The sexualisation of piety

A friend shared this video couple of days ago and I’ve been contemplating since then if I should share it here. I’m sharing because being already out there and the words spoken and recorded, this requires counter-narrative.

I had read all of this before in hadith and seerah and tafsir. I’m aware that this narrative exists in texts, but when I was reading it, at a subconscious level, I thought that nobody really believed it like I didn’t believe it. Hearing it, and listening to it being taught had a completely different impact on me.

It is quite clear that the ‘imam’ fully believes what he’s teaching. The link he creates between different ahadith and tafseer excerpts as well as the Quranic verses is well thought out – men shall outnumber women in heaven (from the hadith that women will outnumber men in hell) because women display their awra (from the hadith banning perfume and Quran banning display of ‘adornments). He goes on to explain the physical attributes of the hoors (from Tirmizi, volume 2, pg 35-40; Bukhari vol.4, book 55, number 544; Quran: 55:72-74; 78:33; 56:37-40; Al-Bukhari volume 4, book 52, number 53; Al-Bukhari vol.4, book 54, number 476). Men’s sexual capacity in heaven is also expounded (from Ibn Majah, volume 5, number 4337) and how they will be busy “breaking hymens” (from Ibn Katheer, 3/564). Again and again the imam tells his congregation that there’s no sin in talking about sex and about the breasts and hymens of these heavenly females because it is right here in Quran and hadith; it is all for Muslim men. While human females must hide themselves, there is no sin in fantasizing about the hoor. There is great emphasis on female virginity – so much that the imam tells the men that each time they have sex with the hoor and return from another one, the first would be a virgin again! At the same time, there is no requirement from men to be virgins as if the concept of male virginity does not even exist (or at least occur to the imam).

This seriously affects how women are treated in the physical world. It is linked to misogyny and is a great reason we need Muslim feminism so that this type of thought and narrative can be challenged. This is being taught to young men in mosques, inside places of worship we hold scared, where actually women are delegated the back spaces. Young men are taught that while they are flawless, human females are tainted, sinful and literally hellbound. In case some women do make it into heaven, there is no description of what they should await. The focus of heaven’s bounty – the food and wine, and sexual pleasure, is the Muslim heterosexual man. Obviously then, the flawless men should teach and control the sinful women.

A friend suggested that one way we can counter this narrative is to encourage our husbands, brothers and sons to report if something like this is taught in mosques. While this can be done in Western mosques, I wonder if someone can actually do much if this is taught in a Muslim-majority country where dissent is met with death. Please, please offer suggestions on how this kind of teaching can be stopped. We all know this isn’t a single instance; we’ll seen and read this before.

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5 thoughts on “The sexualisation of piety

  1. Fatima says:

    Thank you for this piece.
    I suppose that this teaching, which I am sure is also delivered outside Muslim majority countries, translates an understanding of position of women in Islam in this world and the next. These teachings are not only found on internet via videos but also through books , TV programms.The obvious danger of such teaching is the objectification of women, the demonization of some of them (here the unveiled women according to the translation) and as a result the banalization and legitimization of mistreatment of women .
    As you have pointed out those ideas are supported by sayings found in tafsirs and hadiths. In one hand it raises the question of interpretation and the ideological and political context in which tafisrs have been produced. On the other hand it raises again the question of authenticity of hadiths or simply their reading and their interpretation. Ingrid Mattson questions the misogynistic reading of hadiths in her research shared in a conference in January 2014 (Deen Institute Can Muslims escape misogyny?)

    We need to know the circumstances of revelations regarding these aspects of the hereafter mentioned in the Quran. Um Salama was at the origin of the revelation of the verse 33:35. We can therefore imagine that women at the time questioned also these aspects of the hereafter; the answers are probably in others sources than the Quran.

    Also to answer your question what to do, I suppose the long term solution is research and share research already existing beyond the academic circle.
    The short term solution would be to start from the beginning: teach the respect of human being regardless of gender, race, belief … It is only one aspect of the teaching of the Quran in this way boys and men, girls and women would be able to spot easily demonization of one group of human being and think critically.

    This teaching should be disseminates through social network, books and TV programs.

  2. Sana says:

    Excellent piece!
    I am not good with arguing and with words, because this is exactly the sermons given in our local mosques. And many men in our community believe it to be true, it is so sickening.
    On the other hand women strongly defend their stance and quote Quran as their reference, not hadith.
    I don’t know how true that is, I am still looking to learn more.
    One fear of mine is if I go into great details and find something that doesn’t sit well with me, I might leave religion altogether.

  3. Sana says:

    Excellent piece!
    I am not good with arguing and with words, because this is exactly the sermons given in our local mosques. And many men in our community believe it to be true, it is so sickening.
    On the other hand women strongly defend their stance and quote Quran as their reference, not hadith.
    I don’t know how true that is, I am still looking to learn more.
    One fear of mine is if I go into great details and find something that doesn’t sit well with me, I might leave religion altogether.

  4. Sam says:

    Wow, who actually monitors what is being said in mosques in Western countries? That would be a start I guess? I mean, I know plenty of non hijab wearing Muslim women, me included, that no longer visit mosques anymore, certainly not regularly at all. Is that the problem I wonder, feeling powerless we just don’t go there. And in the meantime views like those of the imam in your link are more likely to go unchallenged. I only recently started to think that this is the origin of the thinking behind the hijab – it’s objectification sold as a way to avoid it, there is an obsession by these types of imams and their listeners – women included, with women’s bodies, from their head coverings to their hymens. Grrr

  5. womble says:

    @ Maryamnajidah, I’m not an Arabic speaker so I am unable to discuss what you know about the linguistics of the obligation of the khimar, but this is what I found out. Thousands of years before Islam women in Mesopotamia wore head-coverings. The cuneiform text of Mesopotamia show that it was the law for free married women to veil. Female slaves and prostitutes who tried to emulate free women by veiling were severely punished. Fast forward a few thousand years and now change the region to Arabia.

    This is from the tafsir of Ibn Abbas about sura 33:59 ‘(O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them) to cover their necks and bosoms ((when they go abroad). That will be better, that so they may be recognised) as free women (and not annoyed) and not be harmed by the fornicators. (Allah is ever Forgiving) He forgives what they have done in the past, (Merciful) He shows mercy on them regarding that which they will do in the future.’

    Bukhari Volume 5, Book 59, Number 512, narrated Anas:

    ‘The Prophet offered the Fajr Prayer near Khaibar when it was still dark and then said, “Allahu-Akbar! Khaibar is destroyed, for whenever we approach a (hostile) nation (to fight), then evil will be the morning for those who have been warned.” Then the inhabitants of Khaibar came out running on the roads. The Prophet had their warriors killed, their offspring and woman taken as captives. Safiya was amongst the captives, She first came in the share of Dahya Alkali but later on she belonged to the Prophet. The Prophet made her manumission as her ‘Mahr’.

    Volume 5, Book 59, Number 513, narrated ‘Abdul ‘Aziz bin Suhaib:

    ‘Anas bin Malik said, “The Prophet took Safiya as a captive. He manumitted her and married her.” Thabit asked Anas, “What did he give her as Mahr (i.e. marriage gift)?” Anas replied. “Her Mahr was herself, for he manumitted her.”’

    Volume 5, Book 59, Number 522, narrated Anas bin Malik:

    ‘We arrived at Khaibar, and when Allah helped His Apostle to open the fort, the beauty of Safiya bint Huyai bin Akhtaq whose husband had been killed while she was a bride, was mentioned to Allah’s Apostle. The Prophet selected her for himself, and set out with her, and when we reached a place called Sidd-as-Sahba,’ Safiya became clean from her menses then Allah’s Apostle married her. Hais (i.e. an ‘Arabian dish) was prepared on a small leather mat. Then the Prophet said to me, “I invite the people around you.” So that was the marriage banquet of the Prophet and Safiya. Then we proceeded towards Medina, and I saw the Prophet, making for her a kind of cushion with his cloak behind him (on his camel). He then sat beside his camel and put his knee for Safiya to put her foot on, in order to ride (on the camel).’

    Volume 5, Book 59, Number 523, narrated Anas bin Malik:

    ‘The Prophet stayed with Safiya bint Huyai for three days on the way of Khaibar where he consummated his marriage with her. Safiya was amongst those who were ordered to use a veil.’

    Vol. 5, Book 59, para. 524, narrated Anas:

    ‘The Prophet stayed for three rights between Khaibar and Medina and was married to Safiya. I invited the Muslim to [his] marriage banquet and there [was] neither meat nor bread in that banquet but the Prophet ordered Bilal to spread the leather mats on which dates, dried yogurt and butter were put. The Muslims said amongst themselves, “Will she (i.e. Safiya) be one of the mothers of the believers, (i.e. one of the wives of the Prophet ) or just (a lady captive) of what his right-hand possesses” Some of them said, “If the Prophet makes her observe the veil, then she will be one of the mothers of the believers (i.e. one of the Prophet’s wives), and if he does not make her observe the veil, then she will be his lady slave.” So when he departed, he made a place for her behind him (on his and made her observe the veil.’

    Free women were already wearing head coverings. Veiling was a way for free women to segregate and identify themselves from lower class women ie slaves, when they went out into public spaces. We cannot imagine what life was like for women in ancient times, but hadith and Quran can give us a glimpse of the divisions that existed.

    Look at sura 23, vv. 1, 5 and 6:

    ‘(Successful indeed are the believers)… [5] (And who guard their modesty) and who are chaste [6] (Save from their wives) up to four wives (or the (slaves) that their right hands possess) without any limit in number, (for then they are not blameworthy) when they engage in that which is lawful.’

    Interpreting the laws on head covering without reference to these sources is not helpful and can be dangerous. How many women have been abused or killed because they don’t cover their hair? At the very least it can create division and judgment amongst the people who believe it’s obligatory and those who don’t. The latter group being viewed as weak and do not have a strong sense of faith.

    Again from the tafsir of Ibn Abbas about 24:31 ‘(And tell the believing women) O Muhammad (to lower their gaze) from men, that which is unlawful as far as men are concerned (and be modest) and be chaste, (and to display of their adornment) their bracelets and ornamented belts (only that which is apparent) of their clothes, (and to draw their veils over their bosoms) and they should tie that; and then Allah mentioned the adornment again, and said: (and not to reveal their adornment) their bracelets and ornamented belts and other things (save to their own husbands or fathers) blood fathers or stepfathers (or husbands fathers, or their sons) real sons or milk sons (or their husbands’ sons) from other women, (or their brothers) their milk brothers or blood brothers (or their brothers’ sons) their real sons or stepsons (or sisters sons) their real sons or milk sons, (or their women) i.e. Muslim women who belong to their own religion, because it is unlawful for Jewish, Christian or Magian women to see them without their clothes on, (or their slaves) female slaves, not male slaves, (or male attendants who lack vigour) or male attendants who belong to their husbands who have no desire for women: i.e. eunuchs and elderly men, (or children who know naught of women’s nakedness) children who are too young to sleep with women and do not understand what goes on between men and women, such as these can see the adornment of women without there being any doubt. (And let them not stamp their feet) their anklets (so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment) so that strange men know what they hide of their adornment. (And turn unto Allah together) and repent of all sins whether great or small, (O believers, in order that ye may succeed) in order that you escape Allah’s wrath and chastisement.’

    I hope that the above has given you some food for thought.

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