The Qur’an was sent down to a disbelieving people who treated women as second class citizens. Their view was that women’s duty is to obey men and to serve their needs. To this day, so-called religious Muslims have inherited this chauvinism. They approach the Qur’an with a pre-acquired mentality. The intention is not to totally surrender to Allah, rather to find ways to adapt the Qur’an to their twisted objectives. The verse they think they found is 4:34 quoted below:
“Men are to support women by what Allah has bestowed on them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The righteous women are obedient/dutiful women (Qaanitaat / قانتات); they keep private, the matters for which Allah would keep watch over. As for those women from whom you fear desertion, then you shall advise them, and abandon them in their sleeping place, and go away from them. Then if they yield to you (فان اطعنكم), do not seek a way over them; Allah is High, Great.” (Qur’an 4:34)
Understanding of قانتات Qaanitaat
These people fail to comprehend the word ‘qaanitaat قانتات’, women who are obedient/dutiful, which is referring to believing women who are obedient and dutiful to Allah. They say it refers to the husband. Some of these insincere people even translate the Qur’an and put their twisted interpretation in the translation. Let us see what the word actually means from a Quranic point of view.
Maryam, a devout believer, was referred to in the Qur’an using the same term:
“Maryam, daughter of Imran, she guarded her chastity, so We breathed Our spirit into her. She accepted the truth of her Lord’s words and Scriptures: she was truly obedient/dutiful (قانتين) (Qur’an 66:12)
Maryam was never known to have a husband, this word used in this verse can only refer to her being obedient to Allah alone.
The following Verse describing the believers also uses this expression:
“For submitting men and women, for believing men and women, for obedient/dutiful men and women (والقانتين والقانتات), for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (Qur’an 33:35)
As can be seen, the word is associated with only being devoted to Allah. In fact, a study of the Qur’an reveals that the root word (ق-ن-ت) has always been used in the Qur’an to refer to believing women and men who obey Allah. Here are some examples:
“Abraham was truly an example, obedient/dutiful (قانتا) to Allah and true in faith. He was not an idolater.” (Qur’an 16:120)
“…those who are steadfast, truthful, were the obedient/dutiful ones (قانتين), who spend (in Allah’s cause) and pray before dawn for forgiveness.’ (Qur’an 3:17)
“All that is in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him, everything is the obedient (قانتون) to His will.” (Qur’an 2:116)
“And stand before Allah as obedient ones (قانتين).” (Qur’an 2:238)
“Maryam, be obedient (اقنتي) to your Lord, prostrate and bow down with those who bow” (Qur’an 3:43)
“Everyone in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him, there are all the obedient ones (قانتون)” (Qur’an 30:260)
As can be seen, the word is used to refer to obeying Allah and being devoted to Him.
“Men are to support women by what Allah has bestowed on them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The righteous women (صالحات) are obedient/dutiful women (قانتات); they keep private the matters for which Allah would keep watch over. As for those women from whom you fear desertion, then you shall advise them, and abandon them in their sleeping place, and go away from them. Then If they yield to you, then do not seek a way over them; Allah is High, Great.” (Qur’an 4:34)
i.e. believing righteous women (صالحات) are obedient to Allah (قانتات) – a common Quranic theme.
To conclude, it does not make Quranic sense to say that ‘qaanitaat قانتات’ in the above verse refers to women who are obedient to the husbands. ‘Qaanitaat قانتات’ are those women who obey Allah and are dutiful to Him, just as the word is used in the rest of the Qur’an.
Understanding of “ان اطعنكم – If they yield to you / obey you”
“…As for those women from whom you fear desertion, then you shall advise them, and abandon them in their sleeping place, and go away from them. Then if they yield to you / obey you (فان اطعنكم), do not seek a way over them; Allah is High, Great.” (Qur’an 4:34)
Let us establish important aspects of the verse:
1) This verse is for a situation where there is a marital problem between the two but it is the wife who is the main contributor to the situation but is not realizing it.
2) The situation is such that marriage is on the brink of divorce as the verse after, 4:35 is suggesting ways to get the couple back together using external help.
Given this, we see that this portion of the verse, which follows after the husbands attempt at reconciliation is mentioned, is referring to a realization of the wife of her errors and thus “Then if they yield to you / obey you – فان اطعنكم” is referring her responding to the husbands attempts (i.e. “advise them, and abandon them in their sleeping place, and go away from them”) – again, in this case, the wife is in error. “if they yield to you / obey you – ان اطعنكم” here, is referring to her reverting back to understanding (the deviation from which is causing the marital problems) upon husband’s attempts. Therefore, it is not saying women must ‘obey’ their husbands in marriage.
This point is further emphasized by the use of the Arabic word “fa / ف” to link the two together, which means “Then / So / in that case”…i.e. “then (ف) if they then yield to you – فان اطعنكم”. This emphasises that this section is referring to the previous bit (the husband’s attempts at reconciliation).
Readers should be aware of a faulty translation in circulation:
“But if they return to obedience.”
This translation is erroneous as the verse originally reads:
فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلا
It does not have “return to”. This was put in by chauvinistic translators who wanted to show that originally, by default the wife must “obey” the husband (inserting “return to” would help in achieving this). The part of the verse is in verbal form referring to her responding the husbands advice, which they changed to nominal form to help spread their idea that in a marriage women must “obey” their husbands – something which the verse is not saying.
What does it mean by “Nushooz / نشوز” on the wife’s part?
“As for those women from whom you fear desertion (nushooz / نشوز), then you shall advise them…”
Some people on the other hand, who do not have a proper understanding of the Arabic vocabulary, or rely only on a single translation and carry a twisted aim, think that the word “nushooz” means “disobedience”. The word actually has meanings such as “rebellion” or “desertion”. It is erroneous to say that it means “disobedience”.
The reason to why they hope to assert the understanding that “nushooz” simply means “disobedience” is so that they can imply that the wife must be in “obedience” to the husband under normal marital conditions. However, this is not true with the actual meaning of the word. If a wife shows “nushooz”, she is not being “disobedient”.
Even if assuming they are correct, we find in another verse that a wife can also experience “nushooz” from her husband:
“If a wife fears desertion (nushooz نشوز) from her husband, neither of them will be blamed if they come to a peaceful settlement, for peace is best. Although human souls are prone to selfishness, if you do good and are mindful of Allah, He is well aware of all that you do.” (Qur’an 4:128)
So, if we were to go by their understanding of the word and their deductions, the husband must also obey his wife! The truth is however, the word does not mean “disobedience” and neither the husband nor the wife are being commanded to “obey” one another.
4:34/35 is dealing with problems in the marriage where the wife has deviated from possessing the qualities of a believer and thus “if they yield to you / obey you – ان اطعنكم” is them yielding to the husbands’ exhortation / attempts at reconciliation advised in the verse (i.e. husbands will “advise them / فعظوهن” etc.). Therefore, it is not at all referring to a normal marriage state where a wife “obeys” her husband.
قانتات / Qaanitaat is a title for believing women who are devoted to Allah alone and is never used in the Qur’an in any other context.
To a believer who is well versed in the Qur’an, listening to or reading this Verse instinctively leads him or her to interpret it in the way we have done in this article. However, the insincere people out there are those whose aim is not to study the Qur’an for guidance, but to find religious basis for their preconceived views and motives coming from other sources. These people are disguised as believers and follow an inherited religion. Once a believer finds the true Quranic interpretations, no matter what other human beings or books say, he follows the path Allah made clear to him in the Qur’an.
The believing husband and wife co-operate with mutual understanding and consideration. This originates from their innate believer personalities of being self-sacrificing, caring and understanding. There is not the slightest master-slave inclination in their relationship as they are devoted to Allah and take the Qur’an as their guide.
“One of His signs is that He created for you spouses like your selves so that you may live with them with affection and mercy – there are signs in this for people who reflect” (Qur’an 30:21)