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Corporal punishment (beating,
or scourging) rebellious women

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There is one passage in the Qur'an which has traditionally been interpreted as instructing husbands to beat their "rebellious" wife/wives under specific circumstances. The Qur'an is the holy book of Islam, and is believed by Muslims to be the Word of Allah that was dictated to the prophet Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel. Since the Qur'an is believed to be the words of God in Arabic, Muslims believe that it is inerrant (without error) in its original language.

There is a hadith -- a part of the Sunnah or Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad -- that discusses female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is found throughout northern Africa among various religious groups: Islamic, Christian and Aboriginal. Although it is extremely painful when performed without anesthetic, it is done as a cultural ritual, not a form of punishment.

The hadith is regarded by many Muslims as having little credibility or authenticity. The Muslim Women's League comments:

"According to Sayyid Sabiq, renowned scholar and author of Fiqh-us-Sunnah, all hadiths concerning female circumcision are non-authentic." 1

An extensive analysis of classical Muslim authors on FGM is available online. 2 More information on FGM

Beating rebellious women: Qur'an 4:34:

Chapter 4 of the Qur'an is titled "An-Nisa" (Women).

The Muslim Students Association at the University of Southern California states that:

"ANY translation of the Qur'an will most definitely contain errors. ... In its natural language (Arabic), the Qur'an is the direct Word of Allah (God) to mankind through the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Any translation of the Qur'an no longer retains that 'official' and perfect status, however it can be tremendously helpful to beginning students wanting to learn more about Islam." 3

Most English translations of Verse 34 say that a rebellious woman should initially be admonished. Then she is to be left alone and cut off from sexual activity with her husband. Finally, if she does not end her rebelliousness, she is to be beaten. Some translations state that only light corporal punishment is to be used. However, if they do end their rebelliousness and obey, then they are to be forgiven and not further harmed or harassed.

Transliteration of the Qur'an, Verse 4:34 from the original Arabic.

Alrrijalu qawwamoona AAala alnnisa-i bima faddala Allahu baAAdahum AAala baAAdin wabima anfaqoo min amwalihim faalssalihatu qanitatun hafithatun lilghaybi bima hafitha Allahu waallatee takhafoona nushoozahunna faAAithoohunna waohjuroohunna fee almadajiAAi waidriboohunna fa-in ataAAnakum fala tabghoo AAalayhinna sabeelan inna Allaha kana AAaliyyan kabeeran 4

Some interpretations/translations of the Qur'an, Verse 4:34:

bullet"The Meanings of the Holy Qur'an," by Yusuf Ali:

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 (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all). 5

bullet"The Meaning of the Glorious Qur'an," by M.M. Pickthall:

Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great. 6

bullet"The Holy Qur'an," by M.H. Shakir:

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great. 7

Some translations of the Qur'an, Verse 4:34:

bulletThe Noble Quran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Da'wah and Guidance:

"As to those women on whose part you see ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly if it is useful); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great."

bullet"The Message of the Qur'an" by Muhammad Asad

"And for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them (first); then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!"

bullet"The Sublime Quran," a new translation by Laleh Bakhtiar from a woman's point of view:

"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 not look for any way against them; truly God is Lofty, Great." 8

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Reactions to the new translation by Laleh Bakhtiar:

Her translation is clearly at variance to the other five cited above. The five use terms like "beat" and "scourge." Wikipedia define "scourge: as:

"A scourge (from the Italian scoriada, ultimately from the Latin excoriare = 'to flay' and corium = 'skin') is a whip or lash, especially a multi-tong type used in order to inflict severe corporal punishment or self-mortification on the back." 9

However, Bakhtiar's translation includes no corporal punishment at all. The woman is to be admonished, and abandoned only.

Bakhtiar, 68, is an Islamic scholar and educational psychologist from Chicago, IL. She spent seven years preparing her translation of the Qur'an into English, described by Leslie Scrivener of the Toronto Star as "a version that is written from a woman's point of view and is also welcoming to non-Muslim readers."

Bakhtiar said:

"When I got to chapter four I had to really look at this carefully. ... It took a lot of research time to see what it means. ... It's a command in the Qur'an -- an imperative -- and the point is the Prophet never did it, It meant something else to him. Why choose the word to harm somebody, when that's not what the Prophet did? He was a model for humanity."

She determined that the critical word "idrib," has 26 possible different meanings, was best translated as "to go away" or "to leave," rather than "to beat."

She said:

"I just hope we keep the dialogue going so that one less Muslim woman is beaten in the name of God. That's my prayer, to get more women aware that there is an alternative. This has not been sanctioned by God; it's a criminal act."

Reporter Leslie Scrivener writes:

"Besides giving the text a female perspective, another strong motivator was her desire to offer a new English translation for non-Muslims and new Muslims. Instead of Allah, she uses God; instead of Isa, she uses the more familiar Jesus. Non-Muslims are not infidels or disbelievers, words she says are 'loaded,' but instead are those who are 'ungrateful to God for his blessings'."

" 'I tried to develop an inclusive translation so people from other faiths may read it and feel like it speaks to them as well, as a sacred text'."

"Some of her critics have cited her lack of fluency in modern Arabic as a shortcoming, a criticism that has not been applied to other translators who also are not native speakers, she maintains. 'It's not a valid criticism, because the Qur'an is written in classical Arabic ... If you go through all the criticisms, when it comes down to it, the only difference is because I'm a woman. Obviously'." 8

Mohammad Ashraf, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America (Canada) [ISNA] discounts the translation because Bakhtiar was not trained at an institution accredited in the Muslim world. (She trained in classical Arabic in Tehran, Iran, and obtained her doctorate at the University of New Mexico.) He indicated that he would not permit her translation to be sold in ISNA's bookstore. He said:

"Our bookstore would not allow this kind of translation. I will consider banning it. ... This woman-friendly translation will be out of line and will not fly too far. Women have been given a very good place in Islam."

Walid Saleh, an associate professor of religion at the University of Toronto, commented that Bakhtiar's translation is not unique. It is one of many attempts by Muslims living in a changing world to come to terms with their holy text. Saleh said:

"She belongs to a long line of Muslim feminists, since the late 19th century, who have been attempting to make the Qur'an and Islam far more, in a sense, gender-equal than people think it is." 8

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Position paper on Female Genital Mutilation/Female Circumcision," Muslim Women's League, at:
  2. Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh, "Religious arguments about male and female circumcision," at:
  3. "Introduction to Multiple Translations of the Qur'an," USD-MSA, at:
  4. "Transliteration of the Qur'an," USD-MSA, at:
  5. "The Holy Quran: Yusuf Ali Translation, Surah 4," at:
  6. M.M. Pickthall, "The Meaning of the Glorious Qur''n: 4. an-Nisa': Women," Sacred Texts, at:
  7. M.H. Shakir, "The Koran: The Women," Digital Library Production Service, University of Michigan at:
  8. Leslie Schrivener, "Furor over a five-letter word," Toronto Star, 2007-OCT-21, Page A21. Online at:
  9. "Scourge," Wikipedia, at:

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Copyright © 2007 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-OCT-21
Latest update: 2011-OCT-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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