Corporal punishment (beating,
or scourging) rebellious women
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:
Sayyid Sabiq, renowned scholar and author of Fiqh-us-Sunnah, all hadiths
concerning female circumcision are non-authentic." 1
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 bimahafitha Allahu waallatee takhafoona
nushoozahunna faAAithoohunna waohjuroohunna fee almadajiAAi
waidriboohunna fa-in ataAAnakum fala tabghoo
AAalayhinna sabeelan inna Allaha kana AAaliyyan kabeeran
Some interpretations/translations of the Qur'an, Verse 4:34:
"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
"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
"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:
The 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
"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!"
"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,
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
"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."
"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
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
" '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
"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.
"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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Position paper on Female Genital Mutilation/Female Circumcision,"
Muslim Women's League, at:
Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh, "Religious arguments about male and
female circumcision," at: