Beat your wives?
This came up on Planet Bahai in August 2008. The question is, does the Quran really say that a man may beat a disloyal wife, at Quran 4:34 which in this translation reads:
But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them.
It is a bad translation. I think the Arabic does not say “beat them” but
rather “leave them” — as in the Bahai year of patience, a withdrawal and
separation that is not (yet) a divorce.
We have to remember that the first written versions of the Quran had no
vocalisation, in other words, they left out short vowels and other signs
that tell us how to read the letters that are written. Arabic verbs have
many “forms” with different meanings, like the English verbs press –
repress – depress – pressurize.
One of the things that is used to mark
these forms is a letter alif at the beginning, which marks the 4th form of
the verb. You can think of the alif as a standard suffix, like English re-
But – here’s the crunch – the aleph at the beginning is also the marker
for the imperative (and of the interrogative, but that is not relevant
here), so in a text without the short vowels written, an imperative looks
the same as the 4th form of the verb, and also the same as the imperative
of the 4th form (because the alif is not doubled, one alif does both
The verb in this case is d-r-b. Daraba means “he beat.” So the meaning of
the first form is “beat,” while one of the meanings of the 4th form is
The form in this verse of the Quran is | D r b
This could mean, you must beat (imperative of first form). Or it
could mean “you leave” or it could mean “you must leave”
If we take it as an imperative of the 4th form, it would be
pronounced ad.ribuu-hunna and the translation would be you (masculine
plural ‘you’) shall withdraw from them.
Sequentially: he tells them first to admonish their wives, then
refuse to share their beds, then withdraw from them, then (next
verse) appoint arbiters from the families. That is a logical
Beating your wife might not be the best thing to do, if your next step is to seek arbiters from her family to achieve a reconciliation. But separation might be a good thing prior to reconciliation. In terms of progressive revelation, the two Quran verses throw some light on what Baha’u’llah would have expected a couple and their families to be doing during the Bahai year of patience
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