“Men are (meant to be righteous and kind) guardians of women because God has favored some more than others and because they (i.e. men) spend out of their wealth. (In their turn) righteous women are (meant to be) devoted and to guard what God has (willed to be) guarded even though out of sight (of the husband). As for those (women) on whose part you fear ill-will and nasty conduct, admonish them (first), (next) leave them alone in beds (and last) beat or separate them (from you). But if they obey you, then seek nothing against them. Behold, God is most high and great. (4:34)
Like many other erroneously interpreted religious concepts, the conflict of men’s superiority over women is the one that most of the people take as the basis of justification for their unjust behavior with women. Here are the points of my understanding of the verse;
The first and foremost thing that is necessary to understand the guidelines given by the Almighty is to understand His language and intonation, that is nothing else but Love.
God, by using the symbolic terms, has made human beings to ponder and discover the reality from the text.
1- Guardians: the word used in Quran is “Qawwamum” meaning “to stand or to make something stand or to establish something” Qawwam is an intensive form of qa’im and has a sense of continuity in the action involved. So it means one who is continuously standing over something (as, for example, a guard or caretaker) or one who is continuously making something stand, i.e. is maintaining it.
So to me Qawwamum does not mean ‘Hakim’ as used in the urdu translations of the verse.
It means man is the one who has been given the responsibility to make woman stand and in order to do that protect and take care of her. And the feeling to protect and take care of someone stems from the natural love for that person. It can not be derived from this verse that men would rule women and suppress them.
2- God has Favored some more than others: god has not named the one who is favored that clearly means in certain things man is favored more while in certain other things woman is favored more. (and why not the meaning be that the one who is worth being protected is favored more?).
3- They spend out of their wealth: yes, men are given more physical strength and responsible for the financial needs of women in most cases. But this is not the measure of their superiority over women, because it is clearly told to all men that for God only ‘Taqwa’ is the standard of superiority.
4- Righteous women are (meant to be) devoted and to guard what God has (willed to be) guarded even though out of sight: this refers to the sincerity and loyalty of woman with man. That is a must product of her love for man.
5- As for those (women) on whose part you fear ill-will and nasty conduct: here the word ‘fear’ tells that it is only when man feels some kind of ill-will in woman’s conduct, then he is directed to;
6- Admonish them (first): in order to ensure that his fear has some basis, he is directed to talk to her, warn her orcaution her.
7- Leave them alone in beds: then as a next step terminate any physical/ sexual relationship with her. This is again to show her and make her realize the distance that her behavior is causing between them. (But actually it is seen that the men who beat their women and misbehave with them have more kids).
8- Strike them or separate them?: as the next step is the woman continues with her ill-will and nasty conduct thenstrike them? Now the word used in Qura’an is “Idriboo-hunn” from the root word “Daraabaa”. This one word in Arabic has multiple meanings and is used in Quran many times with different meanings, such as:
· To travel, to get out: 3:156; 4:101; 38:44; 73:20; 2:273
· To strike: 2:60,73; 7:160; 8:12; 20:77; 24:31; 26:63; 37:93; 47:4
· To beat: 8:50; 47:27
· To set up: 43:58; 57:13
· To give (examples): 14:24,45; 16:75,76,112; 18:32,45; 24:35; 30:28,58; 36:78;39:27,29; 43:17; 59:21; 66:10,11
· To separate, to ignore: 43:5
· To condemn: 2:61
· To seal, to draw over: 18:11
· To cover: 24:31
· To explain: 13:17
It is unfortunate to see that most scholars have interpreted this word in the meaning of hitting, beating or striking. Arabic is a vast language and there are various words that take different meaning according to the context.
As a common person who is not a religious scholar or a language specialist, the question hits my mind that if Allah Almighty gave this commandment as a solution to treat the ill-will then how long should the husband keep beating his wife? And without specifying an object to strike the wife? In my own understanding this is NOT POSSIBLE especially when Allah tells Husbands to treat their wives with “extreme kindness” (Quran 4:19).
Why can’t this word be translated as ‘separate them’? as it is more logical and makes sense that if a wife has ill-will and is unfaithful to her husband she should be separated. Ill-will and unfaithfulness is related to a mental state and It does not make a sense that striking physically will change that mental state?
Taking that principle ahead can we deduce that beating someone to have their loyalty can work positively? Do we get any single evidence of that from the history of seerah and from Quran also?
9- But if they are loyal you, then seek nothing against them. Behold, God is most high and great: But if they are loyal with men then they should not seek anything negative against them neither in thinking nor in actions.
Allah knows best!