When the heart moves the mind (wife beating 4:34)

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When the heart moves the mind (wife beating 4:34)

I came across the following article by Saeed Malik on the Quranic Verse about wife beating.  I have invested a lot of time in understanding this verse and its implications. When I chose to become a Muslim from being an Agnostic, I learned Islam, Prophet and Quran by being extremely critical and dug in for the truth – and decided that Quran is a book of guidance to build cohesive societies – that is my life mission and Islam suited me.  This one verse had torn me up until Dr. Bakhtiar discovered the truth about it and wrote it.  The misogynist men over the centuries have misled Muslims about the verse and now it is corrected.

One of the wise things I learned from the following article is the narrative of Jesus’s casting the stone and how he relates with this verse, even if the verse were to be taken at its traditional literal interpretation.  I have done something similar in the following video about the teachings of non-violence by Jesus and how Prophet followed in his Taif experience at 3:48 – 5:15 in the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBcUVQmi6dU&t=44s

When the heart moves the mind
By Saeed Malik

Excerpted from Meeting of Two Seas: where the heart leads the mind by Saeed Malik

The word “{daraba}” which occurs in verse 18:11 was my impetus to add this section which is otherwise disconnected from our discourse on Surah Kahf. Or is it?

The literal meaning of this verb, in its very raw sense, means “he beat” but in almost every occurrence, its meaning, with or without an accompanying preposition, depends heavily upon the context. Interestingly even in English the raw meaning of “beat” changes with the context. For example, “beating the system”, “beating the drum,” “beating the mattress,” or “beat it” (colloquially) are different from “beating the dog”. Of the approximately fifty-five occurrences[1] of this verb in its various modes (perfect and imperfect, active and passive) in the Quran, thirty-one take the meaning of “setting-forth, laying down, presenting, expounding, or relating” examples, parables, and the kind. Another five occurrences take the meaning of “traveling/venturing” into the land or on a path. Three are used in context with Moses’ staff, “striking or tapping” the rock to materialize springs or open a safe-passage across the sea. Four occurrences are related to Angels, “striking” disbelievers.

One of these describes the sinners being ushered into the fire of Hell by the Angels, “striking sinners’ faces and backs.”  This, according to Razi[2] is an allegorical phrase with the meaning “the sinners will have utter darkness in front of them and behind them.”[3] The remaining instances have very special meanings. One verse, 2:73, is notable for two very distinct translations[4] of the conjugated derivative words, {idrbuhu}. In one distinct rendering, Muhammad Asad, tuned to the figurative and metonymic sense, translates idrbuhu to mean “apply [this principle] to” versus the general consensus: “strike it [the dead body]”. In 2:61, the words {durbat alaihim} are translated with the generally accepted meaning of “they were covered.” In 24:31, the words {le yadribna}, are used with the generally accepted meaning “let them cover”. In 24:31, again the words {la yadribna}, are used with the generally accepted meaning “don’t stomp.” In 43:5, the words {Aa fa nadribu}, are used with the generally accepted meaning of “Shall WE take away”.

In verse 11 of chapter 18 (the focal chapter of this book) the words {fa darabna ala azaanihim} if literally translated as “so WE beat upon their ears” would be hardly meaningful. A likely meaning emerging from the context is: “They were acoustically disconnected from the world outside, or their space was impervious to the sounds or noise outside, or they were tuned to their inner voices, etc.” The phrase is therefore generally translated as “WE covered their ears or sealed their hearing.” One literalist translation—noteworthy for clearly being unimaginative if not uninspired by the context—chokes the meaning to: “So WE patted their ears (putting them to slumber).”[5] Surely, the story of the Companions of the Cave, for defying the visualization these young men while they slept in the cave, allows—nay demands—deeper interpretations through deeper reflections.

One solitary occurrence of this word, in its imperative form in the phrase {wa idribu hunna} in verse 4:34, has often been singled out from the body of the Book, to insinuate that Islam condones wife beating! May God guide us. This reading or allegation is entirely incongruent with both the body and spirit of the Quran and is clearly challengeable—irrespective of whether the imperative is translated as “beat” or in another extended meaning.

There are three basic approaches at arriving at the meaning of a specific Quranic verse:

1)      Reconcile the meaning of the verse with the Attributes of the Author, which essentially means reconciling the Quran to itself and its amply repeated, clear, core message. This approach gets strengthened with each successive reading of the full Quran—one essential reason why the Quran is to be a constant and consistent companion. Here, one is relying directly on the Guide for guidance and the approach cannot be anything less than earnest. Earnestness, in addition to tadabbur and tafakkur also demands obedience to the edicts that are clear.

2)      The Hadith literature should be used to discover the original context of the verse. Because the Hadith literature, despite all the conscientiousness undertaken by Hadith scholars, is many shades below the Quran in authenticity, it must be used as an aid and not as a substitute to the first approach stated above. We should also not let the original context of the verse diminish the verse’s living context and relevance.

3)      The third mechanism involves grammatical analysis.

Stating their reasons to translate {wa idribu hunna} as “then strike them,”[6] the authors of the recently published, The Study Quran[7], rely on Hadith literature and grammatical considerations. Citing Hadith literature they state:

This last sanction is directly related to the occasion for the revelation of the verse, as it is reportedly revealed in relation to a woman or her family who came to the Prophet, complaining that her husband had hit her. The Prophet immediately ordered retaliation (qisaas 2:178, 5:45) against the husband. This verse was then revealed, allowing a husband to strike his wife in certain circumstances, and the Prophet aborted the retaliation, saying, “I wanted one thing and God wanted another.”

Acknowledging that there are other, different interpretations, they however cite grammatical considerations, against using the idiomatic meaning of the word idribu and further state:

Such interpretations are not entirely convincing, however, since the wider semantic range of daraba they (i.e. other interpretations) invoke is activated only by various prepositions and syntaxes not found in the present verse.

For its tendency to disengage the heart, a note of caution on grammatical analysis: grammatical rules must be taken in their proper context. Language and its idioms precede grammar and, indeed, the grammatical rules of Quranic Arabic are derived from the Quran and not the other way around. As a rule, all grammatical rules come with exceptions.

A self-conceited grammarian embarked on a boat. Turning to the boatman he asked, “Have you ever studied grammar?”

“No,” replied the boatman.

“Then,” said the grammarian, “half your life has been lost.”

The boatman, heartbroken with grief, refrained from answering him at the time. The wind cast the boat into a whirlpool. The boatman shouted to the grammarian: “Tell me, can you swim?”

“No,” said he, “O fair-spoken, well-favored man.”

“O grammarian,” he cried, “your whole life is lost, for the boat is sinking in this whirlpool.”[8]

We will reference two translations below; one with the literal translation and another with the non-literal translation of the verb idribu. In either case, we will see why the verse is neither an imperative nor a license to be violent. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Before we undertake the first translation by Muhammad Asad, which takes idribu to mean “strike,” let us first turn to another story in another book of scripture.

In the King James version of John’s Gospel is the now famous story of Jesus, saving an adulterous woman from the sanctimonious zeal of the Pharisees, and the eagerness of a crowd to execute her punishment by stoning. Though the veracity of this story is in question since it is absent from earlier manuscripts, it is nevertheless beautiful and insightful. It is said here that the Pharisees, bent on trapping Jesus in contravention of Mosaic Law, brought to Jesus a woman accused of adultery. Then, in front of his pupils, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” Jesus famously replied, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”[9] After the crowd had slowly dispersed, Jesus, left alone with the woman, asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus, the man who was more entitled than any other to throw the first stone, declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Was Jesus inviting the righteous man to initiate the lethal barrage on the adulterer? Jesus did not say, “Don’t throw a stone,” nor did he challenge the severity of the punishment under the law. An uninspired interpretation or an interpretation by one who did not know of or believe in Jesus’ mission of love and compassion, could claim to have reasonable grounds for that conclusion. After all, those bent upon nabbing Jesus in contravention of Mosaic Law could find no incrimination in his statement! But clearly Jesus added a moral caveat to the application of the law. Jesus effectively said “See inwards before you cast a stone.”

The messengers of the ONE are one community.[10] The Prophet? was no less a prophet of mercy and compassion. The Prophet? was not sent but as the bearer and embodiment of mercy for all of God’s creation,[11] not to exclude any living thing, much less a race or gender. The Quran likens the divine gift of a spouse to the intimacy of garments worn on a body—no more distant and no less inseparable: “they [your wives] are as a garment for you, and you are as a garment for them.” [12] The Quran asks us to acknowledge and cherish the tenderness and compassion that God has planted between a man and a woman in a spousal bond. Anger, hatred, and violence are merely symptomatic of our moral shallowness and spiritual ignorance. Tranquility in a spousal relationship is the fruit of mutual love and caring. Mates are symbiotic partners and together they constitute a unit. The unit attains tranquility when each part seeks to confer it upon the other:

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُمْ مِنْ أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُمْ مَوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ (٢١)

From amongst HIS signs is that HE created for you mates from among yourselves, so that you may gain tranquility thereby. HE has engendered love and mercy between you. Indeed in that are certain signs for people who reflect. (Al Quran 30:21)

Let us get back to verse 4:34 and start with Asad’s translation:

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنْفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ وَاللاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا (٣٤)

Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded. 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; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great! (Al Quran 4:34 interpreted by Muhammad Asad)

Let us contemplate verse 4:34 again, and try to reconcile it to the spirit of the Quran or to its embodiment in the character of the Prophet?. Or (if this happens to be our first brush with the Quran) let us recall Jesus’ encounter with the angry crowd. Let us be that male who would be dominant and treat his wife as his “property”—as was done, ceremoniously within legal right in Arab and Roman lands, before the advent of the Quran. Do we not hear that we are being asked to step back from our anger and disengage—as a preemptive measure against likely violence?

Violence is a manifestation of anger and a failure of self-control; just like a frenzied crowd is told to look within themselves before they cast a stone, the man who has power over a woman, who would beat his rebellious wife, is told to step back from losing self-control. This meaning literally springs at you when you are seeking the verse’s reformative meaning. The reform envisaged in this verse is aimed at the man if the reader is a man and the woman, if the reader be a woman. Reform contemplates change and change is always relative to the status quo. With HIS bounty {fadl}, God does not confer superiority to men. HE confers additional responsibility upon them and the accompanying test. The strong have a responsibility to the weak and the rich to the poor. No injustice, dishonesty or hypocrisy is hidden from HIM and not any act of forgiveness goes unnoticed by HIM. God forgives those who forgive others. Forgiveness is the chant of the Universe: the Angels hymn the praise of their Sustainer and ask forgiveness for those on the earth.

Indeed! God, HE is the Forgiver, the Merciful.[13] The man who ends up beating his wife has failed to heed the Quran. This meaning is also reconcilable with the Prophet’s reaction to the complaint filed by the wife or the wife’s family.  The Prophetﷺ  saw wife-beating as an act of oppression. The Quran, being clear about the responsibility of the strong over the weak, upholds that view though it limits the redress and the redresser (assuming the complaint was filed by the family), and recommends preempting the moral lapse. The Prophet’s saying “I wanted one thing and God wanted another,” may be understood to pertain to the redress and redresser. The Prophetﷺ viewed the act as deserving of just retribution. The Quran, having already given the wife full freedom to divorce her husband, leaves open the possibility of the husband’s reform.

Of course, those who view this verse to be about a man’s greater responsibility commensurate with his greater means, have no hesitation in translating idribu to an idiomatic sense. Consider the translation by Ahmed Ali, who has chosen a more inspired and equally acceptable meaning of idribu. It is quite different from Asad’s. Divergence of translations is merely proof that the Signs of the Arabic Quran invite and encourage the seeker to deeper reflection. It is this invitation that makes these verses and the reform they envisage, agelessly relevant and endlessly affective:

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. [14]

An infidelity is a terrible moral wrong and an almost unforgivable betrayal of trust, but a woman is not a man’s property: “Pure women may be previously married or virgins.”[15] The Virgin Mary was pure and pious by her lineage and remained so by her own dedication, but so became the wife of Pharaoh, by virtue of her renunciation of her husband’s unjust and decadent ways. When it comes to rebellious women the Quran reminds us of the wives of two righteous, God-fearing men—Noah and Lot. These two impious women, though they were dependent on their husbands, were not to be punished by husband Noah or husband Lot but by God alone[16]. There was an occasion reported in Islamic literature, when one of the Prophet’s wives divulged some confidential information which he had shared with her with another one of his wives. As an expression of his displeasure with the breach of confidentiality, and its aftermath, the Prophetﷺ decided to distance himself from his wives for a sworn period. The Quran, while not recounting the incident of the breach,[17] voices God’s disapproval of the Prophet’s forswearing of what God had made proper and lawful.[18] The point to note here, in the context of our discussion, is that the Prophet’s reaction to a marital discord was no more than one of self-denial! Authentic faith must nature good character and authentic character must translate into good behavior at home. A hadith sourced to Abu Hurayrah states: The believers most perfect in faith are those most beautiful in character. The best of you are those who treat their wives well.[19]

When it comes to stoning adulterers, the Quran in effect puts a practical halt to the age-old biblical punishment, by demanding no less than the direct testimony of four witnesses—a near improbability when the Quran prohibits entering another person’s house without first knocking and getting express permission to enter! If upon knocking one is told to go away, one has no other choice other than to go away.[20] And what if a person accuses an honorable woman without four witnesses? He is to be punished, and then debarred from ever being a witness again![21]

Witness the unparalleled and unmitigated protection that the Quran offers to the wife: A faithful husband deserves other than an adulterous wife, just as a faithful wife deserves other than an adulterer as a husband. When a husband swears to his wife’s infidelity, he invokes upon himself the curse of God for lying. However if the wife takes upon herself an equivalent imprecation for lying, her statement in the matter is to be final. When it comes to a woman whose only witness and accuser is her husband, the eager-to-punish husband is practically blocked from unilateral condemnation of his wife. Yes between a man and a woman, a woman’s word is final even if she is lying; her punishment then is left to God!

وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ أَزْوَاجَهُمْ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُمْ شُهَدَاءُ إِلا أَنْفُسُهُمْ فَشَهَادَةُ أَحَدِهِمْ أَرْبَعُ شَهَادَاتٍ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ (٦)وَالْخَامِسَةُ أَنَّ لَعْنَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ إِنْ كَانَ مِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ (٧)وَيَدْرَأُ عَنْهَا الْعَذَابَ أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَرْبَعَ شَهَادَاتٍ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ (٨)وَالْخَامِسَةَ أَنَّ غَضَبَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهَا إِنْ كَانَ مِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ (٩)

And as for those who accuse their own wives [of adultery], but have no witnesses except themselves, let each of these [accusers] call God four times to witness that he is indeed telling the truth, and the fifth time, that God’s curse be upon him if he is telling a lie. But [as for the wife, all] chastisement shall be averted from her by her calling God four times to witness that he is indeed telling a lie, and the fifth [time], that God’s curse be upon her if he is telling the truth. (Al Quran 24:6-10 interpreted by Muhammad Asad)

ONENESS is the all-encompassing dominion of the most beautiful attributes of God. How could we be worthy of finding repose near God unless all stains of injustice, oppression, insincerity, anger and arrogance are removed from us? Not without God’s chastisement, forgiveness and compassion—measured out by HIM for each one of us. We cannot and do not know what divine mix waits for us. We can only be conscious—fearfully, heedfully and prayerfully. Men and women belong and return to the same Creator and the same Judge. The least that we can do, which truly becomes the best we can do, is to remain ever conscious of our inescapable accountability to God, the All Knowing, Ever Present and Ever Just Judge. Our sincere mindfulness of HIS infinite compassion and immaculate justice will lead us into the unimaginable peace of belonging to ONENESS—HIS Paradise. Our lack of conscientiousness will lead us into the burning agony of being kept outside of Paradise. HE is the invisible, ever-present third between the dealings of any two.

[1] I thank the team at Corpus.Quran.com for their easy-to-use cross-reference data-base.

[2] Fakhr ad-Din Ar-Razi, Muslim theologian of the twelfth Century whose most prominent work in Arabic is called the Tafsir al-Kabir, or Mafatih al-Ghayb.

[3] See Asad’s The Message of the Quran, footnote to verse 8:50

[4] Asad’s translation: WE said: “Apply this [principle] to some of those [cases of unresolved murder]: in this way God saves lives from death and shows you His will, so that you might [learn to] use your reason.”

Yusuf Ali’ translation: WE said: “Strike (the body) with a piece of it (the heifer).” Thus Allah bringeth the dead to life and showeth you His Signs: Perchance ye may understand.

[5] Sourced from Islamawakened.com

[6] Commentators who translate this way, are unanimous in asserting that to strike here refers only to a moderate and non injurious form of physical force—“without violence”

[7] Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary. Harper Collins, 2015

[8] R A. Nicholson, The Mathnawi of Jalaluddin Rumi, Mathnawi I, 2835

[9] John 8:7

[10] Al Quran 23:52

[11] Al Quran 21:107

[12] Al Quran 2:188

[13] Al Quran 42:5

[14] Al Quran 4:34 as translated by Ahmed Ali, published on Islamawakened.com

[15] Al Quran 66:5

[16] Al Quran 66:10

[17] The nature and details of the incident are not necessary and as one would expect not mentioned in the Quran. The historical commentaries are many and according to Asad, “not trustworthy.”

[18] Al Quran 66:1

[19] Al Nawawi, Riyadh us Saliheen, Hadith 628

[20] Al Quran 24:28

[21] Al Quran 24:4

Additional References

Wife beating is a culture of Men and not Islam, Quran 4:34 https://worldmuslimcongress.org/wife-beating-is-a-culture-of-men-and-not-islam-quran-434/

Wife Beating was mis-translated

Criticism of Islam, Muhammad and Quran – https://worldmuslimcongress.org/criticism-of-islam-prophet-muhammad-pbuh-and-free-speech/

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