41. Obedience Part 3: Ayah 4:34

Posted on November 5th, 2012

On October 17th 2012, Wise Wives Orange County was lucky to have Noha Alshugairi, M.S. Marriage and Family Therapist, speak to us about the controversial and delicate matter of a wife's obedience to her husband.

Ayah 4:34. This is an ayah that has sparked a lot of problematic debate, even among scholars, she said.

"Men are the (quawwamouna) maintainers and protectors of women by virtue of what Allah has privileged one over another and by virtue of the money men spend. Therefore the (assalehat) righteous women are God-fearing and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband's property). As to those women who are (nushuzahuna) recalcitrant, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) strike them (lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, do not treat them unjustly. Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.”

Different privileges:
The first thing she explained to us was the statement "by virtue of what Allah has privileged one over another." “Allah did not say men over women,” she said. “It is not specifying which is meant. The wording is general in order to mean that both genders are privileged with things that the other does not have"…In other words men and women were created to be different, but equal.
 
She asked us what we thought men were privileged with over women.
 
One woman responded with physical strength. Jokingly Noha gave us a simple example from her personal life. The other day she was installing blinds in her home. She was drilling and putting the screws in until she reached a point where she was physically depleted and couldn't go on.  Even her daughter started to help but she gave up as well. So she said to her daughter, "now it’s time for us to actually stop doing this and wait for your father to come home...he's just going to go tick tick and he'll be done.”
 
Women on the other hand were created with more patience, the ability to bear children and be nurturing, etc. These are just a few examples of how men and women were created differently, but you get the idea.
 
One women commented by saying, "It’s like puzzle pieces, what I have more of my husband might be lacking in and what he has more of I might be lacking in. And together the picture is complete."
 
So because Allah created us in different ways, we must fulfill different duties.The husband, for example, is commanded by Allah to provide the financial maintenance for his family.
 
While cooking and cleaning are not Islamicaly obligatory on a wife, financially providing and protecting one’s family is “100% obligatory on the husband,” she said. There is no debate about that she says.
 
So the question of, ok well who is going to do the household work then if the husband has to go out and work to provide for his family? That is why the custom of the women staying home and doing those things came from.
 
One woman even commented with "so wouldn't you want to do that for your family and for your husband, especially since he is doing so much for you…and taking care of you..."
 
“Exactly,” said Noha.
 
Many households live like this while some have taken on the trend or urf of hiring nannies, housekeepers, both partners helping at home, both spouses working, etc. In the end it is up to each household to decide what is best for them...as long as they are still following Islam.
 
So if we are not obligated to cook, clean, etc., (if we do these things we gain good deeds for them) then what are we obligated to do?

Assalehat:
She explains this by continuing within this ayah. The next part says, “therefore the (assalehat) righteous women, are God-fearing and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband's property).”
 
The right interpretation of this part starts with the meaning of the word assalehat. This means women who are obedient to Allah. Obedient to Allah, she repeated! So many interpretations take this to mean obedience to the husband, but in this ayah that is not what is meant.
 
So there are two types of women. One type is women who are God-fearing and in the absence of her husband protects what Allah ordains her to protect (her chastity, not to have an affair with another man, and his money, not to spend his money without his permission or be wasteful with it). So by doing these things for your husband you are obeying Allah.  These are the obligations set forth on a wife in this ayah.
 
And there are women who are the opposite.

Nushuzahuna:
The next part of the ayah says, "as to those women who are (nushuzahuna) recalcitrant, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) strike them (lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, do not treat them unjustly.”
 
Nushuz, or recalcitrant, has a very strong meaning and isn’t thrown around to just anyone. It means someone who is stubbornly disobedient, “we’re talking about someone who's manner and conduct is consistently disobedient and rebellious ... defiant.” It is someone who commits extreme sin, such as adultery. Allah tells us to handle someone like this in the three steps described above.
 
Now, lets talk about the word "strike" or in Arabic daraba. “There are some current translations of this word that say this means to strike figuratively, a mental daraba. But I don't agree with that,” she says. “It is very clear. Daraba is physical. It is in the Quran and we have to accept it.”
 
There is something very important to understand here that will change your entire view on this ayah. "Look at this ayah as a form of anger management," said Noha. This ayah came down during a time when the urf of striking your wife was common practice. This was not unusual, and it was not really even acknowledged.
 
So the ayah came down and told men that you cannot hit your wives:
a) right away/as a first reaction
b) in the face
c) harshly/makes a mark
d) unless you have accomplished the first two steps in the ayah first
e) and unless she committed nushuz
 
"You cannot hit your wife because she did not put enough salt in the food or because she didn't greet you with open arms when you came home,” she said. “Only nushuz!"
 
Again nushuz is an act equivalent to the wife having an affair. Which takes us to the next hadith on her list. As explained in the following hadith: “Fear Allah in your dealings of women. For you have taken them by a word of Allah. And you have been permitted to be intimate with them with a word of Allah. And you have the right that they don’t allow anyone in your bed. And if they do that you may strike them gently. And they have a right that you feed and clothe them with what is reasonable.”
 

So now instead of the default being to immediately hit your wife, a man must first consider whether what she did was nushuz, then shun them, then not share the same bed with them.
 
Megan Wyatt, who was also in the audience, says that when she presents this topic, she calls it "the Ayah that ended Domestic Violence." She gives the analogy of, if a man walks in on his wife with another man in bed, any man would want to react in violence (and many many do).  But Islam doesn't allow that. Islam wants us to take the three steps. She says if it gets to the last step, then it is needed for that woman to “wake up.” It is like when you are young and if your parents spank you, then that was the end of the rope… the child wouldn't repeat the behavior after that.
 
So once again, this ayah was sent down during the urf of a time when hitting one’s wife was common practice. And it came down to stop it.  Noha said that she honestly never thought of this ayah as a "problem." She explained that again, this was brought down during a time that this was relevant.

“This is not an ayah inviting domestic violence, I understood it from the beginning that it is an ayah that is describing a specific situation for a certain time,” she concluded with.
 
Stay tuned for the next entry that will discuss more hadiths and outline some basic obligations on a wife.



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4 Comments

Yoyo - March 18th, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Salama. Interesting. What husband would want to stay with a wife he walked in on committing adultery with another man? Seems like striking lightly then is not something that is going to fix the problem.
ahmed - April 3rd, 2013 at 4:55 PM
SA - October 9th, 2013 at 3:59 AM
Masha Allah. A new perspective to 4:34! :) That verse actually forces men to go through steps in order to discipline a rebellious wife rather than getting angry which could result in severe consequences. The last resort is light hitting. Subhanallah, looks like this verse could be used to prove that Islam tries to mitigate domestic violence :) Jazak Allah Khayr for this post.
racerbb - January 21st, 2014 at 1:08 PM
Isn't the punishment for adultery is stoning to death? Striking lightly would be the last thing on your mind in this instance..

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