Domestic violence, does Islam permit it?

I purposefully used violence, but abuse is maybe more appropriate. Overall the following is a mere introduction into the matter, it is written to give someone a flavour then with a degree of common sense, and reflection they will be able to see the true essence of Islam.

Campaign in Saudi Arabia where domestic abuse was outlawed in 2013.
“As another thirteenth-century Andalusian scholar observed, nowhere in the Qurʾān besides 4:34 and in listing the Ḥudūd punishments does God command believers to punish a person violently. Just as the Ḥudūd punishments were meant more as signs of the grievous nature of certain offences than as sentences to be enacted, so the common to strike a wife was intended to communicate the severity of her behaving disgracefully towards her husband, not as a license for domestic abuse.” — Professor Jonathan A C Brown, Misquoting Muhammad

A point to highlight here, firstly on Ḥadd punishments, these are stringent limits that a person may have transgressed, and are classed as crimes against God. Secondly, the verse 4:34 — is talking specifically about spouses, even though it mentions ‘men and women.’ Why does the verse not just say ‘husbands and wives’? Because the word zawj (which in modern Arabic means ‘husband’) applies in classical Arabic to both genders. It has no feminine; it is like the English word ‘spouse’, and it would not have made sense to say ‘spouses are given more than spouses.’

Unfortunately, I have seen ‘scholars’ of every ilk suggest it is okay to strike a woman when she transgresses certain boundaries, they then use subjective terms like ‘deserve it’ — this is abhorrent on every single level imaginable. Islam have a very strict codified set of principles when it comes to violence against any party, the aim is always to resolve things without violence. People that attempt to take verses and narrations and get them to fit their narrative and agenda are aeons away from the Prophetic path. The Prophet (ﷺ) never ever hit anyone, as Lady ‘Ā’ishah attested to this in a sound narration. Another sound narration makes clear the Prophet’s (ﷺ) aversion to domestic violence, “Would one of you beat his wife like a slave and then sleep with her at the days end?” [Bukhārī]

This mindset that it is okay or permissible can cause grave damage, not just physically but mentally too — to somehow make a person think they have to tolerate an abusive partner because it is permissible is repulsive, and it is morally repugnant to think they are told it is Prophetic. Applying literal meanings to verses and narrations is something only a fool will do — without context, literal applications can have dire consequences. Throughout our history instances of domestic abuse have come to the fore — each time, when easy to do the various courts and judges have sided with women and given them an out.

One word I have often seen used is Ḍaraba (ضرب) and how it means to hit or strike women. In a lecture about domestic violence, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf explains that all of the interpreters of the Qurʾān agreed that the word does not mean to beat the wife. He goes on to say that the word Ḍaraba (ضرب) arises in other places in the Qurʾān and the meanings differ: travel, suffer humiliation and impoverishment are just some of the definitions. I checked and in its root form it appears some 55 times in the Qurʾān. Shaykh goes on to argue that it simply does not make sense, because a man will only strike his wife in a fit of rage and anger — anger itself is something that is readily frowned upon, and some would argue impermissible — especially the actions it can sometimes lead to. Shaykh argues in essence it means that you let your wife know that you’re angry and that the situation is serious, he says this goes both ways — if the wife is angry she should let her husband know.

“Allāh revealed the verse to eliminate domestic violence, and that is why it’s great irony to be used to justify domestic violence…Anybody that tells you that abuse of your spouse is justifiable in Islam is a liar…The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) never struck a woman, or a child or a servant ever. We are making the religion a hell for women. I heard Imāms preaching this stuff: that the only thing could fix a woman is beating. To say that it is okay to strike a woman, leave marks on her body… that’s not Islam, that’s jahiliyya. When men use this verse as a means to express their anger, rage and their vengeance on a woman then it is the time for the authorities to come in.” — Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

I could go on, but seriously just apply a little common sense, when has violence ever been the answer to anything?

Also, because etymology and trilateral roots are so cool, ponder this: Ḍaraba (ضرب) means to strike whereas raḍaba (رضب) is to suck the lips and saliva of your beloved. The former is something the Prophet (ﷺ) never did, but the latter is something he definitely did.

So to summarise in one simple sentence: “It’s absolutely unlawful to abuse a wife, injure her, or insult her dignity.”

Sources and further reading:

Scholars On Spousal Abuse

Removing the Silence on Domestic Violence by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Abdel Haleem, Understanding the Qur’an, 46–54.

Jonathan Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, 268–285.