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It’s Just a Joke: Making Fun of Women in our Lives


A Ramadan iftar fundraiser and I had a pregnant woman, two elders, and mothers with nursing babies and toddlers at my table. We had just opened our fast and started eating, except the woman who was pregnant. Despite her deep desire to fast she couldn’t due to the health of her unborn baby. She was in obvious discomfort as it was towards the end of her pregnancy, but was here to attend the fundraiser for a cause close to her heart — an Islamic School. The keynote speaker was a beloved teacher and well known speaker.

This is how he started his speech:

“Before Maghrib you empathize with the poor and after Maghrib you empathize with pregnant women.”

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It was a poor take on another shaykh’s Ramadan humor.

Almost every woman at my table was taken aback, some forced a smile, others were visibly upset. This kind of humor starts off with no ill intent but has a significant negative impact that affects all aspects of society. I regularly receive wife jokes on my extended family’s Whatsapp and cruder jokes about women in my high school’s Whatsapp group.

Being humiliated and degraded for being a women is not funny.

United Nations ad campaign points out sexism in Google searches

United Nations ad campaign points out sexism in Google searches.

study released in 2008 states that, “Sexist humor is not simply benign amusement. It can affect men’s perceptions of their immediate social surroundings and allow them to feel comfortable with behavioral expressions of sexism without the fear of disapproval of their peers,” said Thomas E. Ford, a new faculty member in the psychology department at Western Carolina University, “Specifically, we propose that sexist humor acts as a ‘releaser’ of prejudice.”

In one experiment, Ford and his student colleagues asked male participants to imagine that they were members of a work group in an organization. In that context, they either read sexist jokes, comparable non-humorous sexist statements, or neutral (non-sexist) jokes. They were then asked to report how much money they would be willing to donate to help a women’s organization. “We found that men with a high level of sexism were less likely to donate to the women’s organization after reading sexist jokes, but not after reading either sexist statements or neutral jokes,” Ford said.

“We found that, upon exposure to sexist humor, men higher in sexism discriminated against women by allocating larger funding cuts to a women’s organization than they did to other organizations,” Ford said, “We also found that, in the presence of sexist humor, participants believed the other participants would approve of the funding cuts to women’s organizations. We believe this shows that humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behavior when people believe others feel the same way.”

Now imagine this applied to real life: when our girls ask why it is always the girls programming that is cut from the Islamic Center’s, MSA’s or Youth group’s budget, humor about women may be at the bottom of it.

Another study found hostile jokes increase male proclivity towards rape. In the US and across the world, the incidents of sexual assault and rape have steadily increased. The recent rape case at Stanford University highlights not only white privilege, but also a healthy dose of sexism in how it has been handled.

Glick, Sakalli-Uğurlu, Ferreira and de Souza (2002) demonstrated in their research that in Turkey and Brazil, ambivalent sexism is related to attitudes legitimizing wife abuse.

It is not about not being able to take a joke. It is about the responsibility of our leaders and shuyukh and the messages they give out to the thousands of followers that read their tweets and attend their classes. Some may understand that it was just a joke after taking the class, but others will take a misogynist bite and then use it to justify their future hurtful actions. We as a society must take responsibility by curbing this culture at every level if we hope to one day eliminate it completely.

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.



  1. Hassan

    June 10, 2016 at 1:45 PM

    Ok, so not only we men have to suffer emotional abuse, now we cannot joke about it to lighten our stress. Women gets free hand by khateebs and scholars to do whatever they want and justify by telling men, that’s how women are, just tolerate, while we are continuously bombarded with how to be excellent husband to take all the crap.

    Don’t take our last solace, joking to make us relax.

    • Aminah

      June 10, 2016 at 6:18 PM

      Except it’s not just joking if it has a negative effect on the perception of woman.

      Just from reading your comment I can see you have some misogynistic views and I wonder if they’re a result of all the ‘joking’ you do about woman.

      • Hassan

        June 10, 2016 at 7:19 PM

        “I was feminist and anti-misogyny till I got married”, said every husband.

        My views are result of experiences of all husbands that I know of, jokes are just to make pain less.

    • Ali

      June 13, 2016 at 4:27 AM

      Salam Bro, you’re coming off as incredibly insensitive. We can joke about things that dint hurt the feelings of others. Why in the world would muslims want to make jokes that earn us displeasure of Allah(swt). You said it yourself the lazy husband jokes make you feel uncomfortable. Why not state that you would like lesser jokes about husband’s as well. Why fight about wanting to offend others. Ours is not the way of deliberately offending people. You have to see that the rationality you use to protect your right to offend is used by those who hate us and want to offend muslim sensibilities. This Is the month of Mercy and repentance.. Please reconsider your outlook towards out sisters, mothers and daughters.

      • Hassan

        June 13, 2016 at 6:45 AM

        What are you talking about? No joke make me uncomfortable, I support jokes period. I did not say anywhere what you are referring me to.

        “Please reconsider your outlook towards out sisters, mothers and daughters”, something happens tot them in role of wives.

    • Naila

      July 8, 2016 at 10:28 AM

      Brothet neither man or woman are allowed to do whatever they like. Holy book Quran is perfect Master to teach us how to be a good husband or wife. No need to stress out. Nobody asking you to try to be a good or perfect husband but only Allah. Trust me Allah is asking this from you only for your own well being not for any other person you are in relation with either as a husband, father or a nice neighbor. Allah is also responsible for them. You are asked only to take care of your actions and not to hurt anyone”s feeling. I am surprised such a minor thing could stress out someone ????

    • Musa

      August 6, 2016 at 9:19 AM

      Except the prophet Muhammad pbuh. Who is a man and a human who eats and drinks and sleeps and cries and laughs like any other men. Sure he has inspiration by Allah but he is the clear role model. If not him then look at the sahaba and the tabi-een and the taba tabieen. Lets aim high bro.

    • Ray

      August 22, 2016 at 2:00 PM

      stop acting like men are oppressed, you do realize that there are millions of topics to joke about and the only thing that appeals to you is misogynistic and sexist jokes? that’s sad.
      men who choose to victimize themselves on such petty matters are truly troubling.
      May Allah guide you to the right path.

  2. Noor

    June 10, 2016 at 2:00 PM

    Why only ugly jokes against women make men relax, don’t they have other spheres for relaxation. Reciting the Quran is the best relaxant so is Salah. Try it and see the results.

    • Hassan

      June 10, 2016 at 3:54 PM

      Yeah we should be ideal with our patience and prayer like prophets and sahabah. We should not use humor to lighten the crap that women give men. We should recite Quran and pray all the time.

      Meanwhile woman can do whatever verbal and physical abuse they can, because according to khateeb and scholars, do not try to change them, let them be like that. Take their crap and be patient

      • M

        June 10, 2016 at 11:56 PM

        Did you ever consider the fact that maybe your wife went through abuse before being married to you, and she’s taking it all out on you, because she feels you’re the only person she has control over?

      • Hassan

        June 11, 2016 at 12:48 AM

        Are you talking about 99% of husbands I know, their wives went through abuse?

      • M

        June 12, 2016 at 3:36 PM

        99%? I’ve seen more women being abused by men but I am not of the opinion that all men are the same. Neither am I of the opinion that all women are the same.

        Because lets face it people are not the same, all genders are not the same, all races, nationalities etc are not the same.

        By the way, when women abuse they use verbal and mental abuse, because that’s all they can do. But when men abuse they go for mental, physical, verbal, sexual, financial etc.

        And as I said before, women have in fat gone through more abuse then men because of the patriarchy in our society. So when you abuse one generation of wives, they raise daughters that turn out to be abusive wives, and sons that do not know how to stand up for themselves in a dignified way.

  3. Hassan

    June 10, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    Patient: Is there any medicine for long life?
    Doctor: Get married!!
    Patient: Will it help?
    Doctor: No, but it will make you avoid having such thoughts!!

    • N

      June 11, 2016 at 10:41 AM

      ‘Women’ do not have a freehand to do whatever they want. No one should have a freehand to do as he/she wills. That always has disastrous consequences .
      It may be that ‘a woman’ u know or ‘some women’ you know have a freehand.
      You or anyone else cannot and should not generalize about people (men or women) based on experiences and testimonies of a handful of people that you personally know.

  4. Fritz

    June 10, 2016 at 9:06 PM

    This article is truly ridiculous. It hilariously is trying to convince us that somehow mild situtational humour leads to cuts in funding for womens activities, violence and that (the classical feminist refrain), every joke leads to rape.

    The nub of the joke has nothing to do with pregnant woman and actually is a comment on the gluttonous nature of the person breaking their fast (!!!)

    It would be useful if the author actually quoted some studies with sound methodology rather than the tabloid data which has been shoe-horned to fit this predetermined world-view.

    Some people really should develop a better sense of balance and perspective. How many times do women joke about their husbands and men being forgetful/disorganised? Has the author sanctioned these people? Why the double standards? Are the women of today not adults rather than emotionally sensitive children?

    • Abdullah

      June 11, 2016 at 4:45 AM

      Spot on! You hit the nail right on the head! Well said Fritz!

    • Rahat

      June 14, 2016 at 8:51 AM

      This. Article lacks balance, perspective or a logical argument for that matter.

    • Taimur

      June 15, 2016 at 12:14 PM

      now you’ve done it .. get ready for feminist brigade to jump in

    • Abdul-Lateef

      June 25, 2016 at 7:28 PM

      Hey Fritz, I think this article went straight over your head, mate. It’s a straightforward point that most people who are considerate of others can understand. If you haven’t had college education then you may not be able to understand the research that the author was referencing, and how unconscious bias affects behavior. Isha’Allah you can do more reading and maybe find someone who has been trained in social sciences to help you understand.

  5. M

    June 10, 2016 at 11:54 PM

    I didn’t really get the joke about the pregnant women but I do get your point. Sexist jokes are common, and they tell you a lot about the persons making them, whether it’s a man joking about the women, or the women making fun of herself. It’s probably because that’s what they grew up hearing and never bothered to think about it. Not everyone will make sexists jokes, some people are above that.

    I feel sorry for the Sheikh though, here in the west they are expected to be funny while giving a lecture so the audience doesn’t fall asleep (because apparently people can’t be respectful and attentive even if the person is talking about their Creator), so they end up forcing the jokes sometimes.

    • Fari

      June 11, 2016 at 5:07 PM

      Apparently, the pregnant woman joke is about comparing the Iftar belly to a pregnant woman’s belly. Weird joke, I must say but I believe, the speaker had the best of intentions.

      • Abdullah

        June 19, 2016 at 4:46 AM

        I thought the joke was more to do with the fact that both pregnant women and those who overeat feel discomfort from the heavy burden they’re carrying, rather than the look of their belly.

  6. Somedude

    June 11, 2016 at 7:04 PM

    Truly a ridiculous article that belongs in some fundamental feminist website and not on muslimmatters. Saying that Jokes lead to rape is ok but that the.way a woman dresses can lead to rape, then that become ridiculous? How about the verbal abuse and bickering every man has had to endure from women since Adam? How about a mans portrayal of.always being.the.dumb, dirty, disorganized, and careless.husband? Feminism is so hypocritical and plain.dumb that feminists dont.even realize how dumb they sound. Please stick to.Islam.and.dont.import misguided movements like feminism to correct gender roles. Men.have been verbally abused by womens nagging.for millenia, yet we accept

    • M

      June 12, 2016 at 3:54 PM

      I am curious about the author’s view on women joking about themselves. Is it because of our social norms? Stereotyping is bad regardless of the gender. I’ve heard a lot of stereotypes of men too, like they cannot be faithful etc. which I am quite certain are not true. As mothers we need to raise our children to be respectful of each other regardless of our genders.

      • Hena Zuberi

        June 13, 2016 at 2:59 AM

        Detest cartoons like the Simpsons that portray men like buffoons and fathers like incompetent fools. Frankly, any ‘joke’ that perpetuates stereotypes and degrades people, men or women, should not be used by people aspiring for higher levels of spirituality and character.

  7. DI

    June 12, 2016 at 3:10 PM

    We learned these jokes from Islamic scholars. If you are looking to blame someone thats where it started. From a comedic point of view, these jokes are often poorly delivered, poorly timed and crass. You would never make this joke to non-Muslim women, but we make it to Muslim women. To be honest, its the only joke all Muslim guys make – we need new material and its overdue.


  8. Omer Riaz

    June 13, 2016 at 6:42 AM

    In the Islamic society the woman has an honored position and, beside her legal and civil rights, enjoys special respect, love, affection and the gentle feelings which she deserves most.
    “And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” [Noble Quran 2:228]

  9. Ali

    June 14, 2016 at 7:05 AM

    Anyone else notice anything “islamic” in the west is turning into veiled liberalism. Everything now is about feminists and being super PC as to not offend anyone. Sorry, but if you can’t take the mildest of jokes I have ever heard, you are suffering from 1st world problems and are bored looking to be outraged.

    • Taimur

      June 15, 2016 at 12:15 PM

      spot on .. this article is ridiculous

  10. AbulRahman

    June 14, 2016 at 8:13 AM

    Wait… let me get this right… Someone makes a joke to a Muslim audience. The joke wasn’t even making fun of women, pregnant or otherwise. Rather, it was mocking those of us who overeat when breaking our fast. And this is somehow sexist or offensive to pregnant women, because…???? Perhaps someone should have explained the joke to the crowd?

    I’m sorry, but I can’t help but feel that the author is creating a mountain out of a molehill and going out of the way to make this a gender issue. Yes, there are numerous jokes aimed at women that are offensive and downright “un-Islamic” in nature, but there’s just as many of those offensive and downright “un-Islamic” jokes aimed at men. If this is really such a serious issue, it’s clear to anyone with an unbiased demeanor that it affects both genders. There’s no need to cry “sexist!” when it clearly isn’t specific to one sex.

    Quite frankly, the content of this article reminded me of third-wave hard-core feminist rhetoric – specifically, the third-wave hard-core feminist rhetoric that pushes the idea that women are to be coddled and treated like spoiled children rather than intelligent, responsible and capable adults.

    PS: For “M” who commented on the 12 June 2016: Abuse is abuse and it’s wrong – regardless of which gender is higher in the stats at this time. Furthermore, abuse affects both men and women. Both genders can be victims and perpetrators of both mental, verbal and physical abuse. Your idea that women are only capable of verbal and mental abuse is downright inaccurate and, to be frank, a dangerous view to promote. Yes, women are generally physically smaller than men, but don’t be fooled into thinking that women are somehow immune from being physical aggressors. Some women attack men just as some men attack women. Some women throw things at men, just as some men throw things at women. Some women slap men, just as some men slap women. Regardless, of whether the victim was bigger or smaller and regardless of the gender, abuse is wrong!

  11. Fari

    June 14, 2016 at 1:16 PM

    The thing is I really hate any kind of jokes on pregnancy and pregnant women except for those good-natured ones made by pregnant women themselves. I just think that if a man or a childless woman makes these jokes, it somehow involves body-shaming. I heard many girls say that they don’t want to get pregnant because they will hate to have that bump on their midriffs. I know that maybe some of those girls are child-free by their personal choice, some of them just don’t know what they’re talking about (too young and unmarried) but among them there are also those who were exposed to anti-pregnancy and body-shaming propaganda. And you may tell me a thousand times that you have the best intentions when making such a joke, but I can’t get rid of the feeling. As a woman, I find it offensive. So, remembering the famous hadith on doubtful matters, shouldn’t a good Muslim just avoid it? Just AVOID it! You tell me it’s a joke, I say a good joke made by a Muslim is supposed to be funny for everyone and this one is quite the opposite for me (and many other ladies obviously). Also, there’s plenty of hadiths on joking and mocking, go research the matter, you’ll find that any jokes that can hurt people are not permissible for good Muslims. I am a woman and I don’t like being mocked for my natural state. So you shouldn’t make jokes about it. See? It’s easy! And we don’t really need western ethics for that, we already have that respect and care for anyone’s (including women’s) feelings in Islam, in noble teachings of our Prophet (peace be upon him)!

    • Abdullah

      June 14, 2016 at 8:34 PM

      The pregnant woman is not the one being made fun of though. Rather, it’s the greedy person who is eating too much. So how on earth is this offensive to pregnant women? Yes, a Muslim should not make jokes that are hurtful to others, but when people are offended by jokes that aren’t even making fun of them but instead merely make mention of something they hold dear in passing, you really have to question whether the audience is being ultra-sensitive. What next? Should we be outraged by “why did the chicken cross the road” jokes because it mentions “chickens” and “crossing the road” and that may somehow be offensive to ultra-sensitive poultry farmers and crossing guards? Really?

      It’s interesting that folks don’t have the same ultra-sensitive outrage for the poor, who are also mentioned in much the same way as pregnant women in the very same joke. Perhaps it’s because the real issue lies with those who are offended (and possibly their own unhealthy views of pregnancy, gender roles, etc) rather than the joke itself.

      • Fari

        June 15, 2016 at 4:09 PM

        Assalamu alaikum! Well, brother, I really don’t want to engage in a massive debate about this and I’ll try to be short. If someone says something that another one finds offensive and that thing is not specifically important for the former (as, I don’t know, a question of hijab or salah), I truly believe he/she should drop the subject and never return to it in the latter’s presence not to seem rude or obnoxious. Accusations of over-sensitivity will be of little help in such a situation. That is my opinion: if a certain lady doesn’t find this joke funny, whoever making it should stop and change the subject. It’s called common decency.
        But I also realize that this joke doesn’t pertain to the crucial aspects of our religion, therefore I can just leave it. For me personally, it doesn’t seem funny or talented but I can live with that. The same goes to everyone else in the comments including some people sharing their complaints about a “great feminist conspiracy in Muslim communities”. The post by Hena Zuberi wasn’t about feminism (in that derogatory meaning feminism received due to some actions of modern feminists). It was about mutual respect. So, let’s stop arguing and bickering, especially in this holy month of Ramadan. Let’s respect and love each other – that is the true Sunnah of the Prophet (sallaLlahu alaihi wa-sallam).

  12. Somedude

    June 15, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    I am offended by extremist feminism and political correctness.

  13. Silvia

    June 15, 2016 at 10:47 AM

    In both cases I have seen women and men being abused. Especially since we are in the month of Ramadan, the world of Allah is there for a reason, please do read and reflect. Men don’t have to bare a child so they don’t understand the emotional, physical or hormonal problems a woman has to go through almost every month. I won’t support you guys when you degrade woman when you came to the world because of one. Please do respect. Learn to love and respect woman in your life. You want your wife to be a good mother than tend to her and not make funny jokes to abuse her. Fear is a mechanism used to fog the consciousness of a human causing them to make the wrong decisions or even do the wrong thing. That’s why Allah is so merciful that he counts our actions. At the end of the day even your tongue will speak on the day of Judgment so fear Allah and stop following the crowd. On the other hand, I’ve seen sleek women who aren’t nice either. There is such a thing as women abusing men. At the end of the day we all belong to Allah and we all have haqq which we need to give. Even to have someone who believes in Allah and prays for you is a blessing in disguise which a lot of people take for granted. Dua works. Having someone who will give unconditional love freely is very rare. Instead of fighting and abusing each other in a world full or fear, be a source of light and hope. Solution: ask each other how you can help the other person to make their load lighter, it will work :) We’re here to build healthy families not break them.

  14. Naima

    June 19, 2016 at 2:41 PM

    So many (especially men) fail to see the bigger picture. Jazakhallau khairan for writing about this, obviously there is
    always more to say about this topic but sister Hena you covered it well.

  15. Smalik

    June 21, 2016 at 5:40 PM

    I am so happy to see this piece of writing. It’s interesting to me how people are trying to portray that this joke was not sexist or this article lacks proper content. As soon as any joke is offending to any body it s simply not funny anymore. Who else would be better judge than women who were pregnant and sitting there. The patriarchal nature of society encourages us to think such jokes and off hand remarks are ok! while they are not. I would like to give an example of a woman who got married recently and his husband makes jokes about her intellect, their private matters and body type. All in all, saying well you don’t have a good humour. I can tell how much she has changed, she doesn’t confide in her husband, she doesn’t joke with him and have started avoiding him in most cases. So sisters, teach your sons and brothers kindly recognize there is a very thin line between stepping over to offending side. Personally, I might not have felt offended but as soon as these women did…’s NOT OK. There is no two ways about it.

  16. Samia Ihsan

    June 27, 2016 at 2:40 PM

    I think the author should have made it clearer as to how the Sheikh’s joke was a sexist joke. As a female myself, I don’t see how being empathic towards the pregnant woman was sexist. I agree that crude humour regarding BOTH the sexes should be criticized and BOTH the sexes should stand up against sexism regarding their respective sexes. However, I don’t think the Sheikh’s joke should have been used as an example for this post. I also think that if the women were offended, they should have talked to the Sheikh about this. What the women did wrong was to remain silent. Heck, is the Sheikh going to get some revelation from Allah that his joke offended people? They should have discussed the matter. Maybe his intention wasn’t offensive. Maybe if they had talked, the Sheikh would become more careful. Or make clearer jokes.

    • Hena

      November 5, 2016 at 11:18 AM

      A note was sent to shaykhs making this joke and dismissed.

  17. Spirituality

    June 28, 2016 at 3:22 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    The one thing I found interesting after reading the comments is how it seems clear that the joke is being interpreted completely differently by people:

    The Shayk said: “Before Maghrib you empathize with the poor and after Maghrib you empathize with pregnant women.”

    Some (usually women) think its a denigrating comment on the state of pregnancy – ie, after Maghrib, you eat so much, your belly gets big and unwieldy. And, in her mind (as emphasized by Western society) – big and unwieldy is unattractive and shameful.

    Others think it is simply stating that you eat so much, your belly gets big and you get uncomfortable and find it hard to move around. The statement was not meant to be insulting to pregnant women, and their figures.

    Several things to consider here for all sides:

    1. We should have husn-ad-dhann of our fellow Muslims, ie think the best of them and their actions. The Shayk most likely was thinking along the second lines.

    2. On the other hand, the Quran itself in Sura Baqara says statements should be clear. The Quran itself emphasizes the value of clear, short speech that gets to the point. This is the best way to get our points across.

    3. Culture and audience matter. In this (western) culture, this joke obviously was interpreted to be offensive, whether or not that was the Shayk’s intention. But in other cultures, it may have been completely okay. To achieve maximum impact on the audience, we need to take the culture of our audience into account.

    • Hena

      November 5, 2016 at 11:20 AM

      It was not about being big and wieldy. The joke was making fun of two experiences, poverty and pregnancy, that a man who has experienced neither should not be making fun of .

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