Challenging misogyny

Most people are ill-informed about Islamic Feminism and wrongly assume that Muslim feminists are people who are not faithful to Islam and want to change the religion. To be honest not all Muslims feminists agree with each other and this is something I find very beautiful about them.

But there are topics where almost all Muslim feminists would unite. Such topics are reasons why at least I feel that Islamic Feminism is absolutely necessary. One such topic on which most MFs would unite is that of the Hoor-el-ain (the Heavenly company reserved for Muslim men). MFs have understood these mystical beings in various ways. Amina Wadud thinks that they are mythical creatures mentioned only initially in Meccan verses to allure men to accept Islam. Hasan Al Basri understood them as earthly wives repackaged as beautiful mystical creatures in Heaven. Mohammad Asad saw them as both male and female company for Muslim men and women.

Yesterday I linked this post by Tazeen, a Muslim Pakistani woman on Metis’ Facebook Page. The post titled “The Heavenly Orgy” is full of anger and disappointment which is not unfounded. I don’t want to paste the entire post here but what I found most important is at the end,

“In a deeply segregated society like Pakistan, such misogynist perversions actually form the basis of inter gender relationships. What we take from this video is: all men are supreme beings, women are filthy and not worth the time, piety is only good to get you laid in the afterlife and repeated use of the word istemal [use] indicates that women will continue to being used as commodities in the paradise.”

To be fair, the cleric does refer to ahadith that can be found in various hadith compilations and at least once he makes a reference to Quran 38:52. But the manner in which he uses those ahadith to belittle women and call them filthy, dirty whores in very unfortunate. For one, many Quranic commentators including the respected Muhammad Asad think that Quran 38:52; 37:48 and 55:56 are allegories that apply to both men and women who will be “rejoined with those whom they loved and by whom they were loved in this world.”

From the various Islamic traditions on Hoor-el-ain (most of which you can find on this link and also see this link) vivid descriptions about the Hoor-el-ain can be found. One thing that is most evident to me is that, like Tazeen even insinuated, the Hoor-el-ain are what a human female can never be. These myths, having originated in Arabia, ensure that an Arabian woman knows that she can never be alabaster white. No woman can “revirginate” after every sexual intercourse; neither can she continue to have an “appetizing vagina.” Women do and will continue to sweat and excrete waste. They will continue to give birth to blood smeared babies and much that men would want, they are not currently “busy deflowering women” all the time. This may affect the psychology of an earthly woman on an unconscious level. The skin whitening soaps; hymen reconstruction surgeries; vaginal constriction creams; kohl dipped eyes; breast lifting surgeries; and the incessant debates that a woman must never challenge/upset her husband and must never refuse him are, I think, the indirect effects of deep inferiority complexes with which many women suffer.

I have always said that Muslim feminists have existed from the beginning of Islam demanding that the Quran address women just as it addresses men; creating the need for strict action against slanderers; establishing the practice of forbidding polygyny in marriage contracts; and asking that the Quran also commend the migratory efforts of women from Mecca to Yathrib as it commended the efforts of men. However, for just as many centuries misogynist interpretations, additions and interpolations into Islamic scriptures like those about the Hoor-el-ain have also made women feel that they “are filthy and not worth the time [and that they] will continue to being used as commodities [even] in paradise.”

This is why Islamic Feminism is so necessary. We need Muslim women and men to challenge anything and everything that reduces women to chattel.


19 thoughts on “Challenging misogyny

  1. Amena says:

    I just love, love, LOVE this post!! You are absolutely right that such stories give an inferiority complex to women. My brother always hated dark-skinned women and when he was old enough to start dating he began following only white women and always said that even in heaven men will be given beautiful white women. That is so racist and I can’t believe that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) could have said that. He wasn’t racist. I’m not fair skinned and I never liked the women my brother liked because I felt inferior. Now he is married to an American woman who is very pale and is blonde and he thinks he literaly has the best of both the worlds LOL!

  2. Lat says:

    ” We need Muslim women and men to challenge anything and everything that reduces women to chattel”

    Can’t agree more! The Hoor-el-ain just must go together with the other anti-women hadiths that belittle women’s faith simply because of the way they are created.

    Just recently,the papers had published an article of the polygamy club in Malaysia,where rising divorce rates among Muslims are seen,saying that women have become ‘Queens controling men’ in their houses and must learn to be ‘Obedient wives’ to their husbands including in the sexual arena.I find that objectionable as it simply assumed that all fault in the marriage lies with women.

    Men must learn to be obedient to their wives first to know what obedience is! Otherwise don’t expect it from your partner.They are looking for a hoor on earth.The hoors are a major embarrassment.They simply must go! They are a cultural construct and can’t be taken as a universal reward in heaven.If one can’t even appreciate the earthly hoors in their life,then they certainly don’t deserve one in heaven.I’m thinking of one hadith so I’ll be back!

    • Metis says:

      Lat, I’m so surprised that not much research has been done into the hadith about the Houris. I know that Khaled Abou Fadl has categorically tried to prove misogynistic ahadith as false and weak for which he has been given much grief but these ahadith are equally misogynistic albeit indirectly.

      I’m waiting for you to return 🙂

  3. susanne430 says:

    I think the concept of hooris is a ridiculous aspect of the Arabian-version of the Islamic heaven. So many times I see Americans mock this about the 72 virgins in heaven. I think Islam would be taken more seriously if there wasn’t this sexual orgy waiting men in heaven. I know it’s not the thinking of ALL people, but for people like this imam and others who want to be martyrs so they can go straight to heaven and the arms of the awaiting virgins…eh, just not for me. I see nothing heavenly about listening to men in constant states of arousal and/or orgasm for eternity.

    Lat, I just saw a link to the Obedient Wives Club of Malaysia on Yahoo! I put it on MF’s Facebook page because I thought she might enjoy it. Funny to come here and see you mention it. 🙂

    Great post and comments! I hate the idea of being property of men on earth and women being used as property for men in heaven. Even if you don’t believe the virgin birth story about Christ *at least* it shows a favored woman whom God used to accomplish a great thing *without* the use of a man’s precious seed! 😀

    I do wonder how much the description of hooris has contributed to earthly women trying to live up to those standards as you mentioned. Hmmm. It’s kind of like here they say we see lovely women in magazines and unrealistically try to become that image instead of being the people God created us to be.

    • Metis says:

      Susie, Houris are based on the Zoroastrian idea of a virtuous woman (it equals the Persian ‘pari’) and I have written about it here –

      These beings don’t only exist in Islam…sadly.

      • M says:

        regarding the link and the verses;
        dear metis, i have to ask, being someone who understands arabic quite well, do u really believe that is an accurate translation?

        • Metis says:

          Ok this is what I think. I read the Quran not in isolation but keep in mind the times, the people and the situations in which the revelations took place. I do read ahadith and the sunnah, the seerah, and tafseer. But times change and people change and if we are to read the Quran in isolation we will read the same words differently. A child who has never been taught about the Hoor-el-ain would read the verses differently because he wouldn’t have the concept and the understanding of these beings. A man who read the Quran in isolation and with the knowledge of Aramaic understood the Hoor-el-ain as “pure white grapes” (Christopher Luxemburg). Why do we understand the Right Hand Possessions as enslaved concubines? Maybe to someone who has no concept of how slaves were used for sex would never understand these words. Indeed many Muslims don’t understand the Right Hand Possessions (my parents didn’t!) and many others translate the words differently. People believed in Jinn in those times but today some Muslims translate the word Jinn/Iblees in the Quran as ‘hidden human feelings’ ( while Reza Aslan calls Jinn mythical beings that the Prophet believed in (footnotes in No God but God). Those translators who give an alternate meaning of the Hoor-el-ain also give an alternate meaning to Right Hand Possessions, Jinn and miracles.

          So when I read the Quran in the context of the 7th Century Arabia that had just left paganism I see men that were very much interested in sex and women. I see men who were fornicating and committing adultery and just learning that it is a sin. I see men being banned from drinking alcohol. And so all that they were not allowed or couldn’t have in this life becomes a promise for the next life. Hoor-el-ain were a valid belief in those times like the Jinn. In the context the translation is correct and just as valid as any other. Majority of contemporary Muslims are willing to believe in the Jinn but not the Hoor-el-ain. It is all up to our individual belief in the end.

    • Lat says:

      Yes Susanne! I agree! About Mary the Quran says the same thing about her being the most favoured woman.But I wished that God wasn’t so biased to just produce one male but twins to include a female as well… wishful thinking 🙂

  4. M says:

    i think a person’s concept of heaven speaks volumes about their psychology and what they find lacking in their earthly life. i actually feel really sorry for the sexy hoori obsessed kind of men; how empty their lives must be, dissatisfied and unfulfilled, the never ending longing for intimacy that they can only articulate to mean sexual release. not realizing that the afterlife is the promise of freedom from our base, animal selves. talk like this might break them and cause them to go on a raping rampage…!

    metis, if u have some spare time, u should read “40 tales from the afterlives”, it’s a thin and amusing book.

    • Metis says:

      “the afterlife is the promise of freedom from our base, animal selves. ”

      Ditto! Loved that.

      “40 tales from the afterlives”? Amusing? Sach batao – what kind of amusing?? 😀

      • M says:

        haha, don’t worry, it’s nothing alarming. it’s the kind of amusing that makes for good living room banter and gives u a couple of laughs. 🙂

  5. Lat says:

    “I’m so surprised that not much research has been done into the hadith about the Houris.”

    Because they want to keep the houris as they are understood and not disturb them?
    I think muslim women scholars should attempt to disect the houry topic and make clear some truth about it.Why are they so quite? Does it not affect indirectly the mentality of all muslim women?

    About hadiths,I was thinking about Aisha and perhaps the other wives.Whether any hadiths said by them included the houries.Do you know? A version of the hadith where the prophet asked Aisha (half-teasingly),if she would like to die before him so that he could bury her and pray at her funeral.’I would like that well enough if I did not think that on returning from my funeral you would console yourself with another woman.”

    We know Aisha was jealous and sharp-tongued.I’ve read this version of the hadith a few times in other texts but mostly they stop here.I do not know if a longer version of this is available.What I find missing is the houries.She who knows the prophet better,did not say how he will enjoy his time with the houries in paradise when he dies.She was very concerned about seeking his attention against the earthly women around her.And all those times whenever they were unpleasant dramas in his household like breaking of the plates by Aisha,waking up in the middle of the night finding the prophet’s absence etc,the prophet didn’t mention about houries who would serve him without question of jealousy as a retort like how some husbands do.Do you know of any hadiths narrated by Aisha or any women of the household regarding houries? So far I’ve not come across one.

    The only thing to my mind that could revirginate,be kept pure and even be ‘voluptous’ is the earth.I think the hur refers to a whole new heaven/paradise that a believer in God will be joined to.A new earth that can provide foods for sustenance and for higher spiritual enhancement for the believer.The hur could have got personified in the process by some and taken to be valid as hadith collectors,who included all sayings, small or big, of the prophet that was evident in the tongues of the people then.Afterall women are thought of goods,sadly,to be consumed.

    What I don’t like about the houries is that they are pitted against for comparison for earthly women only and not men, with regard to sex and obedience.That itself says how one sided this argument is.How does this encourage women to have good relationships with their husbands and some may even equate piety with it,when they will be mostly be pushed aside by the houries in heaven? Why is pleasing the husband the main goal here in heaven? Must he be in everything for a woman? That’s how I see it.Men want women to think of them all the time like a god and this was how loyalty and devotion was ensured and they don’t think of other men.And such conceptions do continue to this day and age,not just in muslim communities.The difference is that they don’t have the construction of the houries but culture ,custom and lots of patriarchy acting in ‘her’ place.

    • Metis says:

      Lat, I loved all your comment. Thanks so much!

      Could it be possible that Aisha never really said anything about the Houris because it is a promise from Allah and she felt it would be blasphemous to say anything against them?

      • Lat says:

        I don’t know.I just find it too mute from her side.Too neat and tidy for a jealous and sharp-tongue and brained woman like Aishah to keep mum about it.something’s wrong somewhere 🙂

    • Nahida says:

      What I don’t like about the houries is that they are pitted against for comparison for earthly women only and not men, with regard to sex and obedience. […] Why is pleasing the husband the main goal here in heaven?

      That’s only how men make it out to be! The Qur’an ITSELF doesn’t specify the sex of the houris–the Qur’an refers to them as “mates” “companions” “matches”; do they even HAVE a gender? Men have only concluded with their own patriarchal biased interpretation that they must be women and intended for only men because the descriptions are feminine, when the Qur’an explicitly uses language that applies to either sex.

  6. Lat says:

    Oh yes! Forgot to add about the number 72.I recently saw a documentary about the ancient Buddhist temple in Java,the Borobudor.Do you know that at the highest level of the temple there are 72 bell tops each featuring, I think,a buddha, which is uncovered when the disciple attains that spiritual enlightenment? The monks do lots of chanting and meditation at each level and on the top only a few could make it,they offered prayers and prostrations.So I think the number could have been related to spirituality since ancient people are aware of the number in a different way. Sorry for the many entries 🙂

    • susanne430 says:

      I enjoyed all your entries, Lat! You are a wealth of knowledge.

      Kind of a funny story, a couple years ago a friend and I were talking about the “72 virgins” thing. Maybe I’d just read a post on houris as that’s usually how I get on that subject. Anyway, at the time we were reading the NT together and the passage next on our list talked about 72 disciples of Jesus being sent out. We laughed that the number 72 came up in the Bible right after we’d just talked about that number relating to heavenly beings! 🙂

    • Metis says:

      Lat, I’m glad you mentioned the 72 bells. 72 is, I think, an important number in many religions. In Kabbalah Yahweh has 72 names and like Jesus even Confucius had 72 disciples and my Parsi friend told me that when a Parsi boy reaches puberty he is given a rope like thing to wear which is made from 72 threads. Muslims claim that 72 Muslims were martyred in Karbalah and also in Badr. So I think 72 is a number to denote too much or too many.

  7. sana says:

    I enjoyed the post very much, and the comments are so informative. I couldn’t watch the video but I think I already read about it in another blog.

    I can’t believe how those men would agree and rejoice with that “Imam” when he referred to their wives (mothers and sisters too) in such a dirty and disrespectful manner. Rather not follow any belief or faith which causes hatred and contempt for other human beings. That “Imam” was ignorance and jahalat personified.

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