A brief analysis of Quran 4:34

The Right to Protection

By modern standards one might accuse the Qur’an of being chauvinist book because it insists that men inherently protect women. In our time men largely go unacknowledged in the West when they play the role of protector but are shamed when they fail to protect women. The verse we will discuss under this title is often also used to prove that men must financially support women. However, I will demonstrate that the part of this verse that relates to men is not an order at all, but merely a statement (4:34):

Men are in charge of and charged with protecting women by what Allāh has given one over the other and what they spend from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allāh would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – advise them; forsake them in bed; and, strike them. But if they obey you, seek no means against them. Indeed, Allāh is ever Exalted and Grand.

When we read the Surah al Nisa and the long discussion around the duties of men towards looking after women financially where women are dependents it is clear that the verse above (4:34) starts with a general statement. Men are in charge of women by virtue of what they excel in strength and ability is a statement of fact and not a command. This is a general statement regarding men in society and women in society. The subject isn’t about marriage just yet. In fact, when a woman is assaulted on the street and a man stands up to another man in defence of her, he is exercising his strength and abilities to protect her. She may not be related to him. In fact, he may not even know her name. Also at a societal level men spend their labour to build the world in which women are safe and where they can enjoy the comforts that come with male invention, innovation and tenacity. Most of what we enjoy in the world are trappings of male minds and labour.

The point that most interpreters of the Qur’an miss is that this verse is a plural address. It doesn’t say, ‘a man is a protector of a woman.’ It says, men are in general protectors of women in general, because of what God provisioned one over the other, and that they men generally and collectively spend their wealth on women. These are statements of fact. The instructions only start by addressing women: “Righteous women are devoutly obedience, guarding what Allah would have them guard assuming that is the general condition. Then comes the aberration: those specific women whom you fear disobedience from, carry out the punitive measures as an act of discipline until they mend their ways and obey you once again. This is not one woman trying to challenge her husband. Society doesn’t fear disobedience from one woman. This is talking about a trend that started. There is a segment of women who are wives that are misbehaving or threatening misbehaviour. The idea is not simply that they are trying to undermine a marriage, rather the idea is that they are collectively trying to undermine a social order. When you look at it from that perspective you realise that this is referring to an act of communal governance. Corporal punishment here is no less than any punishment carried out within a community or organisation. It’s not unlike someone who goes to jail for a misdemeanour.

The Qur’an is teaching us that while women have the right to protection, it is not one man or two men that protect women. It is the society of men that protect women, and it is the society of men that look after women with their wealth. The streets women walk on were built by men who weren’t their husbands. The police officers who respond to the call of a woman in distress is often a man. However, for the system to work, women must be obedient to male authority, whether that be their fathers, their uncles, their brothers, the King or President. However, if they are not then the measures to be taken against them falls on the husband. In other words, the society of men are supposed to form a brotherhood and collectively keep society in tact and women in their place. However, a strange man cannot discipline a woman. The disciplinary action must come from inside her house. That’s what the verse is actually talking about. It’s not talking about domestic violence and marriage disputes.

To conclude, women have the right to be protected. However, that right is fulfilled by men of the society and not just by the men of her family or her husband. One man can never protect his women by himself if the society is lawless and dangerous. Not unless he forms a gang and they all walk around with submachine guns and drive around in bullet proof vehicles. When the Qur’an tells us that men are the protectors and in charge of women, it’s because that’s how society operates in reality and if women are being raped and abused it is because the society is broken. The society becomes broken when men allow women to do whatever they feel like and they do not keep them in check. The sentiments women carry towards forgiving all criminals and mothering every deviant ultimately breaks down law and order. Instead of that happening, Allah is telling you to reign in your women even if you must hit them so that they can know that it is not their place to take sympathy as against the laws of Allah or try to overthrow the social order that enables their protection through the agency of men. There is nothing bad men love more than a society in which they have access to all women and where they can play around all day sleeping around with thousands of women who ‘can protect themselves.’ In fact, that’s what they want for our women under the guise of liberation. Our women will only be considered free when they are free to sleep around.

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