Another of His signs is that He created spouses from among yourselves for you to live with in tranquillity: He ordained love and kindness between you. There truly are signs in this for those who reflect. Quran 30:21The relationship between husbands and wives in the Quran is truly sacred. As Allah describes men and women originating from the same original soul:
People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless men and women far and wide; be mindful of God, in whose name you make requests of one another… Quran 4:1
Marriage is Sacred
Marriage is a unique institution in Islam that is consistently held above other acts. Allah refuses to regulate sexual acts between husbands and wives:
Your wives are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like…Quran 2:223During the month of Ramadan, when Muslims are expected to abstain from all worldly pleasures, Allah gives a blanket exemption to sex between husband and wives:
You [believers] are permitted to lie with your wives during the night of the fast: they are [close] as garments to you, as you are to them.. Quran 2:187The ‘garment’ comment is an important one, because marriage in Islam is much more than sex. It is a true partnership of soul, body, and property:
…women are lawful to you, so long as you seek them in marriage, with gifts from your property, looking for wedlock rather than fornication. If you wish to enjoy women through marriage, give them their bride-gift—this is obligatory—though if you should choose mutually, after fulfilling this obligation, to do otherwise [with the bride-gift], you will not be blamed: God is all knowing and all wise. Quran 4:24The significance of marriage can be traced back to the very first revelation the Prophet received from Allah. The 74th Surah, 'Wrapped in His Cloak' commands the prophet on what to do after coming home from Hira:
You, wrapped in your cloak, arise and give warning! Proclaim the greatness of your Lord; cleanse yourself; keep away from all filth; do not be overwhelmed and weaken; be steadfast in your Lord’s cause. Quran 74:1-7The source of the cloak is revealed in Sahih Bukhari:
Then Allah's Apostle returned with the Inspiration and with his heart beating severely. Then he went to Khadija bint Khuwailid and said, "Cover me! Cover me!" They covered him till his fear was over and after that he told her everything that had happened and said, "I fear that something may happen to me." Khadija replied, "Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your Kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the deserving calamity-afflicted ones." Bukhari 1:3No wonder Allah calls spouses ‘garments’ Khadija’s cloak helped the Prophet overcome his fears after receiving revelation!
The Quran and Polygamy
Polygamy was an extremely common practice prior to the Prophet. Ghaylan, the chief of Ta'if, had 9 wives. Allah limited polygamy to 4 wives, with a stated preference for monogamy in the case of inequity:
If you fear that you will not deal fairly with orphan girls, you may marry whichever [other]d women seem good to you, two, three, or four. If you fear that you cannot be equitable [to them], then marry only one, or your slave(s): that is more likely to make you avoid bias. Quran 4:3Allah would later make it clear that inequity between multiple wives was inevitable, although polygamy was never overtly banned. Women are also given the right to leave their husbands if they perceived inequity:
If a wife fears high-handedness or alienation from her husband, neither of them will be blamed if they come to a peaceful settlement, for peace is best. Although human souls are prone to selfishness, if you do good and are mindful of God, He is well aware of all that you do. You will never be able to treat your wives with equal fairness, however much you may desire to do so, but do not ignore one wife altogether, leaving her suspended [between marriage and divorce]. If you make amends and remain conscious of God, He is most forgiving and merciful, but if husband and wife do separate, God will provide for each out of His plenty: He is infinite in plenty, and all wise. Quran 4:128-130Today, polygamy is only practiced in 3% of Muslim marriages, with polygamy banned in Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Tunisia, Kurdistan and Turkey. It is clear that extreme polygamy is banned by Islam, and that monogamy is encouraged but not required. Muslim states enforcing monogamy are merely a reflection of the progress our society has made from the times of jahiliyyah. It is very hard to find any preference for polygamy in the Quran as some have claimed.
The Quran and Marital Discord
Despite Allah’s order (30:21) for men and women to live in 'tranquility', the Quran provides a straightforward path to divorce for couples that are unable to get along:
When you divorce women and they have reached their set time, then either keep or release them in a fair manner. Do not hold on to them with intent to harm them and commit aggression: anyone who does this wrongs himself. Do not make a mockery of God’s revelations; remember the favor He blessed you with, and the Scripture and wisdom He sent to teach you. Be mindful of God and know that He has full knowledge of everything. Quran 2:231As previously discussed in the entry on women’s rights, Allah sometimes found it necessary to intervene on behalf of women whose husbands were improperly divorcing them. Allah consistently demands that men treat their women well, even if they are fighting:
You who believe, it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will, nor should you treat your wives harshly…if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something in which God has put much good. Quran 4:19
Believers, even among your spouses and your children you have some enemies—beware of them—but if you overlook their offences, forgive them, pardon them, then God is all forgiving, all merciful. Quran 64:14
House the wives you are divorcing according to your means, wherever you house yourselves, and do not harass them so as to make their lives difficult... Quran 65:6Men in Islam have an obligation to treat their wives well, and offer them the benefit of the doubt during discord. Even during the divorce process, men have an obligation to care for their wives [kept in an acceptable manner]:
Divorce can happen twice, and [each time] wives either be kept on in an acceptable manner or released in a good way. It is not lawful for you to take back anything that you have given [your wives], except where both fear that they cannot maintain [the marriage] within the bounds set by God: if you [arbiters] suspect that the couple may not be able to do this, then there will be no blame on either of them if the woman opts to give something for her release. These are the bounds set by God: do not overstep them. It is those who overstep God’s bounds who are doing wrong. Quran 2:229So in the unfortunate event of an unhappy couple, Allah has ordered that wives have certain rights that must be upheld
Adultery in the Quran
And do not go anywhere near adultery: it is an outrage, and an evil path. Quran 17:32Allah shows a special disdain for adultery throughout the Quran, regardless if the sex is committed by the husband or wife. As Allah explains:
The adulterer is only [fit] to marry an adulteress or an idolatress, and the adulteress is only [fit] to marry an adulterer or an idolater: such behavior is forbidden to believers. Quran 24:3We also have a wealth of examples from the Quran of specific men and women being punished for committing adultery. These examples include:
- Women selling themselves as prostitutes and the men who sleep with them (24:3)
- Wives who sleep with men they are not married to (24:6)
- A man sleeping with another man’s wife (25:68)
Prophet, when believing women come and pledge to you that they will not ascribe any partner to God, nor steal, nor commit adultery, nor kill their children, nor lie about who has fathered their children, nor disobey you in any righteous thing, then you should accept their pledge of allegiance and pray to God to forgive them: God is most forgiving and merciful. Quran 60:12As Allah explains, determining the father of a child is extremely important. Both men and women have extremely specific duties to perform for their children, and a society that cannot determine a child’s father inevitably will deny that child his/her rights. This also explains the prescribed waiting period for a woman between a divorce and a new marriage. Allah wants paternity to be unambiguous for a child.
Reduced Rights With Adultery
Men and women who violate their marriages with adultery have their rights reduced. Someone can only be declared an adulterer/adulteress with the testimony of 4 witnesses:
If any of your women commit a lewd act, call four witnesses from among you, then, if they testify to their guilt, keep the women at home until death comes to them or until God shows them another way. If two men commit a lewd act, punish them both; if they repent and mend their ways, leave them alone—God is always ready to accept repentance, He is full of mercy. Quran 4:15-16The high witness requirement created an awkward situation for a man in Medina who walked into his house to discover his wife sleeping with another man. As the only witness, he couldn’t accuse the two of adultery, which is why Allah provided him the following dispensation (per Wahidi's Asbab al-Nuzl):
As for those who accuse their own wives of adultery, but have no other witnesses, let each one four times call God to witness that he is telling the truth, and, the fifth time, call God to reject him if he is lying; punishment shall be averted from his wife if she in turn four times calls God to witness that her husband is lying and, the fifth time, calls God to reject her if he is telling the truth. Quran 24:6-9The primary difference between a woman being divorced because of marital discord and adultery, is that she loses the obligation of material care from 2:229. Instead Allah gives their husband’s the right to evict them from their homes:
Prophet, when any of you intend to divorce women, do so at a time when their prescribed waiting period can properly start, and calculate the period carefully: be mindful of God, your Lord. Do not drive them out of their homes—nor should they themselves leave—unless they commit a flagrant indecency. These are the limits set by God— whoever oversteps God’s limits wrongs his own soul—for you cannot know what new situation God may perhaps bring about. Quran 65:1Understanding Verse 4:34
Allah describes the process to follow for a cheating wife in great detail:
Husbands should take good care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in their husbands' absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teachings of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them: God is most high and great. Quran 4:34Haleem makes it extremely clear in his translation that the 3 step process of remind/ignore/hit is only applicable to adulterous women:
It should be observed that with the two types of wives mentioned above, the husband is not mentioned at all in relation to a righteous wife; he only comes in when the situation of a serious offence is under discussion. In this situation, Muslim authors ask, ‘if the Qur’anic teaching in this matter is not fair and sensible, then what should be the alternatives?’ Either the husband has to allow himself to become a cuckold or he has to take the wife to court which would affect the whole family and add to the bitterness, or divorce her and thus break up the family completely. Haleem’s Understanding the QuranThis translation is not without controversy. The Islamic Society of North America endorsed Laleh Bakhtiar translation of the verse changes the translation of daraba from “hit” to “go away” as Dr Bakhtiar’s publisher explains:
With the blessings of God, this is the first complete English translation of the Quran that uses the original meaning of “to beat” in 4:34 which was “to go away.” The translator gives three arguments for why this is so:Dr. Bakthiar’s translation of the term especially resonates with me for 2 specific reasons. First, aggression towards women, even during divorce, is specifically banned in 2:231 (Do not hold on to them with intent to harm them and commit aggression). Second, verse 65:1 makes it unambiguously clear that cuckolds are allowed to send their wives away (Do not drive them out of their homes...unless they commit a flagrant indecency), which perfectly fits with how Dr. Bakhtiar translates 4:34:
- The words “beat them” in 4:34 are a command, an imperative form of the verb. Yet the Prophet, peace and the mercy of God be upon him, never carried out this command. Even if one were to say that just because a word in the Quran is grammatically a command does not mean that the Prophet had to carry it out; it means it is permissible for him to do or not to do. The retort: He chose not to do it. Therefore, whoever follows the Sunnah of the Prophet should also choose not to do it.
- The word interpreted as “to beat” for over 1400 years in the Islamic world has over 25 meanings. Why chose a meaning that goes against both the legal and moral principles of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet?
- The strongest argument for why the Arabic word does not mean “to beat” but rather means “to go away” is because interpreting the Arabic word as “to beat” contradicts another verse in the Quran…
...But those whose resistance you fear, then admonish them and abandon them in their sleeping place, then go away from them; and if they obey you, surely look not for any way against them; truly God is Lofty, Great. The Sublime Quran 4:34Ahmad Shafaat translate the phrase as "beat or separate", while Tahir-ul-Qadri translates the phrase as "striking a temporary parting." The Salafi translation by Hilali/Khan uses the phrase "strike them." At it's most extreme, one can interpret the verse to say that a husband can hit his wife if she is cheating after attempting to confront and ignore her, while the more mainstream interpretation is that a husband can evict a cheating wife from his home. It all comes down to how you choose to translate the term daraba. No translator grants a divine right to wife-beating from this verse.
The Story of Habibah
Al-Wahidi adds another dimension to this verse with the story of Sa‘d ibn al-Rabi and his wife Habibah bint Zayd ibn Abi Zuhayr. Habibah “rebelled” against Sa’d and he slapped her. This event occurred shortly after the revelation of verse 2:178 which promises the divine right of retribution to Muslims, confirming the rights found in the Torah and re-iterated by verse 5:45
You who believe, fair retribution is prescribed for you in cases of murder: the free man for the free man, the slave for the slave, the female for the female. But if the culprit is pardoned by his aggrieved brother, this shall be adhered to fairly, and the culprit shall pay what is due in a good way Quran 2:178
In the Torah We prescribed for them a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, an equal wound for a wound: if anyone forgoes this out of charity, it will serve as atonement for his bad deeds. Those who do not judge according to what God has revealed are doing grave wrong. Quran 5:45Habibah’s father came to the Prophet demanding his retaliation rights from Sa’d. It is unclear if Habibah’s father wanted to kill, beat, or extract a payment from Sa’d. We also know from Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah that Sa'd was the wealthiest man in Medina, which could explain why the father wanted to apply 2:178 to the case.
It happened Sa‘d hit his wife on the face because she rebelled against him. Then her father went with her to see the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. He said to him: ‘I gave him my daughter in marriage and he slapped her’. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: ‘Let her have retaliation against her husband’. As she was leaving with her father to execute retaliation, the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, called them and said: ‘Come back; Gabriel has come to me’, and Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse. The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: ‘We wanted something while Allah wanted something else, and that which Allah wants is good’. Retaliation was then suspended” Asbab al-NuzulThe nature of Habibah's "rebellion" is never explained. We also don't know if Sa'd received any other punishment for the slap, just that 'retaliation' rights were denied. In one account the Prophet is angrily chanting, “Retaliation! Retaliation! And there is no other judgement to be held,” implying that the Prophet was extremely angry. One of the accounts ends with the Prophet telling Sa'd, 'O man, take your wife by the hand’ implying that the two would reconcile after the slap. Sa'd shortly died after this incident at the battle of Uhud, Habibah would go on to marry Abu Bakr.
The only take-away we have from this story is that the right of divine retribution (2:178) doesn’t apply within the context of marriage. Of course 2:178 restricts itself to cases of murder, so Habibah's father's demand is a peculiar one. In confusing cases like this, we have to fall back on what the text of the verse says.
The Story of Tamima bint Wahb
Several non-Muslim and ex-Muslim groups have recently combined a sensational version of 4:34 with the story of Tamima bint Wahb to make the case that Islam condones wife-beating. As explained above, even the most extreme translation of 4:34 only gives dispensation to a man for slapping his wife after discovering he has been cheated on, with much more likely translations reinforcing the right of a man to evict a cheating wife from his home (confirmed by 65:1). The unambiguous ban of violence towards women in 2:231 also has to be ignored to believe this interpretation.
The story of Tamima bint Wahb is also being mis-interpreted. There are 7 versions of the story, with contradictory details and messages found in Bukhari 7:63:186, 7:63:238, 3:48:807, 7:72:684, 8:73:107, 7:72:715 and Malik's Muwatta, Book 28, Number 28.7.17.
Bukhari 7:63:186, which Bukhari filed under 'Divorce,' tells the story of Tamima bint Wahb who married Rifa’a Al-Qurazi. They could not get along and divorced. Tamima then married Abdur-Rahman bin Az-Zubair who turned out to be impotent. The Prophet then indicated that she could not remarry Rifa'a:
The wife of Rifa'a Al-Qurazi came to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Rifa'a divorced me irrevocably. After him I married 'Abdur-Rahman bin Az-Zubair Al-Qurazi who proved to be impotent." Allah's Apostle said to her, "Perhaps you want to return to Rifa'a? Nay (you cannot return to Rifa'a) until you and 'Abdur-Rahman consummate your marriage." Bukhari 7:63:186All versions of this story focus on the denial of the remarriage of Tamina and Rifa’a until Tamina married and slept with another man. The Prophet’s logic was that if this marriage did not work the first time, he had no reason to believe it would work again, and that Tamina was better off trying to marry someone else. The stories disagree if Rifa’a or Tamina pushed for the original divorce and who was pushing for the re-marriage.
The version of the story that gets the most attention is Bukhari 7:72:715 which indicates that Tamina was being beaten by her new husband:
Rifa'a divorced his wife whereupon 'AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair Al-Qurazi married her. 'Aisha said that the lady (came), wearing a green veil (and complained to her (Aisha) of her husband and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating). It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah's Apostle came, 'Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!" When 'AbdurRahman heard that his wife had gone to the Prophet, he came with his two sons from another wife. She said, "By Allah! I have done no wrong to him but he is impotent and is as useless to me as this," holding and showing the fringe of her garment, 'Abdur-Rahman said, "By Allah, O Allah's Apostle! She has told a lie! I am very strong and can satisfy her but she is disobedient and wants to go back to Rifa'a." Allah's Apostle said, to her, "If that is your intention, then know that it is unlawful for you to remarry Rifa'a unless Abdur-Rahman has had sexual intercourse with you." Then the Prophet saw two boys with 'Abdur-Rahman and asked (him), "Are these your sons?" On that 'AbdurRahman said, "Yes." The Prophet said, "You claim what you claim (i.e.. that he is impotent)? But by Allah, these boys resemble him as a crow resembles a crow," Bukhari 7:72:715This story is highly suspicious because it is attributed to Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl who quotes the story from Aisha. We have Aisha's actual version of the story at Bukhari 7:72:684 which tells the exact same story minus the beating component:
Narrated 'Aisha; The wife of Rifa'a Al-Qurazi came to Allah's Apostle while I was sitting, and Abu Bakr was also there. She said, 'O Allah s Apostle! I was the wife of Rifa'a and he divorced me irrevocably. Then I married AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair who, by Allah, O Allah's Apostle, has only something like a fringe of a garment, Showing the fringe of her veil. Khalid bin Sa'id, who was standing at the door, for he had not been admitted, heard her statement and said, "O Abu Bakr! Why do you not stop this lady from saying such things openly before Allah's Apostle?" No, by Allah, Allah's Apostle did nothing but smiled. Then he said to the lady, "Perhaps you want to return to Rifa'a? That is impossible unless 'Abdur-Rahman consummates his marriage with you." That became the tradition after him. Bukhari 7:72:684
The beating version of this story is also odd because it is filed under “dress code” due to Tamina gesturing with the fringe of her garment. Perhaps Bukhari was trying to point out that Muslim women wore clothes that had fringes? Bukhari gives 178 narrations about the clothing of the Prophet's companions in this chapter. I only speculate about the fringe of clothing because Bukhari filed 6 different versions of this story, with the dress code version having the only reference to a bruise. Regardless, a hadith doesn’t have the power to undo a Quranic edict, and certainly can’t invent a right for men to beat their wives, especially in such a confused case as this. I have said this before, but I will repeat, Sahih hadith are no replacement for Allah's edicts in the Quran. They are glorified folk stories and often contradict themselves in extremely important ways. In cases as important as these, Sahih hadith should not be relied upon unless they confirm verses in the Quran. In both of these examples they clearly contradict several Quranic verses and other hadith.
Marriage is a beautiful and sacred bond within Islam. Polygamy was severely limited during the Prophet's lifetime, while monogamy was encouraged. Divorce was accepted, with specific rights granted to women during the process. Reports that Islam condones domestic abuse are un-ambiguously false and rely on contradictory hadith. Allah did condemn adultery, and allowed men to evict their wives if caught.