The Hadith: Do not beat your wife as you beat your slave-girl

A narration in Sunan Abu Da’ood[1] states that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: Do not beat your wife as you beat your slave girl.

The full narration is lengthy so let us take a look at the relevant paragraph from it.

 قَالَ قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ لِي امْرَأَةً وَإِنَّ فِي لِسَانِهَا شَيْئًا يَعْنِي الْبَذَاءَ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ فَطَلِّقْهَا إِذًا ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ لَهَا صُحْبَةً وَلِي مِنْهَا وَلَدٌ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ فَمُرْهَا – يَقُولُ عِظْهَا – فَإِنْ يَكُ فِيهَا خَيْرٌ فَسَتَفْعَلُ وَلاَ تَضْرِبْ ظَعِينَتَكَ كَضَرْبِكَ أُمَيَّتَكَ

I (the narrator Laqit) then said: Messenger of Allah, I have a wife who has something (wrong) in her tongue, i.e. she is insolent. He said: Then divorce her. I said: Messenger of Allah, she had company with me and I have children from her. He said: Then ask her (to obey you). If there is something good in her, she will do so (obey); and do not beat your wife as you beat your slave-girl.[1]

The full context indicates that this was a way of explaining or conveying the message of not beating the wife. It also does not encourage beating of slave girls.

Al-Khattabi states:

 وإنما فيه النهي عن تبريح الضرب كما يضرب المماليك في عادات من يستجيز ضربهم، ويستعمل سوء الملكة فيهم. وتمثله بضرب المماليك لا يوجب إباحة ضربهم، وإنما جرى ذكره في هذا على طريق الذم لأفعالهم ونهاه عن الاقتداء بها وقد نهى صلى الله عليه وسلم عن ضرب المماليك إلاّ في الحدود وأمرنا بالإحسان إليهم.

It forbids severe beating like the beating of the slaves by the one who beats them and makes wrong use of his authority with regards to them. And the similitude of beating the slaves does not mean permissibility of beating them. The mention of it is made by the way of condemnation of their deeds and it prohibit imitating the same. Verily the Prophet (ﷺ) has prohibited the beating of the slaves except by the way of prescribed punishments (hudood) and he has ordered to be kind towards them.[2]

Likewise as-Sindi states:

، والتشبيه ليس لإباحة ضرب المماليك، بل لأنه مما جرى به عادتهم

And the similitude is not provided in order to denote the permissibility of beating the slaves rather it was utilized because it was general practice (i.e. in seventh century Arabia) for slaved to be beaten.[3]

The statement was spoken as a similitude and the beating of slave was mentioned as an example. If one were to say that so-and-so treats his friends like animals, this would mean that he treats them poorly and would not indicate as to how he treats animals. Perhaps this person is very nice towards animals; the statement is a figure of speech. Similarly, not treating ones wife as a slave-girl is to be understood in like manner.

Moreover, this can be confirmed by the fact that the narrator Laqit Ibn Sabirah had come to the Prophet (ﷺ) as a part of a delegation from Iraq from the tribe of Banu al-Muntafiq. For ‘as you beat your slave-girl’ to be literal, the Prophet (ﷺ) would have to know Laqit Ibn Sabirah quite well from well before and would have to know how he treats his slave-girls and would even have to know if he had any slave girls or not.

Moreover, the Prophet (ﷺ) has explicitly stated as to how to treat the slaves.

Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari reported: “When I was beating my servant, I heard a voice behind me (saying): Abu Mas’ud, bear in mind Allah has more dominance over you than you have upon him. I turned and (found him) to be Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ). I said: Allah’s Messenger, I set him free for the sake of Allah. Thereupon he said: Had you not done that, (the gates of) Hell would have opened for you, or the fire would have burnt you.[4]

“Zadhan reported that Ibn Umar called his slave and he found the marks (of beating) upon his back. He said to him: I have caused you pain. He said: No. But he (Ibn Umar) said: You are free. He then took hold of something from the earth and said: There is no reward for me even to the weight equal to it. I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: He who beats a slave without cognizable offence of his or slaps him, then expiation for it is that he should set him free.[5]

Narrated Al-Ma’rur: At Ar-Rabadha I met Abu Dhar who was wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a similar one. I asked about the reason for it. He replied, “I abused a person by calling his mother with bad names.”  The Prophet said to me, ‘O Abu Dhar! Did you abuse him by calling his mother with bad names You still have some characteristics of ignorance. Your slaves are your brothersand Allah has put them under your command. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them.’[6]

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “When the slave of anyone amongst you prepares food for him and he serves him after having sat close to (and undergoing the hardship of) heat and smoke, he should make him (the slave) sit along with him and make him eat (along with him), and if the food seems to run short, then he should spare some portion for him (from his own share) – (another narrator) Dawud said:” i. e. a morsel or two”.[7]

Narrated AbuDharr:  “The Prophet (ﷺ) said: Feed those of your slaves who please you from what you eat and clothe them with what you clothe yourselves, but sell those who do not please you and do not punish Allah’s creatures.[8]

Indeed, Allah knows best.


[1] Book 1, Hadith 56

[2] Ma’alim al-Sunan

[3] Hashia ‘ala Musnad

[4] Sahih Muslim, book 15, no. 4088

[5] Sahih Muslim, book 15, no. 4079

[6] Sahih Bukhari, vol 1, book 2, no. 29

[7] Sahih Muslim, book 15, no. 4096/4097

[8] Sunan Abu Da’ood, book 41, no. 5142

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8 thoughts on “The Hadith: Do not beat your wife as you beat your slave-girl

  1. Well, there’s also this too to try to defend: Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 132:
    “Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Zam’a:
    The Prophet said, “None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day.” The work of the Islam apologist is never done.
    Which is a wiser statement for Muhammad to make:

    A) “None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day.”

    or

    B) NONE OF YOU SHOULD OWN SLAVES, NONE OF YOU SHOULD FLOG SLAVES, AND NONE OF YOU SHOULD FLOG YOUR WIFE ?

    Do please explain why it was better for Muhammad not to prohibit beating slaves, and beating wives, and owning slaves when he had the chance.
    If Muhammad had prohibited slavery, do you truly believe that Muslims would have enslaved people for centuries?

    • It appears you have not read the article to which you are commenting. In case you have read it, you haven’t understood it. Now I’m having difficulty as to how to explain it to you in more clearer terms than what has been written above! The other narrations you quote have more or less the same words and the explanation is also the same. Perhaps these lines from the passage would clarify the concept to you.

      If one were to say that so-and-so treats his friends like animals, this would mean that he treats them poorly and would not indicate as to how he treats animals. Perhaps this person is very nice towards animals; the statement is a figure of speech. Similarly, not treating one’s wife as a slave-girl is to be understood in like manner.

      As to the slave beating, you have again ignored everything from the article and made comments. Read the references four to eight.

      If you don’t like reading, I’ll make it easier for you through a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGy4Osb_Pt8

      Relax and do not make the hate of Islam your life mission.

      • If Muhammad had simply said: “None of you should own a slave,” would the Muslims have been involved in the slave trade for centuries? YES OR NO?
        You write: “Similarly, not treating one’s wife as a slave-girl is to be understood in like manner.” So is it then okay to treat a slave girl poorly? In any case, Muhammad placed a restriction on what he said. He said: “None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave AND THEN HAVE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE WITH HER IN THE LAST PART OF THE DAY.” Muhammad did NOT have to add that last part (about the sexual intercourse) but he chose to do so. Consequently, we can infer that on days that a husband does not have sexual intercourse with his wife, he can flog her just as badly as he flogs a slave girl.
        You provide hadiths in which Muhammad encouraged some measure of kindness toward slaves. This does not mean that the Sahih Bukhari hadith I provided is incorrect. All this means is that Muhammad FORGOT WHAT HE SAID EARLIER. That Muhammad could be forgetful is attested to by his wife Aisha: Muhammad’s wife, Aisha, recalls: Narrated: Aisha
        “The Prophet (SAW) heard a man (reciting Quran) in the Mosque, and he said, “May Allah bestow His Mercy upon him. No doubt, he made me remember such-and such Verses of such-and-such Sura which I DROPPED (FROM MY MEMORY).” [Sahih Bukhari, 3:823].
        You are far more moral than Muhammad ever was. There is no need for you to continue to surrender your brain to him. If you need a god you can use your own imagination to derive your own god, rather than rely on the god of Muhammad’s imagination.

      • It’s not that simple, buddy. I know from our perspective today slavery is indeed a bad thing but it was not considered inherently evil in the past. However, you will be surprised, Prophet Muhammad (s) did consider it bad and devised policies that it eventually ended. He outright abolished enslaving people straight away and as for the question re. those ‘already enslaved’ from before, then he devised great policies that eventually led them to freedom. If you free a person living his whole life in slavery, you expect the freed slave to thrive or even survive? Those who know no skills or art would die miserably and hence, the Prophet (s) instructed the people to teach the slaves skills; moreover, when people came to him to ask for an expiation for a sin, he would say ‘free a slave’. Freeing a slave was considered a very noble act and many a times, the freed slave would remain with the former owner. If you’ve watched Games of Thrones, you will perhaps appreciate how this culture works (the freed slaves wanted to return to slavery happily and the queen was shocked about it).

        I suggest reading this for a bit of background info on the matter: https://qurananswers.me/2016/03/05/black-slaves-of-the-white-prophet/ The links quoted are also essential to read.

        Who were taken as slaves if taking in new slaves was prohibited? The enemy combatants! You may use the word ‘slave’ for them or alternatively, you may call them ‘enemy combatant prisoners’. If you have a choice of being sent to prison for the rest of your life or live as a ‘slave’ with someone, in their home, what would you choose? Mind you, the term slave does injustice to this concept because the ‘captive’ eats the same as the holder, he is not to be beaten, not to be given excess work and the holder must assist him with his work, the one who holds him cannot eat while he remains hungry and so on. The ‘captive’ also moves freely, gets sunlight, roams around and everything else a free person does. Compare this with the prison system in the US. I am more than certain, if given the choice, everyone in US prison would choose the Islamic slavery.

        Don’t be put off by the European/American slave trade – beating, whipping, torturing a ‘captive’ is forbidden in Islam. Moreover, Robert Nichols states: “The nineteenth century British imperial system developed indentured and ‘contract labour recruitment’ to operate commercial plantations from Caribbean to Fiji. This has been studied as a substitute for abolished slave labour and as an ideological system creating permanent, docile worker pools”. The British ‘reformed’ slavery into modern employment system and this is what Islam had done centuries ago. I know semantics hurt and the word ‘slave’ gives a negative connotation but Islam is far from it.

        Regarding, the beating of slave girl part, you misunderstood the point and missed out on some important details mentioned right there in the piece. ‘And the similitude of beating the slaves does not mean permissibility of beating them. The mention of it is made by the way of condemnation of their deeds and it prohibit imitating the same.’

        The statement was spoken as a similitude and the beating of slave was mentioned as an example. If one were to say that so-and-so treats his friends like animals, this would mean that he treats them poorly and would not indicate as to how he treats animals. Perhaps this person is very nice towards animals; the statement is a figure of speech. Figures of speech in different languages vary.

        If you appreciate my morals, you should appreciate the source as well and the source is what you criticize.

  2. Abu Rahma, you write: “If you free a person living his whole life in slavery, you expect the freed slave to thrive or even survive? Those who know no skills or art would die miserably” Not only is this ridiculous, it is inconsistent with other statements you make. For you also write: “Freeing a slave was considered a very noble act” NOW HOW COULD IT POSSIBLY BE A NOBLE ACT IF THE SLAVE COULD NOT SURVIVE BEING FREE??? Please respond. And why would you ever free a slave “for expiation of a sin” if the slave could not possibly survive unless he or she was enslaved? And please, please don’t respond that the Muslims knew skills to survive, but those they enslaved did not. Such arrogance!! Here are some hadiths for you to consider: “Narrated Sahl: Allah’s Apostle sent someone to a woman telling her to “Order her slave, carpenter, to prepare a wooden pulpit for him to sit on.” (Bukhari) and “Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet sent for a slave who had the profession of cupping, and he cupped him.” (Bukhari) and “Narrated Abu Mas’ud: There was an Ansari man called Abu Shu’aib who had a slave butcher.” (Bukhari). So at least some slaves had skills to survive, but Muhammad and his merry men continued to enslave them.
    You write: “Who were taken as slaves if taking in new slaves was prohibited? The enemy combatants!” This is far from being completely true. For Muhammad and his merry men would enslave WOMEN, who definitely were NOT enemy combatants. Not just that, but Muhammad accepted as a gift, Mariyah the Copt, and her sister Sirin, AND HE GAVE HER SISTER TO ANOTHER MUSLIM. You, of course, approve of all this. Muhammad can do absolutely no wrong in your eyes. You have chosen to surrender your brain to him.

    Muhammad permits SEXUAL SLAVERY. Please do consider Quran 70:29-30, in which your allah indicates that it is okay for a married Muslim to commit adultery with his slave. But what I find particularly galling and obnoxious were these words found at the link you provided: “slaves were treated with honour and dignity.”

    HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOUR OWN MOTHER OR SISTER WERE TREATED THIS WAY???

    You write: “whipping is … forbidden in Islam.” Evidently, you believe that Muhammad disapproves of the whipping of slaves. (I don’t know why you choose to believe this, given that Muhammad told you that a Muslim man is ordered to beat his wife if certain conditions arise – Quran 4:34). However, when given the chance to let people know that he definitely disapproves of whipping, this is what he chose to say: A) “None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day.” [Does Muhammad not imply that it is okay to flog your wives on days you’re not going to have sex with them?] He could have instead said: B) None of you should flog your wife, and none of you should flog a slave.” Please explain why you find what Muhammad actually said to be wiser than what he could have said. Don’t respond using the word “similitude” — I am asking WHICH IS WISER. Your response should be either A) or B) along with an explanation.

    You write: “If you have a choice of being sent to prison for the rest of your life or live as a ‘slave’ with someone, in their home, what would you choose?” These were NOT the only options. How about exiling the enemy combatants, as Muhammad chose to do with the Banu Nadir? Did the British and Americans enslave the Germans after World War 1 and World War 2?

    You provide a hadith (see above) in which Muhammad became upset seeing a slave being whipped. But was this slave being beaten for “no cognizable offense”? For you see, in another hadith that you yourself provide, Muhammad decreed “He who beats a slave WITHOUT COGNIZABLE OFFENSE of his or slaps him, then expiation for it is that he should set him free.“ Do you see those words “without cognizable offense”? Muhammad chose to add those words. We can draw these conclusions: that Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari (see above) had no reason to be beating his slave, and Muhammad knew this. More importantly, if there was a “cognizable offense” committed by a slave, THEN IT IS PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE IN ISLAM TO BEAT THAT SLAVE.” And who precisely determines what a cognizable offense is? Why the owner of the slave, of course.

    I previously indicated that you are far more moral than Muhammad ever was. I now assert that this is DESPITE ISLAM, rather than because of Islam. For example, if a married man approached you and told you that he wants to commit adultery with a lady he is holding for ransom, and asked you if this is okay provided he withdrew his penis before ejaculating, would you not respond forcefully with “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY WITH YOUR CAPTIVE. FREE YOUR CAPTIVE!”? Now do consider how Muhammad responded in a similar situation:

    One of the most striking hadiths I have found is provided below:
    “We [Muhammad’s merry men] went out with Allah’s messenger on the expedition to the Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing azl” (withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception). But we said: “We are doing an act whereas Allah’s messenger [i.e., Muhammad] is amongst us; why not ask him?” So we asked Allah’s messenger and he said: “It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born”. (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, #3371)
    Tellingly, the role model of the Muslims, Muhammad, does not exclaim:
    “DO NOT FORNICATE WITH THE CAPTIVES!”

    Nor does he exclaim to the married men: “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY WITH THE CAPTIVES!!”

    Finally, we note that he does not yell: “DO NOT RAPE THE CAPTIVES!!!”

    Now then: you are more moral than Muhammad, aren’t you?

    • There is nothing ridiculous about slaves not possessing skills for self-survival nor is there any contradiction in their lack of skills and freeing them. Islam encouraged the believers to teach skills to their slaves. At the same time, it does not mean that unskilled ones may not be freed. Many times, the slaves stayed with their ex-masters with a new status they enjoyed. They did not carry the slave status but chose to remain with those who freed them on their own will. I don’t understand what you find ridiculous about any of it.

      Prophet Muhammad did not own a single slave when he passed away. He had freed them all. Moreover, he enacted laws and regulations which, if you were to read and understand properly, you would appreciate. The slave eats the same as his client, cannot be beaten or overburdened with work and so on. Don’t picture the American slave trade and whipping and torture when you read the Prophetic slave treatment. An immediate end to slavery would have been a disaster and the gradual end makes perfect sense. At the same time, kidnapping and enslaving was outright prohibited; what remained was those already in slavery (who were gradually released) and holding enemy combatants. For the latter, you may call them slaves or you may call them captive enemy combatants, it is up to you and it is purely semantics.

      Re. enslaving women, this shows your lack of understanding of not just the cultures of the past but also of Islamic rules. Women were not captured and enslaved. If a tribe is fought against and the men are punished, what would you expect to be done to the women? You expect them to be left on their own to die a slow and miserable death? Why would you find the idea of sponsoring them and honoring them problematic? When they enter Muslim sphere, they not only retain their freedom and lives intact but also live with dignity and honour and continue to live normal and routine lives where they are taken care of in all ways. If you open a ‘center of women home’, you would only provide them the very basics; their other needs of companionship, intimacy, of loving and being loved, of further freedoms would not exist in such a ‘home’. Islam incorporated these women into society and provided them good lives and if you had read the basics of Muslim history, you would have learned about so many rulers born to such women. Not only that they even had their own dynasties. Try to equal that with other examples in history.

      I can’t believe you’re still stuck at 4:34. Read more here: http://bit.ly/2zh3MPW

      You repeat the same thing about flogging wife like slave-girl which I had addressed earlier. What do I do now? Do I copy/paste or what? If you object to the style of speech in another language, then that is your problem; don’t project it on Islam or Muslims. I even gave examples from the English language where somewhat similar usage makes sense but you don’t seem to understand.

      I don’t understand what your issue is. Why have you opened a complete website dedicated to hate? Please do something useful with your life instead of wasting it away like this.

      Why are you so concerned with the safety of enemies of Muslims? They worked for the genocide of Muslims not just with words but with their swords; if the Muslims punished them, why do you find it problematic? Why do you want the easier option for them and why is your hate for Muslims making you think this way?

      You ask: “Did the British and Americans enslave the Germans after World War 1 and World War 2?” If you had read the basics of what the British and Americans did to Germans after the war (esp. the mass rape), you would shake with fear and you would wish that Islamic rules had been followed.

      I hope you come out of your hate and also speak of genocide against the Muslims happening now (Myanmar, CAR) and in the recent past (Bosnia) and stop picturing yourself in the wrong camp.

      Re. your cognizable offense part, I find it very silly to be honest and find it to be arguing for the sake of argument. You take a free ride with the word ‘beat’ and let your imagination run wild. I hope it’s not the militant Hindu RSS inspired thinking that lets the imagination run brutal. You’ve let your imagination out of control yet couldn’t think of a scenario where a person may be justified to be beaten! How about if someone misbehaves with your wife, would you consider it a cognizable offense worthy of being smacked? Moreover, you should know that there is no vigilantism in Islam and the relationship between theoretical slave owner and his theoretical slave is no different.

      You end your tirade with the Hadith of Banu Mustaliq. I suggest you read this piece with concentration: http://bit.ly/2zhQSRI

      It is not at all possible for any human being to be more moral than the Prophet (ﷺ).

  3. I now believe that I may have in past posts within this thread referred to too many issues in a single post. Consequently, in this particular post I shall not consider the acceptability of Muslims flogging their slaves, or even the acceptability of Muslims owning slaves to begin with.
    Instead, I will focus on an aspect that on this particular thread has been neglected somewhat. That is, the flogging of the wives. We recall the hadith in question:
    “Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Zam’a:
    The Prophet said, 1) “None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day.” (Bukhari).

    This is what Muhammad could have instead said:

    2) “NEVER FLOG YOUR WIFE.” [quick, clear, concise].

    So our question for Mr. Rahma is: which statement is wiser: 1) or 2)?

    A few remarks may be in order with regards to the actual statement made by Muhammad. Clearly, he envisaged two different levels of flogging for the wives: a level of reduced hurting for the wives on days in which there is sex, and a more pain-intense level on days in which there is no sex. Yes, Muhammad did not want the poor women lying during sex on backs that have been bruised. Undoubtedly, Mr. Rahma is thinking “I have such a great, compassionate prophet!”

    • You ask which statement is wiser. If you were being addressed in your native language, even a complicated one would be wise for you. In my language, there is a saying: “He was beaten like a dog” and anyone who knows this language would understand it properly; he or she would not think that beating dogs is allowed or a good thing.

      Whatever else you wrote is your understanding and I hope you’ll ponder over it to see that it is only ‘read into it’ while there is no reality to it.

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