Allah tells Job: “Beat your wife”
And take in your hand a green branch and beat her with It and do not break your oath; (Q.38:44)
Several Muslims have complained that I was not honest in my interpretation of the verse 38.41. They claimed that this verse has nothing to do with beating women and the juxtaposition of the Taliban man flogging the Afghan woman to this verse is my deliberate attempt to mislead the readers.
This is my response to them:
This is the story of Job (Ayyub). Muhammad wrote this Surah when he was in Mekka. The Quraish visited Abu Talib and begged him to intercede and inhibit his nephew from insulting their gods. After Muhammad rejected Abu Talib’s intercession he wrote this Surah telling how other prophets before him were also rejected. But he does not tell the whole story of these prophets. He just alludes to them. Obviously the biblical stories were common knowledge in Arabia . That is why Muhammad did not feel the need to go through details. Today, it is enough to mention “the emperor’s naked” and we know what the speaker is talking about. There is no need for him to go through the whole story and give us the details because that story is common knowledge.
Apparently this story of Ayyub and God telling him not to break his oath and beat her with a green branch was one of those popular biblical stories that everyone knew. Without knowing that story the above verse does not make sense even when you read it in its context. Here is the context:
And remember Our servant Ayyub, when he called upon his Lord: The Shaitan has afflicted me with toil and torment.
42. Urge with your foot; here is a cool washing-place and a drink.
43. And We gave him his family and the like of them with them, as a mercy from Us, and as a reminder to those possessed of understanding.
44. And take in your hand a green branch and beat her with It and do not break your oath; surely We found him patient; most excellent the servant! Surely he was frequent m returning (to Allah).
Remember that Quran repeatedly claims to be a “clear book” (5:15) “easy to understand” (44:58 , 54:22 , 54:32, 54:40) “explained in detail” (6:114), “conveyed clearly”, (5:16, 10:15) and with “no doubt” in it (2:1). But obviously many parts of Quran are not clear at all and this story of Ayyub is one of them.
To understand what the heck Muhammad is talking about one must read the tafseer (commentaries) of the Quran. You must also know the biblical stories. Muhammad often made allusion to those stories.
From the Bible we know that Job was a pious man. One day God brags to Satan, “have you seen my servant Job how faithful he is to me?” Satan tells God that Job is faithful because he is a wealthy man, has a good family, lots of sons, lots of cattle and sheep and he assures God should Job lose these things he would curse God in his face. God decides to test the faith of Job and orders Satan to take away everything from him but do not lay hand on his life. Satan kills all Job’s sons, all his cattle and sheep and takes away all his wealth. He also gives Job a skin disease that makes him smell foul. Job laments his fate. To add salt to the injury Job’s wife grumbles and tells him in desperation: “curse God and die”. But Job remains faithful to God. Two of his friends come and the discussion between these three personages makes the book of Job. This episode ends with God compensating Job after becoming convinced of his faithfulness and gives him back much more than he lost and more children to replace those that died. (If I were Job I would have asked for a new wife )
The Arabs learned this story and counted it amongst themselves. Actually it is possible that the Jews borrowed the story of Job from Arabs folklore, because the biblical Job is an Arab and not a Jew. Remember that in those days storytelling was the main entertainment of the people. Just as we go to theaters, those old folks used to go to storytelling events. And because there were no TVs fathers and grandfathers used to rehash these old tales to the youngsters, before they retired for the night.
The story of Job in the Quran becomes clear only in the light of the story of Job in the OT. The verse 41 alludes to the mischief of Satan and how he took away everything from Job.
Verse 42 is not in the Bible but apparently was part of the folklore of the Arabs. Here God orders Job to strike the earth with his foot and a spring of cold and clear water gushes out where Job washes his wounds and gets healed and drinks from it.
Verse 43 talks about the rewards that Job is given for his faithfulness. The meaning of this verse can only be understood by knowing the history of Job in the Bible.
Verse 44 is allusion to a part of the story that does not exist in the Bible but was part of the Arab folk version of this story. This version says that when Job’s wife taunted him and told him to curse God and die, Job promised to beat her for her insolence as soon as he recovers. And this is the meaning of these verses.
Quran Reference: THE HOLY QURAN Translation and commentary by A. Yusuf Ali ; 1983 Published by Amana Corp. 4411 41st St. Brentwood, Marylands 20722
Yusuf Ali compares this verse similar (or same ) as verse 21:83-84
Commentary #2739 (page 840) Job (Ayub) was a prosperous man with faith in God, living somewhere in the north-east corner of Arabia. He suffers from a number of calamities: his cattle are destroyed, his servants slain by the sword, and his family crushed under his roof. But he holds fast to his faith in God. As a further calamity he is covered with loathsome sores from head to foot. He loses his peace of mind, and he curses the day he was born. His false friends come and attribute his afflictions to sin. These “Job’s comforters” are no comforters at all, and he further loses his balance of mind but God recalls to him all His mercies, and he resumes his humility and gave up self-justification. He is restored to prosperity, with twice as much as he had before; his brethren and friends come back to him; he had a new family of seven sons and three fair daughters. He lived to a good old age, and saw four generations of descendants. All this is recorded in the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Of all the Hebrew writings, the Hebrew of this Book comes nearest to Arabic.
Commentary #4200 (page 1227) The recuperative process having begun, he was commanded to strike the earth or a rock with his foot, and a fountain or fountains gusted forth, – to give him a bath and clean his body; to refresh his spirits; and to give him drink and rest. This is a fresh touch, not mentioned in S. xxi or in the book of Job but adding beautifully to our realization of the picture.
Commentary #4202 (page 1227) in his worst distress and constant in faith, but apparently his wife was not. According to the Book of Job (ii. 9.10). “Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job with his lips.” He must have said to his haste to the woman that he would beat her: he is asked now to correct her with only a wisp of grass, to show that he was gentle and humble as well as patient and constant
Yusufali softened this verse for the Western readers who have a great disdain for any kind of physical punishment. Still, Yusufali could not hide the truth that beating one’s wife with green branches (grass?) is okay.
Muslims have tried to explain away these obtuse verses about Job in the most bizarre ways. One person said that the green branch actually is “medicinal herbs”. Another Muslim claimed that Job was riding a horse and the order came “to beat the horse with a bundle of twigs to make him run fast that he may be out of danger”. Apologetics abound but none of the claims are supported by facts. The story above is the only story that is supported by the biblical narration of Job and the commentary of the Quran. The Sha’ne nozul (the reason of the revelation) of these verses also make it clear that the intent is to show that all prophets were rejected by their people and medicinal plants or beating the horse are irrelevant to the intent of the whole Surah. Here, obviously Job’s wife doubts and is scornful of her husband. Her punishment therefore, according to Muhammad’s god idiosyncrasy, is well deserved.
Muslims make desperate attempts to deny the brutal and misogynistic nature of the religion of Muhammad. But as one can see in verse 4:34 beating women is prescribed in the Quran in a very unequivocal language.