One of the verses that causes great difficulty to the traditionalist is where the roles of men and women is defined. The reason for this is that due to poor and biased translation, generally to conform with some fabricated hadith or cultural custom, it has been wrongly interpreted.


First of all the verse is about  the physical, psychological, and physiological differences in men and women, and as a consequence of these differences it describes their division of labour and roles in society.


Without taking into account any unusual exceptions, under certain circumstances and conditions women cannot work; such as in pregnancy, and when they are lactating and breast feeding,  it can be impractical. Some types of work they cannot do such as mining, frontline fighting in wars or sub-sea diving during gestation of their unborn child. So their important role as homemakers, wives and mothers is defined. The duty to provide for and maintain them falls on men. As does the duty to die for them, if necessary, when they need protecting in times of hardship and war.


As with men, women’s ability to do certain kinds of work is defined, simply by the virtue of their being men or women, and young children need their mothers more than they need their fathers. The law on maternity leave supports this view, as it is important for women to have time off during pregnancy.


As head of the household – that’s  what the word husband means: one who manages the house, i.e. master of the household. As ‘husbands’ men also need to maintain discipline in the home and should this break down they must take action to return the home to order. However, whatever the situation there is no hint of any mental or physical abuse permitted against the wife. The instructions are to keep matters amicable. The threat of divorce arises only when the relationship has irretrievably broken down. Divorce can then be instigated by either the man or the woman.[1]


Domestic violence is a real concern for many, and some justify it by saying that it is acceptable because it is permitted in the Quran. But is it? Generally people are inclined to say that while permitted, the ‘beating’ should be light. Here is the verse, translated traditionally, that causes some people difficulty: “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).” [Verse 4:34]. Abdullah Yusuf Ali Translation.


Supposing a wife was guilty of some sort of ill-conduct, whatever that was, her husband is required to admonish her (fa-‘izu) which means to ‘to fondly persuade’). However, if the sweet talk does not work, and she persisted in her bad ways, he then is to refuse intimacy with her. If this is not working either and she still persists in behaving badly, what would come next? According to this translation, it would be a beating for the wife. After this the next step would be divorce, made especially messy if domestic violence had been used.


God Himself describes divorce in His own words: “let her go amicably” [Verse 33:49]. “Go through with the separation equitably” [Verse 65:2]. “(Allow the divorced women to) leave amicably” [Verse 2:229].


It seems that something is not quite right; there appears to be an apparent confusion. One minute the wife is getting beaten and now there is gentleness with the following reassurances:


“If the couple must decide to part, God will provide for each of them from His bounties. God is Bounteous, Most Wise.” [Verse 4:130].

“You shall allow a divorced wife to live in the same home in which they lived with you and do not make life so miserable for them that they are compelled to leave on their own.” [Verse 65:6].


Going back and checking that controversial verse (and traditional translation), reveals that there is something that seems to be amiss: where did “beat them” come from? Traditionalists glean it from the root word ‘daraba’, which has been translated to mean anything from a tap on the shoulder to striking or beating.


However, more correctly it should be translated as “to set forth” or “to make a clear statement or proclamation”.


The root worddaraba’ has been used in the Quran in other verses, 58 times, and each time it should be correctly translated as cites, sets forth  or advances as in the following verses:


“God thus cites analogies for the truth and falsehood.” [Verse 13:17].

“Do you not see that God sets forth the example…” [Verse 14:24].

“God thus advances the examples for all mankind…” [Verse 14:25].

“God thus sets forth parables for mankind…” [Verse 24:35].

“He cites for you herein an example from among yourselves…” [Verse 30:28].

“God cites as examples of those who disbelieved…” [Verse 66:10].


If the Quran permits you to beat your wife then reasonable people certainly missed it in their reading. All intelligent people come up with verses that ask for muslims to refrain from aggression and violence:


“Have you noted those who were told ‘You do not have to fight’…” [Verse 4:77].

“They suppress their anger and forgive people.” [Verse 3:134].


There are also numerous verses in the Quran describing the beautiful relationship between husband and wife:


“…He placed in your heart love and care towards your spouses.” [Verse 30:21].

“He gives every man an opportunity to find a mate as company and to harmonise with her.” [Verse 7:189].


Men are told that they “…shall treat [women] in a pleasant manner.” [Verse 4:19].


“The men are the protectors and maintainers of women…” [Verse 4:34]. “They are your companions and you are their companion.” [Verse 2:187]. “If you loathe them, you may dislike something wherein God has placed a lot of good.” [Verse 4:19].


There is also a verse to guide women who fear mistreatment from their husbands… “If a woman fears cruelty or desertion from her husband, the couple shall try to reconcile their differences for conciliation is best for them.” [Verse 4:128].


In line with the Quranic values, the correct translation of verse 4:34 should be:


The men are the protectors and maintainers of women and God has endowed them with qualities that define their duty as providers. Therefore the admirable women will accede to this arrangement and protect what God commands them to preserve; their chastity, property and honour, even during their husband’s absence. If you experience ill-conduct from your wife you shall first talk to her, then if she still continues in bad behaviour stop sharing the marital bed. If she still persists in impropriety then set forth for her in clear terms and say: either return to principles of integrity or our relationship is terminated. If she returns to decent behaviour and good conduct you are then not permitted to take any sanctions against her. Remember God is Most High and Supreme.[Verse 4:34].


Feminism: is it a concept within Quranic values?

Feminism, from the Latin ‘femina’ at one time meant ‘having the qualities of a woman’. These days it is a theory, a conviction or a movement to free women from cultural, social and political shackles placed on them, the feminists say, by the traditions and rules of their fathers. Patriarchy and modern feminism are the opposite ends of the same rod; choose whichever end you wish to beat yourself with. Both do nothing good for the cause of women and neither give women the dignity they deserve or the true position in society which is their right.


Feminists call for women to reject conventional family life and be career driven. However, no feminist claim can change the fact that it is women who bear children. Perhaps this is why we don’t see many women who are construction workers, road diggers and soldiers. In reality only a minority of women have a suitable academic education, the skills, the inclination or the ambition for a full time and lifelong career. Many want to realise their intrinsic worth not only as individuals but also as female beings.


For humanity to move forward and not to become extinct, should it be necessary for pregnant women and women with small children to expose themselves to the same hardships as men? Or should it not be the case that all people give women the respect and honour they deserve for sustaining such an important and meaningful role as wives and mothers?


For a woman to be a woman is an admirable quality. Women who opt to become career homemakers, wives and mothers perform a duty of great merit. To displace the roles of men and women creates discord, conflict and instability; a potential for constant fear and turmoil throughout society.


The Quran has always put women on an equal status with men, as far as righteousness is concerned, but clearly states the fact that they are different – and not without reason. Both men and women are required to cooperate as companions and not work against each other as competitors. They both have different roles in family and community life, and accordingly they each have duties and responsibilities particular to their gender. Apart from the obvious physical differences, there are psychological and physiological differences that determine their diverse and particular roles, and consequently division of labour in society. Men and women are therefore complimentary companions to each other and not competitors as is often wrongly portrayed. It is equity that leads to equality.


You shall not covet the intrinsic worth bestowed upon each individual by God; the men enjoy certain qualities and fruits of their labour and the women enjoy certain qualities and the fruits of their labour. You may implore God to shower you with His grace. God is fully aware of all things. [Verse 4:32]. See also footnote to verse 10:109.


While women are perfect by design for the role of wives and mothers, this is not to say that a woman cannot choose to drive a bus, manage a business or become a rocket scientist. However, it does mean that if she chooses to become a mother, then where possible, her child should not be deprived of the care and attention that only a mother can give.


There are many verses in the Quran that show the special status that women have. Their role does not restrict them in the way traditionally believed. Their dress code has probably become a defining factor, but like most things it has been ludicrously taken out of context and changed into something totally different from what the Quran portrays. Restrictions and disciplines placed on men and women are for the benefit of an ordered and progressive society. When restrictions are imposed, it is for the sole purpose of turning them to the best account. The self-imposed restrictions are not disparaging to an individual’s status as a free being: freedom properly channelled is the necessary condition of human development, both individual and social.


Every individual should be themselves, and behaving in a masculine or feminine way particular to their gender is an integral part of that being.


[1] Husband: Old Norse word husbondi, meaning ‘master of the house’. It also means ‘man who has/manages land and stock’. As the master of the house was usually also a spouse, it encompasses all the household. So even in English, the word husband confirms that it is the man who has from early times been considered to be the maintainer and manager of the household.