To Beat Or Not To Beat
Surah 4:34 of the Qur'an reads as follows:
Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.
According to many Muslims, this particular translation is not accurate and particularly, the word beat is incorrect and should be more like a little tap. However, the word in question is shown below along with a standard translation. Its position in the text is also marked above.
When looking at the dictionary translation, it is clear that the Arabic word means beat with the main example also containing this verb giving the meaning to beat up. Muslims that claim otherwise are clearly trying to outwit or deceive and should seriously consider whether they are guilty of trying to change the Qur'an.
REVIEW OF THE WORD "BEAT"
In 4:34 the Arabic word translated as "beat" is "idreb". The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic states that it is a conjugate of the word "daraba" which means primarily "to beat, strike, to hit". The root of "daraba" is "darb" which means "beating, striking, hitting, shooting, bombing, coining, formation, minting *. Other definitions of the word "daraba" are: "to behead, to apply a proverb to, to shoot, to shell, to make music, to sting, to separate, to impose, to cruise, to migrate *, etc. Daraba has many meanings too numerous to list and its conjugated derivatives are used similarly in the Qur’an. (* Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Spoken Language Services, Ithaca, NY, 1976, page 538 and 539)
Several Muslim sites attack the translation of this word "beat" and assert that since this word has other meanings, depending on the context, it could also mean verbally chastise. The context of in which the word appears is critical in determining its real meaning in a passage. And, we should use the Qur’an to interpret the Qur’an, and find other similar uses of the word in their contexts, to understand how that word can be applied.
So, first note that all of the 4:34 translations of the Qur’an translate it as "beat" or similar. Obviously the scholars agree on its real meaning.
Second, let’s see how the Qur’an uses "idreb" to determine what it means by how it is used in other verses. What are the contexts of these uses?
"Idrib" is used 12 times in the Qur’an.
2:60 - "strike" the rock with thy staff... 2:73 - "strike" the body 4:34 - refuse to share their beds, "beat" them... 7:160 - "strike" the rock with thy staff... 8:12 - "smite" you above their necks... 8:12 - and "smite" all their finger tips off them... 18:32 - "set forth" to them the parable 18:45 - "set forth" to them the similitude of the life 20:77 - and "strike" a dry path for them through the sea.. 26:63 - "strike" the sea with thy rod 36:13 - "set forth" to them by way of a parable 38:44 - and take in thy hand a little grass and "strike"
Not counting 4:34, the word is used in two ways: eight times it is used in the physical action of striking and three times it is used in the context of speaking or applying a proverb.
Clearly then, the most frequent context of the word is in physically striking.
What about "applying a parable"?
Examine the context of 4:34. First, the man tries the verbal approach. He admonishes his wife and that fails to bring her into submission. Second, he has stopped sleeping with her and she still refuses to obey. Dealing with her rebellion requires a more severe step. "Applying a parable" won't do because the verbal has failed already. 4:34 describes a progression of stronger actions so something stronger must be done.
The only contextual conclusion that can be drawn is one of physical punishment, i.e. the physical "beating" meaning most frequently associated with "idreb" in the Qur’an. Therefore in context, "beat" is the correct translation.
APPENDIX 5: THE MEANING OF THE WORD "NUSHUZ"
There have been disagreements concerning the meaning of the Arabic word 'nushuz'. It is translated as 'refractoriness', 'rebellious', or 'disobedience'. Muslims who wish to minimize or limit the justification for wife beating have sought to tie it to "sexual immorality". In other words, "nushuz" implies that the wife is being sexually immoral.
First, review the scholar’s translations: Rodwell uses 'refractoriness', Dawood uses 'disobedience', Pickthall uses 'rebellion', Arberry uses "rebellious", Shakir uses "desertion", and Ali uses "disloyalty and ill-conduct". Disobedience to the husband is the context in all of these. None of the translators translates this as "sexual immorality".
The Hans-Wehr definition of nushuz found on page 966 translates "nushuz" as:
hostility, discord, violation of marital duties on the part of either the husband or wife, specifically, the recalcitrance of the woman toward her husband, and brutal treatment of the wife by the husband.
Re-examine 4:34. The verse first establishes man’s superiority. Then, near the middle of the verse the justification for wife beating is laid out: "As for those from whom you fear "disobedience". Disobedience is the cause for beating the wife, not sexual immorality. Finally, the cause for the husband to stop the beating is given: " Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. The wife’s "disobedience" is countered by her "obedience." Therefore, the correct interpretation of "nushuz" is disobedience, or rebelliousness, or equivalent.
Note that for the woman to be punished, it suffices from the part of the man to FEAR "disobedience"...clearly...men , in theis way, can justify nearly anything...
For further reading, see the article: Wife Beating in Islam.