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How a Man Should Discipline his Wife

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The permission to beat a woman in the case of rebelliousness is based on the Qur´an and the Hadith. "Admonish those women whose rebelliousness you fear, and leave them alone in their beds, and [even] beat them [if necessary]. If they obey you, do not seek any way [to proceed] against them" (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:32). Modern jurists and writers have done their best to weaken this verse by interpreting "rebelliousness" as disobedience and adultery, where beating would be the last means a man can resort to in order to keep the woman from committing that heinous deed.(1) The old jurists and commentators, however, were more realistic and frank. Al-Shafi`i, for example, holds that a man has the right to beat his wife, but abstaining from it (namely from beating) is better.(2) The other verse that is used to prove the permissibility of beating is Sura Sad 38:44, " 'Take in thy hand a bundle of rushes, and strike [your wife] therewith, and do not fail in thy oath.' We found him a steadfast man. How excellent a servant he was! He was a penitent." The person spoken of here is the prophet Job.

Qatada narrated: "Job's wife disobeyed him. So the prophet of God (Job) swore that he would give her a hundred lashes if God healed him."(3) Al-Jassas says, "There is an indication in this verse that a man can beat his wife for the sake of discipline, otherwise Job wouldn't have sworn to beat her, and God wouldn't have commanded him to do so after he had sworn. In addition to mentioning and permitting the beating of women in the Qur´an on the grounds of rebelliousness (in the verse that says, "Admonish those women whose rebelliousness you fear... beat them"), the story of Job indicates that she could be beaten for a reason other than rebelliousness. The verse that says, "Men are the managers of the affairs of women," (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:34) means the same as the story of Job. This is because it was narrated that a man beat his wife during the lifetime of Muhammad, and her family wanted a requittal. So God revealed, "Men are the ones that should be in charge of women because some have been favoured more thanothers."(4) The judge Ibn al-`Arabi says, "The command to beat here is a permissive one." He also refers to the aversion it involves: Muhammad said, "I hate that a man beats his female slave when in anger, and perhaps has intercourse with her on the same day."(5)

Beating should not be intense (mubarrih), as the jurists proved from the hadith pertaining to the permissibility of beating women. Sulayman Ibn `Amr Ibn al-`Ahwas narrated: "Ubai told me that he witnessed the address of departure of the prophet. He thanked God and praised him, and started preaching, saying, "I command you good-will for your wives, for they are captives to you that do not own anything, unless they commit a manifest obscenity [or adultery]. If they do [commit it], then God has given you permission to leave them alone in their beds and give them a bearable beating."(6) Al-Sabuni says that this saying of Muhammad indicates that it is permitted to beat a woman for reasons of chastity (or decency).(7) As to the point that beating should not be intense or painful, it means "that you should not break her bones or leave a bruise."(8) In spite of the fact that there are many hadiths that relate how hateful it is to beat women,(9) it seems that the jurists and the expositors in all ages (even in our days) chose the traditions that permit and prefer disciplinary punishment of women; such as "A man should not be asked why he beats his wife,"(10) which is now quoted frequently by the majority.

There is still a difference of opinion, however, among scholars about the definition of "rebelliousness," which gives a man the right to resort to beating as a last means. "Most jurists define legal rebelliousness [nushuz], which allows a man to beat his wife in order to remove that rebelliousness, in certain ways, such as disobeying a man in bed, and going out of the house without his permission. Some consider a woman's abstaining from ornaments, provided that the man wants it, as rebelliousness. They say, 'He may also beat her for neglecting her religious duties; such as ablution, praying...' It appears that rebelliousness is a general thing that includes all sorts of disobedience caused by recalcitrance and disdain."(11) It is strange that jurists consider beating women as a legal means of forcing them to have intercourse. It is stranger still that Muslim writers in the twentieth century try to justify this weird apology by the alleged discoveries of psychology in Europe. Antagonism to women and blind bigotry caused one of them (who claimed to be quoting a European scholar) to assert that "woman takes pleasure in being controlled by the man due to her instinctive obedience to him. The more he beats her, the more she admires him! Nothing saddens a woman more than having a husband who is always kind and loving."(12) Muhammad Zaki `Abd al-Qadir says that "women like difficult men, who can break their [the women's] will by their own will. Even though they scream... in their heart of hearts they feel the pleasure of their weakness against the strength of their men."(13) A few years ago, a progressive professor wrote that "beating should be [used] when a woman indulges in rebelliousness, spreading misery in her home, to her children and relatives, and to her husband. No one should think that beating has a brutal aspect, as there are women who beat their husbands, and others do not allow their husbands to approach them [physically] except after they have given them a thrashing, to cause them to bleed. This has been pointed out by psychological studies on perversion."(14)

Imam Muhammad `Abduh attacks the so-called "imitators of the west who disdain the legality of beating women but do not feel the same way about the woman who snubs her husband and treats him haughtily, putting him under her thumb, even though he is the head of the house." He asks, "What corruption is it that will spread on earth when a righteous man is permitted to reduce the arrogance of a certain woman and bring her down from her conceited rebelliousness by beating her hand with a stick or slapping her on the face? If this is too much for their ethics, then their ethics have become refined to the point of nonexistence. In fact, many of their western leaders beat their cultured, educated wives, whether dressed or naked. This has been practised by their wise men, scholars, kings, and princes, since it is a necessity that the majority of people cannot do without in honouring these educated women. How then could a necessity in a general religion, which suits both rural and urban societies and all sorts of people, be condemned?"(15)

The great reformer Muhammad `Abduh adds: "The legality of beating women is not reprehensible, as far as reason and instinctive nature are concerned, so that it would need explanation. This is a needful procedure when the environment and morals are corrupt. It is permitted when the woman's return from her rebelliousness depends on it. But if the environment is good and women are receptive to advice and responsive to admonition, or give up [their evil ways] when deserted, then beating should be done away with. Each case has a judgment that suits it in the [Islamic] legislation, and, at any rate, we are instructed to be lenient and fair with women, and to retain them with decency or send them away with decency. The hadiths that speak of the instructions dealing with women are numerous."(16)

Scholars are painstaking in emphasising that not all women should be beaten. There are women (the majority) who do not need to be disciplined by beating. Yet, some say there is a divine wisdom in beating women, otherwise the Qur´an wouldn't have given it as a solution to family problems. This last point makes it impossible for a Muslim to reject beating utterly, so the Muslim is at a loss, not knowing how to defend or justify it. He may justify it by the usage of beating as disciplinary punishment in the military and in schools, or compare beating with wars that keep order in the world!

There are others, still, who try to break with marital rights and try to lift themselves above the head of the house and reject the dictates of their own nature. These lay marital life open to deterioration and decay; therefore the Qur´an laid out for such women two familiar ways of correction and discipline to curb them and bring them back to their natural position. Civilised Muslims have misunderstood this sort of remedy and described it as a dry desert-like remedy that doesn't suit civilisation, which demands that honour and respect be paid to the wife.

Islam was not intended for a certain generation, region, or environment. It is a guidance and a legislation to all generations, regions, and environments. In fact, physical punishment for deviates and perverts, who do not learn by exhortation or abandonment, is required by natural instinct and is determined by the social system.

Nature has handed this [practice] down from father to son, as it has handed it down among the nations to the rulers. But for it, no family or nation would live right. Physical wars, which are based on weapons of iron and fire between civilised nations at the present time, are only an example of this disciplinary punishment that awaits aggressors. The divine laws perceive the phenomenon of war and fighting as follows: "If one of them should oppress the other, then fight the one who acts oppressively until they comply with God's commandment," and "If God did not defend [lit. push] some men by means of others, the earth would be ruined; but God possesses bounty [for everybody in] the universe."

Again, the truth is that those who are reluctant about the legislation of the Qur´an in this respect only flatter the emotions of a specific environment of women that we and everybody know. Such people pretend in their presence that they are keen on protecting women's honour and dignity, and on putting her on a level that displays her in an extraordinary way.(17)

The writer and philosopher Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad does not lag behind the great reformer Imam Muhammad `Abduh in his arguments; he is even more forthright and gives more illustrations. He thinks it is right for a man to beat his wife when he is angry, to correct whatever mistake she makes. "Beating is not always a positive thing [to do] in every case and with every woman. Yet, beating is permitted since some women accept discipline only through it. The objections to beating made on the part of modern-day pedantics should be treated as a skirmish in political manoeuvers, not as a real discussion of the affairs of life and morals. There is only one consideration that validates the objection to beating as a punishment. Since God did not create women to be disciplined by beating, when nothing else seems to work. Anyone holding this view is oblivious to the fact that beating is approved as a disciplinary measure in the army and at school. So [this action is taken against] soldiers and pupils, whom we honour and respect, assuming the objection hinges on honour and respect. The superiors of these [soldiers and pupils] have more means of physical and moral punishment, deprivation and reward, that husbands do not have in the limited domain of the home."(18)

Al-Aqqad's thoughts concerning beating women can be summarised by this statement: There are some women among them that cannot be disciplined except by beating; and there are even some neurotics who crave beating just as some patients crave some sorts of torture. The following is a quotation from the same author:

Women themselves may make fun of these babblers [he means women's rights activists] who are only at home at parties and in nightclubs. Women know for sure that beating a disobedient and rebellious wife is not as appalling as it is claimed to be in the nightclubs and parties. There might be some elegant ladies who frequent those places of amusement who know more about this than the "ladies' men" with their false "courtesy". They know, as others also do, that those women do not hate it [beating] or think it evil.(19)

Mr Ahmad Shalabi has the same difficulty in understanding the opponents of beating women "especially since beating is applied as a means of correction and disciplinary punishment only when it will bring about good results. It is ridiculous to imagine that there is no member of mankind who is not capable of being corrected by being beaten. Or why don't those people object to the punishment of beating in the army?"(20) We don't know what they might say if they knew that the punishment of beating has now been cancelled in the army and schools in some countries, and that modern psychology has proved that beating does not rehabilitate the mentality of a person, but ruins it, whether the victim is a child or a woman!


Women in Hell and Paradise

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Muslims often repeat the hadith that says: "Paradise is under the feet of mothers," in order to prove the high position women enjoy in Islam. It is very hard to tell whether this tradition is true or not (it has not been found in trustworthy writings). Yet, we have a number of Hadiths that occurred in the major acceptable books of hadith (al-Sihah) indicating that women are the smallest minority in paradise. `Aran Ibn Husain narrated that the prophet said, "I looked about in paradise and found that the poor constitute most of its dwellers, and I looked about in hell and saw that women constitute most of its dwellers."(1) Abu Huraira narrated: "We were at his place [Muhammad's] and the people either boasted or reminded one another. He said, 'Men in paradise are more than in hell.' "(2 ) A weak hadith tells us: "Out of 99 women, one is in paradise and the rest are in hell."(3) Muhammad explains why by saying: "I have seen you being the majority in hell because you curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands."(4) `Abdullah Ibn `Amr narrated: "O women! Give alms and ask pardon [from God] frequently, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of hell were you." "One of them asked, 'Why, Messenger of God, are we the majority of the dwellers of hell?' He replied, 'You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you.' "(5) Imara Ibn Huzaima narrated: "While we were with `Amr Ibn al-`As on a pilgrimage or an `Umra, he said, "While we were with the Messenger of God in this mountain path, he said, 'Look! Do you see anything?' We answered, 'We see ravens; one is white-footed with red legs and peak.' The Messenger of God said, `No woman will enter paradise unless she is like this raven in comparison to the rest of the ravens.' "(6) A rare hadith has it that Muhammad said, "A believing woman is the same among women as a white-footed raven among the ravens. Fire has been created for the senseless, and women are the most senseless of all."(7) Al-Imam al-Qurtubi is said to give the following to explain the allegation that women are a minority among the dwellers of paradise: "Women are the least [in number] among the dwellers of paradise due to their inclination to passion, the passing enjoyments of life, and indifference to the afterlife; which is all caused by the deficiency of their intelligence and gullibility."(8)

If we take into consideration the hadiths concerning the dwellers of paradise the proportion of men to women will change drastically since they state that the dwellers of paradise will inherit their wives and concubines! Abu Umama narrated: "The Messenger of God said, 'Everyone that God admits into paradise will be married to 72 wives; two of them are houris(9) and seventy of his inheritance of the [female] dwellers of hell. All of them will have libidinous sex organs and he will have an ever-erect penis.' "(10)

The sayings of Muhammad make it clear that the believer will be given special sexual power in paradise. Anas narrated: In paradise the believer will be given the power of such and such for intercourse. The Messenger of God was asked, "Will he be able to bear that?" He answered, "He will be given the power of a hundred [men]."(11) In Muhammad's imagination, the believer will not only be favoured with wives and concubines, but also "if he desires children they will be conceived for him, born, and grow teeth in one hour as he desires."(12) This point, however, is debatable. Some scholars hold that there will be intercourse in paradise but there will be no giving birth to children. Ishaq Ibn Ibrahim narrates: "If a believer desires a child in paradise, he will have it at once, but he won't desire so." Some attribute to Muhammad that he said, "The dwellers of paradise will have children there."(13)

Another hadith says, "Men will enter into paradise after a short conversation with God. They will go to their dwelling-places where their wives will welcome them. Their wives will ask them about the secret of their glamorous beauty which they did not possess before they left their dwelling-places. They will answer them, saying that they have sat down with their Lord, and therefore they have the right to it."(14) There are many other hadiths emphasising the continuity of marital life in paradise, or the enjoyment of the [male] believers with the male and female slaves. So if Muhammad claims, in spite of the stories he related concerning the large number of wives and concubines in paradise, that women are the least among the dwellers of paradise, the reason would be that their men perished in hell because they were enticed by them [the women]. Muhammad said, "But for the woman, man would have entered paradise,"(15) and also, "Obeying them is [the cause of] their destruction."(16)


The Veil

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Even though the veil has become one of the problems of the hour in the Islamic world and Europe, historically it cannot be considered an obligation that the Qur´an or Muhammad imposed on women.(1) It is certain, however, that the veil was used at first as a sign to distinguish the free woman so that none should molest her thinking her to be a slave.(2) In the Arabic language, it means "a covering, or anything that separates between two things or keeps something from something else."(3)

Muslims cite two verses from the Qur´an to prove that the veil is obligatory. The more common verse is: "And say to the believing women, that they cast down their eyes and guard their private parts, and reveal not their adornment save such as is outward; and let them cast their veils over their bosoms, and not reveal their adornment save to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands' fathers, or their sons, or their husbands' sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or what their right hands own, or such men as attend them, not having sexual desire, or children who have not yet attained knowledge of women's private parts; nor let them stamp their feet, so that their hidden ornament may be known. And turn all together to God, O you believers; haply so you will prosper" (Sura al-Nur 24:31). The reason this verse was revealed is said to be that Asma´, the daughter of Murshid, was at a certain place in Banu Haritha, and the women kept coming into the place where she was without any covering, so that the bangles round their legs showed, likewise their bosoms and hair locks. Asma' said, "How ugly this is!" Then God revealed: "Tell believing women....."(4 ) It is said also that the reason for revealing this verse was the following story that `Ali Ibn Abi Talib related: "A man passed one day during the lifetime of the Messenger of God through the streets of Medina. He looked at a certain woman and she at him. Then the devil whispered to both of them that they looked at each other only because they liked one another. The man kept walking alongside a wall, looking at her, and behold another wall hit him and his nose was split. He said, 'By God, I shall not wash the blood till I come to the Messenger of God and tell him what happened to me!' He went to him and told him his story. The prophet said, 'This was the punishment for your guilt.' Then God revealed, 'Tell believers to avert their glances.....' " (5)

One of the important terms in this verse is "nakedness", which is the genitalia. The word comes originally from `ar, meaning shame, since it is shameful or disgraceful to show these private parts. Therefore, women in general are called "nakedness". Arabic also has the word `awra´, which means "a rude or vulgar word".(6) Muhammad said, "A woman should not look at the nakedness of [another] woman, and the man should not look at the nakedness of [another] man." `A´isha said, "I have never looked at or seen the private parts of the Messenger of God at all."(7) Scholars classify the nakedness of both sexes in four categories:

1- The nakedness of a man with another man.
2- The nakedness of a woman with another woman.
3- The nakedness of a man with a woman.
4- The nakedness of a woman with a man.(8)

The nakedness of a man with another man is between the navel and the knees. A man is not allowed to look at the nakedness of another man between the navel and the knees, but he is allowed to look at anything else. Muhammad said, "No man should look at the nakedness of another, and no woman should look at the nakedness of another."(9) The majority of jurists are in agreement that the area between the navel and the knees is the nakedness of man, as is evidenced by many hadiths. Malik said, "The thigh is not a nakedness." The opinion of the majority is backed up by the tradition of Jurhud al-Aslami. He said, "The Messenger of God sat at our place and my thigh was bare. He said, 'Do you not know that the thigh is a nakedness?' "(10) Another tradition says, "Do not expose your thigh and look not at the thigh of anyone, whether alive or dead."(11)

The nakedness of a woman with another woman is the same as the nakedness of a man with a man, namely from the navel to the knees, and it is permissible to look at anything else. This excludes the dsimmi and unbelieving woman who are treated in a different section later on.

The nakedness of a man with a woman needs a more detailed explanation. If the man is closely related to the woman (maharim), such as the father, the brother, the maternal and the paternal uncles, then his nakedness would be anything between the navel and the knee. And if he were a "stranger", his nakedness would also be the same as before. Yet another opinion says that all the body of man is nakedness, and that the woman ought not to look at it. Inasmuch as he is not allowed to look at her, she is not allowed to look at him. The first opinion, however, is more favoured as the correct one. But if the man is her husband, then there is no nakedness at all on the grounds of His saying: "Save from their wives and what their right hands own, then being not blameworthy."(12)

As to the nakedness of a woman in relation to a man, all her body is considered a nakedness according to the most creditable opinions, which are the opinions of the Hanbalites and the Shafi`ites. Ahmad Ibn Hanbal has already stated this when he said, "Every part of the woman is a nakedness, even her fingernail."(13)

Malik and Abu Hanifa both hold that a woman's body is a nakedness, but for the face and the palms of the hands. Each opinion has its own proofs which will be briefly listed later in the chapter.

While the Hanafites and the Malikites maintain that the face and the palms are not nakedness,(14) the Hanbalites and the Shafi`ites refer to the Qur´an, the Sunna, and the daily practice as their points of reference.(15) The disagreement is now about the zina (ornament, or charm) which each madshab (school of thought) interprets in a different way.

Zina is divided into two sorts: natural and acquired.(16) The face is part of the natural zina (here it would be translated charm); it is the origin of beauty and the source of temptation and seduction. As to the acquired zina (ornament), it is the clothes, the beautifications, and the dyes that the woman puts on herself to improve her appearance. The advocates of this view back up what they say from the Qur´an and the Hadith. In this they hold that it is not permissible to look at the face of a woman for fear of temptation, since temptation caused by the face is greater than that caused by the feet, the hair, or the legs. Therefore, if all agree that it is forbidden to look at the hair, legs, and feet, then it is more appropriate not to look at the face, as it is the origin of beauty, the source of temptation and the place where danger hides.(17)

Let us now see how the scholars and jurists think the "veil" should be. Al-Tabari narrates a story in his commentary on the authority of Ibn Sirin: "I asked `Ubaida al-Salmani about the verse 'to draw their cloaks close around themselves.' He took up a mantle he used to cover himself, and veiled himself with it covering his whole head till it reached the eyebrows, and covered his whole face with it and stuck out his left eye from the left side of his face." Ibn Abbas narrated a similar story.(18) The conditions that make a veil legal are listed by al-Sabuni in nine articles:

1) The veil should cover the whole body on account of the divine injunction "to draw their cloaks close around themselves." A cloak is a long and loose-fitting garment that covers the whole body.

2) The veil should be thick, not thin, since the purpose of the veil is to cover. If it does not cover, then it cannot be called a veil, as it does not block the vision and does not hinder looking. `A´isha narrated, "Asma´, the daughter of Abu Bakr entered upon the Messenger of God wearing a thin garment, and the Messenger of God turned away from her."(19)

3) The veil itself should not be an ornament or flamboyant with attractive colours that catch the attention. As the verse says, "and not to display their charms except what [normally] appears of them." The meaning of "what [normally] appears of them" is that which appears unintentionally. So if this is ornament in itself, it should not be worn, and it is then not called a "veil" because a veil should keep the ornament from being seen by strangers.

4) The veil should be loose, not tightly fitting, and should not reveal the body, or emphasize the nakedness, or manifest the parts of seduction or temptation of the body. The Messenger of God says, "Two sorts of dwellers of hell I have not seen: A folk that had whips like the tails of cows with which they beat the people, and women that are dressed yet naked, tempting and twisting, their heads are like the tilting heads of camels. These will not enter paradise and will not find its wind, for its wind is to be found at such and such distance." Another tradition says, "...its wind is to be found at the distance of five hundred years."(20)

The meaning of "dressed yet naked" is that they are dressed on the outside but naked in reality, because they wear clothes that do not cover the body, or conceal nakedness. Since the purpose of clothing is to cover the body, if the clothing does not cover the body, the one wearing it is considered naked. As to "tempting and twisting" it meant those who tempt the hearts of men by twisting their bodies with seductive walking and swaggering. The meaning of "heads of camels" is that they comb their hair on top of their heads so that it would be like the heads of camels. This expression was one of the prophet's miracles.

5) Clothing should not be scented in such a way that it would arouse men, for the prophet said, "Every eye that looked has committed adultery, and if a woman perfumed herself and passed by a seated group of men, she is such and such [namely a prostitute]."(21) Another tradition says, "If a woman perfumed herself and passed by a group of people intending to let them smell her perfume, she is [to be considered] a prostitute."

Musa Ibn Yasar narrated: A woman passed by Abu Huraira and her perfume wafted strongly. He asked her, "Where are you going?" She answered, "To the mosque." He said, "And you have put on perfume?" She said "Yes." He said, "Go back and wash, for I have heard the Messenger of God saying, 'God does not accept the prayer of a woman who went out to the mosque with her perfume wafting strongly, until she goes home and washes herself.' " (22)

6) The clothing should not have any similarity to men's clothing, or anything men would wear. Abu Huraira narrated: "The Prophet cursed the man who wears woman's clothing, and the woman who wears men's clothing." The Hadith says, "The prophet cursed those men who are in the similitude [assume the manners] of women and those women who are in the similitude [assume the manners] of men." This refers to women who imitate men in their clothing and appearance.(23)

The awesome legal façade that has been bestowed upon the veil has not lost any of its prestige in our day. On the contrary, contemporary jurists and writers are now more skilful and tactful in inventing excuses defending the veil. Any Islamic thinker is convinced that the veil is inevitable if one wants to establish and maintain a clean society,(24) as the veil keeps man from falling into temptation.(25) This logic is based on the conception of women as the source of temptation and evil, while the "poor" man plays the role of the victim. Then, this evil, that arises as soon as a man meets a woman, has to be repelled. Mustafa al-Ghalayani, a hater of women, sees in "this age that increased only in evil and corruption" a proof that confirms his call for the Islamic veil. He claims that "the veil is indispensable, because you won't find twenty people among a hundred, to whom you can talk as human beings."(26) The veil has been imposed on woman in order to prevent temptation, and to preserve society, as she is responsible for the crises that befall families. Al-Sabuni says, "No intelligent person would doubt that the immorality and immodesty of women cause the so-called 'marriage crisis', since a lot of young men avoid marrying because they find it easy to gratify their desires. They do not find themselves in need of marriage, which leads to the destruction of the country and portends its disastrous ruin. Extramarital sex and the breakup of houses is nothing but an outcome of such a despicable display of women's charms."(27)

Here and now, we have the right to ask the Muslim who accepts these statements of al-Sabuni: Is it at all reasonable to accuse woman of being the source of temptation and of being responsible for family crises, while claiming at the same time that Islam requires woman to wear the veil only to protect her chastity, virtue, honour, and to preserve her noble character from those who have weak hearts and sick consciences, who lie in wait for her to do her harm?

go to CHAPTER 21 - The Circumcision of Girls

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