Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Wife Beating? Is there a better way?


Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great. (Qur’an 4:34 Pickthall)

Is there a better way? Consider the following:

Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He did this to dedicate the church to God by his word, after making it clean by washing it in water, in order to present the church to himself in all its beauty---pure and faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection. Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:25-28 GNB)

Wives are not for hitting, wives are not for beating, wives are not for exploiting. Men are to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. Nowhere in the New Testament is there a basis for beating a wife. The command to “love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it” is revolutionary. The word for love in Greek is agape. It is a love that bestows value on another person. It is a love that builds up, not tears down. Agape is an undeserved love, it is a gift love, and it is a love that involves forgiveness and compassion. There is another great love called phileo, or love between friends, and it is based on common interests, common ideas, but it is not the kind of love that relates to the love of God. Agape is the love expressed in the words of the Bible,

For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose. It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. But God has shown us how much he loves us---it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! By his blood we are now put right with God; how much more, then, will we be saved by him from God's anger! We were God's enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God's friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ's life! (Romans 5:6-10, emphasis mine)

Who are the wicked? It is all of us. While we were sinners Christ died for us. In spite of our sin faith in Jesus puts us right with God. We are saved from God’s anger. In this passage not only is the love of God expressed, but it reflects on the meaning of forgiveness. We are brought back from everlasting judgment to the position of being forgiven and made to be God’s friends.

God has done something that we are commanded to do – that is love, bestow value and worth on a wife and other people. Recently I heard a university president speak of the death of his son who took his life because of the terrible suffering he was enduring. In response to the immense loss of his son he said that there was a great temptation to want to grab every student he saw, hug them, and exclaim to them, “do you know how precious you are?!!”

The relationship that God has made in creating us male and female is that we are helpers one to the other. This relationship of love is such that we can hug one another and exclaim, “do you know how precious you are?” Love must be expressed. The more you express love the more it can grow. There is delight in telling someone you love “I love you.”

I have heard that a Muslim man does not verbally express love for his wife because it is regarded as a sign of weakness. If this is the case it is somewhat like the story of a man on the east coast who said about his wife, “I told her once that I loved her and if I change my mind I will tell her.” Love should not be quiet. It must be told by words and actions each day of our lives. What if God never told us that he loved us? How uncertain things would be if God did not show and tell of his love for us? We could fear Him or try to gain his favor by obedience, but to love Him, He must first disclose his love for us. What about the wife who is never told that she is loved by her husband. What does he think of me? she would ask. Where do I stand in his priorities? She would live in great uncertainty. Such a relationship is no relationship at all. The woman is reduced to being a servant, a slave. She is not a wife in the sense of the Bible.

To express love and declare love is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. The man who can say to his wife – I love you – is doing something that God does. The woman is not perfect, man is not perfect, only God is. If God can declare that he loves us while we were yet sinners, why cannot a man declare to his wife that he loves her, and declare it often? The words of love from a husband are the greatest words he can utter to his wife. Knowing that she is loved by the husband elevates the wife in confidence and assurance. Knowing that her husband loves her makes the wife respond in love.

Men often assume that the things they do, like work, support a family, etc., are duties that express their love. There is something needed beyond that, and it is to verbally express love for a spouse.

Not only do children need to hear they are loved, but a wife needs to hear that message often. I do not want a day to go by without telling my wife I love her, and in fact I do it a number of times each day. I enjoy telling her and she enjoys hearing it. My kids have been gone from home for many years but I never want to hang up the phone without telling them, “I love you.” But if my words are not accompanied by deeds of gentleness, thoughtfulness and love, they are empty and meaningless. If I were to beat my wife my actions make a lie of my words. Yahweh has set the example for us of what real love is. It declares itself in terms that leave no uncertainty of its intensity, completeness, or endurance. The apostle wrote, “my children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love which shows itself in action.” (I John 3:18)

There is a story that appeared a few years ago about a wife who was bought by her husband. It is profound in the psychology of relationships. Please read it below:

When I sailed to Kiniwata, an island in the Pacific, I took along a notebook. After I got back, it was filled with descriptions of flora and fauna, native customs and costumes. But the only note that still interests me is the one that says: "Johnny Lingo gave eight cows to Sarita's father."

And I don't need to have it in writing. I'm reminded of it every time I see a woman belittling her husband or a wife withering under her husband's scorn. I want to say to them, "You should know why Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for his wife."

Johnny Lingo wasn't exactly his name. But that's what Shenkin, the manager of the guest house on Kiniwata, called him. Shenkin was from Chicago and had a habit of Americanizing the names of islanders. But Johnny was mentioned by many people in many connections. If I wanted to spend a few days on the neighboring island of Nurabandi, Johnny Lingo could put me up. If I wanted to fish, he could show me where the fish were biting best. If it was pearls I sought, he would bring me the best buys. The people of Kiniwata all spoke highly of Johnny Lingo. Yet when they spoke they smiled, and the smiles were slightly mocking.

"Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want, and let him do the bargaining," advised Shenkin. "Johnny knows how to make a deal."

"Johnny Lingo!" A boy seated nearby hooted the name and rocked with laughter.

"What goes on?" I demanded. "Everybody tells me to get in touch with Johnny Lingo and then breaks up. Let me in on the joke."

"Oh, the people like to laugh," Shenkin said, shrugging. "Johnny's the brightest, the strongest young man in the islands. And for his age the richest."

"But if he's all you say, what is there to laugh about?"

"Only one thing. Five months ago at the fall festival, Johnny came to Kiniwata and found himself a wife. He paid her father eight cows!"

I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one.

"Eight cows!" I said. "She must have beauty that takes your breath away."

"She's not ugly," he conceded and smiled a little. "But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she'd be left on his hands."

"But then he got eight cows for her? Isn't that extraordinary?

"Never been paid before."

"Yet you call Johnny's wife plain?"

"I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow."

"Well," I said, "I guess there's just no accounting for love."

"True enough," agreed the man. "And that's why the villagers grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact that the sharpest trader in the islands was bested by dull old Sam Karoo."

"But how?"

"No one knows and everyone wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was sure Johnny'd pay only one. Then Johnny came to Sam Karoo and said, "Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter."

"Eight cows," I murmured, "I'd like to meet this Johnny Lingo."

I wanted fish, I wanted pearls. So the next afternoon I beached my boat at Nurabandi. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny's house that his name brought no sly smile to the lips of his fellow Nurabandians. And when I met the slim, serious young man, when he welcomed me into his home, I was glad that from his own people he had respect unmingled with mockery. We sat in his house and talked. Then he asked, "You have come from Kiniwata?"


"They speak of me on the island?"

"They say there's nothing I might want that you can't help me get."

He smiled gently, "My wife is from Kiniwata."

"Yes, I know."

"They speak of her?"

"A little."

"What do they say?"

"Why just..." The question caught me off balance. "They told me you were married at festival time."

"Nothing more?" The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.

"They also say the marriage settlement was eight cows." I paused. "They wonder why?"

"They ask that?" His eye lighted with pleasure. "Everyone in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?"

I nodded.

"And in Nurabani everyone knows it, too." His chest expanded with satisfaction. "Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita."

"So that's the answer," I thought, "vanity."

And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right.

I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me.

"You admire her?" he murmured.

"She... she's glorious. But she's not Sarita from Kiniwata," I said.

"There's only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way they say she looked in Kiniwata."

"She doesn't. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo."

"You think eight cows were too many?" A smile slid over his lips.

"No. But how can she be so different?"

"Do you ever think," he asked, "what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita."

"Then you did this just to make your wife happy?"

"I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. That is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands."

"Then you wanted.... "

"I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.

"But....." I was close to understanding.

"But," he finished softly, "I wanted an eight cow wife."1

Love elevates. Love does not bruise, love does not hit, love does not beat, true love imitates God who is love. True love is transforming for good. Beating is transforming for bad. Given the Muslim attitude for revenge, a beating will not bring about better relations. It will only deepen the rift between the two. A beating will lead to harboring a grudge that will grow with each successive argument. The attitude of superiority of the male and the inferior position of the female will grow and fester. “My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.” (I John 3:18)

Love creates an atmosphere for healing. Love creates an atmosphere for forgiving, and lifting one another up. Love makes a person want to do better, be better, and really creates an attitude of wanting to please the other. My wife sometimes says, “I will do things because of love that I would not do for money.” Love is a motivator unlike anything else. Husbands, love your wives, don’t beat them or seek to punish them.

Love seeks equality between husband and wife. Love desires equality between parent and child. No parent wants a child to grow up inferior to the parents. Actually years ago when my son finally beat me in racquetball I was delighted and proud of him. He has moved beyond me in many skills and I am delighted for his achievements. My daughter has skills in science that I do not have. She processed calculus on her own in a summer session. I admire her.

Husbands need to remember that a wife cannot retire as he retires from a job. She has to continue working in the home, cooking, washing, cleaning, etc. I know a man who shares in the weekly cleaning of the house where he has a list of chores and she has a list of chores. Even then, her list is longer than his. I know another man who claims that since she does the cooking for the meal, he helps to clean up the dirty pots and dishes. What a wonderful expression of love in action. On the other hand, I know of a man who bragged that he never changed a diaper when his four kids were little. My reply was that he should be ashamed to admit it.

The idea of love seeking equality is pervasive in the story of the Gospel. The Infinite God who cannot be comprehended descended and came on a level with humanity in the Incarnation – God taking to himself human flesh to live among us, declaring the love of God, declaring forgiveness to those who repent of their sins, and declaring those who trust in Him will have eternal life in his presence forever. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 RSV)

Love is transforming. When we respond to God’s love we receive His Spirit of love and are transformed. When a man realizes he is loved by God, he is then free to express real love to his wife and others.


1 This is a story by Patricia McGerr, called “Johnny Lingo's Eight Cow Wife”. Published in Christian Reader, May-June, 1997.

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