Friday, February 1, 2008

Alternative Views of True Headship: Part I

Below is a blog post that I wrote for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood with David Kotter. We are responding to an article where Muslim men are condoning the "light" beating of their wives. May this be a reminder that the gender issue is not simply about "roles." It is about Christ and his Gospel, apart from it we have no basis for gender roles. CBMW is a great resource for learning more about the gender debate. You can visit them at


When dealing with a "disobedient wife" a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of the "importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam." If that doesn't work, he can, "leave the wife's bed." Finally, he may "beat" her, though it must be without "hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the fact, at any cost," according to Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha.

Recently in Genderblog we discussed the true meaning of headship in a four-part series. The focus was on the biblical and historical textual evidence supporting the concept of authoritative headship in Ephesians 4:23, "For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior." This post will contrast the complementarian view of male headship with the vision set forth in Islam.

Biblical headship must always be humble, loving, strong, and sacrificial in a way that brings glory to Jesus Christ. In practice, husbands (and wives) sinfully fall short of this biblical ideal, which is why we are grateful that forgiveness is freely available the blood of Jesus. Nonetheless, this complementarian goal for headship in marriage stands in stark contrast to other views of headship in other religions or the prevailing culture.

Islamic teachings on verse 4:34 of the Koran was described by Asra Q. Nomani in an article in the Washington Post. An English translation of the verse is available online: "Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great."

Abdul Rahman al-Sheha understands this to allow husbands to use physical punishment as a "disciplinary action," especially for "controlling or mastering women" or for others who "enjoy being beaten."

American Muslim Preacher, Sheik Yusuf Estes, commented on this verse when speaking at an American university. In reference to "disobedient wives" said, "First, tell them. Second, leave the bed. Finally, roll up a newspaper and give her a crack. Or take a yardstick, something like this, and you can hit." The ensuing discussion included questions about whether or not it would be appropriate to use a heavier Sunday paper to give a wife "a crack."

Other Muslims are understandably troubled by this understanding of verse 4:34. Accordingly, Indian Muslim scholar A. Yusuf Ali, inserts a parenthetically qualifier in his translation of the verse, "Men could beat them (lightly)." An organizer of Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence endorses only the "tapping" the wife as a "friendly" reminder.

Even so, not all Muslim husbands beat their wives (even lightly), and sadly, domestic violence occurs also in non-Muslim communities. Nonetheless the Koran presents a view of headship that is different than what we see in Scripture.

The headship of Ephesians 5:25-30 is one of a husband loving his wife, cherishing her, and caring for her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. God provides for us, in his Word, a framework for understanding headship and manhood that is not compatible with that of the Koran.
Think of, Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who protected and provided for his fiancé who was pregnant with a child that was not his. He did not beat her, he did not scorn her, and he did not even divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:19-24, 2:19-22).

And lastly, consider Christ, who was crucified for his disobedient Bride, the church (you and me). He does not give us what we deserve, which is far worse than a light beating. Instead he guides us, provides every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and makes us joint heirs with himself (Romans 8:16-17). Though Muslim leaders may understand the Koran to allow and even condone "light" wife beating, we recognize that the Bible has no room for domestic violence of any kind. Complementarians have no tolerance for beating because we believe the Bible to teach that headship and submission are willing and loving acts, not oppressive patriarchy. Truly biblical patriarchy is a call to die, not to beat. It is a call for husbands to sacrifice for the good of his wife and family. It is a call for husbands to protect from oppression, not administer it.


Micah T said...

Great post Court. It's amazing to see the difference. The way Christ acts towards us is grace, mercy, and love, the way men should be to their wives. Yet in Islam it is focused on self and satisfying everything the husband wants. I know I'm thankful Christ treats us with the former rather the latter.

Micah T

cdt said...

Thanks, Micah. I am thankful for your comments. You are so right. I, too, am thankful that Christ does not give us what we deserve and treats us with mercy and grace rather than abuse.