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Sex and the Ummah

Hijab and Sex: Does Islam Respect Free Choice?

“Is it then other than Allah’s religion that they seek (to follow), and to Him submits whoever is in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly, and to Him shall they be returned?” (Surat Ali Imran: 83)

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Everyone from my nation will enter Paradise except those who refuse.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, who will refuse?” The Prophet said, “Whoever obeys me enters Paradise and whoever disobeys me has refused.” (Bukhari)


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In this day and age, we hear a lot about the importance of choice, autonomy, and all the other values associated with personal agency that make liberty and freedom so great and wonderful. But what if these concepts when examined more closely were not all that meaningful?

The Challenge of Choice

Islam is often portrayed as a religion that does not acknowledge free choice or sexual autonomy. Critics of Islam claim, for example, that Muslims do not have a choice in terms of how they can dress. Also, Muslims do not have sexual autonomy since Islam has strict constraints on sexual behavior.

How can Muslims respond to these charges? Given the importance with which modern society views these concepts — namely, free choice and autonomy — Muslims need to be able to speak to such concerns.

The temptation that Muslims face is to respond with straight denial, i.e., to insist that Islam does acknowledge and, in fact, champion free choice and sexual autonomy in the sense that these terms are deployed in liberal secular discourse. But this would be in many ways dishonest. We do not find concepts like free choice and autonomy as independent values as such in the way they are meant in the modern context within the corpus of Islamic ethical and legal thought.

A more honest and intellectually compelling response would be to question the coherence of these concepts on their own terms. Undermining these concepts allows Muslims to throw a wrench in the motor that drives the intuitions behind these attacks on Islam.

The Hijab as Choice

First let’s consider the question of dress and free choice. Can Muslim women, for example, freely choose to wear the hijab or are they coerced to do so?

Critics of Islam claim that Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab and therefore it is not a free choice in the slightest. What is problematic to these critics is Muslim women’s lack of agency. They have no choice in certain aspects of their dress.

Against this, many Muslims argue that, as a matter of fact, there is a choice when it comes to hijab. Those women who do wear it are exercising free choice by doing so, and that choice is empowering. Some even go so far as to claim that, in the age of Trump, wearing the hijab is an act of defiant resistance against tyranny, and what could be more free and liberating than that?

So who is right? What we can notice is that both sides take the notion of “free choice” for granted. This is a mistake.

Consider the distinction between the following kinds of choices.

You are at the ice cream parlor and you can choose what flavor ice cream you prefer. That seems like a benign choice. This is a scenario where the concept of choice seems perfectly suited. It is a preferential choice and our intuition is that preferential choices ought to be “free” in the sense that to restrict them is nothing more than an arbitrary exercise of power. The idea is, if someone prefers vanilla, why force them to get chocolate? What reason would there be to coerce a choice in this case other than malice?

Here is a second scenario. You are at a red traffic light and you can choose whether to stop or to pass through the red light. This is a choice that is available to you. But this is not about preference. In contrast to the preferential choice, this is a choice that has to do with obeying the law. And since obedience to the law of the land has moral implications, we can call this a moralistic choice.

Along those same line, imagine you are at home and you have just changed your car’s motor oil. You could illegally dump the old oil down your drain even though that would be illegal and cause considerable environmental damage by contributing to the pollution of the water system. Local environmental authorities would never know if you did it, but you have that choice. Again, this is not a preferential choice. Rather, it is a moralistic one.

The Ambiguity of Choice

Even though these scenarios can be described as involving personal choice, the two kinds of choices are in no way analogous. We do not understand the choices that involve following the law or doing the right thing as “free choices.” There is a moral and ethical obligation to do what is right and what is just. And though we do describe a person as having the ability to “choose” to do what is wrong, unethical, and unjust, clearly that is not the same thing as saying that a person has the “free choice” to completely ignore, forego, or violate the moral code.

It is this ambiguity between preferential choice and moralistic choice that causes a great amount of confusion when discussing Islamic ethics and law. Equivocating between the two kinds of choices allows critics of Islam to attack the religion and characterize it as intolerant and dogmatic. In reality, Islamic law is as “intolerant” and “dogmatic” as all other ethical systems and legal codes which, by definition, require and obligate people to behave in certain ways and refrain from behaving in others despite what they may choose to do otherwise.

We all seem to have an aversion to the idea of constraining and using coercion in the realm of people’s preferential choices. We should also note that, while it is obvious to many that curtailing preferential choice is an illegitimate use of power, it is equally obvious that moralistic choice ought to be subject to restriction. People ought to obey the law, which is to say, people ought to choose to obey the law, people ought to choose to do the right thing, etc., and if they fail to do so, there ought to be some sort of consequence.

The Illusion of Choice

The existence of such consequences for disobedience means that moralistic choices are not truly free choices per se. Yes, in one sense, a person has the choice to obey the law and the requirements of morality. But in another sense, no real choice is available since disobedience will be met with repercussions.

The driver behind the red light certainly can choose to run the light, but that could result in a hefty fine if he is caught. And the person who has changed his motor oil certainly can choose to dump the oil down the drain, but that could result in a fine as well and if others were to find out about this dumper’s selfish behavior, that could result in social opprobrium. So these cannot be meaningfully described as “free choices” at all.

Besides these examples, we all are faced with countless moral choices in our day to day lives. We technically can choose to act against the requirements of morality. We can choose to act out in wrong and detestable ways. But those choices have consequences, sometimes severe, sometimes not, sometimes tangible, sometimes social, sometimes worldly, sometimes otherworldly, etc. Unlike our preferential choices, our moralistic choices are not free. And we all recognize that that is a good and perfectly natural thing.

The same considerations apply wherever Islam is charged with not respecting “free choice.” Yes, technically Muslims have a choice to abide by the religious code, but these are considered moralistic choices, not preferential ones. As such, it is a category mistake to charge Islam with restricting free choice. In the case of hijab or any other aspect of Islamic dress code, it is true that Muslims have a choice, but it is a moralistic one. All else being equal, going against the law has consequences, e.g., the requirement for the violator of the law to repent. Ultimately, when it comes to hijab, both those who argue that Islam does respect free choice as well as those who argue that Islam does not respect free choice are incorrect in that they are making a conceptual error.

Rhetoric that Masks Substance (or Lack Thereof)

Claiming that “Islam violates free choice” is merely rhetorical bluster. Similarly, claiming some other religion or ethical system “upholds free choice” is equally vacuous since, as we have seen, all ethical systems permit free choice in the matters that fall squarely within the preferential domain. Of course, the boundaries between these two domains, viz., the preferential and the moralistic, are subject to debate.

And this is what the conversation about Islamic dress vis-à-vis “conventional” standards of dress really boils down to. What about the way we dress and present ourselves to others should be up to personal preference and what should be determined by larger ethical considerations outside of that and who gets to decide?

This is a deep ethical question that requires delving into a host of metaphysical and quasi-religious considerations. In its rejection of all things metaphysical and religious, liberal secularism does not have the conceptual resources even to begin to wrestle with these issues. But this crippling inadequacy of liberal secularism is masked behind a facade of “free choice.” Appealing to this empty concept allows secularism and its proponents to pretend to have an intellectually and morally compelling perspective on issues such as dress, when in reality, they have only constructed a house of cards.

To complicate matters further, this is not a straightforward question to answer for those who mistakenly believe that, as a matter of principle, all dress should be a matter of personal preference. But how could all dress be solely a matter of personal preference? The existence of dress codes, standards of dress at different social functions and in different cultural contexts, and even indecent exposure laws found in every single nation on earth all belie this silly idea that people in the “free world” exercise full, unfettered choice in their clothing decisions in contrast to those in the Islamic world who must submit to “draconian Islamic regulations.” In reality, no respectable person in the history of God’s green earth has ever made a truly “free” choice about what clothes to wear in public, “free” in the sense of “without significant outside influence.” All such “choices” are inescapably influenced by social and cultural norms. For Muslims who abide by the Islamic dress code, these choices are influenced by what are held by Muslims to be guidelines set by God. Within those guidelines, Muslims have historically cultivated a great diversity of fashions. But for the wider non-Muslim culture, there are also strict standards and guidelines of dress, but it is not clear from where those standards originated other than the unmoored ebb and flow of mass infatuation and, in recent times, commercial interests.

Islam and Sexual Autonomy

The notion of autonomy is as vacuous as free choice and for much the same reasons. No one believes in an autonomy that permits one to break the law and violate moral principles, whatever those may be. Autonomy is not conceived of as a license to be a vile person. But if people want autonomy within the boundaries set by ethics, then all religions and ethical systems guarantee this sort of autonomy. So again, the notion of autonomy is empty.

Autonomy as a concept rides on what ethical commitments one subscribes to. If an adult believes that having sexual relations with 16- or 17-year-olds (i.e., individuals just under the legal age limit) is morally acceptable, then anyone who hinders that person from having that kind of sex is violating that person’s autonomy as far as that person himself is concerned. But according to those who deem sex with minors immoral, this is not an issue of autonomy because, according to them, sex with minors ought to be criminalized regardless of what any particular individual believes to be his sexual right.

Islamic law restricts and prohibits certain kinds of sexual behavior in this way, and for this, many have branded Islam as blind to people’s right to sexual autonomy. But, again, this is fundamentally confused. If we recognize the hollowness of the notion of autonomy, then it easily can be claimed that Islam fully grants sexual autonomy to all. It is Islam’s definition of sexual autonomy that is really what people have a problem with. Here again, we reach a moral and metaphysical question: What is correct, moral sexual behavior and what is indecent and immoral and who gets to decide that? Secular thought simply does not have the ability to give a compelling story for all the complicated sexual norms the average secular Westerner dutifully abides by in the course of life.

(And no, the notion of consent is not very helpful either, by the way, given that there are plenty of sexual behaviors that are fully consensual but are still considered immoral and illegal within major strands of liberal secular thought, e.g., sex with minors, prostitution, incest, among others. Philosophers and legal scholars, such as Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld, have also problematized the notion of consent and its adequacy in accounting for common contemporary moral intuitions regarding permissible sex. But this is a larger topic beyond the scope of this essay.)

This inability on the part of secularism to justify satisfactorily its sex norms is overlooked because the notion of sexual autonomy is put on a pedestal as the ultimate good we must all strive for. This allows liberal secularism to criticize the sexual mores of Islam (and Christianity and Orthodox Judaism) for the crime of not adequately respecting sexual autonomy in the way that liberal secularism does. All the while, secularism’s deficiencies go unnoticed and unaddressed. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

These deficiencies ought to be brought to light and openly discussed (as I have done in past articles that can be read here and here, on zina and homosexuality respectively). In the meantime, critics of Islam, especially those invoking empty liberal secular concepts of free choice and autonomy, need to find better arguments to make their case against the religion.

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  1. Avatar


    March 27, 2017 at 10:14 AM

    Boring and out of touch.

    A) “You have to wear hijab. Morality. Does free choice even exist? Bla, bla, bla.” As though none of us have heard this stuff before. Any article by a man in 2017 going on about Hijab hasn’t been around the Internet very long – I could’ve hit up Tumblr and found this exact discussion in 2011, and responses to the assumptions in it. The cheap shots might make writers feel all warm and fuzzy for having “enjoined the right and forbidden the wrong” and getting a lot of surface level “likes”, but they totally ignore the actual hard questions of sexual ethics being actually asked by many Muslims and nonMuslims today, like the presence of forcible marriage of free women in the mathahib (which you’ve interestingly decried elsewhere as totally wrong, without addressing that Malik endorsed it), many denying the moral (not even legal) existence of marital rape, as well as the forcible marriage and selling of slave women (whom certain ahadith portray literally being bedded whilst their actual husbands were alive) and the endless examples of truly messed up mathhab opinions that many were made to live with that work to the exact opposite of what this writer has defended elsewhere as “the sake of marriage” (E.g. defining marriage as a type of slavery, and zina with family slavewomen often going without a hadd punishment, and rape often having been near impossible to prove.)

    B) “Liberal secularism” is a social contract, not necessarily a replacement for morality – be clear about what you are critiquing. Many believe in liberal secularism without believing that it should be the be all end all of morality – including critiquing nation state constructs and how they limit this. And from this article it’s pretty clear you’ve never lived somewhere where your religious decisions have been entirely made for you – and no, I don’t equate paying taxes whilst freely writing and believing and wearing what you wish and critiquing others and the government for their beliefs and actions, with being arrested and beaten and sent into exile for doing the same.

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      March 27, 2017 at 1:51 PM

      To clarify, because this comment will probably be dismissed as “irrelevant” – the issue with people asking about hijab and sexual autonomy isn’t their issue with people making a moral choice such as, say, choosing to abide by the law of paying zakat or not gossiping (which is how you frame it here). Their issue is questioning whether Muslim women are actually free to make this decision for themselves, as opposed to being excommunicated or physically persecuted or beaten by others into making the decision (which would imply invalidating their commitment to hijab). Virtual Mosque (formerly Suhaib Webb) had a fantastic article by a woman who WAS physically forced to wear hijab, talking about how this affected her sense of iman. An article that doesn’t recognize this, misses the point of the social question being asked. The reason I bring up the other questions of sexual ethics and autonomy is because those are the social issues that are the thrust behind these questions of sexual autonomy – not that consent is the ultimate arbiter of all sexual morality, but questioning a system in which it is hardly present. Maybe living a sheltered life as an American Muslim male who doesn’t interact with many women, you are simply unaware that these other questions are not outlandish but are often suffered by women both within the US and without (whose experiences are often dismissed due to their poverty or lack of community authority). An article that actually wants to help Muslim women stay in the faith needs to take this into account, as opposed to being entirely reactionary against the American left.

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        Daniel Haqiqatjou

        March 27, 2017 at 2:39 PM

        Thanks for the comment. I’ll just say that to address those “hard questions” that allegedly everyone’s asking (and by “everyone,” I mean a handful of Muslim grad students who read Kecia Ali in a seminar and it blew their minds), the question of choice and how the concept is constructed in liberal contexts and selectively deployed to further a liberal secular vision of Muslims is central and that is what this article briefly explores.

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          March 27, 2017 at 5:20 PM


          Your claim that its just grad students is foolish and ignoring the problem. Most of the people asking these questions are normal practicing Muslims who, after encountering some sheikh talking about sexual slaves or reading about the right of a husband to beat their wives(however “lightly”), are genuinely concerned about whether or not they can successfully reconcile their moral consciousness with the ethical code of their religion.

          Your passive aggressive tone is going to tick people off, even if you have something worthwhile to say. Btw I think it shows up in all of your writings(that I read), not just this one comment.

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            Daniel Haqiqatjou

            March 27, 2017 at 5:59 PM

            They should rename the red herring fallacy the slavery fallacy in context of discussions like this. It doesn’t matter what the topic at hand is because: “Slavery!”

            Is it passive aggressive when, instead of addressing the substance of my article, you pooh-pooh it and then proceed to assert, implausibly and without evidence, that your particular set of concerns is more important and anything that doesn’t address your particular set of concerns is “missing the point”?

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            March 27, 2017 at 6:10 PM

            This is a very intellectual and well thought article. Not sure why people are hating? Responses here are pure emotional, and lack any respect. Brother Daniel is talking about a specific topic, yet the responses here are judging him because he didn’t address other questions. Why does he have to? That’s not the topic! Also, I have followed the brother for a while, never thought he’s passive aggressive. In fact, he is very fair and always engages in respectful intellectual discussions. If you have some deep insecurities about the work he does, then it’s not his fault.

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          Dr. Miriam Batul

          April 15, 2017 at 10:09 AM

          Thanks brother for explaining lucidly moral laws versus legal laws.
          Yet, I feel that if some of our pained Muslim brothers or sisters have some urgent questions; even if not directly connected, with your article. you should not summarily dismiss their concerns.
          These people want to remain Muslims and we must help the to do that.
          These sad emergencies are arising because Muslims now grow up gaining full knowledge of the dominant culture, without studying their own deen first. We spend nearly two decades or more to acquire a professional degree; but we hardly dedicate any number of years for organized authentic study of our own!
          Therefore, Muslims as we are, we think, feel and act as an outside critic, putting Islam in the dock… on the basis of sketchy Islamic knowledge, little love or devotion as a result of low priority treatment of Islam in our lives…wearing liberal and western tinted glasses on our Muslim eyes…
          identity crisis…

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      March 27, 2017 at 7:32 PM

      Sigh. I doubt that the plentiful non-academic ex-Muslims or anguished questioning Muslims online have ever even heard of Kecia Ali, yet you find article after article online questioning Islam and the Muslim community on issues of sexual autonomy such as forcible marriage, and yes, sexual slavery (this is highly prevalent on Muslim websites and forums). If you think that the first time that someone reads these issues is by sitting in an academic seminar, then you’ve had the luck to never have been exposed to shaykhs who quote this stuff, or been an interested teenager who read Muwatta Malik on, or a horrified person reading about ISIS, or even so much as pressed “google” and had the countless Muslim and ex-Muslim articles on these topics come up.

      It’s telling that you think that “slavery” is a red herring in relation to a discussion of AUTONOMY, when the very definition of slavery usually is related to the removal of types of autonomy. It seems perfectly reasonable to expect you to take larger questions such as slavery into account when talking about the “Islamic” conceptualization of autonomy, including regarding sexual ethics (which you brought up yourself) – especially since one of the first things anyone who reads influential Western “liberal” thinkers such as Locke does is take into account their ideas (and double standards) about slavery and consent.

      Call it a red herring until the cows come home, it’s what’s making other Muslims lose their religion – which is why I commented as I did. I understand that you read this and you see “what does this have to do with my writing, I’m refuting a point about hijab and the assumptions of autonomy in liberalism in a useful way and a random person is talking about slavery, which has nothing to do with this” – but in your article you mis-conceptualize the concern behind the question of consent and hence attack a strawman, which isn’t helping anyone.

      Hence, acting like the “issue” of sexual autonomy that is making Muslims all worried and on the defensive is “is it okay to tell women to make the moral choice of wearing hijab”, and that once the liberal conceptualization of this and of “moral choice” is thoroughly attacked, then everything is okay and Muslims have no problem with questions of sexual autonomy – rather than Muslims having much deeper problems that they and others are asking of themselves – leaves you not fulfilling what you purport to set out to do in terms of “answering liberalism”. You can refute a question of hijab and liberalism and triumphantly wave a flag over how you’ve felt yourself to have destroyed a moral assumption used over Muslims in particular ways, but what’s the point if you build your argument up in such a way that it messes up other questions of sexuality and autonomy that people are asking? (And if your statements have already been made before online, making it obvious that people’s problems with this rhetoric are deeper?)

      You personally recognize, for example, that it’s problematic for Muslims to respond to questions about hijab by saying “yes it’s all by consent and therefore it’s fine” because in your eyes this leaves them in a quandary of looking at how they ask people to bow their wills to loads of other moral issues without talking too much about consent. In a similar way, it’s problematic for you to respond to questions about hijab by saying “liberal consent is next to meaningless” without looking at what all the “Islamic content” has to say about consent, since this leaves you having deconstructed liberalism very well and built up little actual Islamic response.

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        March 27, 2017 at 8:02 PM

        Since you’re seemingly going to take the path of arguing that “liberal consent is nearly meaningless”, then I am extremely serious in asking, what is this alternative meaningful conceptualization of consent? I have yet to see the thinkpiece that can convince me that “choice is an illusion” whilst straight-facedly claiming that God is going to punish us all for the choices that we make.

        If you’re going to claim that the only meaningful consent is a “rational” one that is made to accept Islam, and that any other claim is irrational (and that bodily consent is also next to meaningless), then please just say so as fast as possible so that your readers can recognize the double standards of lambasting Muslims for not having strong religious autonomy whilst also calling autonomy meaningless.

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          Ahmad B.

          March 27, 2017 at 9:47 PM

          Salam Sr. Sarah,

          You lost me there at the end when you said how can Daniel claim that “choice is an illusion” when we know that Allah may punish us for making immoral choices. The whole point of the article was to distinguish between “preferential choice” and “moral choice.” When people talk about “free choice” (as opposed to “free will”) in contemporary society, they always use it in reference to matters *they* regard as preferential choice, not matters they regard as moral issues. Everyone still has free will with regard to the latter, but exercising that will in the wrong manner entails consequences. So it is with Allah’s punishment of us for “choosing” (i.e., exercising our free will) to break His moral law. I’m afraid I don’t see where the inconsistency lies.

          I understand your point about instances where Muslim women, you say, are not given the ability to choose to exercise their free will either in obedience or disobedience of the command to wear hijab because it is literally forced upon them by others. But that’s a different point that doesn’t detract from Daniel’s actual argument, does it? Also, don’t all societies enforce whatever they understand to be decent dress by force (not necessarily random beating, etc., but some sort of sanction)? In Boston in 1905, a woman was arrested for wearing knee-length shorts on the beach and exposing her arms up to the elbows. In the U.S. today, a woman can still get arrested for going topless in public, where that is uneventful in most of Europe, where in many places full nudity on beaches and sometimes even in public parks is totally okay.

          Finally, I don’t get what you mean by “zina with family slave women going without a hadd punishment.” Are you talking about the actual owner of the slaves? If so, how is that zina (as it’s explicitly allowed in the Qur’an and sharply distinguished from zina)? Or are you talking about other males in the household taking advantage of them even though they have no shar’i right to them?

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          March 27, 2017 at 10:23 PM

          I also get the feeling he could have stated his point far more clearly if he wasn’t afraid of the backlash. Now Muslims will look at this article and go,”Wow, this sounds smart. I think I got the argument, maybe…maybe….And it cleared ALL my doubts, so I guess its fine.” When in reality if he condensed the article to maybe two paragraphs and the reader didn’t gt lost in all of the rubble, they would surely have disagreed.

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            Ahmad B.

            March 27, 2017 at 10:29 PM

            Salam Majnoon,

            Disagreed with what? The distinction between preferential choice and moral choice? And the fact that it’s not a question of Western society allowing preferential choice while Islam suppresses it, but rather, that each society defines differently what behaviors fall into preferential choice and which into the moral realm? This seems pretty obvious (once you think about it) and uncontroversial to me. As Daniel says, the real discussion is: how do we decide on specifics of what falls in the moral realm and what falls in the preferential realm? As Muslims, we do that on the basis of our religious texts, tradition, teachings, etc. In modern Western society, there isn’t much rhyme or reason to it and moral fashions change almost as quickly as the winds. Is that the part you’re disputing?

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      March 28, 2017 at 7:09 AM

      To be fair, Imam Malik never approved of forced marriage, neither did the people of Madina or even the Zahiriyyah, who were very literal in reference to textual evidence. I’ve only seen ex-Muslim claims this or crazy Saudi website like Islamqa.

      As for the slavery issue, I believe Prophet Muhammad pbuh’s response to that social ill was the most empowering. You may want to check out Omar Suleiman’s “Slavery: A Past & Present Tragedy” ==>

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      March 28, 2017 at 10:22 PM

      Boring verbose nonsense. No counterpoints to the actual substance of the article. Let me guess, you’re a “progressive” Muslim?

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        March 29, 2017 at 12:15 AM

        My impression of Daniel Haqiqatjou’s work is exactly the opposite. He makes solid arguments against many modernist/progressive “reinterpretations.”

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          March 31, 2017 at 2:10 AM

          I agree with you! I think Daniel’s doing a great job. I was being critical of Sarah comments, which are just bitter verbose secular screeds. I really don’t any see constructive criticism or counter points to Daniel’s arguments.
          Colonized minds are such a waste.

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    March 27, 2017 at 10:19 AM

    Very nicely written. Jazakallahu Khair. Just as an example of your first point about moralistic preferences, just today I saw a news where United airlines enforces dress code (no legging) on young women just because they get a heavily discounted price as relatives of United employees.

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      Daniel Haqiqatjou

      March 27, 2017 at 2:44 PM

      Wa iyyakum. Thanks for the reference. Dress codes are ubiquitous but few care to explore what a dress code could possibly be for. The only legitimate reaction to dress codes, as Twitter arguments have aptly demonstrated, is to decry them as categorically invalid, a “tool of patriarchy,” a path to the sexualization of women, etc.

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    March 27, 2017 at 10:03 PM


    Excellent article.

    I started reading the comments, but couldn’t follow the tangents or see the relevance of some of them. As far as the actual topic pertaining to “free choice,” I found this article extremely helpful. I plan to incorporate these ideas into my own “talking points,” insha’Allah. Thank you.

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    March 27, 2017 at 10:18 PM

    Could you please list the resources you used to write this article? I would like to read up further on it. Thanks

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    March 28, 2017 at 12:30 AM

    Salam Ahmad B.

    My problem is that saying that “consent is nearly meaningless because every society makes its choices about what to constrict and allows the exercise of choice only within that spectrum” skips over many of the real-life moral concerns that are actually at hand from those who ask about consent. One can problematize consent as the be-all end-all of morality (I’ve read feminists themselves doing this), without denying its existence and implying that it is vacuous and that there is no difference between a choice made under physical duress without the ability to even voice dissent (as was the experience of the woman who wrote at Suhaib Webb), and a choice made under a social contract that gives space for people to voice their will and make arguments for how to best live together without infringing on each other and how to assert the truth from their hearts/wills – otherwise truth itself ends up being in danger of just being whatever the person with the most social power can physically forcibly assert (and Islamic interpretation is not free from this by virtue of having a solid religious text – the endless differences of opinion by past scholars over moral questions are very real).

    Imagine how if a religion was physically forced on non-believers (who were told that they have the “free will” to disbelieve “in their hearts”) and maintained by physical violence, it would be nullified in the ability to make an argument for itself as the ultimate truth that is “naturally” recognized by all who hear it – since it would have shown that actually, it would go completely unrecognized if people hadn’t been forced into following it. I’m sure some silver-tongued person can sit at a desk and argue that this is all actually perfectly fine, but is that really what the average Muslim believes? Is it a form of reasoning that would actually work during dawah, or is it just something used to make people feel good about themselves without thinking about the logical endpoints of such arguments? Is it an argument that would convince someone who in their heart asks themselves whether they’re just following their religion because their ancestors imposed it on them?

    I think that the phrase “choice is an illusion” is being too breezily thrown around without thinking about how physical coercion affects society – e.g. in the examples of sexual autonomy that I brought up, whereby many people would take Daniel’s arguments to their logical conclusion and argue that consent is nothing but a made up issue of modernity and hence the ISSUES behind consent simply don’t matter. These aren’t abstract questions, even if they seem unrelated – they’re ones playing out on the bodies of fellow Muslim women who’ve actively spoken about their pain. Are women who fall into depression as a result of living lives of forcible marriage, simply “Westernized” and being “infected by ideas of consent”? I’ve noticed that many like to make these arguments when it comes to female social autonomy, but I’ve never in my life seen someone argue that there is no difference between the experiences of being kicked out of your house as opposed to moving out, or leaving university as opposed to being expelled, because “society shapes your choices anyway” and “choice is an illusion”. Consent isn’t just the Western liberal argument about a concept as made by secular humanists – it hits at deeper ethical concerns about violence and the nature of the truth itself.

    But I’ve been rambling for a while now – those unconcerned with wider issues of consent won’t see this conversation as relevant here. TLDR; would like to see what this proposed “better idea of consent” actually is and what it means for Muslims’ lives.

    (The zina example is of certain past jurists having waived the hadd punishment for men who committed zina with their wive’s slavewomen – justifying this by giving the slave to him.)

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    March 28, 2017 at 1:20 AM

    The only way to please Allah is by leading our lives according to how Rasoolallah (pbuh) led it. We have to dress, eat, drink, sleep, wakeup, hold our functions, spend our days and nights in all spheres of life exactly as He (pbuh) did. Rasoolallah (pbuh) is our model no man or man made norms.

  7. Avatar

    Jamilah Alia Baz

    March 28, 2017 at 3:51 AM

    may Allah guide us,wash away our sins. ameen. Beautifully written.

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    March 28, 2017 at 10:53 AM

    Beautiful article. May Allah bless you.

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    March 29, 2017 at 2:43 AM

    I live in Palestine and I have personally never met a sister who has been forced to wear hijab. I am sure there are some, but it’s definitely not the majority. Even within one family unit, you will see the mother, sisters, aunts, etc….all wearing hijab in their own style, and even some not wearing hijab. Chapter 10 verse 94 states:

    So if you are in doubt about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters.

    Like I said, I live in Palestine and the observant Jewish women and Catholic nuns are all covering their hair and dressing modestly and really it is a sign from Allah.

    My dear Muslim sisters it is time for us to wake up! Our lives are so short, there is so much good that can and needs to be done on this planet. 10 year old children in Yemen are in diapers because they are too weak to walk to the bathroom, and meanwhile women are wasting their time and money making sure their shoes match their bags and headscarf, chasing after the latest trend….why????? To get an approving look from people around you?? These people will not benefit you my dear sisters on Judgement Day! What about the hadith that says Muslims are like one body??? Is it just talk? Are you a slave to consumerism and materialism, using your body as a billboard for some corporation?! We have polluted our precious planet because of over producing all this STUFF that we don’t need! Wallahi it is Ghuroor and Lahwa dear sisters!! Allah has made it easy for us, but we insist on the hard way!!! If outward beauty is what keeps a man, then why are there so many divorces in Hollywood?? Allah says in the Quran, Sabran Jamil, “Beautiful Patience”…it is Patience and Perseverance that is true beauty my dear sisters!!

    I put on my hijab at 25, it was a stylish hijab, and I would still spend so much time trying to match clothes, and making sure they were loose, too much time shopping trying to find appropriate outfits…then as I approached 40, I just became so sick of the materialism and greed, its never enough! I started wearing a plain black jilbab with a plain white hijab and I have never been happier to leave all that GARBAGE behind me. I have 4 outfits I wear in my home to look decent in front of my husband and relatives.,,,but I have never received so many condescending looks and comments from fellow Muslims who ask me “What happened to you???” “Why are you dressed like that??” “Your husband is going to marry a second wife” hahaha I swear I laugh!!! Wallahi when you do something to gain Allah’s Pleasure, the whole world can spit in my face and I will be the happiest person on this planet!!!

    People actually go into debt and ribaa….they max out their credit cards chasing useless STUFF they don’t need!

    Sisters!!!! Go out their and make a positive change in this world! Go and find an underprivileged child and help them with their homework, have a food drive or bake sale to help raise money for the poor, go and visit your grandmother, memorize a page of the Quran, volunteer in a senior’s home, clean the Masjid, etc…etc….

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    March 29, 2017 at 8:49 AM

    Trust me it is more often that a sister wants to wear hijab but she is too shy or afraid to. When I wore my hijab at 25 my Muslim parents were horrified. They had spent thousands on my university education and they thought hijab would get in the way of a good job. I was living in the West at the time and had an internship in a downtown business district. I realized that even on the hottest days men were expected to wear a business suit and tie and women always wore skirts and heels. A man is professional when he covers and a woman when she uncovers??!! A woman willing to go through the pain of high heels so other people can enjoy looking at her? I will keep my hijab thank you.

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    March 31, 2017 at 12:55 AM

    This kind of academic debunking is all good and well but does nothing to help women who are physically beaten, forced etc because of hijab. I know y’all just gonna say “but that’s a differnt issue” and it is but it almost never gets addressed by “proper” muslims. Only the progressives address it. I would like an orthodox muslim to address it for once. Of course they’d just say “why would you assume that orthdox muslims condone such things” etc. Well it sure seems like they do. I’ve seen so many people brush off child marriages with “marriage =/= sex” as if that’s what’s actually happening. In my opinion it’s much more useful to write or do things that can actually help people than make this intellectual seeming arguments.

    • Avatar


      March 31, 2017 at 2:04 AM

      You have no counter arguments to the content of the article so you’ve resorted to distractors instead. So called progressives don’t care about Islam, they’re trying to twist the religion into a western secular mold. You’ve engaged in one strawman after another.

    • Avatar


      April 1, 2017 at 1:41 AM

      SMH…it’s sad to see Muslims falling into the OLD tricks of Islam haters. Dear Cass: A woman who is being beaten because of her hijab, will also be beaten because her cooking doesn’t taste right, the kids are too noisy, or she is 5 minutes late coming back from visiting her mother….do you get it? Any man who has the anger and violence in him to beat a woman, doesn’t need “Hijab” as an excuse, he will do it for whatever reason. So please stop with the “beaten and forced to wear hijab” thing. I am 40 years old. I have lived in the USA and now I live in Palestine and I have never met any young lady forced to wear hijab, but I have met many young women who have been forced NOT to wear hijab.

    • Avatar


      April 1, 2017 at 1:56 AM

      And you mentioned child marriages as if it is a Muslim problem, no sir, child marriages is a poverty problem. It happens in the Philippines, in China, Russia, Yemen, etc….When a parent feels that the only option for their child to survive is to give them away into marriage, really its something that rips your heart out! My friend works with an aid organization in Yemen and the horror stories coming out of there are something you and I have never seen or heard of. Wallahi we will be asked by Allah, the most High, what did we do to help these desperate people?? They are laying in their own waste, too weak to even go to the bathroom, eating bugs and thorns off of bushes, and we are questioning Islam’s mercy????? We need to question our own mercy, selfishness greed brother!!

      • Avatar


        April 16, 2017 at 8:21 PM

        If you say that child marriage is not a Muslim problem, then you don’t know your own religion very well. It is true that it’s not a Muslim problem exclusively, but Islam certainly condones it. I mean, wasn’t Prophet Muhammad’s last wife Aisha 6 years old at the time of marriage? It is totally disingenuous to claim that child marriage is not a Muslim issue when the Prophet you all follow is known to have married a young child. It doesn’t take a genius to realize why people in the Muslim world think it’s acceptable to marry children…

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A Primer On Intimacy And Fulfillment Of A Wife’s Desires Based On The Writings Of Scholars Of The Past

*For mature audiences only

This short piece is intended to provide insight on the troubling and detrimental lack of understanding among Muslim men for the necessity and virtue of the female orgasm during sexual intercourse in married couples.  The importance of the female orgasm is substantiated by naṣṣ of Qurʾān, corroborated by the ḥadīth of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) , and has been elaborated upon by the fuqahāʾ throughout the centuries.

Many Muslim sisters have taken it upon themselves to tackle the issue online and anyone who has love and concern for the Muslim community should praise their efforts.  In initiating conversation on this matter, they have shown concern, initiative and courage worthy of the followers of Rasūlullāh .  The benefit which their writings, webinars, round-table talks have provided is obvious to anyone who ponders.  It is a known principle among the fuqahāʾ that knowledge is to be imparted to the masses by order of its need and prevalence of troubles within the masses.

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The anonymous testimonies of our Muslim sisters are undoubtedly a justification for drawing the attention of our Muslim brothers to what authentic Islām teaches us on the subject.  It is also known among the fuqahāʾ that women are the only legitimate source of information for matters specific to them; such as the different patterns of menstruation and post-natal bleeding.  Consequently, the only legitimate source for determining whether and to which magnitude the issue of reaching orgasm during intercourse is pertinent to Muslim women is the Muslim women themselves.

A synopsis of the most striking among those anonymous testimonials follows:

Testimonial 1: “Being married for 10+ years Alhamdulillah with 3 kids it’s a journey of pain and frustration in terms of sexual life.  I never knew till some 4 years of marriage that there is something called ‘orgasm’ for females.  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.  But my requests to all the brothers out there: 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. Your wife will never be emotionally attached to you if you do not satisfy her with your own love and willingness in bed.”

Testimonial 2: “I am 2 years in this marriage and I’m highly dissatisfied. Because I’m outspoken I have told my husband clearly many times that even if he doesn’t want I do. But it only led to fights and more dissatisfaction. He tried to improve but after it had done enough damage already. He loves me, he kisses and cuddles a lot but his appetite for love making is very poor. I don’t feel desired.  We so often hear [sic] that we should not deny intimacy to the husband but why is it not the other way round too?”

Testimonial 3 “In [my first] 5 years of marriage, I’ve orgasmed once with him though I love him with all my heart. I cannot stress on the importance of a female climaxing and reaching an orgasm with her husband because this has saved our marriage [after he realized how important it was]. It brings a couple so much closer. To all you ladies who think sex is a chore, I can guarantee none of you have ever had an orgasm. Had you had a true orgasm you would be pulling him to bed. It’s the best physical feeling ever and melts away the stress.”

These testimonials speak for themselves, and the verses of Qurʾān, aḥādīth and sayings of the fuqahāʾ below will demonstrate their legitimacy.

The Qurʾān unambiguously affirms the presence of lust in both men and women, without distinction:

“Tell the believing men that they must lower their gazes and guard their private parts; it is more decent for them. Surely Allāh is All-Aware of what they do.  And tell the believing women that they must lower their gazes and guard their private parts” (s. 24, v. 30-31).

In Aḥkāmul-Qurʾān, Qāḍī Abū-Bakr Ibn al-ʿArabī (passed away 543 A.H/1148) comments on this verse as follows: “Just as it is not permissible for a man to gaze at a woman, it is likewise not permissible for a woman to gaze at a man; the man’s attachment to her is no different than her attachment to him.  His [lustful] intent from her is likewise identical to her [lustful] intent from him”.  It is noteworthy that Al-Qurṭubī also relays this statement of Ibn al-ʿArabī in his tafsīr.  This then raises the question: if lust is set to be fulfilled through marriage, then what is the purpose and benefit of such fulfillment?

The Qurʾān provides clear guidance as to the importance of a loving marital relationship.  “And it is among His signs that He has created for you wives from among yourselves, so that you may find tranquility in them, and He has created love and kindness between you” (s. 30 v, 21).  The greatest mufassir among the Ṣaḥāba, ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAbbās, contends that “love is intercourse (jimāʿ)” i.e a loving relationship stems from the act of intercourse. It is simply inconceivable for the relationship to be a loving one, if one of the parties to intercourse is dissatisfied.  Mujāhid and al-Ḥassan al-Baṣrī ascribe the same meaning to love as Ibn-ʿAbbās.

The Qurʾān does not detail the requirements of the act of intercourse. That responsibility is carried out by Rasūlullāh .  While commenting on the verse “And We sent down the Reminder (The Qur’ān) to you, so that you explain to the people what has been revealed for them, and so that they may ponder.” (s. 16, v. 44), Al-Qurṭubī explains: “The Rasūl  explains on behalf of Allāh that which He intends in the rules of ṣalāt and zakāt as well as other commands, by detailing such intent where Allāh has provided  statements which are general in nature”.  This leads us to the aḥādīth below for the guidance of men on how to satisfy their spouses during intercourse.

إذا جامع أحدكم أهله فليصدقها فإن سبقها فلا يعجلها خرجه أبو يعلى عن أنس

“When one of you has intercourse with his spouse, then let him be truthful towards her.  If he happens to precede her then he should not rush her” .

Al-Manāwī comments on this ḥadīth as follows: “He should be truthful in his love and his display of good will towards her.  This means that it is commendable for him to make love to her with strength, resolve and make fine love to her”.

إذا جامع أحدكم أهله فليصدقها ثم إذا قضى حاجته قبل أن تقضي حاجتها فلا يعجلها حتى تقضي حاجتها خرجه عبد الرزاق وأبو يعلى عن أنس

“When one of you has intercourse with his spouse, then let him be truthful towards her.  Then if he fulfills his need before her need is fulfilled, let him not rush her until it is fulfilled”

Al-Manāwī comments as follows: “When he has fulfilled his need from her by reaching climax, then-as a matter of merit-he should not impel her to separate from him.  Rather he should carry on with her until her need from him is likewise fulfilled.  This will only occur by her reaching climax and her lust settling.”.

The next ḥadīth praising a woman whose appetite for intimacy is strong, should therefore not come as a surprise.

خيرُ نسائِكم العفيفةُ الغَلِمَةُ ، عفيفةٌ في فرجِها ، غَلِمَةٌ علَى زوجِها

“The best of your women is the one who is modest yet lustful.  She is modest with regards to her private parts (towards strange men) while she is lustful towards her husband”.

Al Manāwī comments as follows: “The modest woman refrains from the ḥarām. For her to be lustful means that her carnal desire is restless. However, such restlessness is not praiseworthy in an absolute sense, as explained by the ensuing part of the ḥadīth i.e she is modest towards strange men”.

The above references in ḥadith literature are not meant to be exhaustive. Other references exist, and the commentators have been consistent in their explanations.

The fuqahāʾ(jurists) in the Ummah have, from very early on, also unapologetically touched on the subject in the most emphatic and direct manner. Some are quoted below to demonstrate such.

In his commentary of Al-Naṣīḥa al-Kāfiya Ibn-Zukrī, a Moroccan scholar who passed away 400 yrs ago (1133 A.H) quotes from Ibn al-Ḥājj (passed away 737 A.H/1336), Imam al-Ghazālī (passed away 505 A.H/1111) and al-Manāwī (passed away 1031 A.H/1621). The quotations below are directly taken from his commentary on al-Naṣiha of Shaykh Aḥmad Zarrūq (passed away 899 A.H/1493). These dates are quoted here to stress on the fact that this subject is not a contemporary one, it is rather a subject that has existed from the very time Muslim scholarship has. What is most pertinent here is the unambiguous language the fuqahāʾ use to get their point across.

“And softness towards the woman, until her fluid mixes with the fluid of the man, is certain to induce love for her and for him as well”.

Ibn-ʿArdūn explains: ‘The author of al-īdāḥ explains: whenever their two fluids blend together at the same moment, it is the utmost form of reaching pleasure, love, affection as well as cementing love. The amount of pleasure and love will be commensurate with how closely in time they blend together’.

The author of al-Iḥyāʾ mentions: ‘And once he has fulfilled his need let him take his time with his spouse until she likewise fulfills her need because her climax may be delayed and to withdraw from her while her lust has been agitated would cause her harm. Differences in patterns of climax inevitably lead to repulsion and discord whenever the husband should reach climax first. It is more gratifying and pleasurable for the woman that she and her husband reach climax simultaneously because  he will be engaged and absorbed alongside her, accommodating thereby her likely shyness [she will enjoy her orgasm without bashfulness]’

In al-Madkhal [Ibn al-Ḥājj] explains: ‘It is fitting for him, when he has fulfilled his need, not to rush to rise because it is among the things which will upset and perturb her.  Rather he should remain agreeable and engaged until he ascertains that her need has been fulfilled.  The intent is to have consideration for her matter because the Nabī  used to advice [men] regarding women just as he used to encourage kindness towards them. At this juncture, it is not possible to show kindness to her without it [the fulfillment of her need]. The man should therefore thoroughly exert himself to achieve that goal, and Allāh will certainly forgive any incapacity’.

Ibn Zukrī then goes on to quote al-Manāwī’s commentary of the two first ḥadiths quoted above.

The author of the Naṣīḥa then goes on to explain, and Ibn Zukrī’s commentary follows:

“And whoever wishes to accomplish that, then let him not come close to her until her breathing becomes intense and her eyes hollow, and that she seeks to remain attached to him; those are signs of her lust having been awakened”

Ibn Zukrī : it is explained in the commentary of al-Waghlisiyya : part of the etiquette of intimacy is to engage in foreplay so that the wife’s heart becomes cheerful and that the attainment of her desire becomes easy. This should be done until the point that her breathing becomes intense, her agitation increases, and she seeks to remain attached to the man, only then should he come close to her [for the act of intercourse].

He continues to say: “Those preliminaries consists in abundant foreplay with her, fondling her breasts and rubbing his penis with her labia”.  Ibn Zukrī explains: the author of the Madkhal explains: ‘When one decides to intimately engage with his spouse, it is befitting for him to refrain from the prohibited behavior which some of the common folk adopt, which consists in approaching their spouses hurriedly. Rather he should not do so until he has played and bantered with her in permissible ways. That includes cuddling, kissing and similar actions, until he sees that she has aroused herself to what he is seeking from her, feels relaxed and takes interest in it. Only then should he approach her. The wisdom of the religious code in this matter is obvious, and it is that the woman desires from the man what he desires from her. If he were to come to her abruptly, he may very well fulfill his need while she would remain upset and her dīn and chastity may be compromised as a result.  If he however does as stipulated, then the matter will be eased for her and her dīn and chastity will be protected’.

End of quotes from Ibn-Zukrī. 

It is clear from the above that the fuqahāʾ have kept within the confines of the Qurʾān and the Sunna and, as is their responsibility, lucidly relayed the information contained therein to the masses, with a full understanding of the pertinence of the subject in society.

This article cannot be complete without mentioning what some of the people of ḥaqīqa i.e taṣawwuf have said on the subject.

Ahmad Ibn Ajība explains, regarding ḥaqīqa: ‘It is derived from the Qurʾān and the Sunna, as well as from the inspirations of the ṣāliḥīn [pious ones] and the spiritual unfoldings [futūḥāt] of the ʿārifīn [gnostics]. The subtle understanding of the Quran and the Sunnah is predominantly found among the ṣālihīn.  Their statements clearly show that.

In his book on the etiquettes of marriage, Muhammad alTihāmī Kanūn (passed away 1915) explains: Abul ʿAbbas Aḥmad b. Yaḥya alWansharīsī says in his abridgment of the nawāzil of alBurzulī: ‘The pious Shaykh AbuBakr alWarraq states: every worldly passion hardens the heart, except the passion of intercourse which in fact softens the heart, which is why the Anbiyāʾused to engage in it’.  It is also mentioned in hadith:

Three things have been made beloved to me among your worldly matters: perfume, women and the coolness of my eyes has been placed in salat’.

In fact, alQurtubi relates the statement from alWarrāq with a prelude explaining how it is said that the desire for intercourse is commensurate with one’s taqwa

Note: We will state the obvious here, that this is true for both men and women, in accordance with what has been stated above regarding their equivalency in the search for carnal satisfaction from one another.

Finally, the author of marginal notes on Tafsīr alJalālayn Aḥmad alṢāwī states: ‘One of the gnostics [ʿārifīn] has mentioned that intercourse is one of the avenues towards reaching [the ma’rifa of] Allāh’.

These last statements from the ṣālihīn should serve as an admonition as well as an encouragement to the Muslim brothers who are lacking in being mindful of their spouse’s sexual needs. They may beg the question: is it a deficiency in taqwā which causes a man to not be mindful of this? It clearly makes the case for an opportunity for spiritual development through the act of intimacy

There are many related subjects which have not been discussed here, as the intent was very specific. However, our brothers and sisters should certainly take it upon themselves to contribute in educating the Muslims on those issues. Issues such as: the need and importance of marriage counseling; how to nurture a good relationship outside of the bedroom; how to address psychological and/or medical issues related to intimacy; how to educate Muslim adolescents (girls and boys alike) on sexuality, etc. There are, alḥamdulillāh, many competent and articulate brothers and sisters who specialize in different fields, and/or have valuable life experience which can be put to the profit of the Muslim Ummah

And we all ask Allāh for tawfīq.

PDF of sources in Arabic with references

  1. Aḥkāmul-Qurʾān, Vol. 3 p. 380
  2. Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī, Vol. 16 p. 412
  3. Idem.
  4. Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī, Vol. 12 p. 329
  5.  Faidhul-qadīr, Vol. 1 p. 325. Ḥadīth n. 548. 
  6.  Faidhul-qadīr, Vol. 1 p. 325. Ḥadīth n. 549.
  7.  Al-Manāwi mentions that this is mustahab, and he is correct.  However, the statement of istiḥbāb is only to encourage this action, in order to avoid harm to the woman.  If she is being harmed by the lack of satisfaction, then it becomes wājib.  
  8.  Faidhul-qadīr, Vol. 3 p. 493. Ḥadīth n. 4093.
  9.  Sharḥ al-Naṣīḥa, Ibn-Zukrī Al-Fāsī, p. 651.
  10.  Reference from Hikam.
  11.  Qurratul-ʿuyūn bi-sharḥ naẓm ibn-Yaʾmūn, p. 48. 
  12. It is worthy to mention here that the commentators of hadith have determined that “three things” is an addition from the narrator as opposed to being the speech of the Nabi SAW.  Salat is not part of worldly matters. The hadith should therefore be: ‘Among your worldly matters perfume and women have been made beloved to me and the coolness of my eyes has been placed in salat’.
  13.  Tafsir al-Qurtubi, Vol. 6 p. 419.
  14.  Ḥāshiya al-Ṣāwī, Vol. 3 p. 204.

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Podcast: How Intimate Can a Couple be Post-Nikkah, but Pre-Marriage? | Yaser Birjas


I just had my nikkah done with my husband and we are having our rukhsati done soon (in the next few months). The reason for [the] delay is just mainly to prepare for the wedding and  [to] accommodate family members’ schedule [for] the wedding. After the nikkah is it permissible to do all the acts that are permissible between a husband and wife even if the rukhsati hasn’t been done?

Getting married in my 20s

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Rebuilding Self-Love  in the Face of Trauma

touch trauma

“…there is beauty in breaking” – Amir Sulaiman

Words fell softly from her lips as tears streamed down her face. A young woman, newly married, had reached out to me via social media to ask a question about how to reconnect with her body after trauma. Receiving intimacy and sex-related questions from Muslim women all over the world is a large part of my work.  But there was something about this particular questioner that struck me in a very deep place. I intimately knew her pain as a survivor. Not long after taking my shahada, I was the victim of sexual assault. The amount of trauma I suffered is indescribable. But rather than pulling me away from the faith, I relied heavily on the deen to pull me through one of the darkest periods of my life.

After trauma, rather than pulling away from the faith, I relied heavily on the deen to pull me through one of the darkest periods of my life. Click To Tweet

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Healing after trauma took action, not only faith. For years, I struggled with the ability to connect with my body and to understand how to properly process emotions.  Intimacy, of all kinds, was a challenge for me. Reclaiming agency over my own body and establishing my right to pleasure led me down a life-changing path that has led to me now assisting other women in understanding and owning sexuality from a sacred perspective. My trauma broke me but it also showed me new ways to heal.

But getting back to pleasure really requires coming back to a sense of oneness and power within one’s self. It means owning your narrative and rebuilding the parts which have been broken. @TheVillageAuntieClick To Tweet

Re-engaging with sexual pleasure after trauma can be very difficult, especially for Muslim women who have been taught their whole lives to vigorously guard their bodies and not discuss sex. Talk of intimacy is still seen as taboo and, worse yet, the ability to report sexual assault and abuse remains a very difficult task for many women, regardless of faith.

But getting back to pleasure really requires coming back to a sense of oneness and power within one’s self. It means owning your narrative and rebuilding the parts which have been broken.

I have developed a five-step plan for helping women to navigate the heartbreaking process of reclaiming the body and opening one’s self to pleasure.

[*This plan is not to be used in place of mental health care (cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, trauma-informed somatic practice, etc.) but is meant to supplement intervention from a trusted licensed mental health provider.]

  1. Practice mindful forgiveness. This is not meant to be directed toward the abuser. Mindful forgiveness after trauma focuses on a need to forgive one’s self for the range of self-directed emotions that can be detrimental in the aftermath of sexual trauma. Sometimes women blame themselves when abuse takes place. This internalized oppression requires forgiveness because a victim should never assume blame for the heinous acts of others. Forgiving ourselves for any negative self-talk and asking Allah to grant His indelible mercy is a key foundation for the development of a healing path. It took years after my assault for me to understand the ways in which I had wounded myself with disparaging internal scripts. When I increased my level of istighfar and asked Allah to excuse all the instances where I doubted myself and harmed my spirit in the process, I was able to finally uncover long-hidden emotions and set about the work of true healing and reconciliation with my body.

    rights of women in Islam

  2. Seek knowledge about one’s own body and its rights. When I became a Muslim 21 years ago, I had no idea that Islam was such a sex-positive religion. The Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is full of instances where he demonstrated the beauty and importance of sex as a form of marital bonding as well as an act of worship. Scouring books of fiqh, I learned the rights of women in Islam which affirmed that we are not human possessions meant to be tilled; women have undeniable rights to pleasure and protection of our most sacred human parts. Understanding that Islam is a guide for all areas of life can give a sense of comfort and provide a pathway to explore the sacredness of sexuality. This is key, especially for women who have been abused by men of faith or who have been victims of spiritual manipulation for carnal gain. Also, learning about the female anatomy, how the brain is an integral part of harnessing pleasure, and ways to use the mind to develop an internal sense of pleasure can also be extremely helpful in re-igniting one’s love of self.

  3. Activate the sensuality of everyday life.  There is a misunderstanding of the role of sensuality in pleasure. Sex is the physical joining of bodies. Sensuality, however, is a conscious internal awareness of pleasurable stimuli. It does not involve engaging with another person. This is key because many trauma sufferers may find physical human touch triggering.  Recognizing the sensual aspects of daily life requires the mindful perception of things that titillate or arouse. It can be as simple as the feel of a particular fabric against the skin, the smell of the air after a heavy rain, a sound that evokes sensual memories, a scent that conjures an arousing mood. Why is this important? Sex is not the sole route to pleasure. For women, pleasure is largely dependent upon a spiritual or mental connection within the body. By engaging in self-motivated pleasurable sensations, this can assist women in realizing the power and control that we have over our physical vessels. Muslim couple healing reciting Quran

  4. Be easy with yourself. In the Qur’an, Allah reminds us “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (2:153)  During the process of reclaiming one’s power, there will undoubtedly be times of anger, grief, sorrow, and resentment. These are human emotions and are quite reasonable given the magnitude of trauma’s effect on the heart. Be patient with yourself. Channel love and support during times of difficulty. Do not neglect your healing journey because of a setback. It is important to practice patience with one’s self and utilize prayer as a stabilizing force. Allah is Al Wali, our greatest Protector, and Supporter. During times of emotional despair, rather than directing our energy inward, we can learn to release these emotions through dua and remembrance. Trauma is not a fundamental characteristic of who you have become. Reclaiming your narrative means understanding that you have the power to create a different story with a powerful ending. Give yourself the time and space to rewrite your script.

    Allah is Al Wali, our greatest Protector, and Supporter. During times of emotional despair, rather than directing our energy inward, we can learn to release these emotions through dua and remembrance.Click To Tweethealing from trauma

  5. Find your circle. Healing is not a solitary act. Sometimes it requires the love and support of others. Do you have a circle of support? Who are the people in your circle? And if you don’t have one, how can you create one? When I was at my lowest, my circle was there to remind me of who I was and how far I had come. They were the ones with whom I could be my most authentic self. One of the ways in which we can heal trauma is by seeking human connection. Select your circle carefully and lean on them during times of need. The healing power of your personally curated community can be transformative and life-changing.

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