Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Did Muhammad Permit Women to be Beaten and Mistreated?

Sam Shamoun

As a result of Muhammad classifying females as basically stupid and inferior to the males, and essentially turning them into property and fields that men possessed, Muhammad even went as far as to allow for them to be beaten.

Evidence from the Quran

“… As for those from whom ye 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.” S. 4:34 Pickthall

“… But chide those for whose refractoriness ye have cause to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourage them…” Rodwell

“… And as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them…” Muhammad Asad

“… If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teachings of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them…” Abdel Haleem

“… But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them…” Umm Muhammad (Sahih International)

“… As for those from whom you fear disloyalty, admonish them, and abandon them in their beds, then strike them…” Tala A. Itani

“… And those whom you are afraid of their disloyalty (in their marital duties), then advise them, and keep away from them in beds, and (if that or nothing else worked) then spank them (fairly and not out of anger)…” Ali Bakhtiari Nejad

“… Those from whom you fear rebelliousness, admonish them and desert them in the bed and smack them (without harshness)…” Hasan Al-Fatih Qaribullah

Evidence from the ahadith and commentaries

Narrated 'Ikrima: Rifa'a divorced his wife whereupon 'AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair Al-Qurazi married her. 'Aisha said that the lady (came), wearing a green veil (and complained to her (Aisha) of her husband and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating). It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah's Apostle came, 'Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!" When 'AbdurRahman heard that his wife had gone to the Prophet, he came with his two sons from another wife. She said, "By Allah! I have done no wrong to him but he is impotent and is as useless to me as this," holding and showing the fringe of her garment, 'Abdur-Rahman said, "By Allah, O Allah's Apostle! She has told a lie! I am very strong and can satisfy her but she is disobedient and wants to go back to Rifa'a." Allah's Apostle said, to her, "If that is your intention, then know that it is unlawful for you to remarry Rifa'a unless Abdur-Rahman has had sexual intercourse with you." Then the Prophet saw two boys with 'Abdur-Rahman and asked (him), "Are these your sons?" On that 'AbdurRahman said, "Yes." The Prophet said, "You claim what you claim (i.e. that he is impotent)? But by Allah, these boys resemble him as a crow resembles a crow." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, number 715)  

Here is another version of this narration:

5487. 'Ikrima related that Rifa'a divorced his wife and then 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn az-Zubayr al-Qurazi married her. 'A'isha said that she [came] wearing a green veil (khimar) and complained to her and showed her some greenness [from bruising] on her skin. The women at that time used to help one another. When the Messenger of Allah came, 'A'isha said, "I have never seen any woman endure what the believing women endure! Her skin is greener than her clothes!" 'Abdu'r-Rahman heard that she had gone to the Messenger of Allah so he came with two of his sons by another woman. She said, "By Allah, I have no wrong action in respect to him, but he is of no more use to me than this," and she took hold of the fringe of her garment. 'Abdu'r-Rahman said, "By Allah, she lies, Messenger of Allah! I am completely strong and potent enough, but she is disobedient and wants to go to Rifa'a!" The Messenger of Allah said, "If that is the case, you are not lawful to him (or proper for him, i.e. Rifa'a) until 'Abdu'r-Rahman has experienced your sweetness." He saw the two boys with him and asked, "Are these your sons? "Yes," he answered. He said, "This is someone about whom you claim what you claim, but, by Allah, they resemble him as a crow resembles another crow!" (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, Chapter 80. The Book of Dress)

Note carefully what Aisha says here. Muhammad’s child bride basically acknowledges that female Muslims were being oppressed and treated more severely than any other women that she knew of. Also note that instead of reprimanding the husband for hitting his wife so severely so as to bruise her body, Muhammad was more upset over the woman’s accusation that her husband was impotent!

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time that Muhammad condoned and even sanctioned the beating of women. In the following narrative a man beats his wife for praying too much and Muhammad says nothing to rebuke him!

Narrated AbuSa'id al-Khudri:

A woman came to the Prophet while we were with him.

She said: Apostle of Allah, my husband, Safwan ibn al-Mu'attal, BEATS ME when I pray, and makes me break my fast when I keep a fast, and he does not offer the dawn prayer until the sun rises.

He asked Safwan, who was present, about what she had said. He replied: Apostle of Allah, as for her statement "he beats me when I pray", she recites two surahs (during prayer) and I have prohibited her (to do so).

He (the Prophet) said: If one surah is recited (during prayer), that is sufficient for the people.

(Safwan continued:) As regards her saying "he makes me break my fast," she dotes on fasting; I am a young man, I cannot restrain myself.

The Apostle of Allah said on that day: A woman should not fast except with the permission of her husband.

(Safwan said:) As for her statement that I do not pray until the sun rises, we are a people belonging to a class, and that (our profession of supplying water) is already known about us. We do not awake until the sun rises. He said: When you awake, offer your prayer.

Grade: Sahih (Al-Albani)           

Reference: Sunan Abi Dawud 2459

In-book reference: Book 14, Hadith 147

English translation: Book 13, Hadith 2453 (; capital and underline emphasis ours)

This next one is quite interesting since it shows that there were times when Muhammad and Allah were at odds with each other:

(Men are in charge of women…) [4:34]. Said Muqatil: “This verse (Men are in charge of women…) was revealed about Sa‘d ibn al-Rabi‘, who was one of the leaders of the Helpers (nuqaba’), and his wife Habibah bint Zayd ibn Abi Zuhayr, both of whom from the Helpers. It happened Sa‘d HIT HIS WIFE ON THE FACE because she rebelled against him. Then her father went with her to see the Prophet. He said to him: ‘I gave him my daughter in marriage and he slapped her’. The Prophet said: ‘Let her have retaliation against her husband’. As she was leaving with her father to execute retaliation, the Prophet called them and said: ‘Come back; Gabriel has come to me’, and Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘We wanted something while Allah wanted something else, and that which Allah wants is good’. Retaliation was then suspended”. Sa‘id ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Zahid informed us> Zahir ibn Ahmad> Ahmad ibn al-Husayn ibn Junayd> Ziyad ibn Ayyub> Hushaym> Yunus ibn al-Hasan who reported that a man slapped his wife and she complained about him to the Prophet. Her family who went with her said: “O Messenger of Allah! So-and-so has slapped our girl”. The Prophet kept saying: “Retaliation! Retaliation! And there is no other judgement to be held”. But then this verse (Men are in charge of women…) was revealed and the Prophet said: “We wanted something and Allah wanted something else”. Abu Bakr al-Harithi informed us> Abu’l-Shaykh al-Hafiz> Abu Yahya al-Razi> Sahl al-‘Askari> ‘Ali ibn Hashim> Isma‘il> al-Hasan who said: “Around the time when the verse on retaliation was revealed amongst the Muslims, a man had slapped his wife. She went to the Prophet and said: ‘My husband has slapped me and I want retaliation’. So he said: ‘Let there be retaliation’. As he was still dealing with her, Allah, exalted is He, revealed (Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other…). Upon which the Prophet said: ‘We wanted something and my Lord wanted something different. O man, take your wife by the hand’ ”. ('Alī ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi, Asbab al-Nuzul; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

Pay careful attention that this commentary plainly says that Q. 4:34 was “revealed” to justify and permit men to slap their wives in their faces, which refutes the assertion that Islam forbids a man from hitting his spouse severely, especially in her face.

Even Muhammad’s own son-in-law and first cousin, Ali ibn Abu Talib, didn’t hesitate to beat up women. Notice how he treated Aisha’s slave girl:

“As for ‘Ali he said: ‘Women are plentiful, and you can EASILY change one for another. Ask the slave girl; she will tell you the truth.’ So the apostle called Burayra to ask her, and ‘Ali got up and gave her A VIOLENT BEATING, saying, ‘Tell the apostle the truth’, to which she replied, ‘I only know good of her…’” (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], p. 496; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Not only did Ali beat women he also believed they were quite expendable, easily replaceable!

Another Muslim was even known for being such a great woman beater!

Fatima bint Qais reported that her husband divorced her with three, pronouncements and Allah's Messenger made no provision for her lodging and maintenance allowance. She (further said): Allah's Messenger said to me: When your period of 'Idda is over, inform me. So I informed him. (By that time) Mu'awiya, Abu Jahm and Usama b. Zaid had given her the proposal of marriage. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: So far as Mu'awiya is concerned, he is a poor man without any property. So far as Abu Jahm is concerned, he is A GREAT BEATER OF WOMEN, but Usama b. Zaid… She pointed with her hand (that she did not approve of the idea of marrying) Usama. But Allah's Messenger said: Obedience to Allah and obedience to His Messenger is better for thee. She said: So I married him, and I became an object of envy. (Sahih Muslim, Book 009, Number 3526)

Fatima bint Qais reported: My husband Abu 'Amr b. Hafs b. al-Mughira sent 'Ayyish b. Abu Rabi'a to me with a divorce, and he also sent through him five si's of dates and five si's of barley… Thereupon Allah's Apostle said: Mu'awiya is destitute and in poor condition and Abu'l-Jahm is very harsh with women (or he beats women, or like that), you should take Usama b. Zaid (as your husband). (Sahih Muslim, Book 009, Number 3527)

Instead of reprimanding Abu Jahm for beating women and for being harsh with them, Muhammad simply mentions these negative qualities in order to dissuade Fatima from marrying him!

The late Iranian Islamic scholar Ali Dashti provides some further examples of Muslim wife abuse as he explains Q. 4:43:

According to Tafsir ol-Jalalayn, the superiority of men lies in their greater intelligence, knowledge and administrative ability. Zamakhshari, Baydawi, and several other commentators go into more detail and construct metaphysical theories; they liken men's auuthority over women to that of rulers over subjects, and maintain that prophethood, prayer-leadership, and rulership are reserved for men because men are stronger, MORE INTELLIGENT, and more prudent

There is one passage, however, which apparently endorses a pre-Islamic Arab custom. This is the sentence at the end of the verse 38[34] permitting a husband to beat his wife: "And those women whose insubordination you fear, admonish them, then leave them alone in the beds, then beat them!" Men with their greater bodily strength have certainly resorted to this unjust and unchivalrous expedient since the earliest times, and they still do so in the twentieth century. Nevertheless its authorization by the law of Islam provides ammunition for critics.

Every community's laws reflect it life-style, customs, and morals. In addition to the testimony of verse 38[34] of sura 4, there is historical evidence that the Ancient Arabs considered the husband to be the owner of his wife and fully entitled to inflict pain on her. Abu Bakr's daughter Asma, who was the fourth wife of Zobayr b. ol-'Awwam (one of the Prophet's first ten converts and principle companions), is reported to have said, "Whenever Zobayr was angry with one of us, he used to beat her UNTIL THE STICK BROKE."

The Islamic law on this subject has at least the merit of gradation. First admonition, next cessation of intercourse, and only in the last resort violence should be used to make the wife obey. In the opinion of several commentators and lawyers, the beating should not be severe as to break a bone, because in that case the legal right to retaliation in kind and degree might be invoked. Zamakhshari, however, writes in his comment on the verse that "some authorities do no accept gradation of the punishment of the insubordinate wife but consider infliction of any of the three penalties to be permissible." This was of course the interpretation given to the words by fanatical Arab theologians such as Ebn Hanbal and Ebn Taymiya. Nevertheless, the meaning of the words is clear and moreover confirmed by what follows in verse 39[35]: "And if you fear a breach between the two, send an arbiter from his kinsfolk and an arbiter from her kinsfolk in case they desire reconciliation." (Dashti, Twenty-Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad, translated from Persian by F.R.C. Bagley [Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, CA 1994], pp. 114, 115-116; bold and capital emphasis as well comments within brackets ours)

To make matters worse, Muhammad even went so far as to say that no man should ever be questioned as to why he beats his wife!

Riyad as-Salihin

The Book of Miscellany

'Umar reported that:

The Prophet said, "No man shall be asked for the reason of beating his wife".

[Abu Dawud]. (; underline emphasis ours)


Sunan Ibn Majah

The Chapters on Marriage

It was narrated that Ash'ath bin Qais said: "I was a guest (at the home) of 'Umar one night, and in the middle of the night he went and hit his wife, and I separated them. When he went to bed he said to me: 'O Ash'ath, learn from me something that I heard from the Messenger of Allah: “A man should not be asked why he beats his wife, and do not go to sleep until you have prayed the Witr."' And I forgot the third thing."

Grade: Hasan (Darussalam)

English reference: Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1986

Arabic reference: Book 9, Hadith 2062 (; underline emphasis ours)