To understand the word ‘qanitat’, we should check Qur’an for its actual meaning. In 33:35 Allah The Almighty commands:
“The men who are submissive to God (Muslim men) and the women who are submissive to God (Muslim women), and the believing men and the believing women, and the obedient men and the obedient women…” (Al-Ahzab/The Allies 33:35)
Wal qaniteena wal qanitat: ‘…and the obedient men and the obedient women…’
If “qanitat” were “the women who obey their husbands”, then “qaniteen” could only mean “the men who obey their wives”, which would lead to a dilemma. That is why “qaniteen” and “qanitat” can only mean “the men and women who obey God”.
As the verses explain each other, the obedient women in the 34th verse of chapter Nisa, are the women who obey God. The word ‘qanit’ stands for “being obedient to God” at its all occurrences in the Quran. That’s why the phrase in 4:34 cannot be understood as ‘women being obedient to their husbands’. When both of the spouses obey the rules set by God, it leads to a clear satisfactory system in the family. Both men and women must submit themselves to God; not to each other. Therefore in a house, the objective rules set by God must be followed, not the wishes or rules of husband or wife. So, what we understand from this verse is ‘qaniteen’ refers to ‘women who are obedient to God’.
In the same verse 4:34 it is commanded: “Fassalihatu qanitatun hafithatun lilghaybi bima hafitha Allahu”, meaning :”righteous women are obedient (to God) and guard themselves in the absence (of witnesses) in return for God’s protection. ”
These righteous women are obedient women. They obey God. They also protect themselves from immoral acts even when there’s nobody to witness around. They do this in return for God’s protection over them. Let us expound why we translate “in the absence” as “in the absence of witnesses”:
According to the Quran, when someone accuses a woman of adultery, God commands them to bring four eye witnesses. This requisite is not sought in the case of men’s adultery. If someone accused a woman of adultery but could not produce four witnesses, even if he had seen the woman’s immoral act with his own eyes, the accuser would be sentenced to be flogged with eighty stripes and his testimony would never be accepted thereafter. This is God’s protection over women. Women are under the protection of both God and the society. That is why women are called ‘muhsana = protected’ in the Qur’an. On the other hand, men protect themselves, and therefore they are called ‘muhseen’. As the Almighty God favors and protects women in this way, He commands women to protect themselves exactly the way God protects them by requiring four eye witnesses.
The rest of the verse is closely related to the same issue: “wallatee takhafoona nushoozahunna.. = As for women whose nushooz you fear”.
In most translations ‘nushooz’ is translated as rebellion, reading the verse as: ‘women who rebel against their husbands’. This translation disrupts the coherence of the Quran, because the Almighty God uses the same word to refer to an act of men in the verse 4:128:
“If some woman fears nushooz or i’raad of her husband, there is no sin upon either of them that they should try to come to terms.” (An-Nisa 4:128)
If nushooz is translated as “rebellion against husband” in verse 4:34, then we would have to translate the verse 4:128 as “rebellion against wife”. It is obvious that this translation is wrong.
Seeing the analogy between obedient men and women, we conclude that men and women, all believers, are obliged to obey only God unconditionally.
To see the detailed explanation of verse 4:34 and the meaning of nushooz, please read the following article: http://www.islamandquran.org/research/does-god-permit-beating-wives.html