The happy celibate and the cult of the hymen

I finished reading another article today – Challenging the myth of the happy celibate: Muslim women negotiating contemporary relationships by Alia Imtoual & Shakira Hussein. Published: 31 January 2009.

The authors describe the typical scenario of minority Muslims in Australia (and largely other Western countries as well) in which there is a strong need to keep unmarried women celibate. Intoual and Hussein argue that Muslims have this notion that anyone seeking sex before marriage is not morally and intellectually mature. “However this negates the position of women who are well past their teens, intellectually and morally mature, unable to locate a suitable marriage partner, and who have strong (unfulfilled) sexual desires. There is no relevant discourse circulating in Muslim communities in the west to cope with this reality. Muslim women are thus taught to endlessly deny and repress their adult sexuality if they are without the presence of a husband.”

Their research shows that there are several difficulties in finding a suitable marriage partner for many Muslim women in minority Muslim communities mean which means that “their adulthood (is) defined by discourses about celibacy during a time in their lives when traditionally Islamic discourses would be encouraging them to explore their sexual identities within the context of married life. While Muslim men notionally face a similar dilemma, communities tend to be far more accepting of Muslim men ‘sowing their wild oats’ before marriage, and tend to assume that a man over a certain age will be sexually experienced, whether or not he is married.”

The authors explain that supposed differences between ‘Western’ and Muslim sexual norms emerged as an important marker of identity during colonial rule. Both Orientalist discourses and their Occidentalist responses position the ‘self’ as sexually appropriate and the ‘other’ as sexually deviant. This gave rise to minority Muslim communities to imagine themselves as sexually appropriate in the West while the Western women being sexually deviant. The major reason for not being able to find suitable marriage partners is given as

the tendency for first-generation migrants to ‘freeze’ their personal values at the moment of migration. Anxious that their children should have a sense of cultural identity that is distinct from that of the new society (often perceived as degenerate and threatening), parents attempt to inculcate their offspring with a loyalty to their ‘own’ moral code. While the version of the ‘old’ country transmitted to second-generation migrations remains fixed in time, the ‘old’ country itself has inevitably undergone its own transformations over the years… In an attempt to facilitate the transmission of the ‘home’ country’s values through the generations, families may seek to match young men with girls from ‘back home’. Second-generation daughters are often considered inadequate matches in this regard. They are often thought of as too ‘Westernised’ and it is therefore better for young men to marry the authentic ‘home product’3. These parents often want their daughters to marry ‘home product’ men too, but such daughters themselves are often reluctant to do so as the men in their family’s ‘home’ social network often do not have comparable levels of education and earning capacity and may have incompatible understandings of gender roles. Such conditions have resulted in a growing number of second and third generation immigrant young Muslim women who are unable to find ‘local’ husbands and unwilling to marry ‘imports’. Some of these women, not content with the myth of the happy celibate, are seeking sexual encounters without waiting for a nikah


This gives rise to what the problem that the authors call the “cult of the hymen” that requires expensive and unnecessary hymenoplasty – “doctors are assisting these women to ‘reclaim’ their virginity, in some cases even inserting vials of a bloodlike substance behind the new hymen which bursts upon penetration thus furthering the illusion of first-time sexual encounter.” (Note that hymenoplaty is now on the NHS for rape victims in the UK).

The authors not only blame men but also women for perpetrating injustices against single Muslim women forcing them to keep up the myth of the happy celibate. This means that “unmarried older women particularly those who are divorced or widowed must negotiate a different set of perceptions regarding their sexuality. No longer perceived as ‘pure’ good girls to whom the throb of sexual desire is entirely unknown, they are thought to be aflame with frustrated libido. Women who have not succeeded in obtaining a licit partner by a particular age are expected to be grateful for any male attention they can get… For many divorced western Muslim women their position as sexually experienced and single often results in their being targeted as second wives by men interested in polygamous relationships.”

This is where the writers talk briefly about the Misyar, Urfi and Mutah marriages gaining prominence in minority Muslim communities. But that has a negative side to it for the women – “some men may consider ‘unwanted’/‘discarded’ Muslim women as less risky partners in an illicit liaison, because such women will usually be very mindful of the ramifications of revealing the encounter publicly, and therefore be strongly motivated to keep their transgressions secret.”

Then the authors make elaborate references to the online Muslim website for Australian Muslims, Muslim Village where on the chat forum Muslim men and women discuss how to remain celibate (link to the forum). A Muslim woman on the chat forum confides,

i’ve found that (engaging in pre-marital sex) to be very true of my male muslim friends (the few that i have), and when i point out the hypocrisy in their statements they just say ‘it’s different for girls.’

This is similar to the analysis of the chats by the authors,

There is a marked difference in tone between male and female contributors, in that while some of the male contributors discuss scenarios in which they are ‘on the brink’ of having illicit sex, female contributors talk only of how to ‘cope’ with pent-up desires and emotions. Male contributors, then, talk of ‘resisting temptation’, while female contributors talk of dealing with ‘feelings’, without ever acknowledging the possibility of such feelings being acted upon.

Furthermore, Imtoual and Hussein note that there is a strong implication among Muslim men on the chat forum that a woman who is capable of provoking lustful feelings cannot possibly make a suitable wife and that if “one were to succumb to temptation, it would be with someone who did not share one’s own values on sexual issues. One half of the sexual couple is always assumed to be irreligious and sexually licentious, tempting the ‘good’ Muslim to stray from the path.”

Frustrated with the scenario, the authors note that,

there is no suggested scenario in which two young Muslims who are both committed to celibacy find themselves unable to resist the temptation to have sex with each other and then go on to marry each other. Male participants in particular seem to envisage that any sexual transgression would be a meaningless one-night stand, rather than an act committed by two people who love or care about each other.

The conclusion to the article is somewhat vague with a series of questions that are never answered and a reader is not given any solution to the problem of the Happy Celibate. The authors mention, however, that “in order to maintain the myth many single Muslim women self-surveil their own physical appearance and behaviour so as not to jeopardise their freedoms. That is, they are hyper-aware of not presenting themselves as ‘too sexy’, ‘too beautiful’ or ‘too stylish’ to avoid suspicions that they are in fact unhappy with celibacy either because they are craving sexual interactions, or ‘worse’ still, lesbian, or not celibateat all. The myth therefore works to bolster the misogynistic discourse that unmarried (and attractive) women are ‘fitna’ or dangerous temptation in society.”

The main problem presented in the article that a reader may note is that Muslim societies (even in Muslim countries, I should mention) expect a woman “to encompass both extreme chastity and lustful sexuality. However, the expression of ‘lustful sexuality’ is to be confined to relations with her husband on his instigation after marriage. Such lustful sexuality is expected only to be ‘switched on’ immediately upon marriage and ‘switched off’ once the marriage has ended.”

But the solution to this problem is not offered. How does a single Muslim woman NOT switch on her ‘lustful sexuality’? And what if, God forbid, she erroneously switched it on and can’t switch it off?

Do you have any solution(s)? What are your thoughts?


53 thoughts on “The happy celibate and the cult of the hymen

  1. LK says:

    This issue is being discussed across the board with a lot of religions. When the rule “no sex before marriage” became well known, people married in their early teens. Now we have women not marrying till their 30s. Men have proved across the board that they cannot wait. I would think most women would find it very difficult to remain completely without any sexual contact (This includes kissing and other things besides intercourse) for that long a period of time as Muslim women are expected to do. I have also noticed the huge difference in how sex is viewed between my female Muslim friends and my male friends. While all my girlfriends managed to wait and most were married before age 22, the men I know have almost all had previous relationships that have led to sex before the age of 22. The men can hide it easily, but its hard for a woman to do so because of the stigma attached. But honestly, most women rip their hymen WAY before intercourse from exercise, tampons etc. Its a bad judge of virginity.

    There really isn’t a good way to solve this. The concept of women being remotely sexually active before marriage is far too removed from orthodox principles. I just don’t think the two could ever mesh. I understand no intercourse as it is the safest way to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy. But their are other, safer, ways to explore sexuality. Those might be a better place to start.

    • Metis says:

      Thanks for your comment LK. You are right; there is real solution for this problem because “the concept of women being remotely sexually active before marriage is far too removed from orthodox principles. ” And even from progressive Muslim principles! I know many moderate and progressive Muslims and pre-marital sex is a complete no-no.

      What do you think could be “other, safer, ways to explore sexuality”?

      One think the authors note is that Muslim sexuality is never really discussed even by very progressive Muslims, feminists or other otherwise bold people because it is such a taboo topic which I felt was an accurate observation and so I thought I’d share the article here and see if there are people willing to discuss this taboo topic in an environment where we pledge not to judge others for their beliefs and thoughts.

  2. LK says:

    Well “other, safer, ways to explore sexuality” can mean anything from holding hands to forms of sex which do not involve intercourse. But I think in this case hand holding or kissing is almost pushing things too much. So for a woman who has been taught that she shouldn’t even shake a man’s hand, kissing or holding hands could very well be considered a way of exploring one’s sexuality with a man. Its the first step after all. But I think also comes down to whether or not women actually want to change this. I would sure like to take a few steps BACK in my culture and have sex not be the expected norm but rather something that happens between two committed people in love. So the other side of the spectrum isn’t exactly perfect either.

    What still bugs me is the men have absolutely no problem breaking this rule completely but the women stick to it so firmly that many won’t shake hands with a strange man. And somehow its ok for the man to break this rule but I woman will get chastised for shaking a man’s hand. The difference is so large it makes it hard to approach the subject. Too much is taboo.

    • Metis says:

      I’ll be honest and say that I never thought about the unfortunate ‘happy celibates.’ I got married in my early twenties and got busy with married life, further education and children. But I now see that there are many young Muslims for whom this is a real problem. Life is not as simple as it was in the 7th Century which means people can’t get married so early and consequently can’t engage in sexual relationships. So what have we done for such people? Muslim scholars don’t usually talk about these problems. The most common solution is to fast. That is not very inventive or even helpful as I have been told.

      This article is related to Muslim women in the West. Do we really expect Muslim women living in the West to fast up to 18 hours a day so that they don’t feel sexually frustrated?! And how does fasting help – I have never understood. There is a subtitle in the article titled “Fasting and the Xbox: online discussions of celibacy” which sheds light on the two most popular solutions offered to sexually frustrated Muslims – fast or play on your Xbox!

      I am in no way suggesting that Muslims should become sexually promiscuous and I totally understand what you mean by “I would sure like to take a few steps BACK in my culture and have sex not be the expected norm but rather something that happens between two committed people in love.” The West is reasonably immoral. But Muslim communities are just the opposite, especially those that are settled in the West, like the article so well explains.

      I quite like the Khaleeji (Gulf countries) attitude. They want their children to study and work but as soon as the girl turns 18-20 years old she is expected to get married. Men and women both get married in their early twenties and they then continue their studies, work etc and even start families. It is not easy, but you can’t have everything.

      • susanne430 says:

        Had to chuckle a bit at the fasting and Xbox thing. Do they figure if you fast, you’ll have no energy for pursuing sexual relationships? You’ll start craving food rather than sex? 🙂

        I don’t mind the attitude of getting married early either. This was probably the norm in societies even in the West before we invented adolescence and extended it into the early twenties especially for men. I think a lot of it has to do with your attitude. If you go into marriage committed to making it work, sacrificing your rights to benefit the marriage then you will have great chances to succeed. On the flip side, if you go into marriage immature (at any age!), demanding to have your needs met and constantly taking, taking, taking instead of giving and honoring your spouse, you will have problems. So early marriage with great commitment, respect for the other and hard work sounds like a good combination!

  3. susanne430 says:

    I agree with LK concerning the biggest problem I have is that both sexes are told not to have sex outside of marriage, but it seems men are not held to this standard. I’m not saying I want women to be like men in having casual sex. I think God’s standard of morality should not be broken on this subject, however, I fully believe in mercy and grace to people who have had sex outside of marriage.

    I totally disagree with families who believe in honor killings because their women have caused them dishonor/shame. I am not a proponent of sex outside of marriage and can’t see myself changing on this unless God says, “Oh, I didn’t mean what you thought I did”, but I am hugely in favor of extending grace and mercy and kindness and restoration to those who have sinned. Especially since I am also a sinner in need of this same mercy and kindness.

    • Metis says:

      Honour killing is just so unfortunate and although the article didn’t even mention it, I wish it had. This is a sad reality that should be addressed and a very evil consequence for those who decide to take their sexuality into their own hands.

      Susie, I know that you don’t believe in pre-marital sex and I know that your church preaches against it as well. How does your church deal with this problem – people who can’t get married but who can’t seem to remain celibate either? Are there any reasonable solutions for them? I understand that you got married early and so did your sister, but that is not really the norm in the US, is it? What help is provided to practicing Christians who are studying/working and can’t get married early?

      • susanne430 says:

        Maybe I shouldn’t have brought up honor killings, but ever since I read a book some months ago on this subject, it often comes to mind when sex comes up. I remember how horrified I felt when that man killed his own daughter. I read it to Andrew and he was stunned. “I can’t even imagine killing a stranger in war much less my OWN child! There has to be demonic influence to make a father do this to his child,” was his reply. His honor was more important than his child?!?! Incredibly selfish and wrong!

        We are encouraged to stay pure until marriage, true. Does everyone do that? Of course not. I remember one high school teacher (a man) telling us we have to make up our minds BEFORE we get into a compromising position. We can’t wait until we are out on a date, on a romantic moon-lit night and the mood is just right and we are tempted to go too far. We shouldn’t put ourselves in situations like this in the first place because those emotions sometimes rule over what we know is the right thing to do!

        I don’t know that we have any programs in place to help people remain celibate until marriage. I have heard people say they choose not to go certain places or view certain things (racy TV shows, movies, porn!) in order to avoid temptations. My 24 year old cousin says he won’t go by certain stores in the mall because as a young male he doesn’t need the temptation of seeing half-dressed women in store windows (e.g. Victoria Secret’s scantily clad advertisements). So we believe people can choose to follow God’s path and yield to His way or they can do their own thing. I guess we are big on choice and we just have to remember choices have consequences. If you want to please God and honor your own body and save yourself for your spouse then you will, hopefully, make wise choices. Yes, sometimes it is hard, but we look at Joseph who didn’t stick around to fight those temptations, but fled! We have to rely on God’s help to make it through the tempting times.

        But still sometimes people go too far and do something they regret.

        That’s where mercy and grace and restoration come in that I mentioned. We realize we all are weak and sometimes mess up so we can’t judge people and certainly cannot kill them for the sake of our honor.

        Sorry wish I had something better to add, but I think,too, that keeping busy by studying and active in sports is helpful for some. That saying about idle time being the devil’s workshop is true. When you are bored, your mind starts drifting to girls or guys and how nice it would be to do such and such with that cute one down there. But if you are focused on learning a new language, reading college textbooks, playing sports, volunteering, I think you are less likely to have these temptations. Then again, maybe I am wrong and sounding too much like the go play your Xbox crowd. Eh, maybe there is some merit to that suggestion …though I prefer MY examples to video games. 🙂

        • Metis says:

          No, I think honour killing is unfortunate reality and deserved some mention in the article.

          Haha, you do sound like the Xbox crowd but really what is the solution other than that?!

          Off-topic but I was reading about this new trend in Japan where young men and women have groups of friends and each group only has sex with each other in the group until they are married to combat STDs and AIDS. Interesting!

          • susanne430 says:

            So I choose the Xbox (but not Xbox) solution it seems. Eh, I’m OK with that! 😀

            Interesting Japanese trend. Why does inbreeding come to mind when I read it?

            You know, I think maybe our attitudes about sex play a huge role in this. The Japanese trend, for instance, makes it seem like sex is just like playing tennis in a club. You can have your sexual “outlet” within the sex/friend club. Sex is just another sport to play or experience and who you have sex with doesn’t matter. Just like my playing tennis or football…it doesn’t matter if I play with a pro, in the backyard with siblings or down at the community center in a pick-up game. Football isn’t that sacred and the experience can be shared with anyone.

            If you think of sex this way, then it’s no big deal to sleep around with guys you meet at bars, groups of friends or whomever.

            So maybe we need to get over this thought of sex somehow being important or sacred and that will allow those people who want to experience sex without marriage not feel they are breaking God’s rules.

            I suppose it depends a lot on how seriously you take God.

            (Just some thoughts that come to mind as I think about this topic and whether “God’s” rules need a much-need makeover to bring “him” up to the 21st century already.)

            • Metis says:

              I see value in the sanctity of a relationship. To me that is important so causal sex or one-night stands are immoral in my books. It would really upset me if someone I loved, a friend or a relative, were to engage in casual sex. There are too many people who think sex is another bodily need like hunger. But then I don’t pop into any old diner either 😀

              I do like the fact that modern women are in charge of their sexuality, but maybe that change came too fast, too soon which is making women confuse lust for love in many cases.

              The crux of what I’m saying is that commitment is necessary. Now how two people decide to be committed is not my business.

              • Zuhura says:

                I think the problem is that there is no universal definition of what constitutes “sex.” All definitions are cultural, and most are patriarchal and heterosexist. Add to that what constitutes “casual” sex and the issue is even murkier. For example, all of my experiences of penis-in-vagina intercourse were with men I was in loving, monogamous relationships; I don’t consider that casual sex, but some people would. I have had sexual experiences that did not involve penis-in-vagina intercourse with people I did not know as well (including with my now husband before we were married). From a feminist, anti-herosexist perspective those experiences were “sex”, but to some people they would be “just playing around.”

  4. Mezba says:

    I think men ARE held also to a standard. In my community, guys who are known “to have been around” will never get a good proposal. It’s just that it has to be known – because of course physically there’s no proof.

    And I haven’t heard anyone in our community also ask for “proof” of the girl’s virginity post-marriage, but I can’t speak for the general Bangladeshi population.

    • Metis says:

      I think so too, at least in the South Asian community.

      The proof of virginity is surely a Middle Eastern problem. Morocco, Jordan, Syria, even Palestine and Egypt. These countries are somewhat obsessed with the bloody sheets. But then again there are many families from these countries that wouldn’t do it ever. However, I have never heard of that happening in a South Asian Muslim family.

  5. Marahm says:

    Let’s face it, men do not need to be held to the standard, simply because there is no way to verify them. Women, on the other hand, can be examined.

    Let’s also face the fact that physiologically, the best time for sex begins in the teens. It’s all downhill from then on. Early marriage is the only way to solve the problem within a framework of traditional values.

    One wonders how sexual values would have developed in the seventh century, had birth control been available, and women dragged along with the men on caravans or hunting trips.

    • Metis says:

      Marahm, I was discussing this with an Arab friend recently and she was telling me that young Arab men are really cursing hymenoplasty because they will forever mistrust their wives thinking what if she had her hymen reconstructed! *insert my evil laughter* On the flip side, it may mean more obsessive and mistrusting husbands! It’s like heads I win, tails you lose situation for women.

      Hymenoplasty is a huge business in the Arab world and even in local supermarkets there are various ointments and creams to thicken the existing hymen so that there is definitely blood upon first intercourse. It is a very sad scenario.

      “Let’s also face the fact that physiologically, the best time for sex begins in the teens. It’s all downhill from then on. Early marriage is the only way to solve the problem within a framework of traditional values.”

      The problem I see is that the female body may have been created for early intercourse but not early pregnancy. In a religious culture where reproduction is celebrated, how feasible is it to avoid pregnancy, I don’t know. Then again there are also young teens who practically die from pain and trauma of early intercourse. It is really difficult to pinpoint the *best age.*

      • Zuhura says:

        What do you mean, the female body is designed for early intercourse? I’ve always heard that women’s peak sexual enjoyment is in their mid-30s. (And this seems to be bearing out for me.)

        • Metis says:

          Zuhura, I wrote “the female body *may* have been created for early intercourse” – there are theories that the biological clock of a woman ticks faster and also theories that young women are more easily aroused so I’m not denying those. But I tend to concur with those who believe that young female bodies are neither ready for sex nor reproduction. I really think there is no best age – whatever suits an individual.

          • Zuhura says:

            Sorry, Metis—I didn’t mean to overstate the definitiveness of what you said. I was just curious about that theory that young women are more easily aroused, since it contradicts what I’ve heard (which, for sure, is anecdotal). In the US there is a widespread myth that women’s sexual appetite peaks in the mid-30s and men’s much earlier (leading to jokes about why older women prefer younger men).

            • Metis says:

              I didn’t mind your question at all, Zuhura. I always enjoy your comments and welcome them. It is an intriguing idea though. It may be a reason why many Arab women in their mid 30s with several children get so frustrated with the routine of their lives? That may be something to explore.

    • unsettledsoul says:

      “One wonders how sexual values would have developed in the seventh century, had birth control been available, and women dragged along with the men on caravans or hunting trips.”

      Now that is INSIGHTFUL! My God, how would we have evolved as women had men had full reign of us sexually with the use of birth control back then?!

  6. Zuhura says:

    I became sexually active at an early age and had several long-term sexual relationships before I was married (to my first husband) and before I was a Muslim (and married to my second husband, who is Muslim). While I do recognize the value of sexuality within marriage, and feel that an Islamic approach to sexuality has great value within my present marriage, I don’t have any regrets about my previous relationships. I believe that Allah’s ideal is sexuality within a committed relationship, and that our intentions are important.

    Kecia Ali’s book on feminist ethics is a progressive one that deals with this issue. Although she doesn’t go so far as to propose that pre-marital sex be accepted within Islam, she does ask whether the Qur’anic approach to this issue should be simply accepted as is or whether our approach can change over time. If Muslims used to allow sex with female slaves, something we no longer find ethical, we are obviously willing to change our sexual morals. Why would sex between two longterm partners, who aren’t married for whatever reason (and here I would include same-sex couples), be less ethical than sex with a concubine?

    I worry about how my husband and I will teach any future child we have about this issue. His approach is orthodox, and he’s very bothered that I had previous relationships, while I feel that having those previous relationships (regardless of the sex part) has taught me things about how to be in a relationship, skills he is still learning and has a lot to learn. (Of course, he’s younger than me, too, which plays a role.)

    He was also taught to fast when he felt sexual urges, and for him it (supposedly) worked. What I don’t get is they were even taught not to masturbate. Now that’s just crazy.

    • Metis says:

      Thanks for such a wonderful comment, Zuhura!

      Your second paragraph deserves a lot of good thought. Sexual morality has definitely changed. But I fear that the scholars of Islam will point out that sex with slaves was an exclusively male right and as such women didn’t have that *opportunity* to explore their sexuality before marriage even in early and developing Islam. What opportunities did the early Muslim have other than marriage at a young age?! On the other hand, if a man didn’t have enough money to marry a free woman, he could always keep a slave unless he was really poor and couldn’t even afford a slave. The problem now is that the world has changed beyond imagination; women now study and they work and most don’t want to get married in their pre or early teens. They don’t even want to get married in their early twenties. By that time it is “too late.” We have the example of Yemen where girls are generally married off very early but I suspect if they ever even discover their sexuality. That is another huge problem in traditional Muslim communities that don’t have access to the West – women never explore their sexuality or reach an orgasm. It is something hardly ever explored by researchers or discussed because of the kind of taboo it is supposed to be.

      Oh no, masturbation is a big NO in traditional Islam! I don’t know how fasting would help. Maybe people are told it helps so they start believing that it is helping. A sort of placebo. Whatever works!

      “he’s very bothered that I had previous relationships”

      That has happened to a lot of converts I know and it is totally unfair IMO. How do you deal with it? I think you’ll have to both decide on how you’ll raise your future kids and what you’ll teach them about Muslim sexuality. My husband is also very traditional in this area although otherwise he is a very liberal Muslim and it is always a hot topic for discussion in our household.

      • Zuhura says:

        I believe that things that were exclusive male rights are to be understood in historical context and not be practiced today (e.g. polygamy). Of course the orthodox scholars will argue differently but that’s why I’m not orthodox.

        You asked how I deal with my husband’s attitude toward my previous relationships. Honestly, that area is still a work in progress. I can’t stand his feelings of retroactive jealousy which I interpret as a kind of ownership over my body he wishes he could have but can’t. He claims the reason is that the idea that I could love other people and yet not have made those relationships work makes him worry about our future. I suspect we will end up teaching our future child different things, probably him teaching “x is the one and only right way to do things” and me teaching, “x is ideal but these are some other ways of approaching it.”

  7. unsettledsoul says:

    Masturbation is not ok in Islam? Really? That is the first time I have ever heard this. I have always heard the opposite. Sex within a marriage, masturbation in general, and exploring one’s body through those means is completely ok in Islam because sex is NOT seen as a sinful act only for procreation, like in Christianity.

    Anyways, my hubs and I agree we would raise our children with values and morals and confidence that hopefully keeps them from having sex when they are young, but also allow innocence. Allow crushes and boyfriends/girlfriends to an extent that we are able to allow feelings to be expressed in a controlled environment, with us involved in our children’s lives, teaching them along the way about relationships and what a healthy relationship is.

    Once they reach 18 and head off to college we can hope they have our values and morals instilled in them, so when they choose to have sex it is in a responsible manner. They will know to use condoms, to use the pill, to get tested for STD’s, HIV and Hep B.

    My husband and I met in college, fell in love in college, and had the time of our lives. Would I deny my own children that right? Definitely not! As they are teenagers I completely agree with keeping them focused on school and developing friendships. Once they head to college they are pseudo adults who have to start making their own decisions and deciding how closely they want to follow religion.

    I think it is a tad sad and hypocritical when convert’s husbands deny and condemn the very acts that allowed them to meet.

    • Zuhura says:

      In my case that wasn’t what allowed us to meet so I don’t see it as hypocritical. He knew I had been married previously but didn’t know about my previous relationships until later. Growing up in a culture where people simply don’t date before marriage, he doesn’t know what to make of this facet of American culture. I’ve been trying to teach him that it’s simply a different way of doing things, that it doesn’t mean all Americans are quick to jump into bed with one another. In his culture there is a lot of divorce and many people are married for a short period of time to one person after another so I don’t really see the difference, personally.

      • Metis says:

        US, great approach and not hypocritical at all!

        Zuhura, most of my convert friends whose husbands have issues with their past relationships are married to conservative men whom they met in very traditional circumstances. I can totally see your situation.

        “In his culture there is a lot of divorce and many people are married for a short period of time to one person after another so I don’t really see the difference, personally.”

        I have thought about that often especially in relation to the African-American Muslim community that was once discussed at length by Omar Lee on his blog. I agree with you.

      • unsettledsoul says:

        I apologize Zuhura, I was not calling your situation hypocritical, but convert situations in general.

        I have heard so much about men who went against Islamic rule in order to be with a non-Muslim, but then after they marry suddenly the husband goes completely opposite of when they met and expects his wife to come with him to that other side.

        It is a bit insane to me. Like a total 360. I can see why converts suddenly feel like they are not married to the man they dated.

    • Zuhura says:

      I love the approach you and your husband have agreed on, unsettledsoul. That’s how I would like to teach our child as well, if only I can convince my partner. My first child has attended an excellent sex ed program at the UU church called Our Whole Lives (google it), which is really similar to the approach you’ve described. If our next (hypothetical) child can get in there too, that would help counter my husband’s more judgemental approach, I think.

      • unsettledsoul says:

        So far my hubs and I’s approach is hypothetical, as we do not yet have kids. Let me tell you, I am scared to death of being able to make those theories of mine into reality.

        I just met my first real life person who attends a UU church! I was interviewing her and her husband for a project I am working on, and she started talking about this UU function they are attending this weekend.

        Definitely seems like a gathering place for many. I am intrigued

  8. Coolred38 says:

    I have always heard and read that masturbation is frowned upon in the Islamic world because you are “wasting your seed” (not sure what your wasting as a female but I have a suspicion this was more aimed at men who are viewed as the basis of all procreation)…this was the whole point of fasting when you have urges…I dont recall reading anywhere that when you have urges retire to a private place and take care of business. Also, marriage at a young age was encouraged specifically to prevent pent up sexual lusts and possible fornication etc…there is no penting up of sexual lusts if masturbation is allowed.

    My Arab friend told me, masturbation is frowned upon but still we do it but dont talk about it and dont claim that you do it.

    Sounds pretty much like every other “frowned upon” thing that goes on in the Arab/Muslim world…yes we do it but we dont talk about it or admit to it.

    • Metis says:

      That is definitely the general opinion. Masturbation is also condemned by scholars of Sharia in at least the Shafi and Hanabali madhabs it is a step more than just makruh.

  9. Marahm says:

    Dealing with sexuality in Islam is more difficult only in degrees than dealing with it in the West. Most women in all cultures are delaying marriage. When women delay marriage, both women and med are left stranded, so to speak, when sexuality blooms.

    Unless religions and cultures are willing to liberalize their sexual restrictions, they will have to either tolerate sex under the table, or else introduce a radical new concept in marriage. I suggest “sexual marriage” in which young people marry each other for the purpose of exploring sexuality.

    Features of this marriage would include strict birth control, daytime attentiveness to study, and a willingness to reevaluate the marriage at the age of twenty-one (or thereabouts) for the possibility of extending its meaning and scope, or dissolving it without prejudice.

  10. Lat says:

    That’s a very good article clearly pointing out the realities in the ground. Men are always singled out as the primary being with the sexual apettite so much so that some women don’t even know what a sexual urge is.

    ” However, the expression of ‘lustful sexuality’ is to be confined to relations with her husband on his instigation after marriage. Such lustful sexuality is expected only to be ‘switched on’ immediately upon marriage and ‘switched off’ once the marriage has ended”

    This is so well said.For men they are matched with ready-available women from all over as soon as the formalities are over but for women it’s more difficult.Families don’t come forward like they do for the man.It’s the man who needs a woman for everything but a woman can live without a man,even without sex!

    Most widows don’t remarry because they prefer being ‘masters’ of their lives and modern conveniences have given them ways to satisfy their sexual urges.So they are independent that way.
    This ‘hymenoplasty’ thing is sort of getting back at the men, isn’t it? Afterall with all the playing that men do,how can women trust them to be true? So it’s like you betray and you get betrayed 🙂

    Maraham’s suggestion is quite interesting.But if marriage is seen as a permanent and lasting relationship ,then how does this work?

    • Metis says:

      Hymenoplasty is silent revenge! But it is a painful procedure (even afterwards, the first time isn’t the best memory for a woman and two or three first-times!! Ewe) and it is very expensive. It would be worth exploring the psychological effects of hymenoplasty. Guilt is always stronger in a woman and I suspect that a hymenoplasty would affect how she behaves in a marriage; she may silently bear abuse. Something worth thinking about. Heads you win man, tails I lose.

  11. Mariella Loconte says:

    “But if marriage is seen as a permanent and lasting relationship ,then how does this work?”

    Everyone knows that marriage as a permanent and lasting relationship is the ideal, but far from the reality. Rather than marrying early under the hope, dream, or myth of permanance, young people would get married for a term, say five years, after which a reevaluation would give them a formal and condoned way to dissolve the union or go on to establishing a family.

    This would give them a chance to explore sexuality in a socially acceptable manner, and also to end the relationship in an acceptable manner if, after a period of time, they know each other (and themselves) well enough to admit that they do not belong together for the next step– raising children.

  12. Mariella Loconte says:

    Actually, many young people do get married early and later divorce, only to meet other, more suitable partners. First marriages are often “trial marriages” but no one admits to it, even after the fact.

    I’d simply like to call a spade a spade, and align outward actions with inward motives and physiological stages of development. Religion, on the other hand, holds sacred many social contracts that worked in antiquity only because of the prevailing state of knowledge (or lack thereof) when religion came down.

  13. Seema Rehan says:

    I would be interested to know how this fallacy developed that marriage is a spiritual bond between man,woman and God in Islam. The early biographies give a completely different picture with the prophet marrying women he hadn’t even seen and divorcing them upon meeting them because one had leprosy, another was ‘fat’ and not as good looking as he had thought and the third didn’t approach him when he ‘ordered’ her. His grandson was known as the ‘Grand Divorcer’ for nothing. He had married and divorced more than 100 women. I fail to see spiritual bonding there.

  14. Metis says:

    Mariella and Seema, a little off-topic your comments but maybe related to the “happy celibate” I read this very interesting unpublished PhD dissertation titled “The Origin of Mutah (Temporary Marriage) in Early Islam.” It is a PhD dissertation so it is quite well researched and the author (I wish would publish it as a book) has an amazing revelation that I think Muslims don’t know today. She writes that:

    The transition to Islam and a changed lifestyle was difficult for many women in the early years where the memory of women’s previous possibilities was still retained. There is a sharp contrast between the pre-Islamic and later status in the lives of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad himself. Khadijah, Muhammad’s first wife was free in many spheres such as owning a thriving trade business and exercising her freedom of choice in divorce and marriage. For example, in addition to being a widow, she also had a previous husband who was still alive during later Muslim battles, and as she was a woman of some wealth, it was probably on her own initiative that the divorce was made. She also made the suggestion of marriage to Muhammad when she was already forty and Muhammad’s senior. This was a common privilege among women in the matrilineal society in the area, and many women still held such a status in pre-Islamic Arabia. In her marriage with Muhammad she was his only wife. Following her death he took on multiple wives immediately, which seems to indicate that the marital contract must have included the stipulation that she would be his only wife during her life. This stipulation, of course, was a female-oriented privilege seen in a practice known as mut’ah, or matrilineal marriage. Mut’ah was later adapted to become a male-favored custom of temporary marriage of early Islam and can still be seen today in Shi’ite Iran.

    In her dissertation the author explains that before Islam, Mutah was exclusively a “female-oriented privilege” and a “matrilineal marriage” in which a woman decided what went into the marriage contract, how long she wanted to be married, how *she* would divorce the man if required. Invariably, mutah was a marriage between a strong, matriarchal, rich and powerful woman and man who was socially and financially inferior – even *younger.* The wife had the right to divorce a husband without notice if he irked her or if she got bored with him. Because a woman was richer than the man in most cases, she didn’t demand a dowry and if the husband gave her a gift out of love it was usually a property pre-owned by her that she had given him. So the Quranic injunction (4:4) was flipped in theory. Based on the Pre-Islamic notions of Mutah, the author concludes that it is highly probable that the only monogamous and starkly different marriage of the Prophet was a Pre-Islamic “female-oriented matrilineal marriage” of Mutah.

    I see that original type of Mutah and today’s Misyar marriages to perhaps be the best answer to what you are suggesting Mariella.

    What do you think?

    • organica says:

      I would like to read more about this particular area of pre-Islamic marriages and how it reflected Khadijah’s marriage to the prophet.

      In addition, I want to read more about Mut’ah marriage.

      I have access to a huge data-base through my Uni.

      • Metis says:

        You must! It’s a facinating study. There is strong research on the Pre-Islamic mutah which I didn’t know about at all. Anyway, you can request the dissertation from ProQuest or directly from the University of Utah. The title is “The Origin of Mutah (Temporary Marriage) in Early Islam” by Paula I. Neilson.

  15. Lat says:

    Very interesting article! Never heard of mutah as a “female-oriented matrilineal marriage”. It explains well khadija’s marriage status.What about the difference between Mecca and Medinan way of life? Although I’ve read that Ansari women in Medina were given more freedom to express themselves but I was wondering whether life there was more restricted for the women or followed more partriachal concepts.Afterall there were quite a number of Jewish tribes.If not,then I highly suspect the caliphs and other companions attitiude becoming standardized as Islamic norms,mainly partriachy.

    I don’t know much about misyar marriages except that they are temporary with a given time frame.What if the woman desires to have a child with that temporary husband who doesn’t mind planting his seed in her but still wants to validate the contract and not have anything to do with the child or woman?If everything can be specified in the contract,then who will bear the responsibilty of the rearing of the child if sired? I know the mother can but what about the child’s status? And inheritance and other rights? Wouldn’t that go back to square one?

    I understand Mariella’s point.The western attitude is similar to this,right? I don’t mind that if parties agree and the woman don’t lose out in the end.Even liberal societies have their limits.Furthermore if the law is also amended to ensure security for such temporary marriages then it’s better.But still they’ll lose out to those married with a ‘ permanent’ marriage,right?

    Mariella said,”First marriages are often “trial marriages” but no one admits to it, even after the fact.”
    Maybe it’s true but not for all marriages.Some do work out and others after much damage-repair.I feel that when one considers that a marriage is not a permanent concept then they would not risk out staying with a difficult spouse,trying to work out their differences and making amends to save their relationship etc.How can a marriage grow if it’s limited by a contract time and one party wants out and the other in? Isn’t there a lot more to tackle in this kind of marriages?

    I think spiritual bonding in a marriage came about thru’ Christianity.On basic reasoning that male and female came from the same soul and therefore soulmatesAnd further espoused in Islam,perhaps in a later period.But Islamic marriages are based on contracts more than on the premise of spiritual bonding which is suppose to flourish during the marriage. Well this is what’s being taught around here to stop the high divorce rate and increasing broken families.

    • Metis says:

      Lat, from whatever little I know, I think matrilineal tribes existed every where in Arabia so there must have been some in Medina as well. One thing to note is that most early Muslims were either from the lower class or were slaves so their women were naturally very “submissive.” Ansari women were free and powerful and outspoken. Most Jewish women were also literate so that made them bolder and often times they were told to be “submissive.”

      “But Islamic marriages are based on contracts more than on the premise of spiritual bonding which is suppose to flourish during the marriage.”


  16. Marahm says:

    I had to laugh. Just last night, I was talking to a woman friend of mine, who was suggesting that the matrilineal model of family life would be more natural than the nuclear family led by the husband. We also believe in the extended family concept, where close relatives live almost together and make themselves available to each other for help and convenience.

    Mutah marriage sounds good to me.

    What I do believe, more than anything, is that women and children should be supported economically, that women should not work while raising children, except part-time and only for enrichment, but certainly not necessity.

    By the way, I don’t know how my a.k.a. name appeared with my Marahm gravatar, but Mariella is Marahm is….me.

  17. Marahm says:

    LOL! I simply believe that raising children– and taking care of the home– is such an important task that it needs the undivided attention of women. At the same time, women have individual lives, too, and need to develop themselves apart from their children. They can’t do so if they have to work, unless their work contributes to their individual growth. That doesn’t happen often.

  18. Michelle says:

    I feel so frustrated and alone. Throughout high school, university and now work I have has to battle my desires. I am attractive and get A LOT of attention from the opposite gender, and yet for some reason i cant find someone to settle down with. i Stay away from men, avoid talking to them unless needed, fast, make dua, search, etc etc and almost 27years of age and still finding myself alone. No one seems to understand that it is also hard for muslim women. our parents seem to think we are robots with no emotions. They got married young and so have no clue how difficult it is. Alhamdulilah although I have never been in any relationship with any man I am just tired and honestly sometimes I just don’t see the point any more. I can never see myself going through the path of zina (may Allah protect us from that) but the emotional loneliness just gets too painful sometimes. I seem to be fasting more and more days, it helps but I have lost a lot if weight and you have to continue it. To do this all my life? It seems very difficult 😦 I don’t know what the solution is. I spend most of my time reading and learning Quran. That also helps but it doesn’t always numb the pain.

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