Critics of Islam often claim that the Qur’an allows Muslim men to beat their wives into submission. Meanwhile, Westernized Muslims assure us that Islam promotes women's rights and the equality of men and women. Who's right? Let's turn to the Qur'an to see what Allah says about violence against women. Consider three translations of Surah 4, Verse 34 of the Qur'an:
Qur'an 4:34 (Pickthall)—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 what 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.
Qur'an 4:34 (Ali)—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).
This verse speaks for itself, but here are a few quick observations.
Second, the beating seems to be the last step in a series of increasingly harsh punishments. If a Muslim fears disobedience from his wife, he should first warn her (that her duty is to obey her husband). If his fears persist, he should next banish her to a separate bed. Finally, if he continues to fear disobedience, he should beat her into submission.
Third, notice that Yusuf Ali adds the word "lightly" in parentheses. The word "lightly" isn't in the Arabic of this verse. According to Islam, the Qur'an is perfect and clear. Isn't it interesting that Muslim translators believe that they can improve the Qur'an by watering down its teachings?
Fourth, if a wife "returns to obedience" (i.e., if the husband's fear of disobedience subsides), the husband is supposed to stop punishing her. This suggests that he should continue beating her until he becomes convinced that he has nothing to fear.
There are numerous important ahadith and commentaries on the topic of wife-beating, but the emphasis here has been on what the Qur'an says. As we have seen, the Qur'an (which claims to be perfectly clear in its commands) tells Muslims that they should beat rebellious wives (or potentially rebellious wives) into submission, perhaps after warning them and banishing them to separate beds. Hence, as embarrassing as this is to Western Muslims, the Qur'an certainly allows men to beat their wives.
For more on women in Islam, visit Answering Islam's "Women" page.