Muslims, feminism, consent, and the virginity myth by Nahida

A friend of mine once told me of a woman he knew who was divorced the day she was married because she confessed to her husband that she had been molested as a child. The man left her immediately to save his own reputation. Not with God, of course. With people.

With God, her track record was clean. Islam is against pre-marital sex. Islam is not against pre-marital non-virgins. And for good reason.

The woman in question is still a “pure” woman. The only impurity is that of the rapist. She has not been “tainted” or “contaminated.” This sick mentality, in which we are described as if we are merchandise, is part of the reason that women who have been sexually assaulted are discarded and ignored as damaged and impure. The virginity myth hits women harder than it does men, and in this rape culture we’re living in, in this culture in which rape charges are always viewed under unnatural scrutiny with the inclusion of irrelevant factors, in which men are encouraged to use rapist language to portray dominance over one another, in which men are expected to bond over the uses of women, in which women are told not to wear this and not to go there when men should be told not to rape, in which women are held responsible for their own attacks, in which the unbelievable and unacceptable romanticizing of a man driven by uncontrolled impulse ripping off an unwilling woman’s blouse and forcing her against a wall is shoved into our senses as something beautiful take it as a compliment! instead of the perversion it truly is, in this rape culture—where sex and violence are such easy associates we don’t think twice about it—the concept of virginity, that a woman has a duty to be pure until she is “contaminated” only adds to harm.

It has not only the potential to destroy her life, but her self-worth as well.

And that’s just outside of Islam. Imagine all that harm, and additional harm, exerted on a woman who believes she has an afterlife—and is brainwashed by a repulsive society with the misuse of religion into believing that she’s ruined her own chances with God, that the actions of the rapist were her fault, and because of this she might as well let everything else go. I’ve lost my virginity. Everything is gone.

In reality, she did not have pre-marital sex. She was raped. She is devoid of sin. Losing “virginity” is not sinning. Pre-marital sex is sinning. And being raped does not mean you “had sex.” Being raped means you did not have sex.

As for Muslim women and men who really did have pre-marital sex—willing consensual sex—all is not lost for you either. The virginity myth also creates a deluded mentality that sinning the first time for some reason is the only “real” time you can sin as far as pre-marital sex goes by implying that sex is something to be taken from the woman and given to the man. This is also a contributor to rape culture. Consent is not a one-time thing. It is an all-time thing. Just because someone let you have sex with them once does not mean he or she has given you permission to have sex with him or her whenever you want, and it does not mean you can do whatever you want with his or her body.

You cannot, for example, have sex with her when she’s asleep just because she gave you permission to penetrate her once before—unless she specifically told you prior to the act that she wouldn’t mind being woken up this way. Remember the case of Julian Assange? Even if she allows you to continue when you wake up. Yes, she allowed you to continue when she woke up—but initially, you raped her. And yes, this particular case was only getting all the attention it is for political reasons—that does not mean the allegations cannot be real and should not be taken seriously. They are serious allegations. And it is serious that these women were harassed to the point where they left their cities in fear of their lives.

It is particularly heartbreaking to me when Muslim women are not aware of their own rights because they have been taught such patriarchal interpretations through their cultures and the histories they knew have been so successfully modified or erased. My own mother was under the impression that abortion was forbidden in all circumstances, even though it is permissible in the first 120 days of the pregnancy, in cases of rape, or in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. She was also under the impression that the reason we did not use barriers in mosques during the Prophet’s time but use them currently is that women dressed more modestly then than they do now—which cannot be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the Prophet’s own great granddaughter Sakina Bint al-Hussein did not cover even her hair. She also had a total of 5 or 6 men she married and divorced. She refused to allow her husband to practice polygamy and made a scene when she caught one of them with a jawari, divorcing him in court. In addition to bringing one of them to court for infertility, she fought with some and made passionate declarations of love to others.

She would have today been called a nashiz. The word existed then as well, but not in the same sense it exists today. Nashiz is now seen in “Islamic” law–outlined by insecure theologians forcing history to bend at their desperation–as a social problem, as a rebellious woman, a woman who knows and practices her true Islamic rights given to her by God than that which was stolen from her by men—a danger to the family structure.

A feminist.

But few know this, because they have been taught a version of history modified by patriarchy. This was no accident. A’isha, a wife of the Prophet, was nineteen when she married, advised civil disobedience, led troops to war and won, contributed an enormous number of ahadith and legislated Shari’ah law. Oh yes. She wrote religious law. (Not the same one that’s used today, of course. You have patriarchy to thank for that.) And today her memory has been corrupted. Said ‘al-Afghani spent ten years writing A’isha and Politics to “prove” that women should not be allowed to become political leaders, never mind that she was hugely successful.

This is active modification of history. It is purposeful, forged by men who fear loss of power and are insecure about their own masculinity. When women make any progress, we are bombarded with cries of outrage from men who say they fear misconduct or disorder or “reverse” sexism, even though we all know that this is not a battle, that allowing women to practice their God-given rights does not take these rights away from men. And yet there is resistance. We hear things like, “Why are you so concerned about Western women when so many women in foreign nations are suffering?” from men’s rights activists. Don’t ask them why they’re so concerned about their own rights when those of women are in danger, though! And the truth is, these foreign women are told the same. “We should be happy for the rights we have now!” one of them told me after I expressed my dismay.

Yes, I suppose I should be grateful to be making 80% of what a man makes, because decades before I wouldn’t even be allowed to work.

We see this insecure wave of pushing back today, but it was true even centuries ago. Any time women make any kind of progress, it is said to be too much. We are told that feminism is outdated, but the women who lived in the past and fought for our rights—the women who are said today to have actually contributed to a useful movement—were told the same by men.

‘Umar, future caliph, was one of these men. He became anxious when his own wife “defied” him. “We men of the Quraysh dominate our women,” he said, “When we arrived in Medina we saw that the Ansar let themselves be dominated by theirs. Then our women began to copy their habits!”

One day he and his wife had an argument, and instead of her accepting his screaming with a bowed head as was the pre-Islamic custom for women, she shouted back answers at him in the same severe tone of voice. When he interrogated her on her behavior she replied, “You reproach me for answering you! Well, by God, the wives of the Prophet answer him, and one of them left him until nightfall!”

Alarmed that these new Islamic values of the Ansari women were “ruining” Qurayshi women, and having lost the argument with his wife (if the model man was allowing this wives to stand as his equal, how could he–‘Umar–ask for any more than the Prophet of God?) he hurried to his daughter Hafsa, one of the wives of the Prophet. “Aren’t you afraid that God will be vexed because of the anger of the Messenger of God and strike you down? Don’t make demands of the Prophet. Don’t answer him back.”

He did not only go to his own daughter, but to each of the wives of the Prophet.

One of them was Umm Salama, and she was not having it. ‘Umar offended her in his words and attitude. How dare he come between her and her husband! She was infuriated. “Why are you interfering in the Prophet’s private life?” she snapped, “If he wanted to give us advice, he could do it himself. He is quite capable of doing it. If not the Prophet, then to whom are we supposed to address our requests? Do we meddle in what goes on between you and your wife?”

She said this in front of the rest of the women.

Having failed, ‘Umar finally went to the Prophet (P) himself and expressed his concerns. The women had too much power! They thought themselves as equals! They would not tolerate verbal or physical abuse! This was too much, how will the men handle it? How will they handle feeling so insecure?

The Prophet only smiled.

Looking back at a long, Islamic tradition, we have no problem seeing clearly that the roles that women played were exactly the same as men—few of the women closest to the Prophet were only known for being mothers and daughters. In addition to these, they were businesswomen and warriors. Women’s seclusion in current “Islamic” society has nothing to do with dictations or tradition, but is all the result of contemporary conservative ideology—the forging of a false memory and the attempt to keep the true history a secret.

And with that we have this mentality, not just in Islam but in every cultural setting. It’s really pathetic that in our culture male sexual activity is viewed from an angle of accomplishment rather than pleasure. Sex is not a thing to be given or taken. And that goes all ways, in ways of consent and in ways of practice. Muslim men and women, pre-marital sex is the same weight of sin every time you do it. You should not just spiral into a life of pre-marital sex because you willingly lost your “virginity.” It still counts, and that’s not an excuse for Islamically unlawful sexual activity. Doing it the first time does not weigh any more or less than doing it the second.

If you’re Muslim that is. Women who choose different religions and lifestyles should be able to freely engage in responsible, consensual sex without hypocritical slut shaming. The harm caused by the virginity myth, and the importance in implementing the feminist model of consent, applies to and affects everyone.

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16 thoughts on “Muslims, feminism, consent, and the virginity myth by Nahida

  1. […] on “Muslims, feminism, consent, and the virginity myth” explaining how “Islam is against pre-marital sex. Islam is not against pre-marital […]

  2. Humaira says:

    Really interesting and enlightening article.

    Just goes to show why it’s called HIS Story because History is always reported by men. If the women were given equal voice and status, History would also include HER story as well.

  3. susanne430 says:

    Lots of good information here. I always find it incredibly sad when someone is blamed for what others did to her/him. It’s heartbreaking to realize men will divorce their wives for such reasons.

    Thanks for sharing this post. Great topic!

  4. almostclever says:

    Wonderfully woven story Nahida… *applause*…

    “A friend of mine once told me of a woman he knew who was divorced the day she was married because she confessed to her husband that she had been molested as a child. The man left her immediately to save his own reputation. Not with God, of course. With people.”

    Survivors of sexual abuse find out quite quickly that to be mentally healthy, they must defy the message that they are damaged goods. It is a difficult wall to climb.

    Thank you for this story, you have an enlightening view of Islam. It’s too bad feminism is a dirty word, eh?

  5. Sara says:

    This is such a brilliant article! I enjoyed all of it!

    “Nashiz is now seen in “Islamic” law–outlined by insecure theologians forcing history to bend at their desperation–as a social problem, as a rebellious woman, a woman who knows and practices her true Islamic rights given to her by God than that which was stolen from her by men—a danger to the family structure.”

    Insecure theologians…couldn’t have put it better!!

  6. Metis says:

    Excellent post, Nahida! You have given so many great examples to make your point. The line that stood out for me as a mother of boys is “It’s really pathetic that in our culture male sexual activity is viewed from an angle of accomplishment rather than pleasure.”

    Thanks for this post!

    And I second Sara’s last line 🙂

  7. Nahida says:

    Thank you for all your wonderful comments! You’re all so beautiful and insightful and I’m so lucky to have been able to participate.

  8. Lat says:

    Really enjoyed the article,Nahida! I like that you said,

    ” It is purposeful, forged by men who fear loss of power and are insecure about their own masculinity.” And,

    “..all the result of contemporary conservative ideology—the forging of a false memory and the attempt to keep the true history a secret.”

    I wonder sometimes if we really know what we ‘know’.

  9. Metis says:

    Nahida, you wrote, “Women who choose different religions and lifestyles should be able to freely engage in responsible, consensual sex without hypocritical slut shaming. ”

    Do you mean Muslim women who choose different religions? Or did you mean women of other faiths (or atheists)?

    If I understand you correctly you are saying that pre-marital sex is a sin in Islam (as in almost all religions) so Muslim women shouldn’t engage in “freely engage in responsible, consensual sex” and non-Muslim women can engage in it without being shamed?

    • Nahida says:

      I mean all women who choose different religions or lifestyles. A woman can be Muslim but choose a different lifestyle. I wouldn’t approve of it for myself and I’m staying a virgin until marriage, but it doesn’t really matter if I approve of it, because it’s none of my business what she does. And no woman of any religion should be shamed.

      Sure, she shouldn’t, and it’s a sin, but if she does, she shouldn’t be any more shamed than a non-Muslim woman. She’s a grown woman and knows what she’s doing, and I’m not going to be the haraam police unless she specifically asks for my opinion.

  10. Becky says:

    Wonderful wonderful article, really enjoyed it!

  11. Nada says:

    Hi,

    I agree with you and thank you for writing this article but that bit about the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) granddaughter is COMPLETELY wong.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukayna_bint_Husayn#Death

    She DID cover herself even though she was not baligh (of age) but after the Battle of Karbala where Imam Hussein (AS) was martyred along with his family, her head scarf was snatched off her as it was snatched off all of the women that were captured to humiliate and ridicule them as they were paraded around the market in Damascus.

    She passed away while in Yazid’s captivity at the age of four/five and she DEFINITELY did not have husbands, let alone five or six.

    Just thought I would point that out.

    Apart from that, love the post.

    Peace.

    Nada.

  12. Nayab says:

    Who is this Sukayna bint Husayn you are talking of? Where did you get the reference that she had many husbands? She died at the age of five or six in damascus under the tyrany of Yazid after Karbala. I agree with your post but please do not use false refrences.

    http://www.qul.org.au/islamic-occasions/events-of-karbala/43-sakina-bint-hussain

  13. A writer from the East says:

    Impressive and really a wonderful blog to have stumbled upon.
    Can we speak more as I would be interested in taking up some ideas with you focusing muslim feminism issues. Thanks a lot.

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