What is the correct meaning of the verse in the Qur'an where Allah seems to allow men to beat their wives in case they do not obey their husbands?
Edip Yuksel a contemporary Quranist scholar has discussed this verse in detail in his article Beating Women or Beating Around the Bush (Unorthodox Articles, Internet, 1998) that four key words or phrases have been mistranslated by traditional translators. To justify the misogynistic and patriarchal practices, deliberately or unknowingly, a majority of translators render the phrase kawamuna ala al-nisa as "in charge of women" rather than "providers for women" or "observant of women."
Interestingly, the same translators translate the same verb mentioned in 4:135; 5:8; 4:127; 2:229; 20:14; 55:9 as "observe/maintain." When the same verb is used to depict a relationship between man and woman, it somehow magically transforms into a prescription of hierarchy and authority.
The second key word that is commonly mistranslated is iDRiBuhunna. In almost all translations, you will see it translated as "scourge," or "beat" or "beat (lightly)". The verb DaRaBa is a multiple-meaning verb akin to English ‘strike’ or ‘get.’ The Quran uses the same verb with various meanings, such as, to travel, to get out (3:156; 4:101; 38:44; 73:20; 2:273), to strike(2:60; 7:160; 8:12; 20:77; 24:31; 26:63; 37:93; 47:4), to beat (8:50), to beat or regret (47:27), to set up (43:58; 57:13), to give (examples) (14:24; 16:75; 18:32; 24:35; 30:28; 36:78; 39:27;43:17; 59:21; 66:10), to take away, to ignore (43:5), to condemn (2:61), to seal, to draw over (18:11), to cover (24:31), and to explain (13:17). It is again interesting that the scholars pick the meaning BEAT, among the many other alternatives, when the relationship between man and woman is involved, a relationship that is defined by the Quran with mutual love and care (30:21).
The third word that has been traditionally mistranslated is the word NuSHuZ as "rebellion" or "disobedience" or "opposition" to men. If we study 4:34 carefully we will find a clue that leads us to translate that word as embracing a range of related ideas, from "flirting" to "engaging in an extramarital affair" – indeed, any word or words that reflects the range of disloyalty in marriage. The clue is the phrase before nushuz, which reads: ". . . they honor them according to God's commandments, even when alone in their privacy." This phrase emphasizes the importance of loyalty in marital life, and helps us to make better sense of what follows.
Interestingly, the same word, nushuz, is used later in the same chapter, in 4:128 – but it is used to describe the misbehavior of husbands, not wives, as it was in 4:34. In our view, the traditional translation of nushuz, that is, "opposition," will not fit in both contexts. However, the understanding of nushuz as marital disloyalty, in a variety of forms, is clearly appropriate for both 4:34 and 4:128.
The fourth word is the word QaNiTat, which means "devoted to God," and in some verses it describes both man and woman (2:116; 3:17;16:120; 30:26; 33:31; 39:9; 66:5). Though this word is mostly translated correctly as "obedient," when read in the context of the above-mentioned distortion it conveys a false message as if to imply that women must be "obedient" to their husbands as their inferior, while the word refers to obedience to God's law. The word is mentioned as a general description of Muslim women (66:12), and more interestingly the description of Mary who, according to the Quran, did not even have a husband! (66:12).
The traditional distortion of this verse was first questioned by Edip Yuksel in his book, "Kuran Çevirilerindeki Hatalar" (Errors in Turkish Translations) (1992, Istanbul).