These days, it’s all too common to read or hear Muslim women being rebuked for not being religious enough, for not wearing their hijaab properly, and oh so much more – so today I’m going to turn the tables and pick on the guys! :P
I’m sure others besides myself have noticed the increasing lack of chivalry amongst males, particularly the younger ones. Now, this isn’t something specific to Muslims – because non-Muslim women are saying the same thing about their counterparts – but for (hopefully) obvious reasons (such as the fact that this site is called MuslimMatters…), I’m going to be picking on our dear Muslim brothers! :D
I’d like to bring attention to the perhaps little-known fact that Islam very much teaches and encourages chivalry.
Though interaction between the genders is limited – at least, amongst those who aren’t mahram to each other- when interaction is necessary, it is to be conducted in a very respectful and dignified manner.
Before I go into examples of chivalry as displayed by the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and his Saahabah, I’d like to first indulge in a small history lesson about chivalry and its origins.
The concept of chivalry (see dictionary definition above) was something present amongst the Arabs even in the Days of Jaahiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance), but Islam refined and emphasized it. In fact, it was from contact with Muslims during the Crusades and in Moorish Spain that the concept permeated European culture.
“Gustav Leabeon writes that Islam, in its early days, gave women exactly the position that European women would take centuries to achieve. Leabeon concludes that after the chivalry of Andalusia (Spain) filtered into Europe, courteous behavior towards women became the main theme of European chivalry.”
However, the Muslim men of today seem to have forgotten this noble quality… Okay, maybe I’m being a bit unfair here. I’m not saying that all Muslim men – perhaps not even most of them – act like total boors, or are rude and inconsiderate. Just the younger ones. Mostly. Sometimes. Aaaahhh, you know what I mean!
Anyway, what I’m basically trying to say is that I – and no doubt numerous other Muslim women – would like very much for more Muslim men to return to the sunnah of chivalry.
Yes, dear readers, you read aright: The SUNNAH of chivalry! As I mentioned above, chivalry is something that’s definitely taught in Islam: honour, respect, and courtesy being shown to women is all part of the manners expected of Muslim men.
The following story, narrated by Asma bint Abi Bakr (radhiAllahu anha), has always been for me the perfect example of chivalry.
“I used to provide fodder for the horse, give it water and groom it. I would grind grain and make dough but I could not bake well. The women of the Ansar used to bake for me. They were truly good women. I used to carry the grain on my head from az-Zubayr’s plot which the Prophet had allocated to him to cultivate. It was about three farsakh (about eight kilo meters) from the town’s center. One day I was on the road carrying the grain on my head when I met the Prophet and a group of Sahabah. He called out to me and stopped his camel so that I could ride behind him. I felt embarrassed to travel with the Prophet and also remembered az-Zubayr’s jealousy, he was the most jealous of men. The Prophet realized that I was embarrassed and rode on.”
Later, Asmaa related to az-Zubayr exactly what had happened and he said, “By God, that you should have to carry grain is far more distressing to me than your riding with (the Prophet)”.
There are many things to take note of from this Hadith, which we can learn from.
1. That the Prophet (SAW) bothered to offer Asma (ra) a ride in the first place.
2. When she refused, he respected her decision and did not insist otherwise.
3. Though her burden was heavy and she was weary, she remembered and respected her husband’s jealousy (gheerah) and acted upon that rather than give in. Muslim women should pause and take note: this is the way that we should act, with hayaa’ (modesty, a sense of shame) and taking into consideration what is the best course of action, rather than just what’s easiest.
4. Az-Zubayr’s reaction is equally admirable: he trusted his wife, and loved her such that though he was such a jealous man, he would rather have had her accept the ride than go through the hardship she did.
While Muslim mothers are busy educating their daughters about the hijaab and other related aspects of being a Muslimah, what are Muslim fathers doing? Are they teaching their sons the sunnah of chivalry?
As with pretty much everything, it all starts within the home. Are boys being taught to obey and respect their mothers? Are they being taught to treat their sisters with similar respect and courtesy? And are they taught how to deal with other females – strangers or familiars, Muslim and non-Muslim – and are they actually acting on that?
Amongst the numerous things that need to be learned and reinforced, I feel that parents and Imams need to remind Muslim boys and men of this concept. After all, Islam is not only about ‘Aqeedah and Fiqh, it’s also about Adaab (manners/etiquettes).
One of the complaints I’ve heard about Muslim men is that they’ll be unfailingly polite to non-Muslim women, while treating their sisters in Islam in an appalling manner, or vice versa… and I do think that it’s wrong. Chivalry ought to be something shown to all women – for Muslim women, it is our right over you as your sisters in Islam; and towards non-Muslim women it is a form of Da’wah.
Subhan’Allah, I have heard many stories of women who accepted Islam because their first introduction to it was through a Muslim man who observed the Islamic adab of interaction with someone of the opposite gender: a man who lowered his gaze yet treated her in a respectful, dignified manner that did nothing to compromise their honour but rather elevated it. (My favourite stories are the ones in which the new sister ends up marrying that same brother! ;) :P)
To the above point, I’d just like to add a little sidenote: by chivalry being a form of Da’wah, I DO NOT mean that you should be chatting up these women! Rather, that you deal with them in the correct Islamic manner, maintaining a decent and respectful distance (both physically and in your conversation/ tone of voice, etc.). Men have to observe hijaab too!
In conclusion, I urge parents of boys to start teaching them about the sunnah of chivalry and encourage them to put it into practice; and for men (both young and old) to also practice this noble behaviour.
I am not trying to say all men are totally rude and inconsiderate; nor am I implying that women don’t have their own issues as well… (hopefully that’ll stop any turning around and pointing fingers at the ‘other side’ rather than just focusing on this particular issue…)
May Allah help us all learn about and put into practice the great sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), and aid us all in our personal quests to become better Muslims, ameen!
Your little sister in Islam, Mouse