How a Man Should Discipline his Wife
The permission to beat a woman in the case of rebelliousness is based on the Qur´an and the Hadith. "Admonish those women whose rebelliousness you fear, and leave them alone in their beds, and [even] beat them [if necessary]. If they obey you, do not seek any way [to proceed] against them" (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:32). Modern jurists and writers have done their best to weaken this verse by interpreting "rebelliousness" as disobedience and adultery, where beating would be the last means a man can resort to in order to keep the woman from committing that heinous deed. The old jurists and commentators, however, were more realistic and frank. Al-Shafi`i, for example, holds that a man has the right to beat his wife, but abstaining from it (namely from beating) is better. The other verse that is used to prove the permissibility of beating is Sura Sad 38:44, " 'Take in thy hand a bundle of rushes, and strike [your wife] therewith, and do not fail in thy oath.' We found him a steadfast man. How excellent a servant he was! He was a penitent." The person spoken of here is the prophet Job.
Qatada narrated: "Job's wife disobeyed him. So the prophet of God (Job) swore that he would give her a hundred lashes if God healed him." Al-Jassas says, "There is an indication in this verse that a man can beat his wife for the sake of discipline, otherwise Job wouldn't have sworn to beat her, and God wouldn't have commanded him to do so after he had sworn. In addition to mentioning and permitting the beating of women in the Qur´an on the grounds of rebelliousness (in the verse that says, "Admonish those women whose rebelliousness you fear... beat them"), the story of Job indicates that she could be beaten for a reason other than rebelliousness. The verse that says, "Men are the managers of the affairs of women," (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:34) means the same as the story of Job. This is because it was narrated that a man beat his wife during the lifetime of Muhammad, and her family wanted a requital. So God revealed, "Men are the ones that should be in charge of women because some have been favoured more than others." The judge Ibn al-`Arabi says, "The command to beat here is a permissive one." He also refers to the aversion it involves: Muhammad said, "I hate that a man beats his female slave when in anger, and perhaps has intercourse with her on the same day."
Beating should not be intense (mubarrih), as the jurists proved from the hadith pertaining to the permissibility of beating women. Sulayman Ibn `Amr Ibn al-`Ahwas narrated: "Ubai told me that he witnessed the address of departure of the prophet. He thanked God and praised him, and started preaching, saying, "I command you good-will for your wives, for they are captives to you that do not own anything, unless they commit a manifest obscenity [or adultery]. If they do [commit it], then God has given you permission to leave them alone in their beds and give them a bearable beating." Al-Sabuni says that this saying of Muhammad indicates that it is permitted to beat a woman for reasons of chastity (or decency). As to the point that beating should not be intense or painful, it means "that you should not break her bones or leave a bruise." In spite of the fact that there are many hadiths that relate how hateful it is to beat women, it seems that the jurists and the expositors in all ages (even in our days) chose the traditions that permit and prefer disciplinary punishment of women; such as "A man should not be asked why he beats his wife," which is now quoted frequently by the majority.
There is still a difference of opinion, however, among scholars about the definition of "rebelliousness," which gives a man the right to resort to beating as a last means. "Most jurists define legal rebelliousness [nushuz], which allows a man to beat his wife in order to remove that rebelliousness, in certain ways, such as disobeying a man in bed, and going out of the house without his permission. Some consider a woman's abstaining from ornaments, provided that the man wants it, as rebelliousness. They say, 'He may also beat her for neglecting her religious duties; such as ablution, praying...' It appears that rebelliousness is a general thing that includes all sorts of disobedience caused by recalcitrance and disdain." It is strange that jurists consider beating women as a legal means of forcing them to have intercourse. It is stranger still that Muslim writers in the twentieth century try to justify this weird apology by the alleged discoveries of psychology in Europe. Antagonism to women and blind bigotry caused one of them (who claimed to be quoting a European scholar) to assert that "woman takes pleasure in being controlled by the man due to her instinctive obedience to him. The more he beats her, the more she admires him! Nothing saddens a woman more than having a husband who is always kind and loving." Muhammad Zaki `Abd al-Qadir says that "women like difficult men, who can break their [the women's] will by their own will. Even though they scream... in their heart of hearts they feel the pleasure of their weakness against the strength of their men." A few years ago, a progressive professor wrote that "beating should be [used] when a woman indulges in rebelliousness, spreading misery in her home, to her children and relatives, and to her husband. No one should think that beating has a brutal aspect, as there are women who beat their husbands, and others do not allow their husbands to approach them [physically] except after they have given them a thrashing, to cause them to bleed. This has been pointed out by psychological studies on perversion."
Imam Muhammad `Abduh attacks the so-called "imitators of the west who disdain the legality of beating women but do not feel the same way about the woman who snubs her husband and treats him haughtily, putting him under her thumb, even though he is the head of the house." He asks, "What corruption is it that will spread on earth when a righteous man is permitted to reduce the arrogance of a certain woman and bring her down from her conceited rebelliousness by beating her hand with a stick or slapping her on the face? If this is too much for their ethics, then their ethics have become refined to the point of non-existence. In fact, many of their western leaders beat their cultured, educated wives, whether dressed or naked. This has been practised by their wise men, scholars, kings, and princes, since it is a necessity that the majority of people cannot do without in honouring these educated women. How then could a necessity in a general religion, which suits both rural and urban societies and all sorts of people, be condemned?"
The great reformer Muhammad `Abduh adds: "The legality of beating women is not reprehensible, as far as reason and instinctive nature are concerned, so that it would need explanation. This is a needful procedure when the environment and morals are corrupt. It is permitted when the woman's return from her rebelliousness depends on it. But if the environment is good and women are receptive to advice and responsive to admonition, or give up [their evil ways] when deserted, then beating should be done away with. Each case has a judgment that suits it in the [Islamic] legislation, and, at any rate, we are instructed to be lenient and fair with women, and to retain them with decency or send them away with decency. The hadiths that speak of the instructions dealing with women are numerous."
Scholars are painstaking in emphasising that not all women should be beaten. There are women (the majority) who do not need to be disciplined by beating. Yet, some say there is a divine wisdom in beating women, otherwise the Qur´an wouldn't have given it as a solution to family problems. This last point makes it impossible for a Muslim to reject beating utterly, so the Muslim is at a loss, not knowing how to defend or justify it. He may justify it by the usage of beating as disciplinary punishment in the military and in schools, or compare beating with wars that keep order in the world!
There are others, still, who try to break with marital rights and try to lift themselves above the head of the house and reject the dictates of their own nature. These lay marital life open to deterioration and decay; therefore the Qur´an laid out for such women two familiar ways of correction and discipline to curb them and bring them back to their natural position. Civilised Muslims have misunderstood this sort of remedy and described it as a dry desert-like remedy that doesn't suit civilisation, which demands that honour and respect be paid to the wife.
Islam was not intended for a certain generation, region, or environment. It is a guidance and a legislation to all generations, regions, and environments. In fact, physical punishment for deviates and perverts, who do not learn by exhortation or abandonment, is required by natural instinct and is determined by the social system.
Nature has handed this [practice] down from father to son, as it has handed it down among the nations to the rulers. But for it, no family or nation would live right. Physical wars, which are based on weapons of iron and fire between civilised nations at the present time, are only an example of this disciplinary punishment that awaits aggressors. The divine laws perceive the phenomenon of war and fighting as follows: "If one of them should oppress the other, then fight the one who acts oppressively until they comply with God's commandment," and "If God did not defend [lit. push] some men by means of others, the earth would be ruined; but God possesses bounty [for everybody in] the universe."
Again, the truth is that those who are reluctant about the legislation of the Qur´an in this respect only flatter the emotions of a specific environment of women that we and everybody know. Such people pretend in their presence that they are keen on protecting women's honour and dignity, and on putting her on a level that displays her in an extraordinary way.
The writer and philosopher Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad does not lag behind the great reformer Imam Muhammad `Abduh in his arguments; he is even more forthright and gives more illustrations. He thinks it is right for a man to beat his wife when he is angry, to correct whatever mistake she makes. "Beating is not always a positive thing [to do] in every case and with every woman. Yet, beating is permitted since some women accept discipline only through it. The objections to beating made on the part of modern-day pedantics should be treated as a skirmish in political manoeuvres, not as a real discussion of the affairs of life and morals. There is only one consideration that validates the objection to beating as a punishment. Since God did not create women to be disciplined by beating, when nothing else seems to work. Anyone holding this view is oblivious to the fact that beating is approved as a disciplinary measure in the army and at school. So [this action is taken against] soldiers and pupils, whom we honour and respect, assuming the objection hinges on honour and respect. The superiors of these [soldiers and pupils] have more means of physical and moral punishment, deprivation and reward, that husbands do not have in the limited domain of the home."
Al-Aqqad's thoughts concerning beating women can be summarised by this statement: There are some women among them that cannot be disciplined except by beating; and there are even some neurotics who crave beating just as some patients crave some sorts of torture. The following is a quotation from the same author:
Women themselves may make fun of these babblers [he means women's rights activists] who are only at home at parties and in nightclubs. Women know for sure that beating a disobedient and rebellious wife is not as appalling as it is claimed to be in the nightclubs and parties. There might be some elegant ladies who frequent those places of amusement who know more about this than the "ladies' men" with their false "courtesy". They know, as others also do, that those women do not hate it [beating] or think it evil.
Mr Ahmad Shalabi has the same difficulty in understanding the opponents of beating women "especially since beating is applied as a means of correction and disciplinary punishment only when it will bring about good results. It is ridiculous to imagine that there is no member of mankind who is not capable of being corrected by being beaten. Or why don't those people object to the punishment of beating in the army?" We don't know what they might say if they knew that the punishment of beating has now been cancelled in the army and schools in some countries, and that modern psychology has proved that beating does not rehabilitate the mentality of a person, but ruins it, whether the victim is a child or a woman!