Dr. Jamal Badawi is an Egyptian born Muslim Canadian scholar. He is a former professor who taught at a number of schools including the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he taught in the Departments of Religious Studies and Management.
Here is an excerpt from Badawi’s book “Gender Equity in Islam”:
In the event of a family dispute, the Qur’an exhorts the husband to treat his wife kindly and not to overlook her positive aspects. If the problem relates to the wife’s behavior, her husband may exhort her and appeal for reason. In most cases, this measure is likely to be sufficient. In cases where the problem continues, the husband may express his displeasure in another peaceful manner by sleeping in a separate bed from hers. There are cases, however where a wife persists in deliberate mistreatment of her husband and disregard for her marital obligations. Instead of divorce, the husband may resort to another measure that may save the marriage, at least in some cases. Such a measure is more accurately described as a gentle tap on the body, but never on the face, making it more of a symbolic measure than a punitive one. Following is the related Qur’anic text:
Men are the protectors and maintains 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 you 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). (Qur’an 4:34)
Even here, that maximum measure is limited by the following:
It must be seen as a rare exception to the repeated exhortation of mutual respect, kindness and good treatment discussed earlier. Based on the Qur’an and Hadeeth, this measure may be used in the case of lewdness on the part of the wife or extreme refraction and rejection of the husband’s reasonable requests on a consistent basis (nushuz). Even then other measures such as exhortation should be tried first.
As defined by the Hadeeth, it is not permissible to strike anyone’s face, cause any bodily harm or even be harsh. What the Hadeeth qualified as dharban ghayra mubarrih or light beating was interpreted by early jurists as a (symbolical) use of the miswak (a small natural toothbrush).
They further qualified permissible “beating” as beating that leaves no mark on the body. It is interesting that this latter fourteen centuries old qualifier is the criterion used in contemporary American law to separate a light and harmless tap or strike from “abuse” in the legal sense. This makes it clear that even this extreme, last resort and “lesser of the two evils” measure that may save the marriage does not meet the definitions of “physical abuse,” “family violence,” of “wife battering” in the twentieth century laws in liberal democracies, where such extremes are commonplace that they are seen as national concerns.