Sunday, 22 July 2012

Has a Woman the Right to Hit Her Husband in Self-Defense?

Prominent Shi'ite Ayatollah Fadhlallah, Prominent Sunni Scholar 'Obikan:

Following the execution, in late October 2008, of a Saudi convicted of the violent murder of his wife, Sunni sheikh 'Abd Al-Muhsin Al-'Obikan, an advisor at the Saudi Justice Ministry, issued a fatwa permitting a wife to use force against her husband in response to violence on his part. The fatwa stated that the wife may even kill her husband to prevent him from killing her. Explaining his fatwa at, 'Obikan said: "A woman may respond to violence with violence, in self-defense: If [her husbands] hits her she may hit back, and if he tries to kill her, she may kill him... if this is the only way she can save her life." In addition, 'Obikan also permitted a woman to leave her husband's bed and to deny him sex if he is not fulfilling his matrimonial duties towards her. [1]

A similar fatwa was issued a year earlier by Lebanese Shi'ite scholar Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadhlallah, to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. He too ruled that a woman beaten by her husband is allowed to hit him back, and that a woman whose husband does not honour her rights, as stipulated in the marriage contract, such as the right to sustenance or marital relations, may withhold these rights from her husband as well. [2]

'Obikan's and Fadhlallah's fatwas evoked many responses among religious circles in the Arab world. Some supported the fatwas, citing the right to self-defense and the principle of gender equality. Others objected to them, claiming that the Koran permits only the husband to hit his wife and to withhold sexual relations from her, as a means of disciplining her, and that a fatwa permitting the wife to hit back would destroy families.

It should be noted that many Muslim religious scholars hold that it is permitted for a husband to beat his wife, though only as a last resort and under specific conditions.
[3] This position was reiterated at a recent symposium of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, held April 26-30, 2009 in the UAE and attended by some 200 Muslim scholars from around the world. A decision issued at the symposium stated that a disobedient wife should be treated according to the guidelines of the Muslim Shari'a: the husband must first admonish her, then withdraw from her bed, and only then, if all else fails, administer a beating. The decision stipulated that the beating must be light, must not be on the face or sensitive parts of the body, and must not be administered in anger or in revenge. [4]

Following are excerpts from Ayatollah Fadhlallah's fatwa, and from responses to his and Sheikh 'Obikan's fatwas.

Ayatollah Fadhlallah: A Married Woman is an Independent Legal Entity

Fadhlallah's fatwa stated: "
Despite the progress in the humane treatment of the woman; despite the respect attained by the woman [today] as compared to her condition in the past in most Eastern and Western societies; despite the woman's advancement up the social and political ladder - so much so that nowadays women occupy the highest positions in government and other [domains]; despite the fact that women have joined and even surpassed men in resistance movements - [despite all this,] women are still subjected to violence of various forms, and this [phenomenon] is not confined to specific [social] circles. This is happening not only in the East, but is worldwide, even though the form and extent of violence may vary from place to place... The woman - be it as sister, daughter, or wife - is still subordinate to the man - be it her brother, her father, or her husband..."

In view of the above, Fadhlallah emphasized the following points: "
Violence can be resorted to only in exceptional cases, as an educational tool or in response to aggression... This norm is valid in interpersonal relations in general, without distinction between man and woman, or between young and old...

"The man's guardianship over the woman does not entail control; rather, it means that the responsibility for the family is on his shoulders. [This responsibility] does not rest exclusively with the man, and he must share with the woman all [the responsibilities] that they have in common as a couple...

"The woman's willingness to engage in household chores and domestic duties [must stem] from [natural] human [feelings], love, and willingness to sacrifice - since Islam does not impose on the woman anything of the sort, even in connection to raising [children]. Islam respects [the woman's] work, and [even specifies that] she must be given material reimbursement for it. The man must appreciate the sacrifice the woman makes by taking care of him and the family, and he must not treat her arbitrarily or violently...

"According to Islam, within marriage the woman is an entity legally independent of the man with regard to material possessions. The man is forbidden to seize the woman's personal belongings, or to interfere with her commercial [dealings] or interests - if these have no bearing on him as her spouse, or on the family for whose [wellbeing] he is responsible...

"Islam does not permit the man to use any form of violence against the woman - either in respect of her Shari'a rights, which he must honor on the strength of the marriage contract, or in respect of her [right] to go out of the house.

"Furthermore, Islam prohibits cursing her or using abusive language to hurt [her]. All these are sins for which Allah will call [the man] to account, and which are punishable by the Islamic law..."

A Woman May Treat Her Husband Just As He Treats Her

If a man has used physical violence against a woman, and if she cannot defend herself other than by resorting to similar violence against him, then she is permitted to do so by way of self-defence. Moreover, if a man has acted violently with respect to the woman's rights - i.e. by depriving her of some of the rights to which she is entitled by marriage, including sustenance and sexual relations - she is likewise allowed to deny him the rights she is required to grant him according to the [marriage] contract...

"Islam emphasizes that no one is in control of a woman who is of age, behaves properly, and conducts her affairs independently. No one is allowed to force her to [marry a man] she does not want. A marriage contract drawn without the woman's consent is invalid...

"In order to protect the family, laws regulating women's employment must strive to balance the woman's work - if she chooses to work - with her responsibilities to her family. Any imbalance in this area may lead to the destruction of the family...
" [5]

In an interview with, Fadhlallah explained that the fatwa was "
based on the general Shari'a principle applicable to all Muslims, male and female alike, whereby a person who is attacked has the right to act in self-defense..." He further stated: "There is no [evidence] in the Koran that the relationship between a man and a woman is like one between master and slave - rather, it is [a relationship based on] responsibility."

Fadhlallah went on to clarify the fatwa with regard to sexual relations between a man and a woman: "
The sexual aspect is one of the basic aspects of marital relationship; accordingly, a woman is not permitted to deny her husband sexual relations, other than for health, emotional, or social reasons... Our understanding of the religious law is that sexual relations are the right of the woman as much as of the man. Just as the woman cannot deprive her husband of his sexual rights, if he wishes [to exercise them], so is the man is forbidden to withhold from his wife her sexual rights, if she [wishes to exercise them]..." [6]

Al-Azhar Sheikhs: A Woman May Hit Her Husband in Self-Defense

Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee head Sheikh 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Atrash endorsed 'Obikan's fatwa, saying that under Islamic law, a wife is indeed allowed to hit her husband in self-defense. He stressed that all individuals have a right to self-defence, regardless of gender - because all human beings are equal in the eyes of Allah, and no one who is subjected to violence must let it pass without response.

Dr. Ahmad Al-Sayih, lecturer at the Al-Azhar Faculty of the Fundamentals of Religion, likewise supported 'Obikan's position, saying that, according to Shari'a and the law, a woman has the right to hit her husband in self-defense, because men and women are equal both in their rights and in their duties.

Criticism of the Fatwa

Only the Husband Has the Right to Hit

Fadhlallah's fatwa generated extensive criticism in religious circles throughout the Arab world. Dr. Jawdat 'Abd Al-Ghani Basyouni, head of the comparative Islamic law department in the Shari'a faculty at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, said: "
The Islamic Shari'a clearly objects to a husband severely beating his wife, since the Prophet meant that the beating should be done (with a toothpick) [sic! It’s a “weak hadith, and this co,ming from al-Azhar!!], only in order to direct her..." He added: "If it happens that a man has transgressed the Shari'a by beating his wife severely, such a man has passed from Shari'a to the law of the jungle. However, even in such a case, the woman is forbidden to hit him back, since this kind of behavior is likewise forbidden by the Shari'a..." [8]

Saudi Islamic Academy member Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Nujaimi likewise objected to Fadhlallah's fatwa. In an interview with, he said: "
A woman has the right to defend herself if a man has hit her in order to slay her - which is forbidden by the Koran. However, she has no such right [if he has hit her] in order to teach her [a lesson] according to the Shari'a and the Koran. A woman does not have the same right to hit a man as is given to the man [in respect of the woman] by the Koran. In other words, she is not allowed to teach him by beating, as he is allowed to do [to her].

Al-Nujaimi further explained: "Corporal punishment according to the Shari' the privilege of a man [alone] - not of the woman..."

Al-Nujaimi agreed with Fadhlallah that a woman is entitled to withhold from a man the rights that he denies her - albeit only in particular cases: "
If [the man] does not provide for her, [the woman] has the right to withhold herself from him [sexually] and to demand the dissolution of the marriage contract; if [the man] has resorted to violence during sexual intercourse with her, she has the right to withhold herself from him and to sue him, since he is forbidden to act in this way. However, the claim that she can withhold herself [sexually] from her husband in other cases as well is unfounded." [9]

Dr. Sa'd Al-'Anzi, imam at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments and member of the Kuwaiti Journalists Association, said that Fadhlallah's fatwa, which permits a woman to hit her husband, is "
an extraordinary statement and an unprecedented claim that contradicts common sense and natural order." Al-'Anzi added, "Fadhlallah's view stands in contrast to [the principle of] warm marital relations, since hitting [by the wife] is a behavior that brings about neither stability nor steadiness in marriage, but rather [precipitates] conflict, quarrel, and the termination of the relationship."

Al-'Anzi further claimed: "
As concerns the attitude of the Islamic Shari'a to [granting the woman permission] to hit [the man], the divine precept is addressed to the man rather than to the woman... 'To beat' means to hit lightly [sic]... as a corrective measure." [10]

'Obikan's, Fadhlallah's Fatwas Destroy the Family And Are a Symptom of Capitulation to Western Pressure

Dr. Mustafa Al-Shak'a, member of the Al-Azhar Academy of Islamic Research, said of 'Obikan's fatwa that it "
destroys the Islamic family unit, and replaces the Islamic warmth and compassion with violence and beatings." He added: "The Shari'a does not allow the husband to beat his wife, except in the case of a 'morally [justifiable]' beating, for the purpose of education. Other [types of violence] constitute aggression, which is forbidden in Islam." [11]

Dr. Bassam Al-Shatti, columnist and professor at the Kuwait University's Faculty of Shari'a and Islamic Studies, also claimed that a woman was prohibited from hitting her husband. He explained: "
The Prophet said: 'Had I commanded someone to worship someone [else], [it would have been] the woman to worship her husband.' Given this, how [could a woman be allowed] to raise her hand against [her husband]?"

Al-Shatti added: "
If a woman should raise her hand against her husband, this would preclude reconciliation, since the husband would not find it in himself to accept the woman who had hit him... A woman's basic [traits] are softness, compassion, refinement, and grace. Should she raise her hand against her husband, she would precipitate a dangerous stage in the family life." In conclusion, Al-Shatti said: "This fatwa destroys homes; and does not promote peace between the husband and wife."

Kuwaiti Shari'a Foundation for Human Rights director Dr. 'Adel Al-Damkhi criticized Fadhlallah's ruling that a woman is not subject to any guardianship, saying: "
Fadhlallah's fatwa clearly contradicts [the prerogative] of guardianship over the woman that Allah granted the man." Al-Damkhi further explained that the man's guardianship over the woman is in line with "the Shari'a stipulation that [it is the man] who must support her, who makes decisions [in all matters related to] the household, and who is responsible for correcting the woman's misconduct." Al-Damkhi added: "This fatwa will turn the home into a battlefield... It is a sign of the Islamic countries' capitulation to the Western ways and Western pressure regarding women's issues." [12]

Fatwas Are Not the Answer - "There is a Need for New Jurisprudence Regarding Women and the Family"

Al-Sayyid Walad Abah, columnist for the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote in response to 'Obikan's fatwa: "The solution to the problem of violence between husband and wife is not to exacerbate [this violence] by granting the woman the right to retaliate - for this turns the home into a battlefield and an arena of confrontation. [The solution] is to abolish the principle of punishment according to the Shari'a and of [following] the rulings of ancient scholars, who interpreted the Koranic verse [4:34] to mean that it is permissible [for a husband to beat his wife]...

"[What I say] applies not only to this narrow issue. There is a need for new jurisprudence regarding women and the family [in general], which will re-examine many [traditional] laws and rulings that stemmed from [specific] social circumstances that were at odds with the principles of [Islam] - [new laws] that will respect women and [treat them] as equal to men." [13]

[1], October 22, 2008.
[2] Al-Diyar (Lebanon), November 28, 2007.
[3] This opinion is based on the Koranic verse: "As for those [women] from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them [Koran 4:34]."
[4] .
[5] Al-Diyar (Lebanon), November 28, 2007.
[6], November 28, 2007.
[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 29, 2008.
[8] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 6, 2007.
[9], November 28, 2007.
[10], November 28, 2007.
[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 29, 2009.
[12] Al-Rai (Kuwait), November 30, 2007.
[13] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 31, 2008.



What lacks in all this anaysis is that Q 4:34

As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them…” Pickthall

As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly) Yussuf Ali

It suffices for the man to “fear” rebellion, in order to get from Allah permission to beat her. And nowhere does it state that the beating must be light, as added in Y. Ali translation. Actually it is mentioned, but only in a “weak” hadith, so not accepted by Sharia law.

For a more detailed analysis please refer to the following excellent article:


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