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.