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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Intimacy: Erroneous Western Cultural Beliefs about Female Sexuality




For mature audience only:

Intimacy Matters with Haleh Banani, Umm Reem Saba Syed and Hena Zuberi | Part 3:

Video for Part 3:


Faulty cultural beliefs are not just limited to the East, unfortunately, there are many European cultural beliefs and paradigms that have caused the same damage about female sexuality.

Hena: What is the androcentric model of sexuality and how does it not adequately represent the experience of women?

Saba Syed: Androcentric concepts of sex and failure to recognize female sexual desires—specifically female climax— was quite common in Europe and then in the United States. Beliefs like:

  • Intercourse is pleasurable only for men and merely a duty incumbent upon women.
  • Good women with noble character don’t ask for sex, they don’t desire intimacy
  • Only prostitutes actually enjoy intimacy

And especially

  • Women are incapable of reaching climax

These fallacious ideas were quite rampant up until 1950s. There is an excellent article in New York Times (chapter one of the book by Rachel Maine from John Hopkin University) “The Job Nobody Wanted”.

Basically it discusses how Western society was so androcentric that the ability of women reaching climax was termed “hysteria”— a disease of womb from the time of Hippocrates, the Greek physician. Only in 1952 American Psychiatric Association dropped this term and acknowledge the desire and the ability of reaching climax as a normal function of women’s sexuality!

Hena: In your experience what type of damage have you noticed in a marriage because of these androcentric concepts? How are these concepts harmful psychologically?

Haleh: Women may feel that something is wrong with them for wanting physical intimacy. For example a sister in a halaqa asked the female instructor about wanting to get intimate more than her husband and she was completely shamed. The sister turned beet red because the instructor was so appalled at her question. Sometimes there is tremendous guilt and shame associated to wanting physical intimacy. This guilt eventually erodes women’s self-esteem.

Another way it damages marriages is that it prevents women from initiating physical intimacy – they don’t approach their husbands – they are shy to express their desires and remember initiation from the wife is one of the top 5 needs of men.

What happens when women simply see physical intimacy as a duty?

Haleh: When talking about duty of a wife we need to first discuss the psychology behind obligations versus desire.  When you feel you should do something out of obligation you either won’t do it or if you do then you will not be completely present or responsive during the act. If your heart is not into it you will avoid physical intimacy or just go through the motion. When you desire it you will be engaged and want to take part in it.

Hena: It is almost how we think of a religious obligation like salah, do it out of sense of obligation, we can do it with khushu and wanting it.  So when we are enjoying salah, we increase the amount and the quality, its not just going through the motions –

What would you say are pointers in having a quality physical relationship?

Haleh: Couples need to understand that Intimacy needs to be enjoyable for both of them. If both husband and wife enjoy it then they are more likely to engage in it.

If it’s frustrating, uneventful, or worse painful for women they will avoid it at all cost.
In a healthy relationship:

  • Men don’t demand intimacy from their wives –
  • They don’t threaten them with angels cursing them all night
  • They romance their wives in such a way that she will be a willing & happy participant.

Also, in a fulfilling marriage:

  • Women are mindful during the act
  • They are present mentally
  • They are present emotionally
  • They participate physically
  • They do not think about their to do list!

Fake Orgasm is never Encouraged:

Although it’s common for women to fake their climax it’s not encouraged for a healthy physical relationship because it will give the wrong message to the husband.  Truthfulness is not only in speech but in actions.

How do you think overall these androcentric paradigms are harmful Islamically and have affected marriages?

Saba: There are different paradigms to this.

On one side we have those women who were raised with these ideas and actually programmed their minds to believe that they are not supposed to have sexual desires or enjoy intimacy.  So they end up dealing with intimacy with an aversion, they don’t anticipate it, they don’t participate, they don’t even dress up for their husbands. In some cultures, it is considered ‘ayb (shameful) to dress up for the husband, and wearing lingerie is equivalent to prostitution.  So obviously with these kind of mindsets and attitude, intimacy becomes a source of frustration.

On the other side, there are those who were not necessarily raised with these beliefs, or they overcame these beliefs but people around them haven’t.  SO these beliefs are always thrown at their faces making them feel ashamed or too “masculine” for having a high desire or even a normal desire for intimacy.

We have to understand that these androcentric beliefs that intimacy is pleasurable for men and a duty for women is not even Islamic because Islam doesn’t ordain an act enjoyable for one spouse and not for the other. In Islam, the act of intimacy is pleasurable for men and pleasurable for women, it is a duty of a wife as much as it is a duty of a husband.

Our Muslim brothers, on the other hand, knowing that it is their right and having the need for intimacy become overly demanding, and sometimes unjust to their wives because they feel it’s the wife’s duty to comply and it’s his right to seek pleasure.  So there is an obvious imbalance caused by these faulty cultural beliefs, which are destroying marriages.

It is interesting though that there are sisters who didn’t grow up with these fallacious beliefs or they were able to correct their perception about sexuality but their husbands didn’t or their husbands had these androcentric ideas that good wives don’t ask for intimacy or climax is only a man’s need not a woman’s.

SO the husband has these misconceptions, and in that relationships, the wife really suffers, because again not much has been said about women’s sexual needs–not emotional– sexual needs. There is not much recognition, there’s hardly any acknowledgment and also because women are naturally shy(er) so they feel hesitant in approaching a male shaikh with specific details. So in the process, it is assumed that such issues don’t exist among women because they never complain about it.

Hena: It is not true because MM has opened up an opportunity for those sisters and we have received several comments about such situations:

A typical comment left on

“I never knew till some 4 years of marriage that there is something called ‘orgasm’ for females. When I realized and discussed with my husband, he too was surprised. Till this day he isn’t keen on satisfying me though I do my best to be proactive and attractive before making love. I also approached for divorce, but due to family pressure I had to retract. Though he fails every time to satisfy me in bed, he expects his food, clothes etc. to be ready on time. If not, he really gets mad. But he is Allah fearing, well behaved and a good person. He has fulfilled basic needs like clothing, accommodation etc . I am grateful to him for his spending on us. May Allah reward him for his goodness and guide him for his ignorance. Aameen.

I simply cannot explain the emptiness it leaves when he just sleeps calmly leaving me aroused once he is done. He feels hurt when I say I too want to be satisfied. I have taken it as Allah’s will to continue in this relationship for the sake of Allah, kids and family…

for this Duniya was not meant to be Jannah. I will try my best till my death to keep him happy in bed, though at times I wonder if my days in this duniya will ever come to an end.. It is far better to remain a spinster than to live in a hollow, lonely and unsatisfied marriage.”

Females do have strong sexual appetite. There might surely be ups and downs in that depending on the circumstances, hormonal levels etc.

Our request to our brothers in faith…Don’t be selfish no matter how tired you are. If you want to be satisfied every single time of making love, make sure so does your wife too. Remember before she is your wife, she is a Muslimah. And it is your duty to fulfil the right of another Muslim’. Your wife will never be emotionally attached to you if you do not satisfy her with your own love and willingness in bed.

May Allah grant us all righteous, loving spouses. May He keep us chaste.

Part 1: Everything you ever wanted to Know about Intimacy

Part 2: More of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Intimacy


























Umm Reem (Saba Syed) has a bachelors degree in Islamic Studies from American Open University. 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 was one of the founders of Daughters of Adam magazine and remained the publishing director until 2007. She had been actively involved with MSA, TDC, and other community activities. She has also been actively involved with the Muslim women of her community spiritually counseling with marital and mother-daughter issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities, including special workshops regarding parenting and issues related to women.



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    April 15, 2015 at 9:47 PM

    In Freudian terms it i has to to do with so called madonna/whole complex- you can’t love and be sexual with women . only men who internalise traditional masculinity strongly suffer from this complex.
    But I am afraid that traditional Islamic teachings are not much better . For example read here:–the-role-of-patriarchal-hadith/d/35451

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    April 16, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    This article is mistitled. The title gives you the impression that the West has erroneous cultural beliefs about female sexuality; but apart from a few short paragraphs about 1950s adrocentric norms (and those cannot be denied) it is all about the heavy androcentric norms in Muslim cultures.

    It’s almost as if the author wishes to not be seen as “bashing” Islamic communities by titling and beginning her article about how bad the West is and then going onto the serious topic of the problem in the Islamic communities.

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      April 16, 2015 at 1:15 PM

      What it shows is how we mistakenly followed the backward and incorrect ways of what the West was not too long ago.

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        May 19, 2015 at 2:31 AM

        Good grief! you are referring to western thoughts on sexuality that are over 60+ years ago! My grandmother’s generation! Don’t you guys ever lead in your own cultures or is the blame the west game always your fallback excuse?

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      April 22, 2015 at 3:54 PM

      I also was confused by the title, preparing to read a title bashing western beliefs and practices today around sexuality; I expected to be disappointed, reading an anti-western and sensationalistic article. However, this a great and informative article shedding might on incorrect beliefs and assumptions, regardless of “east” or “west.” Please consider changing the title. Thank you, Ava

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    Ali Ahmed

    April 16, 2015 at 8:16 PM

    This is a very important topic that needs to be discussed more in our communities. There was an excellent post on this subject on reddit just a few days ago, in response to a young Muslim sister. Here’s what it said:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems your trouble is that you feel troubled by your sexual desires. Perhaps you’ve come across statements from scholars about how women are less sexual than men.

    This is a great myth and one that has its roots in traditions outside the Muslim one. I’m not saying you’re not going to find it in Islamic writings, Allah knows it permeates our works. You have to realize that Muslim scholars (both modern and classical) are as much a product of their culture and surroundings as everyone else. As Imam Malik used to say to his students “We accept and we reject parts of what everyone says—except the inhabitant of this grave” and he would motion towards the grave of the Prophet ﷺ. No scholar, no matter how great, is immune from mistakes. And yes, some of that has indeed carried over into thoughts on female sexuality. The interesting thing is that those scholars who had more exposure to women were well aware that this is a myth. The famous scholar of the 5th century AH, Ibn Hazm wrote this:

    I hear many people say, “Complete subjugation to the passions is found only among men, and not among women.” I never cease to wonder at this assertion. My own unwavering opinion is, that men and women are exactly equal in their inclination towards these two things. The man does not exist who, having been offered the love of a pretty woman a long time, and there being no obstacle to prevent him, will not fall into Satan’s net, will not be seduced by sin, and will not be excited by desire and led astray by lust. Similarly there is no woman who, if invited by a man in the same circumstances, will not surrender to him in the end; it is the absolute law and inescapable decree of destiny.

    Ibn Hazm grew up in the palaces of Spain, surrounded by women for the initial period of his life. I’m almost positive he’s the only scholar of his caliber who has had that much interaction with women. That’s clearly evident in how he writes about them. He did not believe in many of the myths that other scholars did. He says if it were not for the prohibition on exposing sins, he would have written about the conversations women have amongst themselves. Conversations, according to him, which would completely stun men who think that women do not have strong sexual desires. He’s also very frank in how man and women act:

    And I will describe something to you that you see with your own eyes: and that is that I have never seen a woman in any place who senses that a man is looking at or listening to her, except that she begins to gesture in a way that she not normally gesture, and begins to make remarks the likes of which she was not making before, and you would see her pay more attention to how she articulates her words and how she varies her postures – in an obvious and non-subtle manner. Men do the same thing if they sense the presence of women

    The point of this all being…..there’s absolutely no reason you should think that your desire for sex is less than a man’s or that it is a deficiency in you if you have strong sexual desires. Honestly, although you say you think you have a sex drive higher than most Muslim women, I really doubt that’s true. It’s just that our culture and society (both our Muslim community and the broader America culture) are far more accepting of males than females expressing their desire. The result is that many women think they’re the weird one for having strong urges. Trust me, there are literally thousands of Muslim women like you thinking the same thing “I have an above average sexual drive, how am I going to find a husband who understands that and accepts it?”

    However, for argument’s sake, let’s say it is true, and your sex drive is way higher than any other Muslim woman. Well…….what’s the problem with that? Allah ﷻ has not made desire haram. He’s delineated a proper way of fulfilling that desire and everything inside it is not only permissible, it is rewarded. Someone with less desire is not at all more pious than someone who has very strong urges. Ibn Hazm actually talks about this exactly:

    But I have observed that many men err gravely as to the true meaning of the word “righteousness.” Its correct interpretation is as follows. The “righteous” woman is one who, when duly restrained, restrains herself; when temptations are kept out of her way, she keeps herself under control. The “wicked” woman on the other hand is one who, when duly restrained, does not restrain herself, and when barred from all facilities for committing licence, nevertheless herself contrives by some ruse or other to discover the means of behaving badly. The “righteous” man is he who has no traffic with adulterers, and does not expose himself to sights exciting the passions; who does not raise his eyes to look upon ravishing shapes and forms. The “wicked” man however is he who consorts with depraved people, who allows his gaze to wander freely and stares avidly at beautiful faces, who seeks out harmful spectacles and delights in deadly privacies. The “righteous” man and the “righteous” woman are like a fire that lies hidden within the ashes, and does not burn any who is within range of it unless it be stirred into flame.

    A righteous person will have that fire burning inside of them but they only feed the fuel in a halal manner (i.e., marriage). As for becoming aroused or attracted to people, if that is beyond your control, then Allah ﷻ will not take you to task for something you have no power over.

    The strongest proof that Islam does not consider women to be any less sexual than men is the had punishment for zina. It’s identical for men and women. Note how the punishment is not identical for married and unmarried people. The hadd punishment is stoning for married people and lashes for those who are unmarried. Why? Not that being unmarried is a legitimate excuse, but it is more understandable than someone who is married, has a halal way of having sex, and still commits haram. Similarly, there’s a hadith about how there are three people whom Allah ﷻ will not speak to, nor purify, not even look at on the Day of Judgement. Of these three is an old man who commits zina. Again, it’s not that being young is a legitimate excuse, but it is more understandable for a young person to commit zina than an elderly man. And yet, you don’t find any ahadith about it being worse for women to commit zina than men or that the hadd is higher on women than men. It is identical.

    I know people are going to point out that Allah ﷻ emphasizes hoor for men and not so much for women and thus this is an indication that women desire sex less than men. I absolutely agree that men and women are different in some regards: And the male is not like the female (Qur’an 3:36). However, this is not an evidence that women are less sexual than men. The best explanation I’ve heard for the difference in emphasis is that, since the Qur’an is directed at all mankind for all time, Allah ﷻ mentions those things which are relevant to us the most. If you were to take a group of a hundred guys and ask them if they could have anything in the world they wanted, pretty much all one hundred of them would say something sexual. If you were to take a group of a hundred women and ask them the same thing, you would get a hundred different responses. It’s not that women desire sex less than men, it’s that they have much more variety in what they want. Therefore, by mentioning hoor to men, Allah ﷻ is mentioning the first thing that 99.9% of men desire. For women, what they want is so varied that it doesn’t make sense to emphasize one particular thing. Regardless, as Allah ﷻ says for men and women: They will have whatever they wish therein (50:35).

    As far as bringing it up with a potential spouse, yeah, I understand why it would make you feel uncomfortable. But realize he probably wants to bring it up as well and feels just as uncomfortable as you about it. If it’s something you want to discuss before marriage, one of you two is going to have to take the plunge. I can’t speak for every guy, but I would venture to guess that most would not be repelled by a sister that brought it up first. I mean, come on, let’s be realistic, we’re Muslim. We’ve waited 20+ years to have sex after we’re married. The guy’s thinking about it, the girl’s thinking about it, and there’s no reason to be ashamed about wanting to discuss if the two are on the same page. I mean, you definitely don’t want to marry a guy who thinks sex is icky (I don’t know, maybe a guy like that exists). And if a guy thinks you’re a “slut” for thinking about sex, well, he’s probably a guy you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with anyway.

    Sorry, this became a lot longer than I intended. This idea that women want romance and cuddles and that men are the only ones who want sex is detrimental to a healthy marriage and a healthy community as a whole. What I’m saying is, you’re not messed up for thinking so much about sex all the time. It’s called being 20 yrs old. It’s great that you don’t watch porn but maybe try to ease off the masturbation as well. I know some scholars consider it makruh and not haram but if possible, why not stay out of the gray area?

    Actually, interesting coincidence, but someone posted an article on r/islam yesterday that I liked so I looked up the author and she had another article talking about just this topic. Here’s the article for those who are interested. Spot on, just like the other one.

    Finally, to reiterate, realize that being a scholar does not automatically make a person an expert on all areas. Insha’Allah we will get more people who do combine expertise in these areas with Islamic education. Two people you might want to keep an eye on in that regards are Haleh Banani and Hooman Keshavarzi. Both are doing great work in the area.

    And Allah (swt) knows best.


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      ummu khayr

      April 17, 2015 at 2:04 AM

      masya Allah very well said
      now I don’t feel so abnormal anymore
      I heard about Ibn Hazm before but I never read his works, now I am interested to look for them

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        April 18, 2015 at 12:07 AM

        You are not abnormal in any way. Just like Ali Ahmed has said, most of us probably feel this way. I always thought myself ‘higher drive than most’.

    • Avatar


      April 22, 2015 at 4:00 PM

      Great and informative response! I learned much about Islam here. Thank you. Respectfully, Ava

    • Avatar


      April 28, 2015 at 1:35 AM

      Thank you sooooooo much for your comment. You really hit the nail on the head. Like another sister mentioned, it makes me feel “more normal” lol.

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    April 18, 2015 at 8:09 AM

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    Umm Maeve

    April 18, 2015 at 7:22 PM

    I never view sex as dirty or slutty. Sex is beautiful and sacred experience to embrace as long as you’re doing it in halaal manner. If Allah permits, I too want 70 husbands in Jannah (hahaha just trolling :-) *waiting for angry responses :p*)

    But the problem with the West now is hyperexposure of sexualized images. Gone are the days when they believed only sluts experience orgasm.

  6. Avatar


    April 25, 2015 at 2:27 AM

    I am veyr grateful for these articles. As a teenage girl I feel the need to learn about intimacy THE RIGHT WAY, from clean and Islamic sources. This is harder than you think. someone always pops up with “Astaghfirullah how can we discuss this on a Muslim website. This is disgusting. Keep all this information behind closed doors.” etc. but BELIEVE ME…If a girl with a high sex drive like I do doesn’t learn pertinent information from reputable sources, she WILL get it somewhere else.
    Jazakallah khair.

  7. Avatar


    May 3, 2015 at 8:02 PM

    re: western society and the androcentric model of sexuality:
    “These fallacious ideas were quite rampant up until 1950s.”
    Respectfully, are you aware that the 1950s were about 2+ generations, or 60 years ago?
    Unless you are lemmings, why do muslims follow the west and then blame the west for muslims following them? Your sexual problems may be the least of your societal problems.

  8. Avatar

    Deborah Aulefer

    May 12, 2015 at 10:02 AM

    Sex is healthy and to be celebrated between two, responsible and mature people. There is nothing shameful about it. Stringent interpretations of religion, and stringent legal systems throughout history have twisted a pleasurable act of bonding into something evil, which it is not. Good article- interesting reading.

  9. Pingback: » Intimacy for Muslim Couples: The Anti-Climax

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Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari



For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.

Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.

Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.

The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.

As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.

From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.

Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.

Muslim individuals and families

  1. Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
  2. They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
    • They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
    • They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
    • They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.

Muslim bodies and institutions

  • Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
  • By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
  • It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
  • Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
  • Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.

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#Current Affairs

Seyran Ates, A Sixty-Eighter In Islamic Camouflage





seyran ates

By Dr Mohammad Usman Rana

In their orientalist enthusiasm to reform Islam, in the sense of reconciling Islam with the always changing ideas and goals of liberal values, Western European liberals and neo-atheists are searching high and low for persons who may serve as Muslim alibies for their project. For many years Ayaan Hirsi Ali was given this role but now the relay baton has been handed over to the German-Turkish activist Seyran Ates.

Does not believe in religion

Ates is of current interest in Norway because her book by the Norwegian title Islam trenger en seksuell revolusjon (Islam needs a sexual revolution, originally published in German in 2011)* was just released in Norwegian translation. Ates is well-known primarily because Western media have hailed her as a freedom fighter among Muslims since she opened a so-called liberal mosque in Berlin in 2017 and titled herself a female imam.

Obviously, Ates is part and parcel of an essential debate about the future of Muslims in Europe as it is a fact that a lot of traditional mosques in Western Europe have a big job to do in order to become more relevant to young Muslims, that is, more inclusive and adapted to a European context. Not least the issue of women’s rights is rightfully important to many people in the Muslim world, whether they are liberals or conservatives. In the midst of all the praise, Ates receives in Western media one essential question is however forgotten: What Islamic credibility does Ates have? In line with postmodern nihilism where concepts, ideas, and identities are emptied of meaning and content, the fact is ignored that Ates in her book points out that she believes in God but not in religions. She has no Islamic theological education and explains that she has recently started taking courses in Islamic studies and Arabic in order to be more credible among Muslims.

This is not only the case with Ates. It is a general weakness of so-called progressive and liberal Islam (reformers) that the movement lacks a foundation of religious and theological structure; it is rather founded on personalities with a political mission.

More journalists than worshippers

In her book about Islam needing a sexual revolution, Ates applauds European Christians’ dissociation from the church after 1968. Paradoxically, she later opened a mosque for Muslims. Further, she praises secularly thinking individuals as the most honourable people.

This is why the question should be raised whether the mosque, the imam title, and other religious references are just an Islamic camouflage for what can be understood as a political secularisation, assimilation and liberalisation project by Ates and her supporters. Due to the missing religious credibility and seriousness of this commitment, it should come as no surprise that it has little appeal to European and German Muslims.

When the New York Times visited the mosque, its journalists reported that there were more journalists than worshippers present. She has, on the other hand, a strong appeal among extreme right-wing anti-Muslim thinkers and movements in Europe. It is noteworthy that Ates received a solidarity claim from the extreme anti-Islam German AfD party, and has been praised by the infamous anti-Muslim blog of “Human Rights Service” in Norway.

The positive development aspect is missing

Why should German and European Muslims listen to an activist who attacks the fundamental principles of Islam and in her book paints a stereotypical image of the world’s Muslims?

There is no denying that Ates addresses a number of important challenges for Muslim women. Still, her arguments become oversimplified when she confuses female-hostile habits in the East with Islam and completely forgets the positive development today’s Muslim women in Europe experience where they, as opposed to their mothers’ generation, receive a university education, have a career, and choose whom they want to marry.

Seyran Ates’ project is not about a necessary contextualisation of Islam’s holy texts in a European reality, maintaining the characterisations of the region. The project is rather about a total change of Islam. In her book, Ates justifies such a change by creating strawmen with sweeping generalisations about Muslims. She, for instance, writes that ‘it is a fact that Muslim men have a considerable problem with our free world’, and that ‘Islamic politicians do not distinguish between religion and politics’ – without mentioning the widespread authoritarian secular tradition in Muslim countries in modern times such as in Turkey and Baathism in Syria and Iraq.

Less sexual restraint

Ates’ main argument in Islam needs a sexual revolution is that Muslim men and women are sexually oppressed because sexuality is defined as a blessing and source of love only within – and not outside of – the frames of marriage. The rule of intimate relationships being reserved for marriage meets with unison agreement from Muslims from different schools of thought; Ates, however, absurdly calls it an expression of “fundamentalist” Islam. In this view, Seyran Ates disagrees with the well-known American feminist Naomi Wolf who, after having travelled in Muslim countries, believes that this marital channelling of intimacy, in fact, strengthens sexuality and family ties at the same time.

The German-Turkish author wants less sexual restraint, more promiscuity and a liberal attitude to nakedness, in line with the ideals of the sixty-eighters. Seyran Ates praises the sixty-eighters’ revolution as an ideal for Muslims. Although the #metoo campaign, which can be said to have brought to light the negative consequences of the sexual revolution, was released after Ates’ book was published, it makes her attitudes to this revolution seem somewhat doubtful. The heritage of the sixty-eighters is not only freedom and equality but also the breaking up of the family as well as selfishness and decadence. It is also ironical that someone like Ates, who claims religious credibility, calls attention to Alfred Kinsey, the atheist sexologist who believed in open relationships, as a model for Muslims.

Public pillory

Ates’ book is mainly about freedom, a personal freedom in the name of value liberalism and sixtyeighters. A well-known American intellectual, Patrick Deenen from the University of Notre Dame, however, criticises such a perception of the concept of freedom believing we should ask ourselves if freedom can really be defined as human beings pursuing their instincts more or less uncritically. Deenen maintains that human beings are then in effect unfree and slaves of their instincts, while real freedom is achieved if we manage to free ourselves from being governed by human appetites.

Seyran Ates and her non-Muslim supporters seem to have no understanding at all of such a definition of the concept of freedom. Even more problematic is that they want to make their sixty-eighters’ liberal values absolute, believing Muslims must adhere to them if they wish to belong to modern society. Harvard professor Adrian Vermeule calls this form of liberalism aggressive because it only tolerates itself and no differences of opinion. It maintains its rituals in the form of checkpoints of ‘correct’ opinions in particular about sexuality, gender, and identity. Disagreeing with this can result in reprisals in the form of public pillory or even legal steps.

Obsessed with removing the hijab

When Muslims are met with such absolute-making of liberal values it is like an extension of colonial cultural imperialism when French and British colonial masters wanted to westernise Muslim populations, believing it was the only way of making them civilised. Some of them were obsessed with removing Muslim women’s hijabs, just as Seyran Ates is. The British consul general in Egypt, Lord Cromer, was a representative of this view. He wanted to free Muslim women from the hijab while at home in the UK he was ardently against feminism and women’s suffrage (source: Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press).

Worth noting is also that extensive surveys by Gallup Coexist Index among West-European Muslims show that they are far more religious than the majority population. Similar findings in relation to Norwegian Muslims were made by Bushra Ishaq in her book Hvem snakker for oss? (Who speaks for us?) from 2017. Considering these figures, it would be utopian as well as illiberal to expect Muslims to opt for a liberal values morality. On the contrary, it should be expected that religious European Muslims understand their religious practice as belonging to a Western context, that they value equality and that they support the liberal state governed by rule of law that actually allows people to live according to liberal as well as conservative norms of value.

*The original German-language version of the book, Der Islam braucht eine sexuelle Revolution: Eine Streitschrift, was published in 2011

Dr Mohammad Usman Rana is a Norwegian columnist, author and a commentator on Islam

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Chronicles of A Muslim Father: It All Began With a Prayer




fathers, Muslim fathers

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Family, friends, neighbors, coaches, and teachers are all part of that community and the pillars of that system are the parents. Mothers specifically have and continue to make monumental contributions to this effort. But what about Muslim fathers?

There are thousands of blog posts and hundreds of books on the fundamentals of raising Muslim children in the current climate written by mothers across a diverse array of the spectrum. They have tackled issues that range from Aqiqa’s to matrimonials and beyond, but when I needed a fresh perspective on raising Muslim children by someone like me, a Muslim father, I could hardly find any readily available resources.

I don’t know if this is a cultural deviancy or just men in general, but we leave all the parenting to the mothers and justify skimming over our responsibilities in the name of “breadwinning”. Whatever the case may be, I am a person who is constantly looking for guidance so that I, as their father and the head of the household, can make the right moves for my kids morally, academically and socially.

Furthermore, I am convinced that there are thousands, if not millions of Muslim fathers, just like me looking for the same thing that are coming up empty handed just like I did.

It’s for this reason, with the help of Allah that I have endeavored to fill in this much-needed gap and compose this essential series that will be comprised of archives from my own experiences coupled with advice on best practices and pitfalls in raising Muslim children from a father’s perspective.  

I hope and pray that my work will be a source of guidance for both mothers and fathers on raising Muslim children, if not at the very least a catalyst for a call-to-action for fathers to assume their respective roles. May Allah guide all of us to be the best parents for our children and raise our children amongst the righteous to be the coolness of our eyes. 

Jameel Syed  

Hajj 2000- I find myself at the time of Tahujjud standing humbled with all my faults in front of the ancient house of Allah trying to collect myself under the shade of night, to muster up the courage to address my Lord in efforts to ask…

What makes me think my voice would reach Him amongst a legion of believers who have come to this place with their righteous deeds and all I have to offer Him are years ladened with transgressions? How do I ask? Where do I begin…

Standing at six feet, I began to shrink both in stature and in spirit. Tears began to swell up in my eyes as I stood as still as a statue. I truly felt more insignificant than the idea of the word “below” itself. As natural as rain falling from the sky to the ground, in one action I collapsed into prostration, embracing the ground as if it were life itself. There I remained for what seemed like an eternity— sometimes praising Him, other times asking for His forgiveness as my body shook uncontrollably with tears running a constant flow. I had no concept of my surroundings or that the world existed at all. In that moment in the darkness, I just felt it was me, Him and the appeal that I had to make. I knew that I had no right. It was not my place to ask and that I had come with nothing to offer, but there was no place else to go, nobody else to turn to. I maintained my sajdah for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, I summoned up my courage and brought the sentiments of my heart to my lips:

“Ya Allah pair me with a righteous wife who will give me righteous children.” 

At that moment, my prayers that were for me were for them. My tears flowed for them, whatever ramblings came from my mouth were for the unborn children that I have never met. If you think about it, it seemed foolish, so absurd, but in my bones, it felt so right. I didn’t even have a wife and there I was begging for righteous children. The truth in context was that I wanted something very special from the Treasury of His Majesty and I came to His House to humble myself to get it.

It was on the sound of the Fajr adhan that I finally arose from my prostration. My cheeks and kurta (shirt) wet with tears and all that was left was contemplation. It seemed as if I was transitioning into yet a different train of thought. 

I began to take account of who I am, what I wanted and what I needed to do. I didn’t know the first thing about being a husband or father. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes I made as a son. I wanted my children to have the best in this world and the next but didn’t have a clue on how to pave that path. I wanted to endeavor to strive to be at least as good as my own father and put my family first. In all honesty, as these thoughts began flooding my head, I felt totally helpless and totally overwhelmed. 

I knew that I would have to sacrifice, upgrade my character, prioritize to put the pleasure of Allah at the forefront of my thoughts and actions. This was a huge shift from how I lived my life for the past couple of decades. My time was mine, my money was mine and I impulsively chased my desires. All that had to change!

Change Brings Change

One thing did, however, make sense to me:

I thought to myself that if I laid down the track based upon my style of thinking, it would certainly be disastrous. I needed to consult with scholars and gather as much information as I could to construct a path in accordance with what Allah has prescribed to give myself a chance at achieving my dream.

This, I concluded, was what was needed to be done in order to ensure a chance of success. I felt resolute to act upon it. At that thought, the Muaddhin began to recite the Iqama and the entire ordeal concluded.

Six months later, I found myself in the living room of Dr. Ahmed Muneeruddin whose lineage goes back directly to AmĪr-ul-Mu’minīn, Umar Al-Farooq (May Allah be pleased with him). I was witness to one of the most profound events of my lifetime. My father (the late) Dr. Abdus-Salam Syed recited Khutbah Al-Haajah for the company that was present, which included immediate family from both sides. He then turned his attention to his host and began to declare with profound emotion:

“Praise to be Allah and blessings and peace be upon His final Prophet and Messenger Muhammad. I enjoin you to fear Allahﷻ. I have come to you to engage your noblest daughter Maria Muneeruddin to my son Jameel Abdul Syed in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet and the pleasure of Allah .” 

He then went on to conclude with Du’a for happiness, well being, prosperity, that the beginning and end of this affair should be on the straight path and that this union should bare righteous children in the future.

She was going to be the mother of my children

It is noteworthy that I had only known my future wife then for two weeks in total with no more than two physical meetings and a half a dozen phone calls.

She presented very strong qualities, which matched all of the qualifiers outlined by the Prophet: Beauty, wealth, status and religion. As most prospective couples do, we dialogued back and forth measuring each other up against our ideals, but truthfully my decision to pursue her at the end had little to do with any of her questions to my answers. Rather it was the fact that when I looked into her eyes, I saw the mother of my future children and I knew that no other woman on the face of this earth could hold that status for me. It was a feeling I knew to be true and the final criterion for my decision that I feel my heart was guided by Allahﷻ. The series of events that led to my engagement was idiosyncratic and unplanned. In my experience, when Allah wants something to happen, it happens rather quickly and arrives unannounced and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. 

Our marriage took place on July 1st, 2001 in Ontario, Canada. Shortly thereafter she became pregnant and learned that it was going to be a baby boy. Both of our families were elated. It was the first child of the next generation on both sides. We debated back and forth about the name until we finally reached a unanimous decision: Muhammad Jibril Syed. Maria constantly listened to Surah Al-Baqarah during her pregnancy and prayed for him during this eight-month period. My job was to keep her happy! 

On March 13th, 2002, Jibril had arrived at Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, Michigan honoring both Maria and me with the titles of parents. I gingerly picked up the boy and took him to my father who raised the adhan in his right ear and the iqama in his left as per the tradition of The Prophet. The feeling was indescribable. A feeling of pride, disbelief, elation. Maria felt the same, but she was obviously exhausted. The hospital was flooded with friends and family— it was total chaos. I had to escape, if only for a moment.

I broke away from the excitement and retreated to the hospitals chapel to pray. After prayer, I sat by myself in that room and reflected on how I got to this point. That prayer I made during Tahajjud in front of the Kaabah. It was the beginning of my journey into fatherhood. My heart softened and I began to cry. SubhanAllah, I thought to myself. “Just look at the plan of Allah. He didn’t turn a deaf ear to the pleas of a sinner that day. He’s given me so much in such a short period of time. I promised myself that I would not be an ungrateful slave. That I would honor the trust that He’s bestowed on me with this child and any other future children by devoting myself to try and raise them in accordance with His pleasure.

As I walked out of the chapel and back to my family, I thought to myself: “I wonder what he’s gonna call me…”

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