According to Islam, does a husband have the right to beat his wife?
In a word, NO. A Muslim man is categorically NOT allowed to beat his wife.
"Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], idribuhunna. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand."- Quran, Surat-An-Nisaa, 4:34
Some translators and commentators have taken Quran 4:34 to mean that a man may "beat his wife lightly" as a last resort. Their entire evidence for this rests on an interpretation of one single word in the Quran - the word "idribuhunna", which is a derivative of "daraba". They say it means "to beat" or "to strike".
This is a controversial and probably mistaken translation/interpretation.
To make sense of this, we need to look back and see how the classical commentators understood Quran 4:34. The word "daraba" and its derivatives are used in 58 places in the Quran, the great majority in ways that do not mean "beat". "Daraba" is one of those words that has many meanings in the Arabic language. It is used at times in the Quran to mean travel, or separate, or to set forth. Very few of the classical commentators understood it to mean "beat". That is a modern phenomenon.
It's self-serving and cynical, in my opinion, to translate the word as "beat" in this one instance, while translating it differently in all other Quranic instances.
It is more appropriate to understand it either as, "separate from them", or, "set forth to them", meaning set forth the terms of marriage to them very clearly (and the possibility of divorce).
According to Shaykh Abdelmumin Aya, an appropriate translation of this ayah would be,
"But those wives from whom you fear arrogance, and nasty conduct, admonish them (first), (next) leave them alone in beds (and last), convince them of the need for change."
And in fact this is what the Prophet (sws) did one time when his wives disturbed him greatly. He separated himself from them until they realized the seriousness of the situation.
See this excellent analysis - "Beat Them?"- in which the author discusses Quran 4:34 at length and breaks down the meaning of the words.
What Does the Quran Say?
How can we know for sure what Allah means in this ayah? The first rule of tafsir (explanation of the Quran) is to interpret the Quran using the Quran. So let us look at other verses of the Quran.
Allah says, "Among His signs is that He created for you spouses from among yourselves, in order to have tranquility and contentment with each other. He places in your heart love and care towards your spouses. In this, there are signs for people who think." (30:21)"
Furthermore, Allah tells us in the Quran, "do not transgress; God does not like the aggressors.” 2:190
What Did the Prophet Say and Do?
The second rule of tafsir is to look at the Sunnah, that is the words, sayings and approvals of Muhammad the Messenger of Allah (sws). As for the Messenger of Allah (sws), he said, "Could any of you beat your wife as he would a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?" (Bukhari and Muslim). There are other traditions in Abu Da'ud, Nasa'i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad bin Hanbal and others, to the effect that he forbade the beating of any woman, saying: "Never beat God's handmaidens."
These statements could not be any more explicit.
The Prophet personally was known to be an extremely gentle and kind man who never struck any of his wives.
So it's very clear contextually that beating women/wives is not allowed, and we must interpret Quran 4:34 appropriately.
Here is another article that analyzes the word "daraba" in great detail and concludes that it cannot be translated in this ayah as "beat". Be warned that the article is quite long. "On the unlawfulness of wife beating in Islam."
The other Editors on this website may nor may not agree with me. This is my opinion, and Allah knows best.