not make it difficult for them to show you love, for this is not the way to be with them.”7

One can opportunistically cancel out the above in order to twist the words as they like according to their infinitesimal understanding, but this is a dishonest polemic. If one chooses to say that a verse from the Qur’an has a heinous meaning, in spite of the absolute majority of Muslims not sharing that narrow and twisted understanding, this serves only the facetious desires of that person’s own twisted, puny brain. If one were to say that the Biblical verse “Thou shall not kill” means that everyone must be a vegetarian, and a Christian posted a plethora of references to show that the absolute majority of the Church throughout history did not share this view, yet that person insisted that it meant you couldn’t kill animals either, then that person would be an imbecile. The only thing such people are doing is making a obtuse joke for themselves which they can snicker at in their bedrooms and no more.

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And only God knows best.

Footnotes

  1. Ibn al-Manthur, Lisaan al-`Arab []
  2. at-Tabari, Jaami`u-l Bayaan `An Ta’weel Aay al-Qur’an []
  3. ibid. []
  4. al-Qurtubi, al-Jaami’u li-Ahkaami-l Qur’an []
  5. at-Tabari, op. cit. []
  6. al-Qurtubi, op. cit. []
  7. ibid. []

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