“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.
Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family?
High School is that time which is ideal for preparing yourself for the rest of your life. There is so much excitement and opportunity. Youth is a time of energy, growth, health, beauty, and adventure. Along with the thrill of being one of the best times of life, there is a definite lack of life experience. In your youth, you end up depending on your own judgments as well as the advice of others who are further along the path. Your own judgments usually come from your own knowledge, assumptions, likes, and dislikes. No matter how wise, mature, or well-intended a youth is compared to his or her peers, the inherent lack of life experience can also mislead that person to go down a path which is not serving them or their loved ones best. A youth may walk into mistakes without knowing, or get themselves into trouble resulting from naivety.
Salma and Yousef:
Salma and Yousef had grown up in the same community for many years. They had gone to the same masjid and attended youth group together during high school. After going off to college for a few years, both were back in town and found that they would make good prospects for marriage for each other. Yousef was moving along his career path, and Salma looked forward to her new relationship. Yousef was happy to settle down. The first few months after marriage were hectic: getting a new place, organizing, managing new jobs and extended family. After a few months, they began to wonder when things would settle down and be like the vision they had about married life.
Later with valuable life experience, we come to realize that the ideas we had in our youth about marriage and family are far from what are they are in reality. The things that we thought mattered in high school, may not matter as much, and the things that we took for granted really matter a lot more than we realized. In retrospect, we learn that marriage is not simply a door that we walk through which changes our life, but something that each young Muslim and Muslima should be preparing for individually through observation, introspection, and reflection. In order to prepare for marriage, each person must intend to want to be the best person he or she can be in that role. There is a conscious process that they must put themselves through.
This conscious process should begin in youth. Waiting until marriage to start this process is all too late. We must really start preparing for marriage as a conscious part of our growth, self-development, and character building from a young age. The more prepared we are internally, the better off we will be in the process of marriage. The best analogy would be the stronger the structure and foundation of a building, the better that building will be able to serve its purpose and withstand the environment. Another way to think of this process is like planting a seed. We plant a seed long before the harvest, but the more time, care, and attention, the more beautiful and beneficial the fruits will be.
Sarah and Hasan:
Hasan grew up on the East Coast. He had gone to boarding school all through high school, especially since his parents had died in an unfortunate accident. His next of kin was his aunt and uncle, who managed his finances, and cared for him when school was not in session. Hasan was safe and comfortable with his aunt and uncle, but he always felt there was something missing in his life. During his college years, Hasan was introduced to Sarah and eventually they decided to get married.
The first week of his new job, Hasan caught a really bad case of the flu that made it hard for him to get his projects done. Groggy in bed, he sees Sarah appear with a tray of soup and medicine every day until he felt better. Nobody had ever done that for him before. He remembered the “mawaddah and rahmah” that the Quran spoke of.
Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding:
The process of growing into that person who is ready to start a family is that we need to first to be aware of ourselves and be aware of others around us. We have to have knowledge of ourselves and our environment. With time, reflection and life experience, that knowledge activates into understanding and wisdom. This activity the ability to make choices between right and wrong, and predict how our actions will affect others related to us.
This series is made up of several parts which make up a unit about preparation for family life. Some of the topics covered include:
- The Family Unit In Islam
- Characteristics of an Individual Needed for Family Life
- The Nuclear Family
- The Extended Family
Hamza and Tamika
Tamika and Hamza got married six months ago. Tamika was getting her teacher certification in night school and started her first daytime teaching job at the local elementary school. She was shocked at the amount of energy it took to manage second graders. She thought teaching was about writing on a board and reading books to kids, but found out it had a lot more to do with discipline, speaking loudly, and chasing them around. This week she had state testing for the students and her finals at night school. She was not sure how to balance all this with her new home duties. One day feeling despair, she walked in her kitchen and found a surprise. Hamza had prepared a beautiful delicious dinner for them that would last a few days, and the home looked extra clean too. Tamika was pleasantly surprised and remembered the example of our Prophet Muhammad .
The Family Unit in Islam
We always have to start with the beginning. We have to ask, “What is the family unit in Islam?” To answer this we take a step further back, asking, “What is the world-wide definition of family? Is it the same for all people? Of course not. “Family” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people across the world. As Muslims, what family means to us, is affected by culture and values, as well as our own understanding of Islam.
The world-wide definition of family is a group of people who are related to each other through blood or marriage. Beyond this point, is where there are many differences in views. Some people vary on how distantly related to consider a family. In some cultures, family is assumed to be only the nuclear family, consisting of mom dad and kids only. Other cultures assume family includes an extended family. Another large discrepancy lies in defining family roles and responsibilities. Various cultures promote different behavioral norms for different genders or roles in the family. For example, some cultures promote women staying at home in a life of luxury, while others esteem women joining the workforce while raising their kids on the side. Living styles vary too, where some cultures prefer individual family homes, while in other parts of the world extended families live together in large buildings always interacting with each other.
Layla and Ibrahim
Layla and Ibrahim met at summer retreat where spirituality was the focus, and scholars were teaching them all day. Neither of them was seriously considering getting married, but one of the retreat teachers thought they might make a good match. It seemed like a fairytale, and the retreat gave them an extra spiritual high. Layla could not imagine anything going wrong. She was half Italian and half Egyptian, and Ibrahim came from a desi family. Soon after the nikah, Layla moved across the country into Ibrahim’s family home, where his parents, three siblings, and grandmother lived. Come Ramadan, Layla’s mother-in-law, Ruqayya, was buying her new clothes to wear to the masjid. It was out of love, but Sarah had never worn a shalwar kameez in all her life! Ruqayya Aunty started getting upset when Layla was not as excited about the clothes as she was.
As Eid approached, Layla had just picked a cute dress from the department store that she was looking forward to wearing. Yet again, her mother-in-law had other plans for her.
Layla was getting upset inside. It was the night before Eid and the last thing she wanted to do was fight with her new husband. She did not want that stress, especially because they all lived together. At this point, Layla started looking through her Islamic lecture notes. She wanted to know, was this request from her mother-in-law a part of the culture, or was it part of the religion?
The basis of all families, undoubtedly, is the institution of marriage. In the Islamic model, the marriage consists of a husband and a wife. In broad terms, marriage is the commitment of two individuals towards each other and their children to live and work together to meet and support each other’s needs in the way that they see fit. What needs they meet vary as well, from person to person, and family to family. The marriage bond must sustain the weight of fulfilling first their own obligations toward each other. This is the priority. The marriage must also be strong enough to hold the responsibility of raising the kids, and then the extended family.
How are we as Muslims unique and what makes us different from other family models? We are responsible to Allah. The end goals are what makes us different, and the method in which we work. In other family systems, beliefs are different, goals are different, and the motives are different. Methods can especially be different. In the end, it is quite a different system. What makes us better? Not because we say we are better or because we automatically feel better about ourselves due to a misplaced feeling of superiority. But instead it is because we are adhering to the system put in place by the most perfect God, Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds, the One Who knows best what it is we need.
Each person in the family has a role which Allah has meant for them to have, and which ethics and common sense tell us to follow. However, our nafs and ego can easily misguide us to live our family life in the wrong way, which is harmful and keeps us suffering. Suffering can take place in many ways. It can take place in the form of neglect or abuse. In the spectrum of right and wrong, Allah tells us that we are a nation meant for the middle path. So we should not go to any extreme in neglect or abuse.
What are the consequences of mishandling our family roles? Allah calls this type of wrongdoing “transgression” or “oppression”. There are definitely consequences of oppression, abuse, and neglect. There are worldly consequences which we feel in this life, and there are long term consequences in the Akhirah.
Razan and Farhaan
Razan and Farhan had gotten married two years ago. Since they were from different towns, Razan would have to move to Farhaan’s hometown. On top of the change of married life, Razan felt pangs of homesickness and did not know many people in the new town. However, Farhaan did not realize what she was going through. He still had the same friends he grew up with for years. They had a die-hard routine to go to football games on Friday night and play basketball on Saturday at the rec center.
Razan was losing her patience. How could he think it was okay to go out with his friends twice on the weekend? Yet he expected her to keep the home together? Her blood started to boil. What does Islam say about this?
Mawaddah and Rahma
The starting point of a family is a healthy relationship between the husband and wife. Allah SWT prescribed in Surah 25: verse 74, that the marriage relationship is supposed to be built on Mawaddah (compassion) and Rahma (mercy). A loving family environment responds to both the needs of the children and the needs of parents. Good parenting prepares children to become responsible adults.
Aliyaah and Irwan
Aliyaah and Irwan had homeschooled their twin children, Jannah and Omar, for four years. They were cautious about where to admit their children for the next school year. Aliyaah felt that she wanted to homeschool her children for another few years. There were no Islamic Schools in their town. Irwan wanted to let his kids go to public schools. He felt that was nothing wrong with knowing how things in the real world are. However, every conversation they started about this issue ended up into a conflict or fight. This was beginning to affect their relationship.
Two significant roles that adults in a family play are that they are married and they are parents. It is important that parents work to preserve and protect their marital relationship since it is really the pillar which supports the parenting role. Parenting is a role which Allah directly addresses in our religion. We will be asked very thoroughly about this most important role which we will all play in our lives.
There is a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad reminds us,
“All of you are shepherds and responsible for your wards under you care. The imam is the shepherd of his subjects and is responsible for them, and a man is a shepherd of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for it. A servant is the shepherd of his master’s belongings and is responsible for them. A man is the shepherd of his father’s property and is responsible for them”. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Islam has placed a lot of importance on the family unit. A family is the basic building block of Islam. A strong family can facilitate positive social change within itself and the society as a whole. The Quran asserts that human beings are entrusted by their Creator to be his trustees on Earth, thus they need to be trained and prepared for the task of trusteeship (isthiklaf).
Asa youth, it is important to make a concerted effort to develop our family skills so that we grow into that role smoothly. Proper development will prepare a person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically for marriage and family life.
Mona Islam is a youth worker, community builder, motivational speaker, writer, and author. For the past 25 years, Sr. Mona has been on the forefront of her passion both locally and nationally, which is inculcating character development in youth (tarbiyah). Sr. Mona has extensive knowledge of Islamic sciences through the privilege of studying under many scholars and traveling worldwide. An educator by profession, she is a published author, completed her masters in Educational Admin and currently doing her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Sr. Mona is married with five children and lives in Houston, TX.
Thoughts on Gillette: The Best Men Can Be
Some people love it, some people hate it, but Gillette’s short film (ad) has people talking about masculinity in culture, media, and all things #MeToo.
So how does this relate to the Muslim community, and how does the lens of religion change the angle we view this with? Also, how do all those people taking photos of Gillette razors down their toilets plan to take them out without fishing around by hand? (ew.)
We asked our writers to share. Tell us what you think of the ad in the comments below.
“I found the Gillette ad a powerful statement challenging bullying, rape culture and sexual harassment. For me those are the Islamic ideals that actually drew me to Islam. The first Muslim men came from the family I knew. I felt respected and even safe being around them. And respect for women was a key teachings in the Islamic literature I read as I learned about the faith before embracing it. There was so much on honoring women, raising women’s status beyond objectification.
But at the same time it makes me very sad having lived in three Muslim majority countries where sexual-harassment was common place. And seeing it here in the United States a where lot of problematic behavior is condoned by our communities. I’ve even seen some pushback against the term toxic masculinity.
So at first I wondered how would this commercial relate to our community. Then, I was encouraged when I saw the footage of ibn Ali Miller intervening and interrupting street violence. He reminded those teens that they were men. A Muslim man was being held up in this viral ad as being among the “some” who were pushing for change. His courage provided a remedy to the toxic masculinity that leads to the vulnerability of Black life through street violence. It reminded me of the upstanding behavior of the Muslim men who embody our values of honor and respect, and make a difference in our neighborhoods. They are the peace keepers like the ones I worked with at United Muslim Masjid in Philly who stopped a feud, like the young men at Islah LA who escort the sisters to our cars after a function, like my wali, Salah Lashin, the father of three daughters, they are the allies of Muslim women and we look out for each other to make sure that we are not oppressing each other. They create safety. That is what Muslims are supposed to do.
I met ibn Ali Miller this past fall at the MAS LA Convention where he gave an inspiring speech, so that’s pretty awesome. So for me the biggest Takeaway is that by living the prophetic example, the sunnah, ibn Ali Miller did the best dawah. May Allah reward him.”
“The polarization of our times does not allow calm coherent conversations on gender identity. Long story short, without the authority and nuance of revelation, our frame of reference will always be so biased and so shallow. This discussion is just one small example of that. Toxic masculinity cannot be combated with demasculinization – reactions are expected to be imbalanced though.
Only wahy (relevation) can tell us what acceptable spectrum of masculinity is not toxic, and what aspects of compassion and gentleness are not unmasculine. And in the end, only sincere devotion to God can break the egotism and groupthink at the core of these debates. Allahul Musta’an. Perhaps we should take these opportunities to remind of that in general, the necessity of an authentic God-centric, God-informed personality to escape the pendulum effect of moral debates that rage on.
“We knew 1400 years ago that beating on each other and disrespecting women was haram, so maybe we roll our eyes a little when this stuff is seen as groundbreaking or woke or revolutionary, but we shouldn’t. Maybe we’re taking too much for granted. The gentility, honor, and refinement that the Prophet brought to men was groundbreaking and revolutionary in pre-Islamic Arabia too, back when girls were buried alive and women were inherited as property.
Religiously speaking, boys don’t just “get to be boys” because the Sunnah of the Prophet demands they grow up and become non-bullying, gaze-lowering, chastity-guarding, men. Our religion demands better of all of us, and when we fail to do better, we can’t blame Islam for it.
Cultural speaking though, “Boys will be boys” is a deeply entrenched social norm in this as well as cultures in some Muslim-majority countries, and challenging it is a commendable attempt on Gillette’s part even if it seems like old news as Islam is concerned.
“Yes, we need strong men who raise dignified boys that know how to respect women…nothing new there. Our culture just doesn’t have a way for producing that systematically. We don’t teach ethics and good character to children in school or even in the house, so unless we come up with a way of addressing these problems, all this hype is not all that productive.
I heard the furore over the ad from both sides – one that felt that this was overdue recalibration of toxic masculinity and another that felt that this was an unjust and generalised caricature of men.
“An external sign of marū’ah (manliness) : A beard.
The Prophet said there are ten things which are part of fitra (divine order)… which includes growing the beard. Every Prophet of Allah had a lihya. From its inception Gillette has been redefining manliness. Of course they will continue to push the limits.”
The Male Lust, The Female Form And The Forbidden Gaze
Allah ﷻ informs in the Holy Qur’an: Made beautiful for mankind is the love of desires for women and offspring, of hoarded heaps of gold and silver, of branded horses, cattle and plantations. [3:14] Although such things are elsewhere spoken of positively in the Qur’an, as blessings for which people should be thankful, here they are spoken of seductively in terms of objects which men lust over, crave and covet. Unsurprisingly, women top the list. This fact rings loudly in a hadith in which the Prophet ﷺ informed: ‘I have not left after me a fitnah more harmful for men than women.’1 It’s a warning that only a fool or a fasiq would be keen to overlook or take lightly. Another hadith states: ‘The world is green and sweet and Allah has placed you in it as custodians to see how you behave. So be mindful of the world and be wary of women; the first fitnah of the Children of Israel was to do with women.’2
If alcohol breaks inhibitions such that people will sexually behave in ways they usually wouldn’t when they are sober, then the devil is even more potent in removing modesty, boundaries and inhibitions between the sexes. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘A woman is ‘awrah;whenever she goes out, the devil beautifies her.’3
The word ‘awrah, often translated into English as ‘nakedness’, can also mean weakness, vulnerability or something that is unseemly and indecent.4 Women are considered to be ‘awrah because of their desirability. In Islam, the feminine form – desirable, alluring and sensuous in the privacy of the marital home – should not be made to appear so in the public sphere. It’s not just the objectifying male gaze that demeans or threatens women; sometimes some women need saving from their own intemperate selves.
Of course, in our e-world awash with sin, porn and the sexualisation of even children, such revealed wisdom is unlikely to be received with the openness it would have done in a not so long ago age. Notions of modesty, decency or respectability with regard to how the sexes should interact are utterly alien to our consumer-driven, sexually-charged culture. To even suggest, as Islam does, that there could be a modest or dignified way of being a ‘lady’ (and, of course, a ‘gentleman’) is to court ridicule or scorn from an often uncritical public: some may even shout misogyny. I’ve previously written on contemporary gender interactions in Beards, Hijabs & Body Language: Gender Relations, so I’ll confine myself to these few remarks:
The principles of modesty, restraint and respectability have long been written out of our social norms and mores, and this was bound to impact Muslim attitudes too. One hadith says: ‘Modesty and faith are two close companions; if one of them is removed, the other follows.’5 Indeed, as Muslims themselves begin to relax these principles, or compromise them in the hope of being welcomed to the table of liberal sensibilities, can we perhaps see in where it has led others, where we too could be heading?
It’s not just the hijab or niqab we’re talking about. It runs far deeper than that. It’s about much more than just the externals. It’s about how one behaves; it’s about how one carries themselves; of how one disposes their soul towards the opposite gender. Ultimately, it’s about the heart’s purity and its attachment to its Lord.
Allah ﷻ commands: Tell believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. That will be purer for them. For Allah is aware of what they do.[24:30]. On citing this verse, Ibn al-Qayyim noted:
‘Allah put purification after lowering one’s gaze and guarding the private parts. This is why restraining the gaze from the forbidden necessitates three benefits of great worth and tremendous significance. Firstly, [experiencing] the sweetness and delight of faith that is far sweeter, pleasant or delightful than that which the gaze was left, or averted from, for Allah’s sake. Indeed, whoever leaves a thing for Allah’s sake, He shall replace it with what is better than it.6 The soul is deeply enamoured with gazing at beautiful forms. The eye is the scout for the heart, and it sends its scout out to see what’s there. If the eye informs it of something it finds visually attractive and beautiful, it is moved to desire it … Whoever allows their gaze to roam free will constantly be in regret. For the gaze gives rise to love, which begins with the heart having an attachment (‘alaqah) to what it is beholden too. As it strengthens, it becomes an ardent longing (sababah); the heart now hopelessly besotted with it. Growing more, it becomes an infatuation (gharam); it sticks to the heart as a creditor (gharim) sticks to his debtor (gharimah) from whom he doesn’t part. Growing stronger, still, it becomes passionate love (‘ishq); an excessive love. Then it becomes a burning love (shaghaf); a love which reaches to the very lining of the heart and enters it. Intensifying further, it becomes worshipful love (tatayyum) … the heart becoming a slave [worshipper] of that which it isn’t worthy of being enslaved to. And all of this is because of the harmful gaze.’7
Leave aside the debate on whether the greater onus is on women dressing modestly, or men lowering their gaze. There’s no doubt that in today’s ambiance it falls upon men to lower their gaze and to refrain from the lustful, illicit and harmful glance. Shaykh Jaleel Akhoon recently remarked that sins usually leave a black stain on the heart, that can be cleansed through the act of contrition and repentance. But if the heart is captive to the object of its love; enslaved to it by its ‘ishq, then this is worse than the ‘usual’ sin. For the heart isn’t just stained or darkened, he stressed; it is inverted. This has certain echoes of Ibn al-Qayyim when he said: ‘Many a passionate lover will admit they have no place at all in their heart for other than their passionate love. Instead, they let their passionate love completely conquer their heart, thereby becoming an avid worshipper of it … There is no comparison between the harm of this dire matter and the harm wrought by sexual misconduct (fahishah). For this sin is a major one for the one who commits it, but the evil of this ‘ishq is that of idolatry (shirk). A shaykh from the knowers of Allah (‘arifun) said: “That I be tested with sexual misconduct by this beautiful form is more preffered to me than to be tested with it through ‘ishq, by which my heart worships it and is diverted from Allah by it.”‘8
The cure, Shaykh Jaleel says, is that as soon as the heart is tempted by what it must not gaze at, one reins in the gaze and diverts it from the haram or harmful. No effort can be spared in doing so, lest the forbidden glance secretes its poison into the heart, causing it irreparable injury, anguish and torment.
We Ask Allah for safety, sensibility and success.
1. Al-Bukhari, no.5096; Muslim, nos.3740-41.
2. Muslim, no.2742.
3. Al-Bazzar, no.2061; at-Tirmidhi, no.1173, who said it is hasan gharib.
4. Cf. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2003), 2:2193-4.
5. Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.1313; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 1:22, who declared: ‘It is sahih as per the conditions of the two shaykhs.’
6. Possibly paraphrasing the hadith: ‘Indeed, you will not leave anything for the sake of Allah, except that Allah will replace it with something better.’ Ahmad, no.22565, and its chain is sahih. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1992), 1:62; no.5
7. Ighathat al-Lahfan fi Masayid al-Shaytan (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2011), 75. The other two benefits he discusses are: Secondly, the heart being illumined and given to see with spiritual clarity and insight; thirdly, the heart is given strength, courage, firmness and honour.
8. Al-Da’ wa’l-Dawa’ (Saudi Arabia: Imam Dar al-Hijrah, 2014), 514-5.
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