Wife beating anytime and for any reason is never allowed in Islam. What Muslims may or may not do is another discussion altogether. The teachings are Islam are however clear, and that is the basis upon which Islam has to be judged.
Wife beating is not allowed in Islam!
Before we start, I'd like to first say that because Arabic is a complex language, and because Allah Almighty purposely and carefully chose certain words to be placed in certain Noble Verses, I strongly believe that Allah Almighty allowed for the interpretation of NOT beating wives to be valid. In other words, a Muslim man would not be going against Allah Almighty's Divine Will if he doesn't beat his wife, and instead, deserts her by leaving the house and living for instance with his parents for a period of time until the disobedient wife comes back to her senses, which would be as equivalent as the first interpretation, since the end result is the same, which is to discipline the bad wife and to get her back on the Right Path of what makes GOD Almighty satisfied with her.
Let us look at Noble Verses 4:34-36 "(34). Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
(35). If ye fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation: For Allah hath full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things.
(36). Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious;"
The Arabic word used in Noble Verse 4:34 above is "idribuhunna", which is derived from "daraba" which means "beat". The thing with all of the Arabic words that are derived from the word "daraba" is that they don't necessarily mean "hit". The word "idribuhunna" for instance, could very well mean to "leave" them. It is exactly like telling someone to "beat it" or "drop it" in English. It has a similar meaning to tap, and not BATTER as non muslims allege.
Allah Almighty used the word "daraba" in Noble Verse 14:24 "Seest thou not how Allah sets (daraba) forth a parable? -- A goodly Word Like a goodly tree, Whose root is firmly fixed, And its branches (reach) To the heavens". "daraba" here meant "give an example". If I say in Arabic "daraba laka mathal", it means "give you an example".
Allah Almighty also used the word "darabtum", which is derived from the word "daraba" in Noble Verse 4:94, which mean to "go abroad" in the sake of Allah Almighty:
"O ye who believe! When ye go abroad (darabtum) In the cause of Allah, Investigate carefully, And say not to anyone Who offers you a salutation: 'Thou art none of a Believer!' Coveting the perishable good Of this life: with Allah Are profits and spoils abundant. Even thus were ye yourselves Before, till Allah conferred On you His favours: therefore Carefully investigate. For Allah is well aware Of all that ye do. (The Noble Quran, 4:94)"
So "daraba" literally means "beat", or "go abroad", or "give" but not in the sense to give something by hand, but rather to give or provide an example.
Important Note: Notice how Allah Almighty in Noble Chapter (Surah) 4 He used "daraba (4:34" and "darabtum (4:94)", which are both derived from the same root. He used both words in the same Chapter, which tells me that "daraba" in Noble Verse 4:34 means to desert or leave, since that's what its derived word meant in Noble Verse 4:94. The next section below will further prove my point.
I am sure there are more Noble Verses that used words derived from "daraba" in the Noble Quran, but these are the only ones I know of so far. In the case of Noble Verse 4:34 where Allah Almighty seems to allow men to hit their wives after the two warnings for ill-conduct and disloyalty, it could very well be that Allah Almighty meant to command the Muslims to "leave" the home all together and desert their wives for a long time in a hope that the wives would then come back to their senses and repent.
So it is not the brutal thrashing proposed by non muslims. The word used in the Quran has many meanings which are equally viable. If we take the meaning of beat for example, it will be as to tap someone or to give them a sign that what they are doing is wrong. It is not to BEAT them up. Its like tapping someone on the shoulder and saying STOP. This is not beating.
If we take the other meanings, it means to remove oneself from their presence. The best example of the teachings of the Quran is Muhammad. Any tom dick or harry cant come along and practice Islam how they think it is, and intepret verses how they want - especially not non muslims who have an anti islamic agenda. If we look at the conduct of the prophet, he NEVER mistreated his wives, which clearly shows the Quran does not allow wife beating. He had problems with them just as anyone would, but he did not beat them. If the Quran allows for it, then why wouldnt the prophet of Islam do it?
Noble Verses and Sayings that support the prohibition of any type of wife beating:
The following Noble Verses and Sayings from the Noble Quran and Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him respectively seem to very well support the above interpretation:
"...Do not retain them (i.e., your wives) to harm them...(The Noble Quran, 2:231)"
"If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men's souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practise self-restraint, God is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (The Noble Quran, 4:128)"
Narrated Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri: "I went to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) and asked him: What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them. (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Number 2139)"
Narrated Mu'awiyah ibn Haydah: "I said: Apostle of Allah, how should we approach our wives and how should we leave them? He replied: Approach your tilth when or how you will, give her (your wife) food when you take food, clothe when you clothe yourself, do not revile her face, and do not beat her. (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Number 2138)"
Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) as saying: "He who believes in Allah and the Hereafter, if he witnesses any matter he should talk in good terms about it or keep quiet. Act kindly towards woman, for woman is created from a rib, and the most crooked part of the rib is its top. If you attempt to straighten it, you will break it, and if you leave it, its crookedness will remain there. So act kindly towards women. (Translation of Sahih Muslim, The Book of Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Book 008, Number 3468)"
"O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may take away part of the dower [money given by the husband to the wife for the marriage contract] ye have given them, except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and God brings about through it a great deal of good. (The Noble Quran, 4:19)"
"And among God's signs is this: He created for you mates from amongst yourselves (males as mates for females and vice versa) that you might find tranquillity and peace in them. And he has put love and kindness among you. Herein surely are signs for those who reflect. (The Noble Quran 30:21)"
"Women impure for men impure. And women of purity for men of purity. These are not affected by what people say. For them is forgiveness and an honorable provision. (The Noble Quran 24:26)"
Narrated Abu Huraira: "Allah's Apostle said, 'The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger. (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab), Volume 8, Book 73, Number 135)"
Narrated Abu Huraira: "A man said to the Prophet , 'Advise me! 'The Prophet said, 'Do not become angry and furious.' The man asked (the same) again and again, and the Prophet said in each case, 'Do not become angry and furious.' (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab), Volume 8, Book 73, Number 137)"
Abu Huraira reported: "I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: One is not strong because of one's wrestling skillfully. They said: Allah's Messenger, then who is strong? He said: He who controls his anger when he is in a fit of rage. (Translation of Sahih Muslim, The Book of Virtue, Good Manners and Joining of the Ties of Relationship (Kitab Al-Birr was-Salat-I-wa'l-Adab), Book 032, Number 6314)"
Allah Almighty loves those who restrain anger: "Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men; for Allah loves those who do good. (The Noble Quran, 3:134)"
The key to the problem is the mistranslation of the two key words nushuz and adriboo. Some of the possible meanings for both the words are given below. Again, the appropriate meaning will depend on the context of the verse.
Nushuz: Animosity, hostility, rebellion, ill-treatment, discord; violation of marital duties on the part of either husband or wife.
Adriboo (root: daraba): to beat, to strike, to hit, to separate, to part.
In the context of the above verse the most appropriate meaning for nushuz is 'marital discord' (ill-will, animosity etc), and for adriboo is 'to separate' or 'to part'. Otherwise, it is inviting the likelihood of a divorce without any reconciliation procedure. Such a step would blatantly contravene the Qur'anic guidance shown in verse 4:35 below. Therefore, a more accurate and consistent translation of the above verse would be:
(4:34) [...]as for those women whose animosity or ill-will you have reason to fear, then leave them alone in bed, and then separate; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek a way against them.
The separation could be temporary or permanent depending on the reconciliation procedure. Such as construction is legitimate within the terms of the language and fits in very well with the divorce procedure outlined in the Qur'an (see 8.5).
The verse following the above verse gives further weight to the above translation.
(4:35) And if ye fear a breach between them twain (the man and the wife), appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk. If they desire amendment Allah will make them of one mind. Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Aware.
Added weight to the meanings outlined above is given by verse 4:128 quoted below. Here, in the case of a man, the same word nushuz is used, but it is rendered as 'ill-treatment' as against 'rebellion' in the case of a woman as shown earlier in the traditional translation of verse 4:34. One find oneself asking whether since the ill-treatment is on the part of the husband, a process of reconciliation is here to be encouraged!
(4:128) If a wife fears ill-treatment (nushuz) or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best[...]
This, obviously, is a double standard and the only way to reconcile the meanings of the two verses, in the contexts they are being used, is to accept the meaning of adriboo as: 'to separate' or to 'part'. In this connection I would like to refer the reader to an excellent article by Rachael Tibbet from which I quote:
(a) Qur'anic commentators and translators experience problems with the term Adribu in the Qur'an not just in this verse but in others, as it is used in different contexts in ways which appear ambiguous and open to widely different translations into English. 'Daraba' can be translated in more than a hundred different ways.
(b) The translation of adribu as 'to strike' in this particular verse (4:34) is founded upon nothing more than:
(i) The authority of hadiths (Abu Daud 2141 and Mishkat Al-Masabih 0276) that this is what Adribu means in this context.
(ii) The prejudices and environment of the early commentators of the Qur'an which led them to assume that 'to strike', given the overall context of the verse, was the most likely interpretation of the many possible interpretations of adribu.
Conclusion: Wife beating is not prescribed in the Quran