[In the light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 34]
The text turns to women who are either straight disobedient to their husbands or fail to cooperate with them in running family affairs in the recognized manner. The Qur’an gives men three methods of correcting their behavior. These are to be followed in the order they have been mentioned. So, the ayah says:
وَاللَّـتِى تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِى الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ
It means, if you fear or face disobedience from women, the first steps towards their correction is that you should talk it over with them nicely and softly. Still, if they remain adamant and do not change their attitude by conciliatory counsel alone, the next step is not to share the same bed with them, so that they may realize the displeasure of the husband as expressed through this symbolic separation, and may feel sorry for their conduct.
The Qur’an uses the words:
at this point, meaning ‘in the bed’. It is from here that Muslim jurists have deduced that this staying apart should be limited to ‘beds’ and not to the ‘house’ itself. In other words, the woman should not be left alone in the house, something which is bound to hurt her feeling much more and which makes the possibility of further straining of relations far stronger.
A Companions reports:
I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, what right do our wives have on us?’ He said: ‘That you feed them when you eat; provide them with apparels to wear when you have these for yourselves; and do not hit the face; and do not say abuses to her; and do not leave them apart unless it be within the house.’ [Mishkat, p.281]
If this gentle admonition fails to produce any effect, some corrective form of a little ‘beating’ has also been allowed as a last resort, of course, in a manner that it does not affect the body, nor goes to the undesirable limits of hurt or injury to the skin or bones. As for slapping or hitting on the face, it is absolutely forbidden.
The first two methods of admonition, that is seeking to convince and leaving apart in beds, are more or less an exercise in nobility against arrogant lack of compromise. Prophets and their righteous followers have spoken in favor of it. That they practiced what they preached is also a proved fact. But, this third method of admonition, that is, beating, has been permitted as a forced option in a particular mode. Right along with this option given to men, it appears in hadith that ‘good men among you will never beat women’. Thus, such an action is nowhere reported from the blessed prophets of Allah.
According to a narration from the daughter of Abu Bakr radhiAllahu anhu as reported by Ibn Sa’d and al-Baihaqi, the beating of women was absolutely prohibited in the early days, but this resulted in their becoming much too oppressive, following which the permission was reinstated.
The present ayah relates to one such event, which can be termed as the background its revelation. Zayd ibn Zuhayr radhiAllahu anhu had married his daughter, Habibah radhiAllahu anha to Sa’d ibn Rabi’ radhiAllahu anhu. During a dispute over something, the husband slapped her. Habibah complained to her father. He took her to the Prophet sallallahu aalyhi wa sallam. He declared the Habibah has the right to hit Sa’d as hard as he did. Hearing this decision they started back home to take their revenge upon Sa’d. Thereupon, this Ayah was revealed in which the beating of woman as the very last option has been permitted, and no retaliation or revenge against men was allowed. So, soon after the revelation of this ayah, the Prophet called both of them back and asked them to abide by the command from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, and abrogated his first directive permitting the seeking of revenge.
Towards the end of the ayah, it is said: ‘Then, if they obey you, do seek no means against them’. It means that should the women mend themselves after that triple-stepped approach, men should forgive and forgo the past events and avoid looking for ways to find fault with them on flimsy issues as the power of Allah controls everything.
[Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]