4:34: Beat your wife?

May God forgive me and guide me regarding any sign that would have been misinterpreted in this study and elsewhere. May He always guide us to a better understanding of His profound scripture so we can purify ourselves and increase our knowledge.

All you need is listen to your heart to know that beating your wife is inexcusable. Verse 4:34 of the Holy Quran has been extremely controversial, and rightly so, due to the fact that most Sunni scholars claim, under the influence of hadiths and sunna, that beating your wife is permissible under the conditions described in the verse.

We will not only explain that there is no ground whatsoever to be violent against your wife according to 4:34 or any other place in the Quran, but that, on the contrary, God enjoins a husband to protect his wife, love her, be kind and merciful with her and respect her in every way. The word that is at the core of the debate in 4:34 is the verb “daraba” which is almost systematically translated as “to beat” or “to scourge” in translations of the Quran throughout the world. We will witness that the verb “daraba” happens to have an impressive number of different meanings in Classical Arabic in general, and in the Quranic text in particular. This leaves the question open as to which meaning is the most appropriate in 4:34 given the context of the verse, sura and Quran in general.

We are first going to analyze all different meanings of “daraba” in classical Arabic, as well as in the Quran. The second step will be to dissect the meaning of verse 4:34, and place it in the context of the sura and the Quran. This will help us understand without any interference, God willing, the real meaning of the verse in the light of the Quran. We will then cite most of the so called “authentic” hadiths which claim that it is permitted to moderately beat or scourge your wife if it is justified, and which are directly responsible of the complete distortion of the meaning of the verse. Finally we will comment the interpretation of 38:44 by Ibn Kathir, which claims that Job was commanded to moderately flog his wife, instead of the more severe punishment that he had initially promised, and which has resulted in an even deeper belief that it is permissible to beat your wife according to the Quran. We will explain why his interpretation of 38:44 is completely out of touch with the Quran.

Wife beating reaches epidemic levels in Sunni countries. If you do not have the time to read the article right away, please jump to the conclusion and come back to the article later, as it is crucial for you to understand why domestic violence has no place in Islam, as well as to identify the origin of the profound disease that afflicts the image of Islam.

Table of contents

1. Verse 4:34

1.1 Independent Translation of 4:34

1.2. Sunni translations of 4:34

2. Definition of “daraba”

2.1 Various meanings of the verb “daraba” (ضَرَبَ = form 1) in the Quran.

3. Analysis of 4:34

3.1 commentary of the verse

3.2 “Beat them” or “ignore them”: The context of the verse

3.3 The Lane Lexicon confirms that “daraba” can mean “to shun”, even without a preposition

3.4 4:34: Three successive steps or three immediate measures?

3.5 Verse 4:35: Mediation before divorce

3.6 General context of 4:34 and important comparison with 4:128.

4. The devastating impact of hadiths and Sunna regarding the interpretation of 4:34

4.1 Wife-beating in hadiths

4.2 Interpretation of 38:44 and the historically harmful influence of Ibn Kathir

4.2.1 Personal translation of 38:41-44

4.2.2 Sunni translation of 38:44


1. Verse 4:34

1.1 Independent translation of 4:34

The following translation is very literal and is the result of an in depth study of the verse in the light of the Quran. The primary goal of this article will be to explain why we reached this conclusion and prove why the verb “daraba” (اضْرِبُوهُنَّ  = “idribûhunna” in the verse in the imperative form) shall be translated as “ignore them” and not as “beat them”.

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ

عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ

حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ وَاللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ

فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ

أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا

(4:34) Men shall protect women considering what God has bestowed on the former in comparison to the latter and by means of what they (men) spend of their wealth. Therefore, righteous women shall be devoutly obedient when it comes to guard the intimate and private aspects [of a marriage] which God has commanded to be guarded. As for those [women] from whom you fear any disloyal behavior*, you shall then warn them, avoid them in bed and (idribuhûnna = imperative form) ignore them (NOT BEAT THEM !); but if they obey you, seek no [retaliatory] approach (lit. “way”) against them. Indeed, God is Ever Exalted, Most Great.

* In the context, “disloyal behavior” refers to any situation where the “intimate and private aspects” of a marriage are threatened as a result of the wife’s misconduct. It could be a risk or suspicion of an extra marital affair; or any serious misconduct that can be experienced throughout a married life.

وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُوا حَكَمًا مِّنْ

أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِّنْ أَهْلِهَا إِن يُرِيدَا إِصْلَاحًا

يُوَفِّقِ اللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا

(4:35) And if you fear a separation between the two of them, appoint an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family; if both of them wish a reconciliation, God will arrange things between the two of them. Indeed, God is All knowing, All Aware.

1.2. Sunni translations of 4:34

Examples of Mainstream Sunni Islam translation:

Contrary to the translation in the previous section made in the light of the Quran, we will explain in section 4 why the following translations have been made under the influence of hadiths and sunna, and why they violate the message of the Quran:

Yusuf Ali translation: (4:34) 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).

There is no word “lightly” after the verb “daraba” in the verse, All there is is the verb idribûhunna” (in reality “ignore” them”). Yusuf Ali was too ashamed too simply write “beat them”.

Pickthall translation: (4:34) 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.

There are well over 40 Sunni English translations written by native Arabic speakers or so called experts of the Quran who translate “daraba” as “to beat”. Translations where the verb “daraba” is translated differently are extremely rare, even though two or three have emerged in recent years.

2. Definition of “daraba”

The root “dad-ra-ba” (ضرب), from which the verb daraba (ضَرَبَ, form 1) in 4:34 is derived, has a wide array of meanings. According to the “Dictionary Of The Holy Quran” by Omar, it means:

“To heal, strike, propound as an example, put forth a parable, go, make a journey, travel, mix, avoid, take away, put a cover, shut, mention, state, propound, set forth, compare, liken, seek away, march on, set, impose, prevent, fight, traffic with anyone’s property for a share in the profit, leave for sake, take away thing (with ‘an)” (end quote).

We will add to this list one very important definition: “To shun”, and “to ignore”, which is very close to the verb “avoid” in the above list. We will see later that this meaning is well documented, for instance in the famous Arabic-English dictionary by Edward Lane (also called “Lane Lexicon’).

This is no less than 28 different meanings !

2.1 Various meanings of the verb “daraba” (ضَرَبَ = form 1) in the Quran.

The first verbal form of the root “dad-ra-ba” (ضرب) is the verb “daraba” (ضَرَبَ), which occurs no less than 55 times in the Quran:

1. “To set forth” an example (or “to present”, “establish” an example): 2:26, 14:24, 14:25, 14:45, 16:74-75-76, 17:48, 18:32, 18:45, 22:73, 24:35, 25:9, 25:39, 29:43, 30:28, 30:58, 36:13, 36:78, 39:27, 39:29, 59:21, 66:10, 66:11.

2. “To present”God presents the truth and the falsehood (13:17), and when the son of Mary was “presented” as an example (43:57), they “present” it (43:58), thus does God present to the people their differences (47:3),

3. “To attribute” (or “assign”): Of what he himself “attributes” to the Merciful (43:17),

4. “To establish”: Then will be “established” between them a wall (57:13).

5. “To strike” physically: “strike” the stone with your staff (2:60), “to strike” (the dead body) with part of it (the heifer) (2:73), “strike” the stone with your staff (7:160), “strike” the necks and fingertips (8:12, combating the disbelievers), the angels “strike” the backs and faces of those destined to the hellfire (8:50), “strike” for them a dry path in the sea (20:77), “strike” the sea with your staff (26:63), “striking” their faces and their backs (47:27),

6. “To strike” metaphorically: To be “struck” with humiliation and misery (2:61), to be struck with humiliation and poverty (3:112),

7. “To stamp”: let them not “stamp” their feet (24:31),

8.”To cast”: We “cast” [torpor] over their ears for a number of years (18:11), 

9. “To travel”: when they “travelled” through the land (3:156), “to go forth” in the way of God (context of jihad) (4:94), when you “travel” through the land (4:101, Also 5:106, 73:20),

10. “To heal”: Take a bunch of herbs in your hand and “heal” with it…(38:44).

10. “To draw over”: And “let them draw” their scarves (head covers in the context) over their chests (24:31),

11. “Keep away” fromShould we then “keep” the reminder “away” from you because you are a transgressing people? (43:5).

This confirms, to say the least, that the verb “daraba” allows many different meanings in the Quran. On several occasions, a particular meaning is used only once, like when God says that the women should “draw” their scarves over their chests, or that God “cast [torpor] over the seven sleepers’ ears”.

We can objectively conclude from the above list that the verb “daraba” (form1) signifies “to strike” or “to beat” (physically) only 8 times out of 55 in the entire Quran. This is less than 15% of all meanings of the verb! The verb signifies “to strike” a human being only four times (9% of all cases), and only one time does “daraba” means “to strike a human being who is alive (in 8:12, referring to a war situation). This is less than 2% of all cases.

Here is a powerful warning to Sunni traditionalists who interpret 4:34 under the influence of hadiths and sunna, instead of in the light of the Quran alone.

This data should compel any honest researcher to take a very close look at the many meanings of the verb and at least thoroughly study the context of the verse and sura, as this would otherwise be an almost sure path to misinterpret the verse, not to mention the painful repercussions that a typical misinterpretation of the verse implies in the Muslim society at large.

3. Analysis of 4:34

3.1 commentary of the verse

Verse 4:34 starts by issuing a profound command which sets right away the spirit of the verse:

(4:34)“Men shall protect women because of what God has bestowed on the former in comparison to the latter, as well as with what they spend of their wealth…”

There are two reasons why men are commanded to protect women: (1) Because God made them stronger physically and (2) because men have to financially support their wives.

It is patently obvious that the command to “protect women” (in part thanks to your God given physical abilities) is diametrically opposed to the idea of “beating your wife”. Beating your spouse is in fact breaking God’s command to protect her.

(4:34) …“Therefore, righteous women are devoutly obedient [to God’s commands] when it comes to guard the intimate and private aspects [of a marriage] which God has meant to be guarded.”…

Faithfulness and good behavior are one of the cornerstones of a marriage in Islam and the “obedience” that is mentioned is primarily about respecting God’s commands in general.

(4:34) …As for those [women] from whom you fear any disloyal behavior, you shall then warn themavoid them in bed and (idribuhûnna = imperative form) ignore them; but if they obey you, seek no [retaliatory] approach (lit. “way”) against them. Indeed, God is Ever Exalted, Most Great.

If the husband fears (or experiences) any disloyal behavior, three immediate measures are described to attempt to resolve a situation that could otherwise lead to a divorce:

The husband needs to clearly warn his wife that the situation has to stop, and immediately stop sharing the bed with her. At the same time he needs to “ignore” her, that is to say stop talking to and interacting with her.

3.2 “Beat them” or “ignore them”: The context of the verse

Given the fact that God commands to a husband in 4:34 to protect his wife, which solution is the most plausible?:

1. The husband shall avoid his wife in bed and ignore her ?

2. The husband shall [first] avoid her in bed and [then] beat her?

Remark: Some people translate the expression “اهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ” in 4:34 by “forsake them in bed”. It is in my opinion incorrect in this case, and should be translated as “avoid them in bed”, like for instance in verse 73:10:

وَاصْبِرْ عَلَىٰ مَا يَقُولُونَ وَاهْجُرْهُمْ هَجْرًا جَمِيلًا

(73:10) And be patient with what they say, and avoid them in a gracious manner (lit. “avoid them with a gracious avoidance”).

The verse refers to people who “deny” the message of God and it is self evident that “forsake them in a gracious manner” would not express what is intended here.

I logically translated the verb “daraba” in 4:34 as “to ignore” because it respects the command to protect your wife, and because it is the closest meaning to the idea of “avoiding your wife in bed” among the many different meanings of the verb. “To ignore” is very close to the meaning of “to avoid” (another possible translation of “daraba”) which is already used in the expression “avoid them in bed. “To ignore” is slightly more intense than “to avoid”, and reflects a deliberate and manifest intent “to avoid” someone.

Two modern English translation of the Quran (Laleh Bakhtiar and Safi Kaskas) translate the verb “daraba” as “go away from them” or “depart away from them” respectively. It is in my opinion incorrect, though much closer to the intended meaning, because the next verse shows that the couple has not experienced an actual separation or divorce yet. Furthermore, it should not be up to the husband to leave in this particular case, since he is the one who is victim of a disloyal behavior, and because 4:35 and 4:128 advocate reconciliation instead of separation.

3.3 The Lane Lexicon confirms that “daraba” can mean “to shun”, even without a preposition

When it comes to convey the meaning of “to shun” in Arabic, the verb “daraba” is either followed by the preposition ‘an (عَن) or without a preposition (like in 4:34) according to the Lane Lexicon. Please locate in the image below “اضرب” (“idrib” = “daraba” in the imperative form) which means that the verb “daraba” allows for that specific meaning, for a person or a thing, either no preposition, or the preposition ‘an (عَن) as in “اضرب عنه”:

Above: Excerpt from the root “daraba” in the Lane Lexicon, classical Arabic-English dictionary and ultimate reference in classical Arabic in the English world to this day. 

As you can see in the picture, one of the meanings of “daraba” is “to turn away from”, “to avoid”, “to shun”, etc…

3.4 4:34 Three successive steps or three immediate measures?

Most commentators describe two successive warnings before someone can beat his wife in the verse, to try to somewhat save face, as they all know in their hearts that it is a disgraceful and shameful act. The problem is that the sentence starts with “fa” (فَ = then), and the three measures to be implemented are then separated with “wa” (وَ = “and”, and not “then”), which means in this particular sentence that the three measures are to be implemented immediately, and not one after the other:

وَاللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ

وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ 

As for those [women] from whom you fear any disloyal behavior, you shall then warn themavoid them in bed and (idribuhûnna = imperative form) ignore them;

Note: I chose to translate “idribuhûnna” as “ignore them” rather than “shun them” because shunning has a harsh religious fundamentalist connotation that does not reflect the peaceful message of the Quran.

We are dealing here with serious misconduct which threatens the marriage, which is why those three measures are to be taken immediately and not step by step.

(4:34)… but if they obey you, seek no [retaliatory] approach (lit. “way”) against them. Indeed, God is Ever Exalted, Most Great.

The husband should immediately stop the peaceful retaliatory measures as soon as his wife rectifies her behavior.

3.5 Verse 4:35 Mediation before divorce

(4:35) And if you fear a separation between the two of them, appoint an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family; if both of them wish a reconciliation, God will arrange it for them. Indeed, God is All knowing, All Aware.

The next verse explains what to do if the situation is not resolved after the husband implemented the protocol described in 4:34, which means that a divorce is to be feared. An arbitrator from each family is then appointed. The verse points at the fact that a genuine intent to reconcile on both sides is key for God to arrange a reconciliation between them.

From the beginning of 4:34, where the husband is commanded to “protect” his wife, to the end of the verse, beating your wife is simply not even in the picture.

You cannot protect your wife and beat her at the same time.

But you certainly can honor the divine command to protect her and “avoid her in bed and ignore her if you experience a serious marriage ordeal. Once again, the Quran proves that Islam is a religion of peace, respect and justice. Violence is only permissible in the Quran when you face severe persecution or if you have no other alternative to defend yourself and it is always as a very last resort.

What a tragedy and irony that a verse that advocates implementing peaceful retaliatory measures to solve a marital crisis ended up being misinterpreted to the point of claiming you can beat your wife!

I would go even further: God knows full well that a lot of men (and women) can be tempted to resort to violence when they experience marital issues: One of the main purpose of 4:34 is to make sure that a husband will implement the peaceful protocol which God designed to help resolve a crisis peacefully, instead of potentially resort to violence. Islam is always about resorting to patience and wisdom rather than violence.

The profound wisdom that we find in 4:34 (interpreted in the light of the Quran alone and not according to hadiths) should be taught to all Muslims who wish to get married in order for them to know in advance what to do if there is a conflict, and make sure that violence shall never be part of a marriage because it is de facto forbidden by 4:34.

3.6 General context of 4:34 and important comparison with 4:128.

Sura 4 is entitled “women” as one of its main topics is to protect women (women rights, inheritance laws, dowry, respecting wives’ personal property, etc…). The sura deals with many different subjects such as the crucial importance of protecting orphans, marriage, discouraging polygamy, infidelity, prohibition to change God’s creation (4:119), condemning the doctrine of trinity, and much more.

A comparison between 4:34-35 and 4:128 reveals another blatant contradiction between “beating your wife” and the fact that God advocates “reconciliation”:

The Quran is fully detailed (6:114, 7:52, 10:37) and based on equality and justice. Cases of a man and a woman victim of “disloyal behavior” are taken into account separately in 4:35-36 and 4:128 respectively, since both genders can evidently be mistreated. In 4:128, God says that “reconciliation is best. How could our Lord advocate reconciliation and allow the husband to beat his wife at the same time, when such a behavior can only greatly increase the odds of a divorce?

God advocates peace and reconciliation,

violence leads to separation.

In any case, and regardless of whoever may be responsible for a marital crisis, arbitration should always be directed according to 4:35 whenever a divorce is to be feared.

Another verse in sura 4 that cannot be ignored and relates to 4:34 is 4:19:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَحِلُّ لَكُمْ أَن تَرِثُوا النِّسَاءَ كَرْهًا

وَلَا تَعْضُلُوهُنَّ لِتَذْهَبُوا بِبَعْضِ مَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ إِلَّا أَن يَأْتِينَ

بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُّبَيِّنَةٍ وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ فَإِن كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ

فَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا

(4:19) O You who believe, it is not lawful for you to inherit from women against their will; do not constrain them with the intent of taking away part of what you have given them, unless they commit flagrant sexual misconduct, and live with them in kindness; if you then [happen to] dislike them, you may dislike something in which God has placed a lot of good.

Just like you cannot protect your wife and beat her at the same time, how can you be kind with her and resort to violence against her?

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا

وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

(30:21) And among His Signs is [the fact] that He created mates for you from your own kind, that you may find experience tranquility with them; and He placed between you love and mercy. Verily, these are indeed Signs for people who reflect.

Similarly, how can you be a loving and merciful husband and beat your spouse when something goes wrong? It is absurd.

4. The devastating impact of hadiths and Sunna regarding the interpretation of 4:34

4.1 Wife-beating in hadiths

Hadiths often are or seem contradictory. Let us start with one that says that Muhammad never beat a servant or woman:

Abu Dawud/43/14: `A’isha said: the Messenger of Allah never struck a servant or a woman.

What a wonderful start, and this is exactly the kind of hadiths that hadith apologists will not fail to mention, but will try to hide at all cost what follows: In fact, Abu Dawud takes us back quickly to a much somber reality as we see that, according to him, the prophet has initially forbidden beating women, but allegedly changed his mind later because they were becoming emboldened:

Abu Dawud Book 11, hadith 2141: Iyas ibn Abdullah ibn AbuDhubab reported the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) as saying: Do not beat Allah’s handmaidens, but when Umar came to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) and said: Women have become emboldened towards their husbands, he (the Prophet) gave permission to beat them. Then many women came round the family of the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) complaining against their husbands. So the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Many women have gone round Muhammad’s family complaining against their husbands. They are not the best among you.

Abu Dawud Book 11, hadith 2142Umar reported the prophet as saying: “A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife“.

Comment: A man can beat his wife and will get away with it simply because, In Sunni Islam, it nobody else’s business.

Abu Dawud 2142 : Book 12, Hadith 97

Mu’awiyah asked: Messenger of Allah, what is the right of the wife of one of us over him? He replied: That you should give her food when you eat, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not strike her on the face, do not revile her or separate yourself from her except in the house.

Abu Dawud said: The meaning of “do not revile her” is, as you say: “May Allah revile you”.

Comment: According to this hadith, it is OK to strike her as long as you do not strike her in the face.

The hadith below proves that the Sunni religion is a religion of profound mercy and compassion, as a husband who has just flogged his wife cannot have any sexual intercourse with her the same day to let her recover from the beating:

Bukhari volume 7, book 62, #132: “Narrated Zam’a, “The prophet said, “None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a female slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day.”

Remark: This hadith, just like the others, is classified as ”sahih” (authentic). It is unclear if a husband cannot flog his wife as hard as he would flog a slave, or if he is authorized to flog as hard, but then cannot have a sexual intercourse the same day. Regardless of what the answer may be, we have here one of many examples of why God has put a curse on Sunni Islam in the world (dictatorship, terrorism, corruption, wars, loss of Palestine, women being beaten and treated like third rate citizens, etc…): Sunnis prefer to believe in despicable hadiths other than God and His verses (45:6) instead of submitting themselves to the purity of the Quran alone.

Remark: I omitted in this section some really long and similarly shocking hadiths that promote wife beating not to overload the article.

For over a thousand years, hadiths and sunnah have enticed Sunni scholars to consistently interpret the verb “daraba” in 4:34 as ”to beat” or “to flog”. They completely disregard the context of sura 4 and the Quran in general, which unequivocally advocates love, mercy, kindness, respect towards your wife, as well as the sacred duty to protect her.

This is unfortunately just a sample of the profound cruelty that can be traced back to the hadiths. Every year, men and women who commit adultery are stoned to death, apostates are executed, and women are often treated as second rate citizens because some hadiths claim, for instance, that they are “deficient in intelligence and religion” (Sahih al-Bukhari » Book of Menstrual Periods, nº 6).

4.2 Interpretation of 38:44 and the historically harmful influence of Ibn Kathir

As outlined in the introduction, the verb “daraba” is present in 38:44. Ibn Kathir’s influence is enormous in Sunni Islam, and he interpreted the verse as meaning that the prophet Job mildly beat or flogged his wife with a bundle of grass, instead of his initial promise to flog her a hundred strikes. This greatly reinforced the belief that it is correct to translate “daraba” in 4:34 as “to beat” or “to flog”. We are going to prove that Ibn Kathir’s interpretation is completely out of touch with the Quran.

4.2.1 Personal translation of 38:41-44

(38:41) And remember our servant Job, when he implored His Lord: “Indeed, satan has afflicted me with distress and suffering.” (38:42) Urge [your riding beast] with your foot, here is a cool place to bathe and drink. (38:43) And we granted to him his family and doubled their number; a mercy from us and a reminder for those blessed with intelligence.

وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثًا فَاضْرِب بِّهِ وَلَا تَحْنَثْ

إِنَّا وَجَدْنَاهُ صَابِرًا نِّعْمَ الْعَبْدُ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ

(38:44) “And take in your hand a bunch of grass and heal with it, and do not sin”. Indeed, we found him patient, an excellent servant; he was indeed inclined towards repentance.

I translated the verb “daraba” in 38:44 as “to heal”, which is one of the many proven meanings of the verb as studied earlier. The verse provides some insight regarding how Job was able to be permanently healed by the grace of God, after having been guided to a spring with healing properties where he was able to wash and drink the water. The context of 38:44 indicates in my view that Job found some abundant grass by the spring which allowed him to be permanently healed. In any case, it is incorrect to translate “لَا تَحْنَثْ” (la tahnath) by “do not break your oath” (which is a possible translation) as there is no Quranic or Biblical verse (and not even a hadith by the way) alluding to Job having made an oath prior to being healed; All He did was to implore God for healing (38:41). One of the meaning of the verb “taḥnath” (تَحْنَثْ) is “to sin”, and God is warning Job not to sin in the future, as one of the possible consequences of sin is sickness. The message here is that Job was not perfect and must have been guilty of some kind of sin which exposed him to being sick.

4.1.2 Sunni translation of 38:44

The verb “daraba” in 38:44 has been translated as “to strike” or “to flog” in almost all English translations as well as in countless other languages, because most translators believe Ibn Kathir’s story that Job had made an oath to flog his wife a hundred strikes. Example:

(38:44) Take a small bunch of grass and strike [her] with that, so as not to break your oath…

Translation: Abdel Haleem

Ibn Kathir (born c. 1300, died 1373) wrote a famous account of the life of the prophet Job in “The Stories of the Prophets” (قصص الأنبياء), relying mostly on unsubstantiated sources. As a matter of fact, he does not even cite any of his sources. He tells us that Job was tempted by satan, and became very sick for seven years:

Excerpt from the story of Job according to Ibn Kathir:

“Then Job replied: “How long have I been suffering like this?” She (his wife) said: “7 years.” Job then told her: “In that case I am ashamed to call on my Lord to remove the hardship, for I have not suffered longer than the years of good health and plenty. It seems your faith has weakened and you are dissatisfied with the fate of Allah. If I ever regain health, I swear I will punish you with a hundred strokes! From this day onward, I forbid myself to eat or drink anything by your hand. Leave me alone and let my Lord do with me as He pleases.”

Remark: Ibn Kathir’s story blatantly contradicts the Quran in several ways, for instance because it claims that Job refused to pray to God for healing, as he had not suffered long enough (seven years according to the story!), wh ich in itself is absolutely ridiculous; Job obviously implored God for healing (38:41) and it is why God answered his prayer. His illness most likely lasted a lot less than seven years (God knows best).

When Job recovers from his illness at the end of the story, Ibn Kathir says that Job did not want to beat his wife anymore and translates 38:44 saying that Job was asked to flog his wife with a bundle of thin grass instead not to break his initial oath.

Ibn Kathir’s narration does not provide any reference, not even a hadith, but he is such a respected figure in Sunni Islam that he has influenced numerous subsequent Sunni scholars and translators to believe that the verb “daraba” in 38:44 is related to the idea that Job beat his wife with a bundle of grass. Concerning the interpretation of 4:34, it is no surprise that Ibn Kathir said that “if advice and ignoring her in the bed do not produce the desired results, you are allowed to discipline the wife, without severe beating.”

Once you allow yourself to accept Ibn Kathir’s fables regarding the story of Job, you end up understanding verse 4:34 just like he did and translate the verb “daraba” as meaning that you can beat your wife as a last resort, after first warning her, then avoiding her in bed.

The truth is that 38:44 does not mention Job’s wife; we cannot even find a feminine pronoun that could hypothetically relate the verse to his wife! Neither the Quran fully detailed nor the Bible (and not even a hadith!) mention that Job had made an oath to beat his wife with a hundred strokes. This is an insult to the character and memory of such a great servant of God and conveys a very negative image of Islam. As explained earlier, the most likely translation in my opinion is that Job was healed in two steps, first by bathing and drinking from a spring with healing properties related to his illness, and then at a deeper level by collecting and eating some of the grass found by the spring.


(4:34) Men shall protect women considering what God has bestowed on the former in comparison to the latter and by means of what they (men) spend of their wealth. Therefore, righteous women shall be devoutly obedient when it comes to guard the intimate and private aspects [of a marriage] which God has commanded to be guarded. As for those [women] from whom you fear any disloyal behavior*, you shall then warn themavoid them in bed and (idribuhûnna = imperative form) ignore them (NOT BEAT THEM !); but if they obey you, seek no [retaliatory] approach (lit. “way”) against them. Indeed, God is Ever Exalted, Most Great.

– The verb “daraba” has about 30 different meanings in Arabic and been historically mistranslated in 4:34 as to “beat” or “scourge” your wife. The origin for such an outrageous interpretation comes directly from hadiths and Sunna, both of which advocate beating your wife, as demonstrated in the previous section.

We have shown that the verb “daraba” (form 1) occurs 55 times in the Quranic text, and signifies “to beat” in barely 15% of all occurrences of the verb. In addition, “daraba” means “to beat” or “strike” a human being (who is alive) only once in the entire Quran (in 8:12) and it is in a state of war, which only corresponds to only 2% of all occurrences!

For over a thousand years, Hadiths and the Sunna have blinded and prevented the Muslim world from understanding 4:34, as well as many others, in the light of the Quran and its context:

– 4:34 begins with a commandment that cannot be clearer: “Men shall protect women”.

You cannot “protect” your wife and “beat her” at the same time.

– A few verses earlier, 4:19 states that men shall “live with their wives in kindness”.

Beating your wife is a disgraceful act and the exact opposite of kindness

– Verse 30:21 says that God has “placed love and mercy between spouses”.

How much love and mercy is there left after a husband beats his wife?

What we are witnessing here is the extraordinary disparity between the message of love and mercy of the Quran and the abject message of hadiths and sunnah which allows beating your wife after first warning her, then stop sharing the bed with her.

On the contrary, all peaceful retaliatory measures described in the verse (warn her, and avoid her in bed, and ignore her) are meant to be implemented immediately in order to convey a firm but peaceful message that the situation has to stop. All three expressions are separating by “wa” (and) and not by “fa” (then), which denotes that the measures are immediate and not consecutive.

(4:34) … As for those [women] from whom you fear an unjust treatment, then warn them and avoid them in bed and ignore them; …

– The real meaning of “daraba” in 4:34 is “to ignore”, which perfectly concurs with the idea of “avoiding your wife in bed”, mentioned right before in the verse.

Such Quranic wisdom allows a husband victim of disloyal behavior to be respected without resorting to any kind of violence. It is also the ideal way intended by God to lay the groundwork for reconciliation between spouses, as defined in 4:34-35 and 4:128. The hadith inspired domestic violence blatantly conflicts with the reconciliation that God advocates in 4:128. Violence often leads to divorce; at best, it will leave indelible marks in a marriage.

– God knows full well that a lot of men (and women) can be tempted to get violent when a crisis occurs: One of the main purposes of 4:34 is to make sure that the husband will uphold the commandment to protect his wife no matter what, and that violence will be excluded even in the case of a serious marital ordeal, God implementing instead peaceful retaliatory measures such as ignoring your spouse.

The underlying message of 4:34 is simple and powerful:

God advocates reconciliation, violence leads to separation.

How long will it take for the Muslim ummah to repent and finally admit that hadiths and sunnah are at the very root of the disease that afflicts the image of Islam? Sunni scholars have claimed for over a thousand years that Hadiths and Sunna are absolutely essential to clarify the message of the Quran, turning a blind eye on the fact that the Quran proclaims that it is fully detailed (6:114, 7:52, 10:37). We have a perfect example here that it is actually the exact opposite: It is the hadiths which, in fact, prevent people from understanding the Quran, and promote instead abominable practices such as stoning to death the adulterer, killing the apostate, killing a person who refuses to pray, beating your wife if you think she deserves it, or again female genital mutilation (see “hadiths, the cancer of Islam”).