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.

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.

Why men are in charge of women

Edited for ease of reading comprehensibility.

I was going through Quran and Woman by Amina Wadud for my margin notes when I had a revelation that I thought I’d put down here so I remember when I am writing my dissertation.

Amina Wadud devotes 17 pages to explain the verse 34 of Surah Nisa. In short, Wadud accepts that men do have a degree (darajah) of preference above women in terms of divorce only (2:228) although she doesn’t point out that women have rights similar to men and not the same.  She continues to call those rights equal (but they are similar, not equal). Therefore, she argues that the fadala (preference) in 4:34 does not mean that men have a higher darajah because that was only related to the verse on divorce.

Wadud asks if all men are preferred over all women. Her most significant argument is that ‘men are qawwamuna ‘ala women only if the following two conditions exist. The first condition is ‘preference’, and the other is that they support the women from their means. If either condition fails, then the man is not ‘qawwam’ over that woman.’ (Underlining mine).

Now here is when I had my revelation! The first point I noticed is that despite Wadud’s insistence that Quran addresses both men and women, the entire Surah Nisa addresses only men. In fact, this verse is so crucial to Muslim women, yet it is directly addressed only to men. It tells men that “good women” are obedient to God and that obedience is related to their being faithful in marriage by guarding their chastity like Allah would have liked them to guard.

Second, like Sayyid Qutb, whom Wadud has cited at length, I believe that the verse addresses a very narrow subject – that of a married relationship. Thus, all men are not in charge of all women, but I believe that only husbands are in charge of their wives. Let me explain.

I would have liked Wadud to mention the reason for the revelation of this verse. According to most classical sources, this verse was revealed when a woman came to the Prophet to complain that her husband had hit her (her face had turned green – the colour of her cloak, as mentioned by Aisha who said no kafir hits his wife like a Muslim man does).  The Prophet instantly replied, “get even with him!” Then he hesitated and asked the woman to wait for a revelation. That is when this verse was revealed and the Prophet explained that he had wanted equal treatment for the husband from the wife but Allah ordered otherwise.

I think this reason for revelation is crucial to understand two points: 1) the correct meaning of the imperative verb ‘daraba’ as beat, and 2) the narrow focus of the verse as related to matrimonial hierarchical relationship only.

Hence it becomes important to understand the meaning of the words fadala (preference) and wabimaanfaqoo min amwalihim (and because they spend on them from their maal – material resources).

Unlike Wadud I think that the fadala in 4:34 is related to the daraja of 2:228. Husbands are in charge (as opposed to several non-native Arabic translations, I believe qawwam doesn’t mean ‘maintainers’ in this verse but means ‘in charge’) of their wives because:

1)      They have been preferred (fadala) by Allah in terms of their higher (daraja) in the event of divorce whereby a husband can proclaim a divorce without arbitration but a wife can’t. Hence, the focus on matrimonial relationship is maintained.

2)      They spend on them from their material resources as Mahr.

These are the only two conditions whereby a husband becomes ‘preferred’ to a wife. And these two conditions will always remain in the Islamic institution.

I believe that the phrase ‘wabimaanfaqoo min amwalihim’ refers to the institution of Mahr. There are several marriages in which the real breadwinner is the wife (like the Prophet’s marriage to Khadeejah who was his employer and financially ‘in charge’). There are marriages in which it is the husband’s family that essentially supports the married couple. But even in those marriages the wives must be salihat and qanitat (righteous and obedient). Wadud argues that in such marriages a husband is not in charge of the wife, but I think that a husband is always in charge in every marriage because a Muslim marriage is invalid without Mahr.

Mahr, according to hadith (See Volume 7, Book 62, Number 81 in link), is given to gain access to a woman’s “private parts.” I believe that Mahr is the price for access to the monogamous rights of a woman. When a woman accepts Mahr she vows that she will only have intercourse with the man who has paid her the Mahr. On the contrary, a man does not receive Mahr because his right is polygynous and he doesn’t need to make a vow to have intercourse with only one woman. He can own the monogamous rights of up to four free women through Mahr and as many concubines as he can afford.

Thus, if a woman breaks the marriage contract by being sexually dishonest to her husband when in fact she had promised to be monogamous, she has in fact broken the sanctity of the vow sealed by Mahr. It is not only her sexual promiscuity but also breaking of the contract for which she must be punished or disciplined depending on the degree of her ‘crime.’

No matter how rich or poor a man is, he must under all circumstances pay the Mahr to his wife before he has sex with her. Thus, no matter how rich or poor a man is, he is in charge of the marriage bond because he pays the Mahr and he owns the right to divorce. We know from sirah that the Prophet did not consummate his marriage to Aisha until Abu Bakr had given him 12 ounces of gold which he then paid Aisha and consequently had sex with her. This is how important Mahr is in an Islamic marriage. We also know that when there was rumour of Aisha’s adultery, the Prophet first talked with her and then removed himself from her. This he did because he thought she had broken the sanctity of the marital bond. Then there is the example of Hind who was reminded by the Prophet when she took the oath of allegiance not to commit adultery and she retorted, “Does a free woman commit adultery?” It is noteworthy that, like Fatima Mersini points out, Islam ended matrilineal and polyandrous marriages, making only a free woman entitled to Mahr under patriarchal (Islamic) marriage laws whereby her husband owns full and sole rights to her sexuality.

In short, I believe that 4:34 is related only to a married relationship in which husbands are in charge in the relationship since Allah has preferred them by giving them the right to divorce without arbitration and because they pay Mahr to their wives. Righteous and obedient women are those who guard their chastity like Allah wants it guarded. Mahr promises men monogamous right to their wives’ sexuality and if a wife breaks that contract she is liable to punishment from both social and religious points of view. We all want loyalty and devotion in a relationship and this is all the verse ensures.

Beyond Simplistic Apologia

November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women as was kindly reminded to me again today by my bright and brave Saudi friend, Wafa. I don’t want to particularly talk about Muslim women and violence because violence is universal and is no way peculiar to the Muslim community.  But I thought I’d draw your attention to a Muslim man who thinks that “violence against women may physically and legally be a woman’s problem, morally and religiously it is very much that of men.”

I have already Farid Esack’s essay, Islam and Gender Justice: Beyond Simplistic Apologia three times since I borrowed the volume, What Men Owe to Women: Men’s Voices from World Religions (Edited by J.C. Raines and D. C. Maguire) this morning. It was THAT different! The entire book is fascinating and the writers, all men, have each been accused by members of their faith for holding progressive ideas for women of their faith. Farid Esack’s faith was questioned by a Muslim reviewer (Riffat Hassan) because he writes in his essay that, “In general, one discerns  … a discriminatory trend (in the Quran) when it deals with the social and legal obligations of women.”

Esack doesn’t apologise. He makes no excuses. He doesn’t sugar-coat. In fact, he accuses Amina Wadud for doing just that – “gender sensitive Muslims have struggled to “swallow” this text (Quran 4:34) after much sugar coating”!

Esack begins his essay by giving a brief history about himself, his place amongst theologians and talking about the questioner and respondent of the question ‘What men owe to women?’ He then begins to skin the gender sensitive Muslims and their “sugar-coated” exegesis of the Quran!

The author divides Quranic verses referring to women into two types:

a) General statements made which both affirm and deny gender equality and

b) specific injunctions, which are generally discriminatory towards women.

He explains them like this:

The following texts affirm the notion of equality in ethico religious responsibilities and recompense: (Q. 23:35) and (Q. 23:219)In the following four verses, frequently invoked by Muslims committed to some form of gender equality, we see how equality in a generalized manner is only seemingly affirmed. My own brief comment on the limited usefulness of invoking them for gender equality follows each verse:1) They (women) have rights similar to those against them (Q. 2:228)Here we note that ‘similar’ is left undefined and, as conservatives correctly argue, is not synonymous with ‘equal’.2) To men a share of what their parents and kinsmen leave and to women a share of what parents and relatives leave (Q. 4.7)“A share” is left undefined and, when another verse elsewhere does define it then it becomes clear that it is an unclear share.3) “To the adulteress and the adulterer, whip each one of them a hundred lashes […]” (Q.24.2)The fact of the inequality in the burden of proof in adultery is ignored. Pregnancy in the case of an unmarried woman is automatic proof of extra-marital relations while naming the male partner in the absence of witnesses to the act is tantamount to slander.4) “Say to the faithful men that they should cast down their eyes and guard their modesty; that is pure for them. And say to the faithful women that they cast down their eyes and guard their modesty.” (Q. 24:30-31)The succeeding verses, usually unmentioned in apologetic works, add an array of further specific injunctions regarding the social behaviour of women.  While one may argue that men are not absolved from these, women are the ones singled out.

Esack then continues with:

In social and legal matters, it is very difficult to avoid the impression that the Qur’an provides a set of injunctions and exhortations where women, in general, are infantalized “to be protected, and economically provided for by men, but admonished and punished if they are disobedient”.  The following are a few examples of this. a) Men marry their spouses while women are “given in marriage” by their fathers or eldest brother though they may have a say in the choice of a partner). b) The groom purchases her sexual favours though she may have a choice in the amount. Here we also observe the implicit notion of a one sided duty to fulfill the sexual needs of her husband. c) In the matter of divorce, the right of males is automatic while that of females is to be negotiated, contracted, and decided upon by male judges. d) The male may take up to four spouses though he may be compelled to treat them with equity and the first wife may leave him if the marriage contract proscribes him from taking additional wives. e) Muslim men may marry women from among the people of the Book but Muslim women may not. (Q. 2:220)

After discussing the verse on the “mono-gendered nature” of nushuz (4:34) in some depth, Esack asks, “If the excellence (of men over women) flows from God’s grace rather than from economic activity, then how does a shift in income patterns alter that excellence?” Indeed most feminist interpreters of Quran have tried to explain that the “excellence” of men over women as mentioned in 4:34 comes from economic superiority (AbulKalaam, Asad, Wadud, Hassan) which in Esack’s mind creates the problem that there is “the idea that a specific gender can acquire advantage as a group over another by virtue of some of its members possessing enjoying some grace or virtue (even if only economical).”

Explaining the same verse, Esack writes:

“While liberal readers insist that the second characteristic, “qanitat” (lit. “the obedient”) refers to obedience to God, most of the traditional interpreters have viewed this as obedience to the wishes of the husband and suggest that the obedience to one’s husband is, in fact, an extension – even a condition, of righteousness… it fairly obvious that the traditional exegetes are nearer to the truth in their fusion of duty to God and to husband… Sexual fidelity is thus portrayed as a combined duty to husband and God and while fidelity may also be a duty of the husband, the wife is singled out and her sexuality is joined to the husband’s property. In the process she and her sexuality are further objectified and notions of women as owned commodities underlined.”

I somewhat concur with this explanation as I mentioned once in a comment.

The problem, Farid Esack sees is that with the Quran, “there is no way that one can ascribe ‘discriminatory’ texts to a mysoginist Paul, or a well-meaning but time-bound David” since it is the word of God. But at the same time, “The Qur’an’s essential audience is male…(with women as) essentially subjects being dealt with – however kindly – rather than being directly addressed.”

Then he caught my attention with the rhetorical question, “How can one be content with a Transcendent who speaks about you and rarely to you?”

Esack’s answer can be found in the paradox of the sentence “while the Qur’an is far from the human rights or gender equality document that Muslim apologists make it out to be, that it, nevertheless, contains sufficient seeds for those committed to human rights and gender justice to live in fidelity to its underlying ethos.”

Esack believes that he owes women a call for forgiveness because he has realised that “God is even above Islam” and that Quran first “affirms the centrality of God in a believer’s life and not the law which is the contextual means of achieving the pleasure of God.” Despite Quran’s claims that it is a guide for humankind, Esack rightly points out that we can’t deny that the initial audience of the Book were the people of Hijaz in the 7th Century and so “those who place gender justice at the core of their concerns – rather than scripture – cannot but be cognisant of the severe limitations that such ahistorical notions place on them.”

Perhaps Esack’s   message for all of us on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women would be to develop a theology that is positive for both genders – “Our view of what we owe to women, is really a view of what we owe to ourselves. The kind of theology that we develop in thinking through this is as much a statement of our deepest selves as it is about the God whose presence we seek in a broken world desperate for wholeness and justice.”

What do you think? I welcome your comments.

Note: A version of Farid Essack’s essay is available online here.

Praying behind women

Until the 15th Century the Friday khutbahs were preached in the name of the queens and women heads of states in Yemen and Iraq. That is an extreme honour because these women literally dictated the sermons so, in effect a woman did ‘deliver’ the khutbah. I have been told that there are also a couple of ahadith that suggest that women led prayers in the Prophet’s time and he acknowledged that.

However, traditionally the Friday prayer has become men’s hanging out time in a ‘religious manner.’ It is a time to create brotherhood bonds, discuss religion and politics, and generally ‘chill out’ Islamically. That is why, I believe, Friday prayers should be a soothing experience and the sermons should stimulate the intellect.

On the other hand, we must realise that women are increasingly getting involved in politics and work outside the home. They need intelligent conversation too. Where I live I have plenty of relatives living in the same town. However, all my cousins are homemakers who haven’t studied beyond high school or best attended some college courses. I share no interests with them and our conversations become extremely boring after a while because despite my efforts I cease to contribute effectively.

I think women also need congregations where their concerns are raised. I don’t want to discuss anything with men. I don’t want them to pray with me. I don’t want men to pray behind a woman. I don’t care for all that. That is not equality and that is not what interests me. I want to discuss investment opportunities for Muslim women within Islamic means and regulations. And I want to discuss it with a woman who knows about Islamic finance because I know that a man will tell me to sell jam.

We need to hear from another woman and not a man what lies for us in religion. Blogosphere is not our khutbah place. We need to connect with women in the real world. At least I need that. I want to hear what a Muslim woman like me thinks about politics, religion, feminism, marriage, child-bearing and child-raising. I want to know what God says about women. I want to know what lies in Heaven for women. I want to know how God feels about lesbians. I want to discuss the feminine side of God; how He loves us like 70 ‘mothers.’ I want to know what should be done to men who rape their wives. Sorry but the khutbahs don’t tell me all that. I want to do more than swap recipes and talk about fashion with women.

Consequently, I don’t look forward to Friday for spiritual revitalization. I wish I could look forward to it as a day when the entire family can go out and meet like-minded people; where we can spend a good hour or so praying and talking about what is important to both men and women in Islam.

Therefore, I feel that it is important for women to be included in Friday sermons. One way of doing it could be to have separate sections in the mosque where two separate khutbahs could be delivered – for men and for women by men and by women respectively. Having it on any other day after any other prayer will dampen the spirits of the many interested women because Friday prayer is so hyped up in Islam. Mosques should ideally arrange for a child-minding facility while mothers congregate because many women can’t attend Friday prayers as they have to stay home and look after their children. This way women will be able to see and communicate with the khatibah rather than peek through screens to see the khatib.

So here is what I think: feminists should stop trying to tame the shrew. Sermonizing men and women and leading them in prayer is the end product; the process is different. Women like Wadud are jumping at the result without going through the process.

First, we need to convince women that it is important for them in the 21st Century to get involved in religion and politics. Women should reach out to like-minded women and tell them that it is equally important for women to communicate and share ideas. I am very sure that women who have no where else to go if they need answers or if they are in abusive marriages will love the idea of meeting up once a week for Friday prayers and opportunities for discussions.

Would I pray behind Wadud? Yes, I would. I would do it for the novelty of it. And I would because I haven’t prayed behind an imam in many years. I don’t want to pray behind a man who has no interest in me as a human being. In all the khutbahs that I have attended, none ever addressed women issues. When Muslim men believe that woman outnumber men, shouldn’t they discuss issues that plague women? I am certain listening to Wadud speak in the khutbah would have been rejuvenating for me.

If I were in Wadud’s place I would insist on separate prayers and discussion opportunities for women. I have both led women prayers in my school and prayed behind women. It was the single most uniting experience for me. I wouldn’t care about men praying behind women just because I don’t even bother about their religiosity.

What are your thoughts on this? How many of you think equality is achieved through men praying behind women? How important is this issue for you as a feminist?

Is stoning only for women?

My attention was brought to this website, according to which it is only Muslim women, and not men, who are punished for adultery in the Muslim world. This is something I have often been asked by non-Muslim people when discussing Islam.

Before I ask you some questions, allow me to begin by saying that stoning as a punishment for adultery is not part of the Quran. Capital punishment in the Quran for a Muslim is reserved only for murder (2:178). This is of course something many non-Muslims may not know. A Muslim may understand the reason for this – early Muslim population was small and if, like in the OT, all offences were to be punished by death, the population would have shrunk further.

But as the population of Muslims grew, Sharia developed further to include the following crimes to be punished by death: (1) Treason, helping an enemy of the Muslim community; (2) Apostasy, leaving the faith and joining the enemy in fighting against the Muslim community; (3) Land, sea, or air piracy; (4) Rape; (5) Adultery; (6) Homosexual intercourse. The argument is simple – these activities spread fisaad fil ardh (mischief on earth).

Adultery has been punished by the first Muslims, including the Prophet, by stoning and it has always been a subject of much debate. Ahadith tell us that despite stoning not been a set punishment in the Quran, the Prophet did stone people (both women and men) for adultery:

From Sahih Bukhari alone:

Volume 8, Book 82, Number 803:

Narrated Ash-Sha’bi: from ‘Ali when the latter stoned a lady to death on a Friday. ‘Ali said, “I have stoned her according to the tradition of Allah’s Apostle.”

Volume 8, Book 82, Number 805:

Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah Al-Ansari: A man from the tribe of Bani Aslam came to Allah’s Apostle and Informed him that he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and bore witness four times against himself. Allah’s Apostle ordered him to be stoned to death as he was a married Person.

Many Muslims claim that adultery should not be punished by stoning since the Quran doesn’t set that punishment. I would have had trouble understanding this (since hadith and sharia do lay out that punishment quite clearly) if there was no punishment mentioned in the Quran. However, Quran does set out the punishment for adultery which is by flogging 100 times (24:2). It is, however, argued in hadith that there was a verse on stoning abrogating 24:2 but that a goat ate the leaf on which it was penned down.[i]

So when did stoning become a standard punishment for adultery? Looking at history from hadith alone, it is clear that  the Prophet did not know that adultery was punished by stoning in Judaism:

Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 809:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: A Jew and a Jewess were brought to Allah’s Apostle on a charge of committing an illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet asked them. “What is the legal punishment (for this sin) in your Book (Torah)?” They replied, “Our priests have innovated the punishment of blackening the faces with charcoal and Tajbiya.” ‘Abdullah bin Salam said, “O Allah’s Apostle, tell them to bring the Torah.” The Torah was brought, and then one of the Jews put his hand over the Divine Verse of the Rajam (stoning to death) and started reading what preceded and what followed it. On that, Ibn Salam said to the Jew, “Lift up your hand.” Behold! The Divine Verse of the Rajam was under his hand. So Allah’s Apostle ordered that the two (sinners) be stoned to death, and so they were stoned. Ibn ‘Umar added: So both of them were stoned at the Balat and I saw the Jew sheltering the Jewess.

As the ruler of Medina, all people whether they were pagan, Christian, Jewish or Muslim came to the Prophet for judgment. He often used to offer judgment based on the Quran, but there were cases in which he awarded punishment according to the punishment prescribed in the faith of the violator, like for instance, it is argued that all adult males of Banu Qurayza were killed because that is the punishment set for treason in the Torah.

In my opinion, this is where stoning for adultery began as a prophetic practice but something that was not laid down in the Quran. This confused even early Muslims because some questioned:

Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 804:

Narrated Ash Shaibani: I asked ‘Abdullah bin Abi Aufa, ‘Did Allah’s Apostle carry out the Rajam penalty ( i.e., stoning to death)?’ He said, “Yes.” I said, “Before the revelation of Surat-ar-Nur or after it?” He replied, “I don’t Know.”

Now that we have established that stoning indeed did take place, let us look at what happens to fornicators and adulterers.

Unmarried couples engaging in pre-marital sex are flogged 100 times. It is a punishment agreed upon unanimously by Muslim scholars.  According to Sharia, if a married man has sex with someone else’s wife, then both the adulterers are to be stoned to death. If a married woman has sex with an unmarried man, then only the woman is to be stoned to death; the man is flogged 100 times and exiled for a year.[ii] Here is the difficult part – if a married man has sex with a woman who is unmarried, there is no set punishment for the man in Sharia! I have searched everywhere and I couldn’t find anything. Can anyone help? I asked an Imam and his answer was that it is certain that since the woman is unmarried that she should be flogged 100 times, but he was not sure about the man since there was no prior example of such a case for inference.

Why is there no example of such a situation? I think it is possible that such an event never happened because men are by law allowed several women (they can legally have up to four wives and as many concubines as they can afford) so like I said before, the urge for committing adultery is almost nil. If a married man fancies an unmarried woman, he has the legal and religious right to marry her, or if the woman was a slave, then to “possess” her. The opportunity for adultery would only arise if he already had four wives and the woman he newly fancied was a free woman. Even then he could potentially divorce one of his wives and marry this new woman. We see that happening often even today.

So in such a case, adultery does become a married woman’s problem. What if she begins to fancy a married man? Or an unmarried man? Or a slave? Or is simply bored in her marriage? What legal opportunities are available to her?

In the light of what I have presented above, what implication does stoning for adultery have for Muslim feminists? I understand that most of you don’t have to fight against this punishment in your countries of residence, but have you ever raised your voice to help women in other countries who have been given this punishment and are waiting to literally die by stoning? Do you think it is unfair that men today are not punished similarly even though there are ample examples that married men too were stoned in Prophet’s time? How do you feel about stoning generally?


[i] Narrated ‘Aisha: “The verse of the stoning and of suckling an adult ten times were revealed, and they were (written) on a paper and kept under my bed. When the messenger of Allah expired and we were preoccupied with his death, a goat entered and ate away the paper.” References: Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal. vol. 6. page 269; Sunan Ibn Majah, page 626; Ibn Qutbah, Tawil Mukhtalafi ‘l-Hadith (Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya. 1966) page 310; As-Suyuti, ad-Durru ‘l-Manthur, vol. 2. page 13

[ii] Set according to Sahih hadith in Bukhari,  Volume 8, Book 82, Number 842:

Narrated Abu Huraira and Zaid bin Khalid Al-Juhani: A man came to the Prophet and said, “I beseech you to judge us according to Allah’s Laws.” Then his opponent who was wiser than he, got up and said, “He has spoken the truth. So judge us according to Allah’s Laws and please allow me (to speak), O Allah’s Apostle.” The Prophet said, “Speak.” He said, “My son was a laborer for the family of this man and he committed illegal sexual intercourse with his wife, and I gave one-hundred sheep and a slave as a ransom (for my son), but I asked the religious learned people (regarding this case), and they informed me that my son should be flogged one-hundred stripes, and be exiled for one year, and the wife of this man should be stoned (to death).”The Prophet said, “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, I will Judge you (in this case) according to Allah’s Laws. The one-hundred (sheep) and the slave shall be returned to you and your son shall be flogged one-hundred stripes and be exiled for one year. And O Unais! Go in the morning to the wife of this man and ask her, and if she confesses, stone her to death.” She confessed and he stoned her to death.

The Paradisal Tilth

I read the following excerpt this morning in Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism by Haideh Moghissi (1999) and was left speechless:

In Islamic societies, the woman’s body generates fascination and pleasure. It is exploited for procreation, and as a symbol of communal dignity. It is manipulated and its activities are codified. It is covered and confined. It is disciplined for defiance and is mutilated in anticipation of trespassing – all this often sanctioned legally and, particularly, culturally. The female body is the state of struggle between the proponents and opponents of modernity and is used as a playing card between imperial and anti-imperial political forces. In Islamic societies, sexuality, the site of love, desire, sexual fulfillment and physical procreation, is, at the same time, for women, the site of shame, confinement, anxiety, compulsion. ‘With the first drop of her menstrual blood, every Muslim girl becomes a temple of her family’s honor.’ Woman’s expression of her desires and the pursuit of her interests contradicts the interests of man and challenges man’s God-given rights over woman. Underpinning the sexual and moral beliefs and practices in Islamic societies is the conception of woman as weak in moral judgment and deficient in cognitive capacity, yet sexually forceful and irresistibly seductive. The susceptibility of women to corruption, in this view, explains the obsession with sexual purity in Islamic cultures and justifies surveillance of women by family, community and state.

Managed independent of her desire and will, sexuality for women becomes the legal possession of Islamic community, umma, and, by extension, of the state. Laws pertaining to marriage and divorce speak clearly of women’s disabilities in enjoying full legal  status. The marriage contract and the termination of it, divorce, are negotiated between the state and male citizens, that is, father in the case of marriage, and husband in the case of divorce. Young virgin women, according to the Islamic Shari’a, need the permission of their fathers or guardians to enter a marriage contract; fathers can legally marry off their under-age daughters for a set price, mahr; and a man can end the marriage contract without the consent or even the knowledge of his wife. The diverging interpretations of Qur’anic rulings and various legal traditions and reforms launched in Islamic societies in the area of personal status have done little to remove women’s legal disabilities in marriage and divorce.

Islam  opposes celibacy and celebrates sexual pleasure as a legitimate right of the believer. Sex in itself is regarded as a sacred function within the domestic field… The promises made to the believer of the ‘good life’ awaiting him in Paradise, a space in which sexual indulgence with ‘eternally young’, ‘fair’ and ‘wide-eyed’ women seems to be man’s only activity, can, perhaps, expose what constituted ultimate happiness for the Muslim believer (Sabbah, 1988:91-7). Eternally lasting physical pleasure and unrestricted access to the female body as the source of physical pleasure would be delivered to the believing man in Paradise as rewards for his piety, good deeds and self-control in life. Decoding Islamic Paradise, Fatna Sabah, suggests that the Paradisal female model, the huri, represents the ideal female and, at the same time, the ideal society for the Muslim believer. The huri ‘is created to be consumed as a sexual partner, her value comes from her physical beauty, which God gives as a gift to the believer’. She is passive and is stripped of the human dimension. ‘She has been created for one sole destiny: to be consumed by the male believer.’ Given the fact that religious instructions in Islamic societies are at the same time state legislation, this concept of sexuality has specific legal consequences for women.

While approving of sexual pleasure, the Islamic orthodox view develops, at the same time, a justification for sexual hierarchy, with women as sexual objects at the service of men. The Qur’an makes men ‘the managers of the affairs of women’, requiring righteous women to be ‘obedient, guarding the secret for God’s guarding’, and reveal not their adornment…save to their husbands’. The sure outcome of this palpable sexual hierarchy, incorporated into family laws in Islamic societies, is that woman’s very existence is serving men, sexually and emotionally. Women are‘tillage’ for the male believer, to go to when he wishes. If a wife refuses her husband’s sexual demands, she is to be punished.

Moghissi is an articulate feminist and the issues she discusses in her book, particularly in this passage, are some that I have thought about for a long time in various ways. I was quite surprised to see a Muslim, a woman, acquiring an unsympathetic tone and literally ripping apart the Islamic doctrine related to the female gender. Her tone is honest even if harsh and you can sense the condemnation she feels for the huri, for being called a ’tilth’ and for being treated like a ‘temple of her family’s honor.’

However, like many other feminists who are Muslim and therefore who don’t know how else to understand these concepts that exist in Quran and Hadith, she calls these problems as issuing from fundamentalism.

My questions to you are:

  • How do you, Muslim women and men who are feminists, feel about this passage that I have quoted?
  • How do you feel about the ‘insinuation’ (through various verses) that women are primarily made for sex?
  • And how do you understand such insinuations for yourself? Do you, like Moghissi, blame patriarchy, ancient culture or fundamentalism? Or do you think that is how nature is – women are created for sex?