Men are the full maintainers of women, because Allâh has made one of them excel the other, and because men spend out of their wealth on them. So virtuous women are those who are obedient (to Allâh) and guard (their own chastity as well as the rights and secrets of their husbands even) in (their) absence, as Allâh has guarded (the women’s rights). As for those women (on whose part) you apprehend disobedience and bad behavior, you may admonish them (first lovingly) and (then) refuse to share their beds with them and (as a last resort) punish them (mildly). If they, then, obey you, you shall seek no other way against them. Indeed, Allâh alone is High, (and) Great. Q4:34
This verse lays down a big responsibility of maintaining and sustaining women and provides guidelines in case of family disputes. Qawwâmûn قَوَّامُونَ is derived from qâma and means one who manages affairs well; who sets things right; who stands firm in another’s business; who protects his or her interest and looks after his or her affairs; or a maintainer or a sustainer (Lisân, Tâj). Thus, the word combines the concept of physical maintenance with that of moral and financial responsibility. Qawwâmûn قَوَّامُونَ is an intensive form of, and thus more comprehensive than qaim. The verse describes the responsibilities of men in a family, as embedded in the word qawwâm.
وَاللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ ۖ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا ۗ
Nashûz means, disobedience, rebellion, ill will, deliberate bad behavior, and desertion, rising against someone, resisting, or hating (Tâj, Qâmûs). Abu Hayyân explains it as moving out of the married couple’s home against the wishes of the husband (Bahr-ul-Muhît). It also includes what is now frequently described as “mental cruelty, and persistent breach of marital obligations.”
In such a situation, three steps are mentioned that can be taken in the following order: verbal advice and admonition, temporary suspension of conjugal relations, and, lastly, some other kind of symbolic punishment.
Inflicting physical punishment on women was sadly common in many societies, and, unfortunately, some men derive the legitimacy of punishing their wives from the word Adzribû stated in this verse. Adzribû is derived from dzaraba, a word with a great variety of meanings and interpretations in the Arabic language and in the Holy Qur’ân. Such meanings include to heal, strike, put forward an example, put forth a parable, make a journey, move away, travel, mix, cover, impose, prevent, or take something away. This word has been used in the Holy Qur’ân fifty-eight times with different meanings (cf. 30:28; 43:5; 2:273; 2:60; 2:61;18:11;57:13).
Thus, Adzribû does not mean here to strike physically and it certainly does not mean to inflict physical punishment on women. Meanings such as “take something away” or “put forth an example” (symbolically) can be used as the translation of this word here.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “You will not find these men as the best among you who punish their wives” (Dâwûd 12/42). Also, He rhetorically asked, “Could any of you beat his wife and then lie with her in the evening?” (Bukhârî). Ibn ‘Abbâs says the most extreme punishment may be with a toothbrush or something lighter than this (Bahr-ul-Muhît). Therefore, the last resort of punishment must be symbolic. According to Imâm Shâfî’, it is preferable not to resort to chastisement of one’s wife (Râzî).
The measures mentioned in the verse are not to remain in force for an indefinite period: wives are not to be left “like a thing suspended” (cf. 4:129). Four months, according to the Holy Qur’ân, is the utmost limit for abstention from conjugal relations. If all this fails, counsel is recommended in the next verse. This may allow family disputes to be settled without undesirable publicity or the formal procedures of the law courts. The arbiters for each family are in theory acquainted with the cause(s) of the difference and the characters of both parties. It is also often easier for both spouses to present their cases to a third party and for the arbiters to effect a real reconciliation. If all hopes of reconciliation fail, a divorce or Khula is allowed as a last resort.
May Allah safeguard us all.