Qur'an 4:34, interpreted literally, suggests that some form of beating is an appropriate punishment for a husband to administer to a disobedient wife. In this essay, we demonstrate that from the moment of its revelation, many Muslims including (according to tradition) the Prophet Muhammad himself have struggled to reconcile this verse with their consciences. In contemporary discourse, there have emerged two strands of interpretation, building on premodern interpretations: one traditionalist, which allows for limited violence against wives, and one reformist, which reinterprets the verse to argue that its intention was not to allow the beating of wives. Jurists have grappled with this verse, seeking to define and regulate its proper implementation in actual disputes between husbands and wives. In this essay, the authors identify a debate within the legal tradition (fiqh) that parallels that among Qur'anic interpreters, as premodern and contemporary legal scholars argue for and against the use of individual reason (ijtihad) or conscience in their rulings dealing with the role and status of women. Finally, they identify promising directions for future research on this issue, particularly in regard to contemporary Western democracies where Muslims are a minority.


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pp. 11-36
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