Mistranslation Alert: The Quran Does Not Condone or Advise Wife-Beating

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One of the most controversial ayat of the Quran that does not have anything to do with war/fighting but rather marital relations and recommendations for resolving disputes is Al-Nisa’ 4:34. A specific word daraba is used to refer to a “last resort” action to be taken when a husband is dealing with a situation where he feels an attitude of nushooz (ill-conduct/rebellion) from his wife. Most translations as well as tafseer have interpreted it to mean that as a last resort a man can or should “strike/beat” his wife. The Monotheist Group’s Quran translation (4th version, 2020) gives the best explanation in its preface (cited below) for why this interpretation is not the best or most reasonable/applicable one, but rather is entirely mistaken, from both a linguistic standpoint and in the context in which it is used. All the following quotes are from this source. 

Some Arabic words, like in English, can have slightly different meanings depending on the context they are placed in. One such example is the word ‘Daraba’ which has a natural meaning of putting forth or positioning as can be seen in the verses below:

“Did you not note how God puts forth (Daraba) the example that a good word is like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are in the sky.” (Qur’an 14:24) 

“For the poor who face hardship in the cause of God, they cannot go forth (Darban) in the land; the ignorant ones think they are rich from their modesty; you know them by their features, they do not ask the people repeatedly. And what you spend out of goodness, God is fully aware of it.” (Qur’an 2:273) 

“Shall We withdraw (NaDrib) the reminder from you, because you are a transgressing people?” (Qur’an 43:5) 

“O you who believe, if you go forth (Darabtum) in the cause of God, you shall investigate carefully. And do not say to those who greet you with peace: “You are not a believer!” You are seeking the vanity of this world; but with God are many riches. That is how you were before, but God favored you, so investigate carefully. God is expert over what you do.” (Qur’an 4:94) 

However, there are certain cases where this word can give the meaning of ‘strike/beat’ as the act of striking involves the hand being put forth: 

“So how will it be when their lives are terminated by the angels, while striking (Yadriboona) their faces and their backs?” (Qur’an 47:27) 

While this may not appear as a big issue, not looking at the context can have serious consequences as we can see in the meaning that has ascribed to the word ‘Daraba’ by the majority of translators for verse 4:34: 

[Yusuf Ali 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 – “Idribuhun” (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).” (Qur’an 4:34) 

As a result of the choice of words, we have generations of men who believe that it is their God given right to ‘beat’ their wives into obedience! The correct approach would have been to understand the context of the verse (in this case, it deals with the subject of a woman who rebels against her duties and/or her husband “Nushooz”) and thus the word “Idribuhun” is one of the three suggested steps to deal with the situation (the others steps being to talk it out, and to abstain from sexual contact). 

“The men are to support the women with what God has bestowed upon them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The upright females are dutiful; keeping private the personal matters for what God keeps watch over. As for those females from whom you fear rebellion (Nushooz), then you shall advise them, and abandon them in the bedchambers, and withdraw from them (Idribuhun); if they obey you, then do not seek a way over them; God is Most High, Great.” (Qur’an 4:34) [Monotheist Translation]

As such, which meaning of “Idribuhun” would make the most sense: letting the wife become isolated and temporarily withdrawing from her to let her reflect on her actions, or, beating an already aggravated person into submission and inflaming an already tense situation?The answer as always is to follow the best meaning derived… 

“The ones who listen to what is being said, and then follow the best of it. These are the ones whom God has guided, and these are the ones who possess intelligence.” (Qur’an 39:18)

Source: The Message, A Translation of the Glorious Quran, Fourth Revision, The Monotheist Group, 2020, Preface (C4), pp. x-xi. 

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