What comes out as a basic principle from this ayah is that, no doubt the rights of men and women are similar as detailed in previous ayaat, yet great care has been taken to ensure that the rights of men and women are duly fulfilled because they are weaker as compared to men and cannot wrest rights from men by using their physical power. But this equality in rights does not mean that there should be no difference of given graces or functional precedences between men and women. That men have been given a degree of precedence over women is a manifestation of Divine wisdom and justice. There are two reasons for it:
1. The genus of man, in view of its mental-physical excellences, has God-given precedence over the genus of woman, which is not possible for the woman to acquire. The case of individuals and rarities is a different matter.
2. Men take care of everything women need from what they earn and have. The first reason given above is something over which men or women have no control, while the second reason is something which becomes operative by choice and effort. It can also be said here that according to the common sense and justice, there should be two things present while deciding as to who, from among the children of one father and mother, shall be technically authorized to take care of the other.
First: Whoever is so authorized should have the mental-physical capability to carry out the demands of authority. Second: The agreement and pleasure of the one to be taken care of under such authority.
The first reason mentioned by the Qur’an in the words:
focuses on the ability of man to function with authority while the second reason mentioned in the words
refers to the agreement and pleasure of the party which would operate under that authority. It is obvious that at the time of marriage when a woman in consideration of her dower and total maintenance, agrees to enter into the marital bond – she agrees to the authority of the husband and accepts it with pleasure.
In short, the principle of family life given in the first sentence of the present ayah is that, despite the rights of men and women being equal in almost everything, there is, for men, a certain precedence laced with authority vis-à-vis women, and they operate thereunder.
Under this basic principle, there came to be two classes of women in practical life. One of them stood by this basic principle, abided by their covenant, accepted the functional authority of man and obeyed him in deference to the wise Divine arrangement. Then there was the other class of women which failed to live by this principle in its fullness. As for the first-mentioned class, it provides for itself a perfect guarantee of family peace and well-being. It needs no correction of course in its life.
Such correction is however, very much in order for the second classes of women. For this purpose, the second sentence of the ayah offers a compact system which would help correct things within the four walls of the house and the tussle between the husband and the wife would be diffused and settled for good right there without any third party having to intercede in between them.
So, men have been told: If you sense some lack of cooperation from women, the first thing you should do is to talk to them explaining things in a way which helps change their mind and attitude. If that works, the issue is resolved right there. The woman is rescued from a permanent sin and the man from an aching heart, and the two of them from some ever-stinging anguish. Now, if this person-to-person talk fails to bring results, the second stage is to sleep on a separate bed as an indicator of your displeasure, and may be as a device to bring about a change of attitude through the sending of a warning signal. This is ordinary admonition but good enough for a warning. If the woman gets the message, the dispute ends right there. But, if she ignores even this soft measure of correction and persists with her crooked ways, there is the third step in which token beating is also permitted, the extreme limit of which is that it should produce no effect on the body. The use of this method of admonition (beating of woman) was not liked by the Prophet sallallahu aalyhi wa sallam who quite on the contrary, said that gentlemen would not do that.
However, if this token reprimand as the last resort does result in normalcy of relations, the main objective stands achieved anyway. That men have been given three options to correct women in this ayah is coupled with the words
said at the end of it. It means that, should the women start listening to you after these three-step ways of correction, do not for hair-splitting and start leveling more accusations. The better course is to forgo, realizing that the measure of precedence over women given to you by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is not absolute, for the precedence of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala hangs heavy over you. If you exceed the limits set for you, it will be you who is going to take the punishment.
[Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]