Very recently there was a family therapist out of Saudi Arabia that gave marital advice on how to properly beat your wife. Let’s discuss the videos and its standing in Islamic scriptures.
In this video the therapist Khaled al Saqaby tells husbands that in any given conflict with their wives there are Islamic procedures to follow that are “fair.”
- Remind the wife of marital duties and what her role is.
- Forsake her in bed without attracting attention from outsiders.
- Hit her. The therapist advised not to hit the wife brutally but with a handkerchief or with a tooth-cleaning twig.
As expected, this attracted enormous amount of attention in social media. In almost every discussion on it, you’ll always have a Muslim come in and say “this isn’t Islam. Muhammad was kind to women. He advised being respectful to your wife. Real Islam does not condone domestic violence.”
They’re wrong. Straight and simple. I don’t think they’re lying. It’s just their Western lives often lead to sheltered Islams that’s all about peace, justice, and respect and doesn’t tackle the dark side of scriptures.
In the Quran it says:
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. (Quran 4:34 Sahih International Translation)
Naturally a Muslim will deny this and call it a wrong translation. Let’s take a look at some others:
Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. 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. (Pickthal translation)
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. 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); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all). (Yusuf Ali)
You can find various translations here. You’ll find all the translations unanimously lead to a word that implies a violent action in some way.
Alternative Translations in the Contemporary Era
There are some alternative translations where the meaning was changed:
Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it. As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing). If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great. (Ahmed Ali)
This translation leaves out violence against the wife and changes the narrative completely. The translator Ahmed Ali was a reputable Pakistani writer in his time known for his left wing opinions. He helped found the Progressive Writers Movement. For the translation of that term to consistently be variations of “beat” all throughout history, it is clear a 20th century liberal thinker attempted to reconcile his progressive values with his religion. There are other similar attempts to redefine this verse. All of these alternative translations came in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century; 12-13 centuries after the birth of Islam. This attempt to redefine the Quran was to adapt to progressing social values around the evolving role of women in society.
“But You’re Misinterpreting The Verse”
Then let’s consult historical tafseers (exegesis/interpretations) on this verse. Once again: they all advise to strike as a last resort. But hey let’s be fair, they mostly suggest to strike lightly for disciplinary purposes.
After showing this article, the compilation of translations, and interpretations on this one verse, it is clear Islamic scriptures enables the family therapist. The way he framed his advice to the husbands on beating their wives was complementary to Verse 4:34. To say this advice has no place in Islam is factually inaccurate.
Some might say that this verse is in its own way progressive and warns against brutalization. They will even say that a light twig beating is not as harsh as being beaten by a bat. To this I respond: even if it were the greater of two evils, hitting your wife to discipline her is unacceptable. This verse indicates authority a husband has over his wife because it provides ways to discipline her. This verse is not applicable to today’s world and Muslims as a collective need to call it fallible.
Others may still deny the evidence I provide. They’ll believe the 20th century alternative translations are the actual ones in order to reconcile their progressive values towards women with the Islamic faith. They will assert that classical tafseers have a “misogynistic agenda.” To this I respond: this verse has never posed a need for alternative translations until violence towards women in marriage became a social issue. It is clear the alternative translations are a part of a reactionary progressive agenda.
I won’t label the therapist as evil. I do believe he had sincere intentions. His understanding of the world and marital relations are a result of his environment. Behind this man are a set of ideas. In his society, Islamic scriptures are used to dictate social order and morality. In order to truly tackle issues in his society, we must all first admit that the scriptures are not infallible. They contain outdated verses that have no place in today’s social values and order. Admitting this is one step closer towards the larger goal: Islamic Reform.
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