Some ‘Muslim’ men think that their religion supports them in abusing women. Not only by beating them, also by denying them equal rights at best, giving them little to no rights at all far too often.
Sincere students of the Quran know that this does not in any way represent the system God has decreed for His worshippers. Just as everything is open for abuse, the verse decreed to actually protect women against the violent tendencies in men has also been abused. Submission (Islam) prohibits all forms of oppression, including spousal abuse.
4:34 In the Quran states: The men are made responsible for the women, and GOD has endowed them with certain qualities, and made them the bread earners. The righteous women will cheerfully accept this arrangement, since it is GOD's commandment, and honor their husbands during their absence. If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme.
At first glance people may interpret this verse as saying:
- Women have to obey their husbands blindly.
- Men can beat women if they don’t do what they want them to.
- Women have to stay at home.
Scrutinizing those interpretations on the basis of the whole Quran quickly generates an entirely different picture. We see instead that God prohibits wife beating by using the best psychological approach. For example, if I don't want you to shop at Market X, I will ask you to shop at Market Y, then at Market Z, then, as a last resort, at Market X. This will effectively stop you from shopping at Market X, without insulting you. Similarly, God provides alternatives to wife beating; reasoning with her first, then employing certain negative incentives. Remember that the theme of this verse is defending the women's rights and countering the prevalent oppression of women. Any interpretation of the verses of this section must be in favor of the women. This verses theme is "protection of women.
Does a woman have to obey her husband blindly?
The Quran teaches us that a woman has every right to disobey a man if his orders are not righteous. A man can only be righteous if his orders are in accordance with the Quran and in consideration of ALL of God’s laws, not only the ones he likes.
One of the laws in the Quran decrees that the believers shall decide their affairs on the basis of due consultation among themselves. Without the woman in this equation, there is no due consultation. Thus, it is a duty upon the righteous man to consult his wife before making important decisions.
Ultimately it is not the voice of the man that weighs heavier in the relationship of a couple that has decided to abide by God’s laws, it is the word of God. Thus, regardless of how highly a man regards himself or his opinions, God gives him no right to make decisions that opposes His commands. Thus, a righteous man will heed a reminder from the wife based on righteous expectations. Thus, a woman should learn the scripture to be able to give her husband those reminders. She should also carefully examine the belief of a man before choosing him as a husband to make sure he respects the rights God has granted her.
Another law in the Quran commands us to treat each other in the best possible way. We are also told that love and care are two essential ingredients of a healthy marriage.
Must someone be in charge?
It is a fact of life that for people to be able to function well together they need to agree on whom should be in charge. We accept this arrangement in all other aspects of our lives, such as when we choose government, when we are employed, and so on, and so on.
We do not feel oppressed for example, because we have to submit ourselves to a legal system that demands of us that we behave a certain way or else holds us responsible. We understand the logic and need for such a system and generally don’t mind following it because we want others to follow it as well, that we may feel safe where we are. Why should it be any different in a marriage situation, which in itself is an institution that must have certain rules and laws.
The order that God decreed for decision making in the family is this; children are obligated to obey their parents, unless they advice them to worship other than God. The parents are together responsible for making balanced decisions for the whole family. When no agreement can be reached between the husband and the wife on what course of action to take, one must have the heavier vote. This is simple logic. The only other option is if someone else decides for your family.
The Quran teaches us that God gave man the final word in the family. Again, this must be after due consultation, without abusing his right, considering what is in the best interest and most fair for all. This is a huge responsibility to carry, especially considering the seriousness by which God regards oppression. He says oppression is worse than murder.
Does a Muslim husband have the right to beat his wife to get her to do what he wants?
Absolutely not! The whole point of the verse is to protect the women in situations where men would tend to resort to violence, when tempted to take advantage of their physical strength over women. Such situations would be for example when a wife has angered her husband by behaving in a way that jeopardizes the safety or the integrity of the family.
A man can never be justified in using his strength to subdue a wife into behaving to his personal liking. The wife has the right to be an individual, with her own personal interests, career, or what have you, just as her husband. Nor can he use this option to subdue his wife into practicing the religion, since there must be no compulsion in religion.
So why does the Quran even mention beating of the wife?
What the verse does, is give a Righteous man Specific commands when dealing with a wife who is behaving in an unrighteous way, posing a threat to the safety of herself or the family. The verse is there to help him restrain his violent tendencies in tense situations by giving him strict guidelines to go by. It is a well-known fact that tendencies towards violence are generally much stronger in men than in women.
Thus, regardless of how upset a husband is about the behavior of his wife, he is not permitted to do anything else but talk to her properly first. If she ignores him and continues to commit the same transgression, he may as a second alternative stop being intimate with her as a means to persuade her. Only as a third and final option, if she insists on maintaining the behavior, he has the right to physically try to correct her.
Is becoming physical ever justified?
In our society we feel that the police is justified in sometimes grabbing hold of people, and restraining them from continuing to pose a threat to themselves and others, until they realize their wrongdoing and promise to change. We see the logic in this, and fully support this action. In a marriage, God made the husband the first point of correction for a wife behaving in a way correlating to that level of misbehavior.