Can you beat your wife? : Perspectives from Islamic and Civil Law
A religious advice column by a religious teacher (“ustaz”) in Singapore’s only Malay language newspaper stirred some controversy when it offered some advice regarding ways in which a husband can “manage” and “educate” a disobedient wife. The column advocated that the husband should first try advising his wife gently to make her listen. If the wife still persists in being disobedient, the husband then should stay away from his wife. However, if neither giving advice nor staying away her works, then the column pronounced that the husband can use physical punishment to educate his wife. The column proceeded to give some guidelines to the limits of such physical punishments which includes: beating the wife without leaving a single mark on her body, not hitting her face and being fully certain that the act of hitting a wife will change her disobedience.


Many who read the article were outraged. Even though the act of beating the wife was highly circumscribed, the notion of using physical punishment to “educate” and “discipline” one’s wife was demeaning to women and highly out of sync with the norms and mores of modern Singapore society. The Ustaz has since reconsidered his position.


The head of the Office of the Mufti of Singapore, one Ustaz Irwan Hadi also addressed the issue of using physical punishments. He answered the question of whether it was permissible for a husband to beat his wife with a categorical no. He explained that the intention of the Islamic scholars had always been to move away from physical abuse as a way of disciplining spouses. This was based on the “Harmony principle” espoused by the Quran which pronounces that:


“… and among his signs is this, that he created for you mates from among yourselves, so that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts.”


This is reflected in the example of the Prophet Muhammad whose private relationships were based on open communication and mutual respect.


Family violence in Civil law

While there is some debate regarding what is permissible in Islamic law with regards to using physical punishment, the position of civil law on family violence is clear. Family violence is interpreted by section 64 of the Women’s Charter as the following:

a) Willfully or knowingly placing, or attempting to place, a family member in fear of hurt
b) causing hurt to a family member by such act which is known or ought to have been known would result in hurt;
c) wrongfully confining or restraining a family member against his will; or
d) causing continual harassment with intent to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause anguish to a family member


Thus, the definition of family violence according to civil law is much wider. There is no need for actual physical abuse to happen. For example, it is sufficient that the family member is placed in fear of hurt or to cause continual harassment with intent to cause anguish to a family member.


Impact of Family Violence

This definition of family violence is important as if a spouse of family member is inflicted with family violence, he or she can apply to the Courts for legal protection under the law. The most common form of such legal protection is a Personal Protection Order (“PPO”). In granting the PPO, the Courts can order that the offender cannot use family violence against a family member or assist or incite anyone to use family violence against a family member. To obtain a PPO, the applicant needs to firstly show to the court that family violence has indeed been committed and secondly that obtaining one is necessary to prevent the family violence.


Besides a PPO, the courts can also grant other orders such as an Expedited Order (“EO”) which is made on an urgent basis if there is imminent danger to any family member. The Courts can also make Domestic Exclusion Orders (“DEO”) to ensure that the offender leaves and be prohibited from entering the home or some portion of the home.


The effect of a PPO being made, the police will investigate the breach of the order. A breach of the order is a criminal offence that is punishable by a fine of up to $2000 or imprisonment for a term of up to six months or both for a first-time offender. For subsequent convictions, the offender can be fined up to $5,000 or imprisoned for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both.



Thus, in civil law, family violence is defined more precisely and wider than that discussed by Islamic law. Under civil law, family violence includes, but is not limited to physical abuse. While there can be multiple perspectives on the use of physical punishments in under Islamic law, family violence is clearly defined under the Women’s Charter by civil law. Under civil law, the consequences of committing family violence is also more imminent, which can lead to a PPO ordered against the perpetrator and a fine or jail term should the PPO be breached. As Singapore is a secular state, the definition of family violence under civil law will take precedence over any religious understanding of family violence. Anyone giving religious advice should therefore take heed of the possible legal consequences of such advice.


How we can help

That being said, filing for a Muslim divorce and the divorce procedures in Singapore are delicate issues and may be too technical for you to fully understand alone. We understand that going through such an event in your life is difficult and emotional. At I.R.B Law we have experienced lawyers who are well versed in Civil and Syariah divorce proceedings who will be able to guide you through and explain to you throughout each and every stage of your divorce. So contact us so that we can advise you on your matter and help you focus on getting back up on your feet.


Our first consultation is usually free as we wish to focus on you and not your wallet. Don’t hesitate and reach us at [email protected] or call us at 6589 8913.


The information contained in this article is provided for general information only and may not reflect current status about applicable law, cases, settlements or judgements. Nothing contained on this website or article is intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be construed as I.R.B Law LLP agreeing to provide legal services to you. You acknowledge and agree that your use of this website shall not create a lawyer-client relationship with I.R.B Law LLP.