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Fitnah Frenzy: Muslim Men Traumatized

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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“Mama, I am sorry that I am a very big trouble and difficulty upon you,” my son (who was 8 back then) said to me as he entered the house after Jumu’ah. It was a strange thing for him to say! I noticed serious regret on his face,  filled with remorse, and my heart cringed at the sight. Perhaps if it was any other time I would have taken advantage of his “realization” but he had just come back from Jumu’ah and that is the time when I usually appreciate and encourage him. So I asked him why he said what he had said, and he explained, “Today shaikh said in his khutbah that money and children are fitnah!”

Ah! My son had become just another victim of misunderstanding the word “fitnah”.  Because he was called a “fitnah”, he thought of himself as someone evil and wicked!

Unfortunately, it is not only a misunderstanding of an 8 year old, but of a fair percentage of the Muslim world, and hence, the most commonly misunderstood hadeeth remains the one in which the Prophet, sallallahu alihi wasalam warned the men:

“I have not left behind me any fitnah more harmful to men than women.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

It seems that some of my Muslim brothers, as much as they love the female species, equally love to demean Muslim women, put them under unnecessary restrictions, and psychologically butcher their confidence as “proud Muslimahs”using the above hadeeth as a “proof” for their actions.

In reaction, some of the sisters, to justify and maintain their Muslimah pride, have gone to the other extreme of rejecting the hadeeth and denying its authenticity. The common notion of their rationalization is along the lines: “If I must believe in the fairness of Muhammad then I must deny…” and a number of ahadeeth are questioned in the name of “fairness and logic”, the aforementioned included.

I questioned the meaning of the hadeeth in an effort to understand if the negative view of women was justified. I could not argue with the hadeeth, since without a doubt, I discovered that, it was an authentic hadeeth. Therefore, rejecting it was out of the question for me. Hence, I was faced with a dilemma: should I miserably accept myself as a fitnah, inherently evil as portrayed by many Muslim clerics, and let them condemn me whenever they wish, by using the words of the Prophet, sallallahu alihi wasalam, as proof, or simply excuse away the hadeeth? It so happened that since I am a proud Muslimah and am very proud of every aspect of my deen, so accepting either option would have been a paradox.

Did I have a third option? Was there any way the hadeeth could be understood rationally while maintaining the harmony of fairness.

Of course, educating myself was the only option not only in this situation but in any situation when my belief, the Qur’an or ahadeeth are criticized; instead of denial and rejection, knowledge is always the key. After researching the matter, I discovered several of the following misunderstandings.

Firstly, I focused on the word fitnah. Fitnah comes from the word fitan which means to separate. That’s why one of the names of goldsmith is al-fattan because he separates the pure gold from its impurities.

In sharee’ah this word has been used numerous times to indicate a test or a trial, because a test/trial separates a true believer from a non-believer. It is only through a trial that a person’s true faith shines. As Allah azzawajal says:

أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ

“Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested

وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ ۖ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ

“And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars.”

يُفْتَنُونَ and  فَتَنَّا both are derived from the rood word “fitan”.

When something is referred to as “fitnah” it doesn’t mean that it is inherently evil or an innate source of corruption, rather it only means that it is a mean to put a person through a trial. In fact, every blessing or favor of Allah is also a fitnah for mankind. For if a person is blessed with something, and that blessing becomes a reason for him/her to disobey Allah or become negligent of Allah due to the luxuries of it, then in of itself that blessing becomes a fitnah for that person.

Likewise, if a person is put under a test (fitan) but he/she uses that fitnah (test) to come closer to Allah, increase his/her iman through worship, repentance, proper evaluation of himself/herself and improving his/her condition, then in fact that fitnah becomes a blessing of Allah upon him/her.

Hence in the hadeeth, the Prophet sallallahu alihi wasalam, is simply warning the men against their shahwa (lust/desires) for women and that this shahwa (not the women) is one of the biggest trial for men. He, sallallahu alihi wasalam, is not labeling women innately evil or wicked rather he is warning the men that their lust for women will be a test for them. How they act with and around women can be a case for them or against them. Even in our rational world, psychologists have recognized carnal lust of men as one of the strongest desires and addictions.

Nevertheless, the complicity in understanding the beautiful meanings of this hadeeth seems to come from the over zealousness of some brothers in many parts of the Muslim world, who have abused this hadeeth to enforce their male “superiority” over women, and use religious submission of women to satisfy their male chauvinism.

Of the common ways this hadeeth is misused is by restricting women from going to the masajid and branding them a source of “fitnah” for mankind, by adopting a condescending tone or attitude towards the women during khutbah or by delivering lectures warning the men against females, as if they are the cause of the “original sin”. I believe that psychological injuries are far worse than physical injuries and those brothers who demonize women in such a way will be held accountable for the harm resulting from misrepresenting the words of the Prophet, sallallahu alihi wasalam. They have obviously not understood the proper meaning of “fitnah” and thus have decontextualized it.

Second, I looked for other verses that use the word fitnah to refer to things other than women.

Allah azzawal warns against wealth and children calling them a fitnah for us:

إِنَّمَا أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَأَوْلَادُكُمْ فِتْنَةٌ

“Your wealth and your children are only a trial.”

This verse is  another proof that just because something is mentioned as “fitnah“, doesn’t make it inherently evil. No one considers money to be evil or one’s progeny to be wicked. People will attain higher levels in Jannah because of how they spend their wealth in the way of Allah. Some will continue to gain good deeds even after their death through the righteous children they raised. The fact is that these two are blessings of Allah and the fitnah lies in how we take advantage of these two blessings, whether we let ourselves get drowned in this world because of them, or we become thankful to Allah for blessing us with these favors and use them to come close to Allah. Similarly, how men deal with their desires for women can either become a path to Jannah or path away from Jannah for them.

The same men who condemn women because they are “fitnah” never condemn wealth or adopt a condescending attitude towards children. Furthermore, these men never restrict the usage or gain of money to keep themselves from the “fitnah” of wealth, nor do they distance themselves from their children to protect themselves from the “fitnah” of awlaad (progeny).

It is quite interesting though that when people, both who abuse and those who reject ahadeeth, evaluate the hadeeth in question, they forget to search how many times and how many things are referred to as fitnah in Qur’an. In reality everything we own and everyone we know can become a form of fitnah for us, as described in this verse:

وَجَعَلْنَا بَعْضَكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ فِتْنَةً أَتَصْبِرُونَ

“And We have made some of you a trial (fitnah) for others, will you have patience?” (25:20)

How many times are men reminded that they too are as much fitnah for women as women are for men? If men are attracted towards women, women too are equally tempted to attract attention from men. Nonetheless, the world is as incomplete without men as it is without women, and women are blessings for men as much as men are blessings for women yet they both remain a fitnah for one another. Men are tested through their women as much as women are tested through their men, but neither group is innately evil.

Hence, the notion that Islam considers women to be the innate source of mischief, inherently evil or inferior (based on the word “fitnah”) is nothing short of a blasphemy and a result of sheer ignorance. Although there are a number of textual proofs opposing such a negative view of women, my favorite one to counter these unsubstantial notions regarding women’s place in Islam is when the Prophet, sallallahu alihi waslama said:

“Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa ‘i)

Having said all this, I must remind those who doubt the Authority of the Sunnah, position of the Companions, and prefer to put their logical reasoning over textual proof that it is not upon us to bend Islam based upon our own whims and desires. It is sad to see Muslim women ridiculing the ahadeeth simply because they think they contain misogynist undertones. This type of intellectual arrogance is not limited to female Muslims, but even to Muslim men who like to show their sympathy towards women by picking and choosing ahadeeth. Any authentic statement of the Prophet sallallahu alihi wasalam is binding upon us to accept as much as it is binding upon us to accept the ayahs of the Qur’an. Simply because an authentic hadeeth does not make sense to us, does not mean that the hadeeth can be rejected. Similarly, just because some men misinterpret or misuse a certain hadeeth, does not mean that we deny it, to establish our place in our religion. People who have taken this path have endangered themselves with an understanding that is not in obedience to Allah.

My son is not an affliction upon me; in fact, he is one of the biggest blessings from Allah, alhamdullilah, yet he remains a fitnah for me, just as much as I remain a fitnah for him. It was my turn to explain to my son the precise meaning of fitnah, and as I did, his remorse was replaced with relief. As the explanation sank into his little mind, it became obvious through the spark in his eyes and the big smile on his face that he had understood the reality of his “fitnah“. I hope and pray that just as an 8-year-old understood what it means to be a fitnah, so too will most of the Muslims around the world , men and women, so Muslim men can stop demeaning women and Muslim women can stop rejecting the ahadeeth to find their place in Islam.

Saba Syed (aka Umm Reem) is the author of International award winning novel, "An Acquaintance."Saba has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi.She had been actively involved with Islamic community since 1995 through her MSA, and then as a founding member of TDC, and other community organizations. in 2002, she organized and hosted the very first "Musim Women's Conference" in Houston, TX. Since then, she's been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam.She is a pastoral counselor for marriage & family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas, also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

77 Comments

77 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Farhan

    April 11, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Excellent article, I like your reasoning. This kind of understanding and analysis is lacking nowadays…

    On that note, France felt it necessary to arrested some niqabis:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/police-detain-women-protesting-on-first-day-of-french-islamic-veil-ban/2011/04/11/AFXSjtID_story.html?hpid=z2

  2. Avatar

    MW_M

    April 11, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    Excellent analysis!!! I agree with the above poster, this kind of understanding and analysis is lacking nowadays. I’ve found many time, people reacting to the perception of non-Muslims (and, of course, some Muslims) as Muslimahs being inferior by denigrating and mocking brothers. Very balance article, alhamdulillah.

  3. Avatar

    Amman Abdul Adl

    April 11, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    Masha’allah Sister, you’ve written a great article….

    Muslims need to understand how to put the Hadith together. Every ahadith must be understood with other hadith related to that topic; and then look at it with the Qur’an. Of course that is not easy, but I think this how Allah tests us. To see how much effort we put into our faith, and if we still stick around even though we don’t have all the answers.

    By the way, is this hadith authentic?: “Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa ‘i)

    Allah Knows Best…

    • Avatar

      ahmed

      April 11, 2011 at 12:00 PM

      This narration is graded hasan in Takhrij Mishkat al Masabih:
      حبب إلي الطيب والنساء ، وجعلت قرة عيني في الصلاة

      wa Allahu ta’aala a’lam

    • Avatar

      Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

      April 11, 2011 at 12:29 PM

      It is authentic according to Shaykh Al-Albani. Allah knows best.

  4. Avatar

    Amatullah

    April 11, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    Fantastic, jazaki Allahu khayran.

  5. Avatar

    Mouyyad Abdulhadi

    April 11, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    Great way of explaining that Fitnah doesnt mean evil or bad, but is actually a trial from Allah (SWT). Our lives are filled with trials just like living in this country contains many trials such as building for our future as Muslims in America.

  6. Avatar

    Saba

    April 11, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    LOL…..what your son said was too funny. ….aww poor guy.
    very cute!
    MashaAllah awesome analysis!

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      April 11, 2011 at 11:03 PM

      jazakiAllah khair. We revisited this issue a couple weeks ago and I made him read this article. He had questions how a fitnah can become a blessing and vice versa, so I explained. Then he asked, “So TV is a fitnah, it can become a blessing?!!”

      kids these days!

      • Avatar

        Bushra

        April 12, 2011 at 6:19 AM

        LOL! That’s so cute! TV can be a blessing or a fitnah…depends on how its used. Same with internet, facebook, even reading newspapers or books.

        • Umm Reem

          Umm Reem

          April 12, 2011 at 12:55 PM

          and exactly how can TV be a blessing? :) (without Huda and Peace channels)

          • Avatar

            Hena Zuberi

            April 12, 2011 at 3:38 PM

            Sister Hebah debating on CNN= TV becomes a a blessing :)

  7. Avatar

    Layla

    April 11, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    masha’Allah what an excellent explanation, Barak Allahu feeki!

  8. Avatar

    Abdullah

    April 11, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    Asalamu Alaykum Sister.

    Jazakum’Allahu khayran for your explanation.

    Another explanation of the Arabic word for fitnah that an Arabic teacher gave me was to be smitten by something. To be taken by something, so to speak. Allah knows best if this would also apply to some of the uses of the word in the Quran and hadith or ahadeeth, and it would be best to check with a teacher on this.

    Asalamu Alaykum

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      April 11, 2011 at 11:05 PM

      I have.

      So let’s say is we were to take the meaning you are referring to, how would you explain the hadeeth then??

  9. Avatar

    Sabeen

    April 11, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    Jazakallah Khair for clarifying the hadith and the correct attitude that we should have in such situations:

    Of course, educating myself was the only option not only in this situation but in any situation when my belief, the Qur’an or ahadeeth are criticized; instead of denial and rejection, knowledge is always the key

    I grew up in a Muslim country but never saw the inside of a mosque till I was twenty. It is truly unjust that the words of the Prophet (saws) are misinterpreted and used to exclude generations of Muslim women from the mosques of Allah. There are masajid named after the Mothers of the Believers such as Masjid Khadijah where no Khadijah or Ayesha or Fatimah is allowed to enter and pray.

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      April 12, 2011 at 12:04 AM

      I am not sure if this is the Eastern vs. Western mentality or what but I have particularly noticed a condescending attitude towards women among eastern muslim men.

  10. Avatar

    Mohamed al_mahaldheefi

    April 11, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    “I have not left behind me any fitnah more harmful to men than women.” (Bukhari & Muslim) You have chosen to focus on the word ‘fitnah’, leaving out the ‘most harmful to men’ qualfier that in my mind makes it misogynist. While other muslims are picking & choosing which ‘hadeeses’ fit their worldview you seem to be picking & choosing which parts of a given ‘hadees’ to intepret in a way tat does not conflict with your views (which is essentially the same thing right?)

    • Avatar

      MW_M

      April 11, 2011 at 7:23 PM

      If you understand fitnah from the article, the rest falls into place….

      • Umm Reem

        Umm Reem

        April 11, 2011 at 11:22 PM

        ^ Exactly!

        Br. Mohamed: I am obviously not being selective of which parts of the hadeeth I want to focus on, I focused on the part of the hadeeth which is most commonly abused and that is the word “Fitnah”. The way people use it and the way the meaning is understood is as if fitnah=evil

        Concentrate on the overall mafhoom (meaning) of the hadeeth and that is “men’s desires for women is one of the biggest challenges for them.” I don’t see any misogynist tone in this hadeeth!

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      April 11, 2011 at 8:02 PM

      i was curious to see what the original Arabic of the hadith is..and subhanAllah, not that I am in skilled in translation but I would have translated it differently. Arabic says:

      (ما تركت بعدي فتنة أشد على الرجال من النساء)

      Which you can translate as: I have not left behind me any fitnah more difficult for men to overcome than women. There is no word here for ‘harmful’, “ashaddu” doesn’t necessarily mean harmful…It means something that is hard to pass or difficult to overcome or has a greater magnitude (the structure of the word shows that it is a superlative). It is from shiddah, like shadeed, strength and power. Looking at it that way, it doesn’t seem to tell us anything we don’t know already, doesn’t seem very controversial in my opinion.

      It’s unfortunate the translation of “harmful” is the one that is used most often, there are so many other ways to translate ashaddu ‘alaa than harmful. We must remember that translations are merely based on the opinion and understanding of the translator. Allahul Musta’an. and Allah knows best.

      • Umm Reem

        Umm Reem

        April 11, 2011 at 11:10 PM

        jazakiAllah khairan Amatullah for posting the arabic text. The problem is that the widespread translations of this hadeeth use the word “harmful”, especially on the internet world…hence that’s what commonly used by people/men.

        Besides, what is abused in this hadeeth is the word “fitnah” as if fitnah is equivalent to something/someone being evil.

        • HenaZuberi

          HenaZuberi

          April 11, 2011 at 11:26 PM

          then it gets further translated into other languages ( fitnah fasad in Urdu) further confusing people.

          • Umm Reem

            Umm Reem

            April 11, 2011 at 11:57 PM

            True “fasad ki jarr”!!! :)

            But unfortunately even Arabs abuse the term as if there weren’t any women there would not have been any “fitnah” for them!

            We were just watching a series of debates in my Arabic class where women were called equivalent to shayateen. Some Arab authors wrote plays, a while back, questioning the role of women in this world and how they are guilty of اغراء and اغواء etc. etc.

            I have some non-Muslims in my class and I was getting desperate to show them that this ins’t really “islamic” so I asked my teacher exactly when did this mentality started changing in Muslim world from the time of the Prophet, sallallhu alihi wasalam? I was hoping to show them that how Muslim women really enjoyed their rights during the golden era of the Prophet and the sahabas…

            Unfortunately the teacher’s reply was a slap back on my face! He said something along the lines that Arab culture is a “reflection” of Islamic culture so what you see in Arab world has Islamic roots…and that Muslim women really never had a clearly defined position in islamic society!

          • Avatar

            Bushra

            April 12, 2011 at 6:16 AM

            LOL @ fasad!

            I find that really annoying. Urdu is a mix of many languages, mostly Persian and Arabic and I find that a lot of the words have been mistranslated due to cultural norms as opposed to being used in the correct way.

          • Avatar

            ahlam

            April 12, 2011 at 9:50 AM

            In Arabic, fasad= corruption!

            Talk about lost in translation.

          • Avatar

            Amman Abdul Adl

            April 12, 2011 at 11:56 AM

            Sister Um Reem posed a really question. When did the mentality start to change? Not only about womens issues, but also about everything else that has spiraled out of control…

      • Avatar

        M

        April 12, 2011 at 5:44 AM

        The narration I found has اضر instead of اشد , which does mean ‘more harmful’

        • Avatar

          Bushra

          April 12, 2011 at 6:27 AM

          As Amatullah said:

          We must remember that translations are merely based on the opinion and understanding of the translator. Allahul Musta’an. and Allah knows best.

        • Umm Reem

          Umm Reem

          April 12, 2011 at 6:32 AM

          Even then the word ضر is referring to the fitnah not the women…

          • Avatar

            Anon.

            April 13, 2011 at 4:05 PM

            Dear Umm Reem,

            i am wondering whether you agree that the hadeeth is merely a pretext of many men saying what they want to say anway, and in many cases do say without the misunderstanding of the hadeeth?

            Also do you agree that the only way to understand women’s upsetness on this front , is if their confidence is premised on the nafs?

            Please do share your thoughts,

            Jazakallah khairan

            wassalam

      • Avatar

        Anon

        April 12, 2011 at 7:09 PM

        The most well known riwayah is:

        ‘Adarr 3ala-r rijal..

        Allah knows best’

      • Avatar

        Olivia

        April 12, 2011 at 8:02 PM

        makes you think twice about translations and how translators can color their translations with their own biases!

      • Avatar

        T R

        May 24, 2016 at 11:35 AM

        Arab culture is a “reflection” of Islamic culture so what you see in Arab world has Islamic roots

      • Avatar

        T R

        May 24, 2016 at 11:36 AM

        “Arab culture is a “reflection” of Islamic culture so what you see in Arab world has Islamic roots”

        — joke of the century x-D

  11. Avatar

    Ghazala

    April 11, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    Salamu ‘alaikum Sis.
    Barak Allahu Feekum for such an insightful perspective. I simply loved it. Insha Allah I look forward to educating others regarding this Hadith.
    Along the same lines is another hadith about there being more women in hell than men. Can you please find the time to explain this to us ?
    Also the other day some non-Muslims asked me about the veracity of the ayah that speaks about men being able to beat women to discipline them, I did answer them but would love a better perspective from you or anyone else here at MM.
    Jazakallahu khairan Katheeran
    Ghazala

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      April 11, 2011 at 3:25 PM

      Keep an eye out for our domestic violence series coming soon InshaAllah

      • Avatar

        Meena

        April 12, 2011 at 9:51 AM

        I am very excited about that and feel that it is something that must be addressed in our community.

        Masha’Allah this post was AMAZING!! I <3 MM!!

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      April 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM

      wa alaikum assalam Ghazala,

      JazakiAllah khiar…MM team is working on these issues. Please make du’a for barakh in our time :)

    • Avatar

      Olivia

      April 12, 2011 at 8:04 PM

      Just as a note, just by sheer fact of their being significantly more women in the world then men, that alone is enough to make them the greater group in Hellfire. although there may be other reasons, but we outnumber men greatly.

      Also, as my shaikh mentioned, there will also be more women than men in paradise =)

  12. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    Asalamu Alikum

    Great article and explanation, jazaki Allah khayr.

  13. Avatar

    Nahyan Chowdhury

    April 11, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    Great point and very well written

  14. Avatar

    Zari

    April 11, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rehmataullahi wa barakatuhu Umm Reem, jazakallahu khayran for such a beautiful article – very well written mashaallah

  15. Avatar

    salih

    April 11, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    Alhamdulillah!

  16. Avatar

    salih

    April 11, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    Alhamdulillah! Allahu alim.

  17. Avatar

    Cartoon M

    April 11, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    Excellent article mashAllah. It’s sad how some people misuse the sayings of our Prophet (s).

  18. HenaZuberi

    HenaZuberi

    April 11, 2011 at 11:17 PM

    mashaAllah a few words mistranslated , misunderstood and half of humanity under duress. jazakAllah Khayr we need to keep revisiting these issues. keep them coming Sistah!! And tell your son to make dua for all of us.

  19. Avatar

    M

    April 12, 2011 at 1:40 AM

    Salaam,

    Why the link to the letter on Dr. Khaled Abou ElFadl’s website, in ur sentence “but even to Muslim men who like to show their sympathy towards women by picking and choosing ahadeeth.”?

    If thats meant to be a criticism of him, its kind of a cheap shot.

  20. Avatar

    Bushra

    April 12, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    I thought this article was fantastic and definitely much needed. I read that hadith and always translated fitnah = trial, as that was the only translation I knew. It only made sense to me to understand it to mean men’s desire for women. The idea that women are innately evil is something borrowed from other religions, that there is a distinct fault in women, hence they must be brought into line and degraded all the time. SubhanAllah, this is not from Islam and if that was the case, then the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) would never have married, let alone mentioned that he loved women!!

  21. Avatar

    Sadaf

    April 12, 2011 at 6:15 AM

    The same men who condemn women because they are “fitnah” never condemn wealth or adopt a condescending attitude towards children. Furthermore, these men never restrict the usage or gain of money to keep themselves from the “fitnah” of wealth, nor do they distance themselves from their children to protect themselves from the “fitnah” of awlaad (progeny).

    This was a very good argument in favor of properly understanding this hadith and quoting it in its proper context.

    Wealth and children have been called fitnah too, yet we almost always want more.

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      April 12, 2011 at 6:23 AM

      The idea of using the word ‘fitnah’ in this context is similar to what Umm Reem mentioned in the article…how we treat wealth and children in the dunya will either work FOR us or AGAINST us in the akhirah. And that’s how we have to look at it.

      Wealth is a blessing, if used correctly to give charity, spend on family, invest in halal initiatives, not to mention that it has to be acquired in a halal manner. But will become a fitnah if it is shown off and will invite envy and jealousy, as well as children fighting over the inheritance. Speaking of which, children are a fitnah if brought up spoilt, and loving the dunya. But can be a huge blessing for the parents if they are brought up as righteous Muslims and will make du’a for their parents after they die.

  22. Avatar

    Yousuf Tafhim

    April 12, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    Nicely put sister..

  23. Avatar

    someone

    April 12, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    The most outstanding part in the article is that you went ahead and educated yourself about it, instead of just ignoring or accepting the common interpretation about the hadith. This is what we should strive for as Muslims, the same though process and critical thinking that we apply in our daily lives and work. Even if most may not accept your interpretations at least we can jump start a discussions about it.

    • Avatar

      nyla

      April 12, 2011 at 2:55 PM

      Totally agree. We put in a lot of thought into everything we do in our daily lives but when it comes to Islam, the majority of us tend to just follow the crowd and don’t analyze what and why is a certain ayah, hadith or its interpretation, the way it is. By applying the same sort of critical thinking (not questioning the law though) and thorough understanding of our religion, we would surely be able to educate ourselves better in this Deen, apply it in all aspects of our lives the way it should be applied and be able to convey the true message of Islam to those around us.

      A reminder to all of us:

      [This is] a blessed Book which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], that they might reflect upon its verses and that those of understanding would be reminded. (The Holy Quran. 38:29)

  24. Avatar

    Ejaz

    April 12, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    You are merely assuming that fitnah is something evil. When fitnah merely means trial/tribulation. Now, a trial can be good or bad and Allaah tests us with both. I am not sure why you would assume that to “Muslim men” fitnah is necessarily something evil. When the Prophet (sallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “I have not left behind me any fitnah more harmful to men than women,” how does that have even connotations that women are “evil”? Since fitnah merely means test/trial literally. So let’s rewrite this hadeeth with the english word and see, “I have not left behind me any trial/tribulation more harmful to men than women.” Clearly, what is being referred to as “harmful” is the trial NOT the women. I am not sure what all the ado is about.

    I am not sure how someone can even think this way, “Therefore, rejecting it was out of the question for me.”
    Why even mention this point? It implies that you did have thoughts of rejection BEFORE you found out that it was authentic. Allaahu Musta’aan.

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      April 12, 2011 at 1:27 PM

      Fitnah (test/trials) is not something good and that is why the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wasalam taught us to make du’a seeking Allah’s protection from fitan:
      اللهم إني أعوذبك من الفتن ما ظهرا منها وما بطن

      We do not wish to be tested BUT if we are tested then we can turn that test into a blessing by coming closer to Allah.

      I am not sure how someone can even think this way, “Therefore, rejecting it was out of the question for me.” Why even mention this point? It implies that you did have thoughts of rejection BEFORE you found out that it was authentic. Allaahu Musta’aan.

      I’m not sure how you think it implies that I was going to reject the hadeeth, iyyadhobillah. And the reason I mentioned is, as I said in the article, there are people who reject ahadeeth if it doesn’t make sense!

  25. Avatar

    Hassan

    April 12, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    This is shocking, I never knew the hadeeth was understood in any other way than what was mentioned in article. I would like to know if there any famous personality who said that. (referring to wrong meaning)

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      April 12, 2011 at 12:46 PM

      Bro, that’s exactly what I thought. Surely it’s common sense that women are not innately evil and that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasallam) held women in high honour. By using the other meaning, the assumption is that he didn’t and that women are evil. Sounds very Christian to me.

      • Avatar

        Anon.

        April 13, 2011 at 6:23 AM

        Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullah,

        I ‘m not sure how best you can answer tis without defamation…but I genuinely am struggling to believe that any sane practising brother would be saying that the nature of women itself is evil, (rather than the deleterious effect he finds on his eman – because of his weakness).

        Is there are examples of this that you can bring forth please? Otherwise we are either causing a storm in a tea cup , or quite frankly addressing the incorrect topic; the correct topic might be: why men (universally, except those who have been western influenced/brought up) often feel the sense of innate superiority (insecurity?) that makes them articulate the fact that they believe the male gender (in general) is better than the femal gender (in general). it seems almost part of their fitrah, and something that those who don’t engage in, are in effect suppressing their inborn nature, from merely expressing.

        As for the (mis)usage of the hadeeth – if this does indeed exist, then unfortunately I think we have a red herring.

        jazakallah khairan for the article either way.

    • Avatar

      Inqiyaad

      April 12, 2011 at 2:41 PM

      As salaamu ‘alaikum,

      Sister UmmReem, Jazakillahu khair for the article. I second what Hassan wrote, I never understood this hadith as a statement of inherent evil in women.

      Also, I would like to point out a few things,
      1. The article, focuses exclusively on one aspect of the fitnah i.e sensual desires. I believe this was inadvertent but, it might be used to subliminally peddle the idea that ‘all men are pigs’ like it is used to demean women as being inherently evil. I will give you credit for making clear that this is not the case.

      At the same time, I disagree with you about the test being equal in the sensual aspect. In the sensual context, while women cannot and should not let their guard down, women can be a bigger test to men than vice versa. As in surah ‘ali ‘Imran
      زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوَاتِ مِنَ النِّسَاء
      I do not claim any competency to exegete. However, Allah begins the verse by using the collective noun that is ‘naas’ but later in the aayah, Allah used the word ‘nisa’ when in other places He has used the word ‘azwaaj’ or ‘ahl’ that are interpreted to mean either men or women. For example,
      يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا
      In this regard, while both men and women are expected to lower their gaze, Hijab is mandated on women. InshaAllah, It will be beneficial if a scholar can comment on this aspect.

      2. Women (as well as men) can be a fitnah in a lot of different ways. For example, a man might deviate from or under-perform in his responsibility as the primary person accountable for his family in the hereafter. Yes, both men and women will be questioned regarding the upbringing of children and what they did to influence their spouses, if they were going wrong. However, correct me if I am wrong, the man has a degree of responsibility over the women. This fact should not elate men rather it should scare them. What can be a bigger test than being responsilbe for someone else’s dunya as well as akhirah.
      3. I view this hadith as a warning to strike a balance. So is the case with wealth or children. In this context, men have a very difficult test. If striking a balance in anything was not difficult enough, add to the above what Rasulullah salAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said about women in a Hadith from Sahih Bukhari:
      “Treat women nicely, for a women is created from a rib, and the most curved portion of the rib is its upper portion, so, if you should try to straighten it, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain crooked. So treat women nicely.”
      And in another narration, “The woman is like a rib; if you try to straighten her, she will break. So if you want to get benefit from her, do so while she still has some crookedness.”

      Want to insert a tangent here. I wonder if what we are facing now with regards to women’s rights and attacks on Islam is related to this Hadith? Have men, by not being able to perform well on this test, opened up the gates for attacks on Islam and scores of women being misguided in the name of gaining freedom? Now, before we think of making things ‘easier’ or ‘tougher’, know that this test is about balance. Yes, it is a very difficult test.

      4. I will end by quoting, from Surah Najm
      هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِكُمْ إِذْ أَنشَأَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ وَإِذْ أَنتُمْ أَجِنَّةٌ فِي بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ فَلَا تُزَكُّوا أَنفُسَكُمْ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اتَّقَى
      He knows you well when He created you from the earth, and when you were fetuses in your mothers’ wombs. So ascribe not purity to yourselves. He knows best him who fears Allâh and keeps his duty to Him
      Allah has created us, as He willed. Men are susceptible to their sensual desires, a little more than women. Women, if you will, making things a little difficult for men. Now it is a test for us.
      وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَاOقَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا
      Also, Allah does not test us with something that we are not capable of

      لاَ يُكَلِّفُ اللّهُ نَفْسًا إِلاَّ وُسْعَهَا

      Allah knows best.

      • Avatar

        Amman Abdul Adl

        April 12, 2011 at 5:53 PM

        Masha’Allah Brother, this is a very good explanation on how things are different amongst the sexes. With Um Reem’s post, it puts everything in perspective. Like you said it’s all about BALANCE…

      • Avatar

        Bushra

        April 13, 2011 at 9:15 AM

        Want to insert a tangent here. I wonder if what we are facing now with regards to women’s rights and attacks on Islam is related to this Hadith? Have men, by not being able to perform well on this test, opened up the gates for attacks on Islam and scores of women being misguided in the name of gaining freedom? Now, before we think of making things ‘easier’ or ‘tougher’, know that this test is about balance. Yes, it is a very difficult test.

        SubhanAllah…it’s amazing that from one hadith being misinterpreted, history has taken such a turn. But we mustn’t forget about the qadr of Allah.

  26. Avatar

    Amman Abdul Adl

    April 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    Lets just assume for the sake of argument that Fitnah means corruption. Again, does that mean women as a whole are corruption for society. I mean why are people even taking it to that extent. Men and women both have the capability of corrupting society. Aren’t men guilty of injustice,oppression,rape, and so on? Have they forgotten the stories of Pharon, Abu Lahab, and Yazid Ibn Muwayyiah. Were these men told by their womenfolk to do such heinous things in society? I don’t see a scholar on a pulpit expressing such disdain for men? So even if the hadeeth implied that, it still doesn’t exclude men from causing corruption in society…

    Allah Knows Best…

    P.S. –
    I think its amazing to see so many sisters educating themselvles about Islam. Even with all these “controversial” verses and ahadith, its wonderful to see women standing firmly to Islam (MASHA’ALLAH).

  27. Avatar

    Faraz Omar

    April 12, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    Salaam alaikum,

    Although I agree with the explanation (because that is what should normally be understood from the hadeeth), I really do not accept the view or charge that women have been condemned by clerics or by Muslim men in general as evil. Such a charge against your Muslim brothers requires proof. To be specific, a statement like “should I miserably accept myself as a fitnah, inherently evil as portrayed by many Muslim clerics, and let them condemn me whenever they wish..” needs evidence. I’m not asking about cultures here, but I’m asking if scholars have understood that women are inherently evil from this hadeeth?

    Men love women… a lot. When the Prophet (s) said to men there’s no fitnah greater than women, we know he is talking in the context of temptation and desire, and not that women are inherently evil. And no, the fitnah is not at the same level for women.

    It is quite sad to hear of those who reject this hadeeth. Perhaps it’s societal pressure and political correctness that leads women nowadays to view everything through a colored lens and in the process reject the hadeeth? Such problems may blur our way to understand Islam in its purity. May Allah keep us steadfast and guide us. ameen.

    From what I know, when clerics say women are fitnah, men very well understand in what context and meaning they are saying that. There should actually be a poll to check if men really consider women evil! And if what you say is true, then it must be happening in some remote place that is certainly not relevant to the society “we” belong to.

    As a Muslim man who tries to learn and practice Islam and who certainly cannot tolerate abuse of women, this piece comes across as another men-bashing post that pushes the blame of one’s own personal misunderstanding of an issue or hadeeth on men. (I thought believing men and women were each other’s helpers.)

    :Disappointing:

    Allah knows best.

    wassalam

    • Avatar

      Amman Abdul Adl

      April 12, 2011 at 6:15 PM

      “From what I know, when clerics say women are fitnah, men very well understand in what context and meaning they are saying that. There should actually be a poll to check if men really consider women evil! And if what you say is true, then it must be happening in some remote place that is certainly not relevant to the society “we” belong to.”

      Brother, you’ll be surprised exactly what many EDUCATED MEN think about women. At least within the South Asian community, I was shocked to hear so many things come out of some men’s mouths. I thought it was all exaggeration when women used to complain about what was going on. When you have chauvinism and misogyny that is prevalent amongst society, any ONE Scholar (even though if he lives in some remote location) can cause so many problems. Its simply adding fuel to the fire.

      This is not say that women are innocent in there exaggeration about men. “Men Bashing” has become very common in the western world.

      We are all victims here, but none of us are innocent either.

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      April 13, 2011 at 7:51 AM

      Br. Faraz, There is no need to become defensive or take this post as men-bashing because that was not intended by the post. I am not sure which world you live in but this hadeeth has been misused enough times that many many sisters questioned the meanings of this hadeeth and there are some who have gone through great pains in writing against the authenticity of this hadeeth.

      I’m surprised that you have never heard it being misquoted. Perhpas you should ask Muslim women around your area, go to women shelter, ask local imams in India/Pakistan/Egypt/Africa/Morocco/Mauritania and other Muslim countries etc.

      I do not see the need of mentioning names because this article was intended as an explanation for those sisters who have heard the hadeeth being quoted in a wrong way and need answers, inshaAllah.

      The fact that you seem quite confident in men understanding this hadeeth in its proper context and not abusing it is quite disappointing itself.

      • Avatar

        Truth

        January 25, 2015 at 9:53 AM

        A “trial” or a “test” coming from Allah is referring to those things which can take you away from the true path of Allah. With regard to women, children, or wealth being a trial, means that we should not put these things that we desire to have in the earthly world take us away from our goal of eternal life with Allah. It does not refer to lust, in it’s strictest sense, but of desire of things that bring us happiness in this world that take us away from the higher attainment of Allah. Lust is not the proper word to use, desire is more appropriate.

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      April 13, 2011 at 9:08 AM

      Bro, I think you need to get out more and see what’s really happening in the world. A lot of educated families are very VERY backward in their thinking. It’s incredibly shocking.

  28. Avatar

    Faraz Omar

    April 12, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    Ok that was meant to be *disappointing*

  29. Avatar

    Zakir Umar

    April 13, 2011 at 5:55 AM

    Masha’Allah sister, this is really beneficial. Even the internet is a Fitnah, and you’ve just showed how it can be a source of good.

  30. Avatar

    Omar A.

    April 13, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    MashAllah
    Jazakallahkhayr for the very beneficial post, brings a lot more clarity to the above mentioned hadeeth we hear so oftern!

  31. Avatar

    Mehreen Misbah

    April 13, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    Jazaakillah for this insightful piece, sister! It was enlightening and definitely epitomizes the lesson of moderation that Islam encourages so fondly.

  32. Avatar

    Mucha

    April 15, 2011 at 2:21 AM

    Amazing article! You have nailed it when you compared women to children and money!! It really upsets me when people de-contextualize words and use them to their own liking. Islam was never against women but people are trying to force their own thoughts by re-interpreting the phases of ayat and ahadeeth, and unfortunately lots of those are Muslims themselves. We need to re-educate ourselves about Islam and educate others about what we really are! Keep on writing we need more articles like yours, thanks for sharing!

  33. Pingback: Sexual Harassment: A Muslim Problem | ISLAMIC SPOTLIGHT: ISLAMIC NEWS, STORIES, HADITH, DOCUMENTARIES, LECTURES, NASHEED AND MORE DEEN RELATED ARTICLES

  34. Avatar

    Yasmine

    July 4, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    I just wanted to thank you for your amazing articles. I wish that all muslim women were like you and all the muslims (men and women) read what you write. Jazakillahu alfa khair ! from Morocco.

    PS : In the arab countries in general, women do suffer from men’s condescending and sometimes demeaning behaviours toward them and I know what it’s like. I honestly think that the worst muslims are the ones living in the Arab world, because they are far far away from the teachings and the values of our beautiful religion (i’m not talking about the 5 pillars)

  35. Avatar

    Uzair

    August 22, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    I’ve never had an understanding other than the proper understanding of this hadith, nor have I ever met anyone, let alone a scholar, who labelled women as “inherently evil”. May be its just the kuffaar trying to defame islam by misquoting this hadith…

    Anyways, good article, sister. May Allah bless you. Do you speak english as your primary language?

  36. Avatar

    Granit Binaku

    August 20, 2015 at 12:27 PM

    1. Translating and understanding the word “fitnah” as a test/trial/temptation does not mean having a negative view of women. Rather, it is due to the great love and desire which Allah, the Creator, has put in the man for the women and due to the very specific way he is able to satisfy that desire in Islam, that women is the greatest fitnah for him!
    2. Which Muslim cleric portrays women as “inherently evil”? What does the sister mean by “a Muslim cleric”? Anyone who speaks in public, writes, posts?! Everyone does that nowadays! As for the scholars of Islam then they do not explain this Hadeeth in that manner.
    3. She writes in the article “it only means that it is a mean to put a person through a trial. In fact, every blessing or favor of Allah is also a fitnah for mankind. For if a person is blessed with something, and that blessing becomes a reason for him/her to disobey Allah or become negligent of Allah due to the luxuries of it, then in of itself that blessing becomes a fitnah for that person” Exactly! Because one of the meanings of fitnah is a test and this life is a test as we know: Allah is testing us through his countless blessings and the few hardships He has decreed to happen to us.
    4. She continues: “Hence in the hadeeth, the Prophet sallallahu alihi wasalam, is simply warning the men against their shahwa (lust/desires) for women and that this shahwa (not the women) is one of the biggest trial for men”. Which scholar of Islam have you extracted this explanation from : Abu Bakr – may Allah be pleased with him-, any other Sahaabee, or their students, or the Imams of Islam after them? The Prophet -may Allah praise him amongst the angels and grant him peace – has been given a special trait and that is conveying deep meanings using few words. He could have worded the Hadeeth the way the sister has, but he didn’t. Even if one agrees with her understanding of the Hadeeth, then the question arises, when is a man’s desire a fitnah for him? When he sees, looks, chats, etc with women especially those who are “dressed, yet naked” from the non-Muslims and the muslim women who imitate them. Allah says “Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire – of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life, but Allah has with Him the best return” (3:14). And he – peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him-said: “This world is fresh and sweet, and Allaah has appointed you over it, to see how you will do. Fear this world and fear women, for the first fitnah faced by the Children of Israel had to do with women” (Narrated by Muslim, 2742).  Once again, he did not say “fear your shahwa/ desire”! This is since out of all that which men desire, their desire for women is the strongest! For this reason women are the greatest fitnah.
    5. She says: “or by delivering lectures warning the men against females, as if they are the cause of the “original sin”. The first part is true: the Prophet did warn us against the fitnah of women, as it is clear from the above Hadeeth, but not because they are a cause of the “original sin”, but due to the love and desire that men have for women and it is not permissible for them to satisfy that desire except through marriage. Therefore, men should stay away from mixing and chatting with women who are allowed for them to marry and yet they’re not married.
    6. She also says: “The same men who condemn women because they are “fitnah” never condemn wealth”. That’s not a correct generalization.
    7. She continues: “these men never restrict the usage or gain of money to keep themselves from the “fitnah” of wealth”. Once again, not a correct generalization: a believer does restrict the usage and gain of money and works hard to gain it only from permissible sources just as he works hard to satisfy his desires only through permissible means (i.e. Marriage). He also strives hard to spend his wealth only in that which is pleasing to His Lord, the Most Kind.
    8. She says: “How many times are men reminded that they too are as much fitnah for women as women are for men?” and “women too are equally tempted to attract attention from men”. Reminded by who? Is there a verse in the Qur’an or a Hadeeth proving the fact that “they too are as much fitnah for women”? Then what is the benefit of the Hadeeth specifying women out of ALL the other blessings Allah, the Most Generous, has blessed us with (“and if you try to count the blessings of Allah, you would not be able to count”)?

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#Society

Unsolicited: Online Sexual Harassment Poisons Social Media For Sisters In Faith

The vast majority of Muslim men will be horrified by these stories and recognize how inappropriate and un-Islamic it is to contact any woman in a manner that is offensive or vulgar.

Laura El Alam

Published

on

Muslim woman on laptop sexual harassment

By Laura El Alam

When Grace* started posting inspirational videos and articles on her public Facebook page, her intention was to reach a non-Muslim audience and show them the beauty of Islam.  After all, as a former agnostic who had considered organized religions “distasteful,” she could understand the mindset of many fellow Americans who were suspicious of – or misinformed about- Islam.  In her posts, Grace shared the story of her conversion to Islam, highlighted lessons from the Qur’an, talked about the pillars of faith, and generally tried to make Islam more accessible and comprehensible to non-Muslims.  While potentially thousands of non-Muslims benefited from her educational material, her noble efforts were derailed by an unlikely source: Muslim men. 

In public comments and private messages, Grace found herself receiving a surprising amount of unsolicited flirting, sexual comments and images, and even threats.  “All of this made me realize I couldn’t reach my target audience on social media,” explains Grace. “Nearly all the followers I was getting were Muslim men! I have 3,000 likes, and most are Muslim men. My target audience was non-Muslims, but Muslim men sabotaged my efforts and embarrassed me publicly through comments. It was frustrating and disheartening.” 

Perhaps she might have ignored and blocked the annoying messages and persevered in her mission, but one man took his online assault to another level.  He began stalking Grace (who blocked him), then her husband (who also blocked him), and finally her parents (who were shocked and terrified). Through online messages to all of those people, he called Grace vile names, sent explicit photos, and unleashed words that were both angry and sexual. It caused Grace and her entire family an enormous amount of stress and anger.  “My parents were so shaken up that once they found mysterious cigarette butts behind their house and they truly thought the guy had come to their house and was outside it at night smoking cigarettes.”

After the ordeal, Grace’s husband stopped supporting her online dawah efforts. “My husband didn’t like me being a public presence,” she said. “He asked me to stop making videos because he felt it was soliciting unwanted attention. He clearly put the onus on me. He didn’t shame me or anything overt, but in his mind, my face being in the public was the obvious reason I was receiving unwanted and inappropriate attention and contact.”

Some people might think that Grace’s example is an extreme one. Surely not every Muslimah who has a social media presence experiences such offensive treatment from Muslim men or people pretending to be Muslim men?

Unfortunately, the phenomenon is extremely common. Umm Ibrahim of the United Kingdom is another example of a Muslimah who found online sexual harassment in an unlikely place:  an Islamic website.  “I’ve seen messages of a highly sexual nature sent to an Islamic page which I help admin,” she reports.  “A few times I have encountered men posing as women in order to have chats of a sensitive nature with other women. They will pose as a woman having marital problems and will ask to have a chat via Messenger. Usually, this chat will ask for advice regarding intimacy.”

In addition to being an administrator of a website, Umm Ibrahim is also a writer. “If I have been involved in an online discussion or if I have had an article published, I can anticipate an increase in messages,” she says.   “Discovering the spam folder on Facebook Messenger was somewhat of a revelation. I had dozens of messages from Muslim men asking to chat, asking if I was married, and asking if I was interested in getting married. I also get a lot of friend requests from men. They are always Muslim men, based on name and location.”

Professional writer Ameera* shares a similar story.  “I never used to receive unsolicited messages from Muslim men until I started having articles published on Islamic websites,” she says.  “Suddenly, shortly after my first article was published, my inbox was full of men wanting to ‘discuss Islam with me,’ ‘ask me a few questions,’ or compliment me on my hijab.  Unfortunately, it didn’t stop at flirtation. Once I opened a pending message that I thought was from a local Facebook buy and sell group, but this one particular message turned out to be a pornographic video sent by a man in Egypt, whose FB profile picture had words from the Qur’an! I closed and deleted the message immediately and blocked the man, but the disgusting image is seared in my brain.  I felt — and still, feel — violated.”

“I have received unwanted flirting and a lot of sexual innuendo from men I don’t even know,” confides Salama,* a 20-year-old graduate student in the United States. “I received messages from one person, specifically talking about how he wanted to have sex with me. Granted I didn’t even have any [profile] pics. He was a complete stranger. It was completely unwarranted. I cannot think of a particular reason for why I was targeted,” she adds. “I do know that he asked a simple question on a Muslim forum, and I answered it. I guess that’s when he decided it was okay to privately message me.” 

These anecdotes might seem like an indictment of Muslim men in general; however, I believe that those individuals who harass women online constitute a tiny minority of Muslim men. The vast majority of Muslim men will be horrified by these stories and recognize how inappropriate and un-Islamic it is to contact any woman in a manner that is offensive or vulgar.

Online sexual harassment is certainly not unique to the Muslim community. It is a global problem with women, universally, experiencing sexualized forms of abuse at much higher rates than men. According to a 2017 Online Harassment study by the Pew Research Center, “Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report being sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double the share among men in the same age group (9%). In addition, roughly half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for.”

Muslims, whose religion’s main characteristic is modesty, should be completely disassociated with any form of depravity, online or in face-to-face interactions.  Such behavior is antithetical to our core beliefs, so it was with confusion and disappointment that I embarked upon this necessary but unpleasant exposé. 

Unfortunately, there are many brothers who, while condemning online harassment per se, still manage to place the blame anywhere but on their fellow men.  They are quick to assume that the woman in question has provoked the harassment in some way. When Muslim women speak up about being abused online, the primary response they receive is, “If you don’t want comments and messages from men, then don’t show your face online.”

This thinking is unfair for several reasons. First of all, even women who do not show their faces on social media still sometimes experience unsolicited and unwanted contact. As Salama points out, “It has been proven many times, that regardless of what a woman does, some men are just predatory and will use whatever opportunity they have to try to prey on her. Covered women get harassed. Women who haven’t posted profile pics have been harassed. Uncovered women get harassed. Women from all over the world have been harassed.”

Many Muslima women — including some of the world’s most esteemed female Islamic lecturers and scholars — choose to show their face on their website, videos, and promotional brochures. They may have various reasons for doing this — Allah knows best — but it is very likely that they use their image on marketing materials or websites for the same reason that many professional men do: consumers trust a product (lecture, book, article, blog, program) more if there is a human face associated with it. People want to see who is behind the words and ideas, and this is why most flyers for Islamic lectures show pictures of the speakers, and why most articles, blogs, and books show photographs of the authors. For Muslim women, showing one’s face online is hardly ever about seduction, temptation, or loose morals. After all, it is the same face we are revealing when we walk down a public street. 

Finally, there are many women who choose to show their faces online simply because they believe they should have as much of a right to feel safe and respected in the virtual world as they do in the real world. 

Of course, as Muslims, the responsibility is on each of us to obey our Creator’s guidelines.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded women to be modest, but He has commanded the same of men. A man who is tempted by a woman’s photograph — whether or not she is dressed according to Islamic mandates — should lower his gaze. If he purposely keeps looking — and more so if he takes inappropriate action — the sin is upon him. 

In one hadith from Al-Bukhari, we learn that the Prophet was traveling with a Companion named Al-Fadl, who was a handsome youth.  A young woman from the tribe of Khath’am approached, and Al-Fadl started looking at her because her beauty attracted him. The Prophet caught al-Fadl’s chin and turned his face so that he would stop gazing at her.

It is noteworthy that the Prophet did not scold the woman for showing her face in public, nor for being too attractive. With his impeccable manners, he wordlessly and gently instructed Al-Fadl on the correct action to take when tempted by a woman’s beauty. The onus for modesty was on Al-Fadl, not the woman from Khath’am, who had approached to ask the Prophet a question.  

As Grace explains, “Men should be held responsible for their actions and be recognized as creatures capable of self-control and morality. Women have a right to exist online as they do in the real world.  What’s shameful is that Muslim men still don’t follow the advice of the Prophet Muhammad when it comes to how they view and treat women. Women never deserve to be treated [as] objects or be blamed for the actions, feelings, or frailty of men’s character.” 

She concludes, “The idea that a woman speaking about Islam is an invitation for flirting, sexual innuendos, or stalking is so wrong I don’t even know how to describe it.”

This article, I am sure, will not solve the problem of online sexual harassment of Muslim women.  It will likely not be read by the men who engage in such behaviors, and I do realize that if they have the audacity to defy their Creator, they are certainly not going to listen to me.  However, I do hope that readers will take away a few key points:

  1.  If you are tempted to blame a woman for being harassed online, think deeply about who is really at fault.  Is there any justification for sending porn, threats, or inappropriate messages to a woman?  If you truly care about the safety and morality of Muslim women, you will call out the men who are behind the harassment and do whatever you can to educate yourself and others and/or oppose the behavior when you see it.
  2. If you have young Muslim women in your life, do not assume that they will not encounter inappropriate material or receive unsolicited communications just because they primarily visit Islamic websites.  In fact, these sites seem to be a breeding ground for Muslim perverts. Teach youngsters not to open filtered or suspicious messages and not to trust strangers online, even if they appear to be their brothers in faith.
  3. If you are a convert to Islam, be especially wary of any messages you receive from unknown Muslim men. It is best to delete and block without opening them. Know that some men prey on converts in particular. Be aware that a sincere Muslim would never send sexually suggestive images or messages to a stranger, and one who does will not be a suitable husband for you. 
  4. If you are a Muslim woman who is considering having an online presence for the purpose of dawah,  be aware that online sexual harassment is a likely occupational hazard. Set strict privacy filters whenever possible, avoid opening messages from unknown people, and be prepared to block, delete, and unfriend, unapologetically.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

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So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

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The way most Muslims (as well as conservative Christians and Jews) live, a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage from the father.

The father is not just a turnstile who has to say yes. He is a “wali” or protector and guardian of his daughter’s rights. So he will be asking some serious questions that would be awkward if the woman had to ask them.

Furthermore, in the Muslim community today esp. in the West, there are many converts that seek out a wali because they have no male relative who is Muslim. In this post, I share some guidelines aimed at the wali in his new role and stories that are useful.

Being a wali is not an honorary role. You’re not just throwing out the first pitch. You’re actually trying to throw curveballs to see whether the proposal checks out or has issues.

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

Background check: Call and meet at least four people that were close to the man who has proposed and interview them. There’s no husn al-zann (good opinion) in marriage. As a potential suitor, you are rejected until you prove yourself, much like an application for employment. These days, most people’s background can be found on their social media, so the wali has to spend time scrolling down. Keep scrolling, read the comments, look at the pictures, click on who’s tagged in those pictures. Get a good idea. You are a private investigator *before* the problem happens, not after. 

Check financials:  You need to see the financials to make sure they are not in some ridiculous debt or have bad credit such that they can’t even rent an apartment or cover basic needs. You want some evidence that he can fulfill the obligation of maintenance.

Check the educational background or skill set: This is a given. If it’s solid, then it can outweigh lack of funds at this moment.

Check medical records: If this is a stranger, the wali needs medical records. There was once a wealthy, handsome young man that was suave and a seemingly amazing prospect who proposed for a girl who was comparatively of average looks and from a family of very modest means. The mother and daughter were head over heels, but the dad had enough common sense to know something was up.

“Why would he come knocking on our door?,” he asked.

So the father demanded medical records. The guy never produced them. When the dad pressed him, the man admitted, he had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and that’s why he couldn’t find anyone else to marry him.

Now note, there are legitimate cases where people have a past when they have made mistakes. This happens to the best of us, and the door for tawbah (repentance) is open. In those cases, there are organizations that match-make for Muslims with STDs. People should act in a responsible manner and not damage the lives of other humans beings.

Lifestyle: It is your job to check if the two parties have agreed on life essentials such as religious beliefs, where to live, how to school kids, etc?

In-laws: Have you at least met the family of the suitor and spent some time with them to make sure there’s nothing alarming?

Engagement: Contrary to popular understanding, there is such a thing as engagement in Islam. It’s an announcement of a future commitment to marriage. Nothing changes between the fiancees, but nobody is allowed to propose anymore. The purpose of engagement is to give time for both parties to get ready. For example, the groom may want to save up some money, or the girl may be finishing up college. Also, it’s easy to put on a face during the get-to-know process, but it’s hard to fake it over an eight or nine-month period. I remember a story where a young woman was engaged, and four months into the engagement they discovered the young man was still getting to know other women. He basically reserved the girl and then went to check for better options. Needless to say, he was dumped on the spot. Engagements are commonly a few months. I think more than a year is too much.

Legal/Civil:  The marriage should be legal/civil in the country where you will settle. If you accept a Shariah marriage but not a civil one, know that you’re asking for legal complications, especially if a child enters the picture. (Ed. Note- we realize that some countries do not allow legal registration of more than one marriage- if that is a consideration please look at all options to protect your ward. There are ways to get insurance that can be set up.)

Mahr: Get 50% of the dowry upfront (or some decent amount) and whatever is scheduled to be paid later should be written and signed. I’ve seen too many cases where a really nice dowry is “promised” but never produced.

The dowry should be commensurate to current standards depending on the man’s job. For example in our area in America 5, 7, or 10k is a common range.

In sum, there are very few things in life that are as bad as misery in marriage. The wali’s job is to eliminate the bad things that could have been avoided. If that means he has to be demanding and hated for a few months, it’s worth the cost.

It’s preventative medicine.

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Who Can We Trust?

Danish Qasim

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trust

Spiritual abusers are con-artists, and if they were easy to spot then they would be far less successful. That is why you must exercise vigilance and your own judgment above that of public opinion. Never let the person’s position make you trust them more than you would without it.

Spiritual abusers work covertly, present themselves well, and use their service as a cover beneath which to operate. The way to avoid them is to recognize their tactics and avoid being caught by them.

Blurring Lines

Spiritual abuse often begins with hard-to-spot precursors, with manipulators exploiting grey areas and blurring boundaries to confuse targets. For example, when setting someone up for illicit relations or secret marriage, teachers may begin with inappropriate jokes that lower boundaries.

They may touch others in ways that confuse the person touched as to permissibility, for example, men touching women on their hijabs rather than direct skin. They may inappropriately touch someone in ways that leave him/her wondering whether or not it was intentional.

There may be frivolous texting while the premise of engagement is ‘work only’. Boundaries may be blurred by adding flirtatious content, sending articles praising polygamy, or mentioning dreams about getting married. The recipient may struggle to pinpoint what’s wrong with any of this, but the bottom line is that they don’t have to.

While these tactics may be hard to prove, you don’t need to prove that you don’t want to be communicated with in this way and that you will not tolerate it. You can withdraw from the situation on the basis of your own boundaries.

One of the key challenges in standing up to spiritual abuse is the lack of confidence in calling out bad behavior or the need for validation for wrongs. We may be afraid to a question a teacher who is more knowledgeable than us when he is doing clear haram. However, halal and haram are defined by Allah and no human has the right to amend them. If a religious leader claims exemption to the rules for themselves or their students, that’s a big, bright, red flag.

Beware of Bullying

When you witness or experience bullying, understand that a Muslim’s dignity is sacred and don’t accept justifications of ‘tarbiyah’ (spiritual edification/character reformation) or breaking someone’s nafs (ego). If you didn’t sign up for spiritual edification, don’t accept any volunteer spiritual guides.

If you did sign up, pay attention as to whether these harsh rebukes are having a positive or negative effect. If they are having a negative emotional, mental, or physical effect on you, then this is clearly not tarbiyah, which is meant to build you up.

When abuse in the name of tarbiyah happens, it is the shaykh himself or the shaykha herself who needs character reformation. When such behavior goes unchecked, students become outlets of unchecked anger and are left with trauma and PTSD. This type of bullying is very common in women’s groups.

Trust Built and Trust Destroyed

There are different levels of trust, and as it relates to religious leaders, one does not need to investigate individuals or build trust for a perfunctory relationship. You do not need a high degree of trust if you are just attending someone’s general lectures and not establishing any personal relationship.

If you want to study something with an Islamic teacher, do so as you would with a school-teacher, understanding that their position does not make that person either exceptionally safe nor exceptionally harmful. Treat religious figures as religious consultants who are there to answer questions based on their knowledge. Give every teacher a clean slate, don’t have baseless suspicions, but if behavior becomes manipulative, exploitative, cultish, or otherwise abusive, don’t justify it either.

Personal accountability is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith and we have to take responsibility for our own faith and actions. There is no need to be suspicious without reason, but nor is there a justification for blind trust in someone you don’t know, just because they lead prayers or have a degree of religious education.

It is natural to ask ourselves whether people can be trusted after experiencing or learning about spiritual abuse. The answer is yes – you can trust yourself. You can also trust others in ways that are appropriate for the relationship. If you know someone well and they have proven over a long period of time to be trustworthy, keep secrets, and do not use you or take advantage of you, then it makes sense to trust that person more than a stranger or someone who has outward uprightness that you do not know well. That level of trust is earned through long-time demonstration of its characteristics.

Seeing someone on stage for years or relying on testimony of people impressed by someone should not convince you to lower your guard. Even if you do believe someone is pious, you still never drop your better judgment, because even saints are fallible.

Don’t Fall for Reputation

Never take other respected leaders praising or working alongside an individual as proof of his or her trustworthiness. It is possible that the teachers you trust are unaware of any wrongdoing. It’s not a reasonable expectation, nor is it a responsibility for them to boycott or disassociate themselves from another religious figure even if they are aware of them being abusive.

Furthermore, skilled manipulators often gain favor from respected teachers both overseas and domestically to gain credibility.

If one shaykh praises another shaykh, but you witness abusive behavior, don’t doubt yourself based on this praise. The praise may have been true at one time or may have been true in the experience of the one giving the praise, but no one knows another person’s current spiritual state as spiritual states can change.

Even if the abusive individual was previously recognized to be a great wali (saint), understand that there are saints who have lost their sainthood as they do not have isma (divine protection from sin or leaving Islam) like the prophets (upon them be peace) do. What was true yesterday, may not be true today.

Often praises of integrity, courage, and inclusiveness are heaped on men who support influential female figures. However, men who are praised as ‘allies,’ and thanked for ‘using their privilege’ to support female scholarship and the participation of women in religious organizations and events are no more trustworthy than those who don’t.

Abusers are often very image-conscious and may be acting to improve their own image and brand strength. Influential male and female religious figures also help one another with mutual praising and social-proofing. That is how the misdoings of men who are supportive of women are ignored, as long as they support the right politicized causes such as inclusive spaces and diverse panels.

Don’t be tricked into trust through a person’s credentials. An ijazah (license) to be a shaykh of a tariqa is purportedly the highest credential. It’s a credential that allegedly has a chain that goes all the way back to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), but that does not impart any of the Prophet’s character or trustworthiness in and of itself. A shaykh has to continuously live up to the ijaza and position. The position does not justify behavior outside of the sharia or any form of abuse. Scholars are inheritors of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) only to the degree to which they embody his character.

When a teacher who hasn’t spent adequate time with righteous shayukh abuses, they are said to lack suhba (companionship of the pious), and that is why they are abusive.

The truth is many of the worst abusers in traditional circles are highly certified, have spent adequate time with shayukh, are valid representatives of them, and are able to abuse because the previously mentioned credentials lead to blind trust.

Don’t let certifications about spiritual abuse, ethical leadership, or the like mean anything to you. Skilled narcissists will be the first to get such certifications and take courses because they know this will make people trust them more. You will see courses on ‘healthy leadership’ and ‘spiritual abuse prevention’ being taught and designed by them. There is a false premise behind such certifications that if religious leaders knew how abuse occurs and the damage it causes victims they wouldn’t do it. The fact is they know how abuse works, know how damaging it is, and don’t care. In a way, it’s good to have lessons on spiritual abuse from purveyors of abuse, just as learning theft prevention from a thief might be the most beneficial.

Don’t judge by rhetoric

Don’t look at the rhetoric of groups or individuals to see how seriously they take abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs in all groups. It is common for members of one group to call out abuse that they see in another group while ignoring abuse occurring within their own group.

Sufis who will talk about the importance of sharia, label others as ‘goofy-Sufis,’ and insist that real Sufis follow sharia, will very often abuse in private and use the same justifications as the other Sufi groups they publicly deride.

Many imams and religious leaders will talk publicly about the importance of justice, having zero-tolerance for abuse, and the importance of building safe spaces, while they themselves are participating in the abuse.

Furthermore, female religious leaders will often cover up secret marriages, and other abuses for such men and help them to ostracize and destroy the credibility of their victims as long as their political views align. Muslim mental health providers often incorporate religious figures when they do programs, and in some cases they involve known abusers if it helps their cause.

In some cases, the organization does not know of any abuse. Abusive individuals use partnerships with Muslim mental health organizations to enhance their image as a “safe person.” This is especially dangerous due to the vulnerability of those struggling with mental illness and spiritual issues, who may then be exploited by the abuser. It is a community responsibility to ensure the safety of these vulnerable individuals and to ensure that they do have access to resources that can actually help them.

Don’t judge by fame

One false assumption is that the local-unknown teacher is sincere while the famous preacher is insincere and just wants to amass followers. This contrast is baseless although rhetorically catchy.

The fact is, many unknown teachers desire fame and work towards it more than those who are famous. Other times the unknown and famous teacher may have the same love of leadership, but one is more skilled than the other. They both may also be incredibly sincere.

Ultimately, we cannot judge what is in someone’s heart but must look at their actions, and if their actions are abusive, they are a danger to the community. Both famous and non-famous teachers are equally capable of spiritual abuse.

Look for a procedure

Before being involved in an organization, look for a code of conduct. There is no accountability without one in non-criminal matters. Never depend on people, look at the procedures and ensure that the procedure calls for transparency, such as the one we at In Shaykh’s Clothing published and made free for the public to use.

Procedure also applies to an organizations’ financials. Do not donate money to organizations based on personalities, instead demand financial transparency and accountability for the money spent. There is great incentive for spiritual abusers to win the trust of crowds when it means they can raise money without any financial accountability.

But what about Husne-Zann? Thinking well of others?

Allah tells us يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ

O You who believe, leave much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sinful” (Quran 49:12).

From this verse, we see that some – not all negative opinions are sinful. The prohibition is partitive, meaning some bad opinions are permissible.

If someone punches you, it is not hunse-zann to assume that person just happened to stretch with a closed fist and did not see your face was in the way. This kind of delusion will lead to you getting punched more. To be wary of their fist isn’t a sinful level of suspicion.

Part of why spiritual abuse is difficult to detect is that its purveyors have a reputation for outward uprightness. They are thought well of in the community, and in many cases they are its pillars and have decades of positive service to their defense. Assuming that someone cannot be abusive simply because they have been a teacher or leader for a long time is not husne-zann. When facts are brought to light- like a fist to the face – it is delusional to assume they didn’t mean it that way.

If someone does something that warrants suspicion, then put your guard up and don’t make excuses for those actions. Start with a general guard and be procedural about things which require a procedure.  For example, if you are going to loan someone money, don’t just take their word that they will pay you back but insist on a written record. If they say they are offended, just say “it’s my standard procedure to avoid any confusion later on.” A reasonable person won’t have an issue with that. If someone mentions on the phone they will pay you $100 for your work, write an email to confirm what was said on the phone so there’s a record for it.

Lastly, and most importantly, never leave your child alone with a teacher where you or others cannot see them. Many cases of child sexual assault can be prevented if we never allow children to study alone with adults. There should never be an exception to this, and parents much uphold this as a matter of policy. Precaution is not an accusation, and this is a professional and standard no one should reject.

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