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The relationship between Islam and domestic violence is disputed. There is still, among Islamic scholars, a debate about whether there are occasions on which a man beating a woman is appropriate. These ideas are justified with reference to the Qur'an, especially An-Nisa, 34, which discusses forms of beating in certain circumstances. Many of the scholars allowing "beating" stress that it is a last resort, discountenanced, and must be done so as not to cause serious injury.

Treatment of domestic violence in the Qur'an

An-Nisa, 34

Verse 34 of an-Nisa is one of the most important verses for husband and wife relationship in Islam. In most translations, it explicitly gives permission to men to beat their wives if they fear "rebellion," or "nushûz". Many interpretive problems have arisen regarding the occasions (if any) on which beating is appropriate, the type of beating prescribed, and whether beating remains discountenanced even if acceptable.

Proper and improper occasions for beating

Beating (as well as admonishment and leaving wives in their beds) is permitted after "nushûz" (نُشُوز), which is translated as "disloyalty and ill-conduct" by Yusuf Ali, "rebellion" by Pickthall and "desertion" by Shakir. Ibn Abbas, cousin of Muhammad and early Qur'anic exegete, states that nushuz refers to disobedience in sexual matters; while another early commentator, at-Tabari, explains that nushuz means to refuse intercourse due to a feeling of superiority and elevation over the husband.

In some exegeses such as those of Ibn Kathir and Tabari, the actions prescribed in 4:34 are to be taken in sequence: the husband is to admonish the wife, after which (if his previous correction was unsuccessful) he may remain separate from her, after which (if his previous correction was still unsuccessful) he may hit her . Contemporary Egyptian scholar Abd al-Halim Abu Shaqqa refers to the opinions of jurists Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and al-Shawkani who state that hitting should only occur in extraordinary cases.

Type of beating prescribed

Some Islamic scholars and commentators have emphasized that beatings, even where permitted, are not to be harsh or some even contend that they should be "more or less symbolic." According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Ibn Kathir, the consensus of Islamic scholars is that the above verse describes a light beating. Abu Shaqqa refers to the edict of Hanafi scholar al-Jassas (d. 981) who notes that the reprimand should be "A non-violent blow with siwak [a small stick used to clean the teeth] or similar. This means that to hit with any other means is legally [Islamically] forbidden."

Scholars and commentators have stated that Muhammad directed men not to hit their wives' faces, not to beat their wives in such a way as would leave marks on their body, and not to beat their wives as to cause pain (ghayr mubarrih). Scholars too have stipulated against beating or disfigurement, with others such as the Syrian jurist Ibn Abidin prescribing ta'zir punishments against abusive husbands.

Undesirablity of beating

Some jurists argue that even when beating is acceptable under the Qur'an, it is still discountenanced. Ibn Kathir in concluding his exegesis exhorts men to not beat their wives, quoting a hadith from Muhammad: "Do not hit God's servants" (here referring to women). The narration continues, stating that some while after the edict, "Umar complained to the Messenger of God that many women turned against their husbands. Muhammad gave his permission that the men could hit their wives in cases of rebelliousness. The women then turned to the wives of the Prophet and complained about their husbands. The Prophet said: 'Many women have turned to my family complaining about their husbands. Verily, these men are not among the best of you."

Popular beliefs among Muslims regarding domestic violence

According to the Washington Post, many Muslims believe that men have the right to beat their wives. Mazna Hussain, an attorney for abused women, has said that "[m]any batterers manipulate Islamic law or use its perceived authority to control their wives."

However, these beliefs vary by location. One study in Tunisia, which has been praised for its efforts to promote women's rights, found that 2.5 percent of women and 12 percent of men believed domestic violence was natural and expected, and a majority believed that spousal abuse is immoral.

In some recent high-profile cases such as that of Rania al-Baz, Muslim women have publicized their mistreatment at the hands of their husbands, in hopes that public condemnation of wife-beating will end toleration of the practice.

Incidence of domestic violence among Muslims

Domestic violence is considered by many to be a problem in Muslim-majority cultures.

The incidence in many Muslim-majority countries (where women hide their bruises and little is ever reported to authorities) is uncertain, but believed to be great by Muslim feminists. In some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, reports indicate that domestic violence is quite widespread. One recent study, in Syriamarker, found that 25% of the married women surveyed said that they had been beaten by their husbands.

One study found that half of Palestinian women have been the victims of domestic violence. A WHO study in Babolmarker found that within the previous year 15.0% of wives had been physically abused, 42.4% had been sexually abused and 81.5% had been psychologically abused (to various degrees) by their husbands, blaming low income, young age, unemployment and low education.

A 1987 study conducted by the Women's Division and another study by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 1996 suggested that domestic violence takes place in approximately 80 percent of the households in the country. In Pakistan, domestic violence occurs in forms of beatings, sexual violence or torture, mutilation, acid attacks and burning the victim alive (bride burning).

According to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in 2002, over 90% of married women surveyed in that country reported being kicked, slapped, beaten or sexually abused when husbands were dissatisfied by their cooking or cleaning, or when the women had ‘failed’ to bear a child or had given birth to a girl instead of a boy.

The prevalence of domestic violence has been cited as a cause of high rates of suicide, mostly through self-immolation, among Kurdish women in Iran.

Availability of remedies for abused wives

Prosecution for domestic violence

According to Ahmad Shafaat, an Islamic scholar, "If the husband beats a wife without respecting the limits set down by the Qur'an and Hadith, then she can take him to court and if ruled in favor has the right to apply the law of retaliation and beat the husband as he beat her."

However, laws against domestic violence, as well as whether these laws are enforced, vary throughout the Muslim world.

Domestic violence is not explicitly prohibited in Pakistani domestic law and most acts of domestic violence are encompassed by the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance. Nahida Mahboob Elahi, a human rights lawyer, has said that new laws are needed to better protect women. The police and judges often tend to treat domestic violence as a non-justiciable, private or family matter or, an issue for civil courts, rather than criminal courts. In Pakistan, "police often refuse to register cases unless there are obvious signs of injury and judges sometimes seem to sympathise with the husbands."

In Saudi Arabia, only in 2004 did the first successful prosecution for domestic violence occur after international attention was drawn to the case of Rania al-Baz.

In Tunisia, domestic violence is illegal and punishable by five years in prison.


Though some Muslim scholars contend that Islam permits women to be divorced in cases of domestic violence, divorce may be unavailable to women as a practical or legal matter.

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