Following are excerpts from an interview with Dr. Ghazi Al-Shimari, a Saudi expert on family affairs, which aired on Iqra TV on May 9, 2007.
Ghazi Al-Shimari: Beating is undoubtedly one of the methods to reform [wives]. However, it should be preceded by admonishment. The husband should remind his wife of the will of Allah. He should say: "Wife, if you pray your five daily prayers, maintain your chastity, and obey your husband – you will enter Paradise." He should tell her to be like the woman about whom the Prophet said: "Any woman whose husband is pleased with her when she dies enters Paradise."
If this doesn't work, he should move to the phrase of "abandonment," which refers to sleeping in separate beds. Abandonment could mean that he would sleep in a separate room, wouldn't talk to her, and so on. If abandonment doesn't work, we move to beating, but as the religious scholars have said, beating in this case is not the kind that draws blood or breaks teeth. They said it is similar to beating with the edge of his garment or a toothpick. But as you said, some people misunderstood this, and so, many poor women had their legs broken.
Interviewer: Of their heads.
Ghazi Al-Shimari: Yes. According to a hadith, Umm Zar' said to 'Aisha: "My husband is the epitomy of stupidity and impotence. He is afflicted with every possible defect. Either he wounds me, or breaks my bones, or both." This poor woman said that her husband was a stupid idiot, and that on top of that, he didn't even know how to have sex. But "when he talks to me, he wounds me, breaks my [bones], or both."
Interviewer: Someone like that reads the verse as "bite them," instead of "admonish them."
Ghazi Al-Shimari: Nice. So when some people understood the beatings this way, the women of the Quraysh tribe went to the Prophet to complain. They said: "Oh, Prophet of Allah, the men have begun beating us." So the Prophet decided: "Don't beat the women who serve Allah." Then Omar came and said: "Oh Prophet of Allah, the women have become insolent. We cannot take it anymore. You said not to beat women who serve Allah, so what should we do with them?" So the Prophet approved [beatings], but said that those who beat "are not the best among you."
The Prophet said: "If I were to order anybody to bow before anyone, I would order the wife to bow before her husband." The husband's rights are very great. Therefore, according to a reliable Hadith, a woman said: "Oh Prophet of Allah, I will not marry before you tell me what my husband's rights from me are." The Prophet said: "Do you really want to know?" She said: "Yes." He said: "If pus or blood comes out of your husband's nose and you lick is up, you still will not have observed all his rights." The rights of the husband are great, and you must observe them.