As should be widely known, the main basis for the rules and regulations of Islamic law is the Holy Quran.
The Holy Quran says:
وَمِنۡ اٰيٰتِهٖۤ اَنۡ خَلَقَ لَكُمۡ مِّنۡ اَنۡفُسِكُمۡ اَزۡوَاجًا لِّتَسۡكُنُوۡۤا اِلَيۡهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيۡنَكُمۡ مَّوَدَّةً وَّرَحۡمَةً
“And of His Signs is that He has created mates for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between you.” (Surah ar-Rum, Ch.30: V.22)
So, the divinely intended hallmarks of a good marriage are peace of mind, love and tenderness.
Since the verses of the Holy Quran are intentionally pregnant with various meanings, when it comes to their direct translation into practical actions, some of the verses could be applied to everyday life in various ways. Therefore, the Sunnah, i.e. the Prophet’ssa way of acting, which is the second pillar of Islamic law, sheds further light on them. Hence, the Holy Quran says:
وَمَاۤ اٰتٰكُمُ الرَّسُوۡلُ فَخُذُوۡهُ وَمَا نَهٰكُمۡ عَنۡهُ فَانۡتَهُوۡا
“And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain from it.” (Surah al-Hashr, Ch. 59: V. 8)
لَقَدۡ كَانَ لَكُمۡ فِيۡ رَسُوۡلِ اللّٰهِ اُسۡوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ
“Verily, you have in the Prophet of Allah an excellent model” (Surah al-Ahzab, Ch.33: V.22)
It is narrated in a hadith:
عن قتادة قُلْتُ لعائشة يَا أُمَّ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَنْبِئِينِي عَنْ خُلُقِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَتْ أَلَسْتَ تَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ قُلْتُ بَلَى قَالَتْ فَإِنَّ خُلُقَ نَبِيِّ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ كَانَ الْقُرْآنَ
Hazrat Qatadahrh reported, “I said to Hazrat Aishara, ‘O mother of the believers, tell me about the innate disposition of the Messenger of Allahsa.’ Hazrat Aishara replied, ‘Have you not read the Quran?’ I said, ‘Of course I have.’ Hazrat Aishara said, ‘Verily, the innate disposition of the Prophetsa of Allah was the Quran.’” (Sahih Muslim, The Book of Prayers – Travellers, Hadith 746a)
So, it becomes clear that the Holy Prophetsa was the Holy Quran personified and lived out; he was the standard against which every Muslim must measure themselves; the optimum they must seek to achieve; the state they must strive for.
What, then, was the Prophet’ssa demeanour with regard to the question discussed here?
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ مَا ضَرَبَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ شَيْئًا قَطُّ بِيَدِهِ وَلَا امْرَأَةً وَلَا خَادِمًا إِلَّا أَنْ يُجَاهِدَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ
Hazrat Aishara reported that the Messengersa of Allah never struck anyone with his hand, neither a woman nor a servant, but only, in the case when he had been fighting in the cause of Allah. (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Fazail, Hadith 2328a)
The role model of all Muslims never struck any woman in his entire life, whereas he himself would have had many times more potential situations to do so since he had, by divine permission, a multitude of wives than were allowed to others.
عَنْ جَدِّهِ، مُعَاوِيَةَ الْقُشَيْرِيِّ قَالَ أَتَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ فَقُلْتُ مَا تَقُولُ فِي نِسَائِنَا قَالَ أَطْعِمُوهُنَّ مِمَّا تَأْكُلُونَ وَاكْسُوهُنَّ مِمَّا تَكْتَسُونَ وَلاَ تَضْرِبُوهُنَّ وَلاَ تُقَبِّحُوهُنَّ
Mu‘awiyah al-Qushayrira reports that he once went to the Messengersa of Allah and asked him, “What do you command about our wives?” He replied, “Give them the same food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them.” (Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab an-Nikah, Hadith 2144)
Allah’s Messengersa was also extremely perplexed by the fact – which seemed paradoxical and dissonant to him – that a husband could first beat up his wife and then at some point afterwards also embrace her, i.e. sleep with her. He said:
بِمَ يَضْرِبُ أَحَدُكُمُ امْرَأَتَهُ ضَرْبَ الْفَحْلِ، ثُمَّ لَعَلَّهُ يُعَانِقُهَا
“How does anyone of you strike his wife as he strikes the stallion camel and then embraces (sleeps with) her?” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Adab, Hadith 6042)
Meaning of the word daraba
Translating the word daraba, used in Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.35, as hitting, beating or striking does not do justice in the least to the actual meaning of the word and, for that matter, to its range of meanings. Below are listed only two ahadith to make it clear that the action indicated by the word daraba can simply mean a light touch.
عَنْ جَرِيرٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ مَا حَجَبَنِي النَّبِيُّ صلى اللّٰه عليه وسلم مُنْذُ أَسْلَمْتُ، وَلاَ رَآنِي إِلاَّ تَبَسَّمَ فِي وَجْهِي وَلَقَدْ شَكَوْتُ إِلَيْهِ إِنِّي لاَ أَثْبُتُ عَلَى الْخَيْلِ فَضَرَبَ بِيَدِهِ فِي صَدْرِي وَقَالَ اللَّهُمَّ ثَبِّتْهُ وَاجْعَلْهُ هَادِيًا مَهْدِيًّا
Hazrat Jarirra relates, “Allah’s Messengersa did not screen himself from me since my embracing Islam, and whenever he saw me, he would receive me with a smile. Once I told him that I could not sit firm on horses. He struck me on the chest with his hand and said, ‘O Allah! Make him firm and make him a guiding and a rightly-guided man.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad wa al-Seer, Hadith 3035)
عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ، قَالَ قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَلاَ تَسْتَعْمِلُنِي قَالَ فَضَرَبَ بِيَدِهِ عَلَى مَنْكِبِي ثُمَّ قَالَ يَا أَبَا ذَرٍّ إِنَّكَ ضَعِيفٌ وَإِنَّهَا أَمَانَةٌ وَإِنَّهَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ خِزْىٌ وَنَدَامَةٌ إِلاَّ مَنْ أَخَذَهَا بِحَقِّهَا وَأَدَّى الَّذِي عَلَيْهِ فِيهَا
It has been narrated on the authority of Hazrat Abu Dharrra who asked the Prophetsa, “Messenger of Allah, will you not appoint me to a public office?” He struck my shoulder with his hand and said, ‘Abu Dharr, thou art weak and authority is a trust, and on the Day of Judgment it is a cause of humiliation and repentance except for one who fulfils its obligations and (properly) discharges the duties attendant thereon.’” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Imaarah, Hadith 1825)
Restriction, not permission
What has been labelled as permission in the question is, in fact, not permission, but a restriction, even a prohibition, namely, the prohibition of beating one’s wife on impulse.
As modern-day statistics and surveys sufficiently prove (when man is supposedly so much more advanced in his development than he used to be), domestic violence is still a universal problem, far beyond any boundaries of region, religion, ethnicity and culture.
A man in his right mind would never strike his wife, let alone consider beforehand that the Quran has given him permission to do so. If anything, such a man would restrain himself because of what is written in the Holy Quran and not strike.
This verse primarily offers a solution for such men who do not control themselves, who have a problem of violence. Let us take a closer look at how the verse is structured. It says:
اَلرِّجَالُ قَوّٰمُوۡنَ عَلَي النِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللّٰهُ بَعۡضَهُمۡ عَلٰي بَعۡضٍ وَّبِمَاۤ اَنۡفَقُوۡا مِنۡ اَمۡوَالِهِمۡ ؕ فَالصّٰلِحٰتُ قٰنِتٰتٌ حٰفِظٰتٌ لِّلۡغَيۡبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللّٰهُ ؕ وَالّٰتِيۡ تَخَافُوۡنَ نُشُوۡزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوۡهُنَّ وَاهۡجُرُوۡهُنَّ فِي الۡمَضَاجِعِ وَاضۡرِبُوۡهُنَّ ۚ فَاِنۡ اَطَعۡنَكُمۡ فَلَا تَبۡغُوۡا عَلَيۡهِنَّ سَبِيۡلًا ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيۡرًا
“Men are guardians over women because Allah has made some of them excel others, and because menspend (on) themof their wealth. So virtuous women are obedient, and guard the secrets (of their husbands) with Allah’s protection. And (as for) those on whose part you fear disobedience,admonish them and keep away from them in their bedsand chastisethem. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Surely, Allah is High andGreat.” (Surah an-Nisa, Ch.4: V.35)
The Holy Prophetsa himself paraphrased and contextualised this verse in his own words. He said:
أَلاَ وَاسْتَوْصُوا بِالنِّسَاءِ خَيْرًا فَإِنَّمَا هُنَّ عَوَانٌ عِنْدَكُمْ لَيْسَ تَمْلِكُونَ مِنْهُنَّ شَيْئًا غَيْرَ ذَلِكَ إِلاَّ أَنْ يَأْتِينَ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُبَيِّنَةٍ فَإِنْ فَعَلْنَ فَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ ضَرْبًا غَيْرَ مُبَرِّحٍ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلاَ تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلاً
“Surely, I enjoin you to treat women well, for they are in your authority. You do not have any right to treat them otherwise, unless they commit a clear obscenity. If they do so, you may forsake their beds and then strike them without violence, but if they obey you then you ought not to do so.” (Jami’ at-Tirmidhi, Kitab ar-Rida‘, Hadith 1163)
The purpose here, thus, is to discourage domestic violence. The husband is not allowed to treat his wife other than well, no matter what his wife does. Even if she commits an obvious obscenity, even then the husband is not allowed to strike her. Rather, he should only admonish her.
If the wife then continues to engage in obvious obscenities, even then the husband is not allowed to strike his wife, but he is to separate his sleeping place.
These two measures serve as a safeguarding measure for the woman and offer her chance to reflect. They are a true deterrent to any possible unpleasantries and offer a wife to either mend her ways if she is knowingly transgressing or to safely exit the marriage using legal options afforded to her by the sharia.