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.

Gay imams and taboo subjects

While looking for material on women in the Gulf I came across an interesting article (Tackling a Taboo Subject – Gulf News – 20/01/07). The article argues that sexual promiscuity and homosexuality is spreading amongst the Muslim youth in the UAE because sex education is not given to them as part of school curriculum. The article makes special mention of lesbianism and I’ll summarise the major points made in the article below:

Psychologists and social counsellors in the UAE say sex education must be part of the educational system as it would prevent many inappropriate practices, and would serve the right of the youth to understand the topic in a scientific and unbiased manner, within the context of religion and culture… ignorance about sexual instincts is the reason behind the high divorce rates, troubled marriages, and the increase in psychological and sexual disorders later on in life… The western media are widely advertising homosexuality, which is influencing the youth. The issue might begin as a likening or imitating of the opposite sex, but in many cases it develops into physical intimacy [homosexuality]… The reason behind the psychological illness is that pupils are not properly brought up. Many of them are raised by foreign housemaids and tend to pick up alien behaviour. He said it is commonly witnessed among pupils of grades 7 to 9 and it is dominant among females, in comparison to males. Some parents are willing to address the issue when they find out that their child is homosexual but most are ashamed and in denial

The article does not offer very good argument but, it does show a “taboo” side of the society which is not discussed openly in Muslim societies for which I give it credit. However, to be honest I was a bit disappointed (but not surprised) to read such negative words about homosexuality. Homosexuality is considered a sin by majority of Muslims and I know that but there are also many Muslims who don’t think it is a sin and who believe that homosexuality is just as much determined by our genes as heterosexuality. Nature Vs nurture is an ongoing debate but both voices should be heard, shouldn’t they?

In some societies that allow freedom of speech, gay Muslims have found a voice and they have come out to say that they can be Muslim and gay. In fact, modern Islam has its own gay imams! There is Imam Muhsin Hendricks from South Africa and Imam Daayiee Abdullah is an openly gay Muslim from Washington, D.C who is a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Leadership Roundtable. Imam Abdullah uses Quran and Sunnah to establish that homosexuality is not a sin in Islam. He says in an interview,

There’s nothing in the Koran that speaks against homosexuality. The Lut [a.k.a. Lot] story speaks about heterosexual men who use homosexual sexual acts as a form of punishment. When you read it literally, it says, ”men who turn away from their wives or mates.” Gay [men] don’t tend to have [female] mates unless it’s a cultural situation they’re forced into, by family or culture… [The Prophet] never had a legal case that dealt with homosexuality… So if it’s not something he did, those Haddith — or stories about the Prophet — that came out later are fabrications.

Similarly Imam Hendricks denies that the People of Lot were punished for being gay. He says,  

The situation in Sodom and Gomorrah was one of male-to-male rape. It was the abuse of sexual power. We’re dealing with a civilisation that was very patriarchal – the men had all the sexual rights. They had legitimate wives but … within the whole setup, sodomy also happened.

Imam Abdullah conducted funeral prayers for gay Muslims who had died from AIDS and had no one to do their funeral prayer. Now he conducts same-sex marriage ceremonies for both Muslim women and Muslim men. He also conducts inter-faith marriages since his partner of 10 years is a Christian man.

Imam Hendricks was involved in the production of Jihad for Love – “the world’s first documentary film on the coexistence of Islam and homosexuality” for which the director “filmed with a very devout lesbian couple in Turkey who were completely out and comfortably with their sexuality [and] an Egyptian lesbian and her Moroccan partner who were so religious they found it hard even to articulate the word ‘lesbian’.” However, Imam Hendricks thinks that in these difficult times for Islam, Muslims have greater battles to fight than acceptance of homosexuality.

Imam Abdullah makes an important point that,

“One of the problems that’s always associated with the Muslim faith — and sometimes mirrored in other faiths — is that homosexuality is all based on sex, the sexual act. It’s not based upon one’s orientation. If you don’t have sex, you can still have a gay orientation. So the issue is not really about sex. It’s about how people interpret the way in which they are able to love another individual. That’s one of the things I try to stress with parents, with other people who are non-gay but also Muslim.”

As a Muslim Feminist how do you feel about all this? Do you think that Muslims can’t be gay? Do you think having gay imams to represent gay Muslims is a breath of fresh air we have been waiting for? How do you feel about the article claiming that homosexuality is a “psychological illness” that is learned?

More importantly do you think you must support homosexuality because you are a Muslim Feminist? Are there MFs who think homosexuality is a sin?

Links:

Here is a list of links on rising homosexuality in Saudi Arabia and some of these links have further links.

Gay Muslims, a documentary

Trembling before G-d

Love Jihad

“Segregation is spreading homosexuality like wildfire in Afghanistan.”

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.

Slaves, concubines, and housemaids

Edited for brevity and focus.

A topic that I wish more Muslim feminists would address in the Blogosphere is that of concubines in Islam. I know that most will flail their arms in the air and moan “it doesn’t happen anymore so get on with other important issues”, but Muslim women must understand that it “does still happen” and it is a very important issue that must be addressed immediately.

Most active Muslim feminist bloggers write from outside the Arab world and if they have never lived in the Arab world they will not know the intricate realities of the Islam that is practiced by men and women here. Our sad disregard for their plight has caused the abuse and assault to escalate rapidly.

While I disagree with slavery in general, my particular concern has always been with concubinage. Slavery and concubinage continued openly in the Arab and Muslim lands until as late as the 1960s. And it still exists in Chad, Mali, Niger, Sudan, Ethiopia and Mauritania (where approximately 90,000 black Mauritanians are enslaved by Arab/Berber owners). In 1997, El Hassan Ould Benyamin, a masjid imam in Tayarat openly condemned efforts to abolish slavery:

“This ‘abolition’ [of slavery] is illegal because it is contrary to the teachings of the fundamental text of Islamic law, the Quran … [and] amounts to the expropriation from Muslims of their goods; goods that were acquired legally.”

In all these countries, sex with slaves is a given and is tolerated by other Muslims as well as wives of men who keep concubines. Sexual slavery is an “epidemic” in Darfur. You can read here how as late as 2003 there have been Islamic leaders calling for slavery to be reinstated.  Shaikh Saad Al-Buraik openly urged Palestinians to practice concubinage by saying that, ‘(Jewish) women are yours to take, legitimately. God made them yours. Why don’t you enslave their women?’

I don’t wish to go into the theological underpinnings of sex with slaves; I want to draw attention to some groundbreaking work that has been done particularly by Segal (2001) to explain how slavery and concubinage became synonymous with ‘black people’ which has resulted in slavery still existing in Africa.

Segal explains that Arabs preferred Africans for slavery because according to some of the most renowned scholars African people were created for slavery[i]. Thus by the Middle Ages, the Arabic word abd was exclusively used for a black slave, while mamluk referred to a white slave.

Segal mentions that thousands of Berber women were publicly sold at Cairo in 1077 for revolting. That is where the demand for Black concubines gained sudden popularity. Al Idrisi spoke of the beauty of Nubian concubines in these terms:

Their women are of surpassing beauty. They are circumcised and fragrant-smelling… their lips are thin, their mouths small and their hair flowing. Of all the black women, they are the best for the pleasures of the bed … It is on account of these qualities of theirs that the rulers of Egypt were so desirous of them and outbid to purchase them, afterwards fathering children from them.

Similarly, Segal notes that Burckhardt found that Hijazi men especially from Mecca always preferred Ethiopian women as concubines:

The concubines are always Abyssinian slaves. No wealthy Meccan prefers domestic peace to the gratification of his passions; they all keep mistresses in common with their lawful wives … Arabians are more expensive, and less disposed to yield to the will of the husband … Upon their arrival (foreigners also) buy a female companion, with the design of selling her at their departure.

What can be derived from the two passages quoted above are the following few important points:

  1. African women were preferred as concubines for their physical qualities
  2. Hijazi men preferred their passions over domestic peace
  3. African concubines were not “expensive”
  4. They easily yielded to the will of their owners because they were in bondage

These are the also the main points why domestic servants from Ethiopia, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Philippines are sexually assaulted today by Muslims living in Muslim countries. These women are attractive but powerless in a foreign country, they are poor and dependent on their host families and in most cases are in no situation to deny the sexual advances of their sponsors. If they stand up for their rights and do collect the courage to complain against the sexual assault, they run the risk of being punished for fornication under Sharia law.

However, men find nothing wrong in approaching these women because they believe they have ownership of these women since they sponsor them. More importantly, they have never been taught that a woman’s consent is necessary for sex to take place since in their culture the right to consent lies only with a free woman who is a legal wife.

Wafa has a horrific story to share on her blog today. There is the case of a man willing to swap his old and beaten car with a healthy Indian or Sri Lanka housemaid! There are also photos of brutally abused maids by their female owners! (Something to ponder on is the possibility that perhaps the female abusers of these maids are jilted wives who are jealous of these younger and more attractive foreign women – after all, their husbands are known to prefer their passions over domestic peace!). This happens in countries where slavery is still silently practiced for which Butt bravely accuses Muslims in carrying out gender apartheid. Exactly a year ago CNN published this graphic tale of an Indonesian maid treated as a sex slave for more than a year. The Women’s Rights website carries more stories. Across the border in Sudan, slavery is still firmly in place. (Also this, and this).

It is obvious in today’s moral structure to treat sex with non-consenting women as immoral, indecent and plainly – rape. Today even if slavery exists, sex with a slave is considered rape. A woman is now seen as an adult human being; an equal to the male human. A woman, even if socially inferior, deserves full right over her own sexuality and hence her consent is necessary.

Perhaps many Muslim feminists are scared to talk about concubinage in Islam because it would seem that their loyalties don’t lie with Islam (there is Kecia Ali’s book but that’s almost it). There is invariably the need for justification with words similar to “to talk only about the Middle East is an obvious attempt to demonize Muslims and Islam. Yes, the situation of female maids in the Middle East is often atrocious; but so is the situation of female maids in Asia, and for that matter, of Filipino workers enslaved in U.S country clubs.”

However, Muslim feminists, I feel, must talk about these problems because first, misery can’t and shouldn’t be compared; second, if we don’t talk about the atrocities committed by Muslims, then we offer the chance to others to discuss it on their terms; third, no matter how far removed we are from the original Islamic idea of slavery and concubinage, the fact is that today it is a Muslim problem if it happens in a Muslim country and so it is our problem; and finally any woman who is abused by a Muslim becomes the problem of a Muslim feminist.

My questions to you are:

  1. Why do you think many Muslim feminists ignore to discuss the suffering of women sold into slavery?
  2. What concrete steps do you think Muslim feminists must take to end this suffering?
  3. How do you feel about all this as a Muslim and a feminist?

—–

Further reading

Concubinage. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_and_slavery#Concubinage

Segal, R. (2001). Islam’s Black Slaves. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

Sikainga, Ahmad A. (1996). Slaves Into Workers: Emancipation and Labor in Colonial Sudan. University of Texas Press.

Thousands of Nigerian women ‘found in Mali slave camps’, BBC report. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11438341

——-

[i] Based  on Ibn Sina’s work on relationship between climate and human temperament Said Al-Andalusi, a judge at Toledo said that Africans were best suited to slavery because, “living under the long presence of the sun at the zenith causes their temperaments to become hot and their humors fiery, their color black and their hair woolly. They lack self-control and steadiness of mind and are overcome by flickleness, foolishness and ignorance.”

Ibn Khaldun wrote that, “the Negro natioans are,a s a rule, submissive to slavery because they have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals.”

Construction of the homosexual ‘other’

I just finished reading an article titled ‘The construction of the homosexual ‘other’ by British Muslim heterosexuals’ by Asifa Siraj which appeared in the Journal of Contemporary Islam on 31 January 2009.

In Siraj’s own words, the article, “explores Muslim attitudes towards homosexuality and homosexuals … and examines the connection between participants’ attitudes towards homosexuality and their understanding of gender and gender roles… Data suggest that participants held negative attitudes towards homosexuals and this is the result of being religiously conservative in their attitudes towards homosexuality and gender roles.”

Siraj believes that Islam, in its original and pure form, does not explicitly condemn homosexuality in the Quran, but Hadith is another matter. An excerpt of most importance from the article is as follows (p.46):

Jamal (2001) in her analysis examined the moral terminology used in the 14 verses concerning homosexuality, and found that same sex-activities in the Qur’an are not considered as different from certain other illicit opposite-sex and non-sexual practices. What is equally important to the debate is that the Hadith which attributes the story of Lut exclusively to same-sex sexuality has shaped the interpretation of the Qur’an. Jamal (2001) further contends that although the sins committed by the people are frequent, the Qur’an does not declare that the people were destroyed for this particular sin. She concludes that the Qur’an does not provide a definitive position on the issue of homosexuality. Omid Safi, an American Muslim scholar, similarly comments that the issue of same-sex relations in the Qur’an is unclear and talk of homosexuality as an abomination is ambiguous because ‘what an abomination is remains open to interpretation’. Moreover, nowhere in the Qur’an does it state explicitly or implicitly that death is the appropriate punishment for being homosexual. Indeed, in order to implement punishment, guilt must first be established, and the Shari’ah requires incontestable evidence such as a confession or four reliable eyewitnesses verifying that they saw penetration (sodomy) take place (cf. Sofer 1992; Schild 1992). According to Vanita and Kidwai (2001) ‘the difficulty of finding eyewitnesses to confirm instances of penetration in effect removes private acts between consenting individuals from the realm of punishment’ (Vanita and Kidwai 2001: 111). Homosexuality is condemned when it is publicised and therefore transgresses Islamic morals (Schild 1992).

Despite all these arguments, Siraj’s study concludes that homosexuality is not, and perhaps will not be, accepted by Islam and Muslims.

As a feminist I feel this study is very important but I am personally not surprised at the results at all. I feel that contemporary Muslims must be educated about homosexuality and homosexuals. Homosexuality is as old as heterosexuality and it is not an “abomination” for which a man or a woman who is homosexual should be killed. This is why such studies are important to me as a feminist because I understand that Muslim women are more easily and more swiftly punished than Muslim men although comparatively it is easier for a Muslim man to have homosexual partners than a Muslim woman living in Muslim countries.

However, I don’t understand what progressive Muslims, Muslim feminists and educated, broad-minded scholars like Siraj want? Do we foresee a future where Muslim men and women and imams and scholars will embrace homosexuality as just as *normal* as heterosexuality (which is what Siraj believes Islam has created) and will welcome homosexuals into mainstream Muslim circles? If that is what we foresee, then I predict disappointment. While I personally don’t find homosexuals as ‘abominable’, I think it will take Muslims another four or five centuries to begin accepting homosexuals as equal human beings worthy of love, tolerance and respect.

What are your thoughts?

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 legal consequences of the Hoor

I realised that I should have posted the two excerpts from Moghissi separately. There is connection between them but the flow was disconnected. Anyway, I am not particularly asking any questions here; merely explaining what I had meant to convey in the last post.

I understand that Muslims, especially women, have often not taken the concept of Huris very positively. Their concerns are more linked to jealousy. However, Moghissi, through Sabah, shows a more dangerous side of the belief in Huris.

In the comments to the last post, we saw a few different reactions. The most common reaction is that Huris are a metaphor. Certainly if you compare translations of the Quran they are seen as metaphorical from the beginning of the 20th century. Mohammad Asad believes they are the earthly spouses, ‘revirginated’ and raised as Hoor al ain. I have often compared the Hoor al ain with the metaphorical woman in the Zoroastrian text of Arda Viraf. Read this from Chapter 4 of Arda Viraf, verses 18-25:

18. And there stood before him his own religion and his own deeds, in the graceful form of a damsel, as a beautiful appearance, that is, grown up in virtue; (19) with prominent breasts, that is, her breasts swelled downward, which is charming to the heart and soul; (20) whose form was as brilliant, as the sight of it was the more well-pleasing, the observation of it more desirable. 21. And the soul of the pious asked that damsel (22) thus: ‘Who art thou? and what person art thou? than whom, in the world of the living, any damsel more elegant, and of more beautiful body than thine, was never seen by me.’ 23. To him replied she who was his own religion and his own deeds, (24) thus: ‘I am thy actions, O youth of good thoughts, of good words, of good deeds, of good religion. (25) It is on account of thy will and actions that I am as great and good and sweet-scented and triumphant and undistressed as appears to thee.

Now read these passages from the Quran:

They will have maidens with large, lovely black and white eyes. Like pearls preserved in their shells. As reward for their deeds. (56:22-24)

We shall unite them to maidens with big black and white lovely eyes. (44:54)

They will have with them loving wives with big black and white eyes. Who are as chaste as sheltered eggs. (37:48-49)

There will be well-disciplined, beautiful maidens. Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny? Pure ones confined to the pavilions. Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny? Whom no man or Jinn before them has touched; Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny? They will be reclining on plain green and beautifully printed carpets. Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny? (55:70-77)

Reclining on thrones set in lines, and We will unite them to large-eyed beautiful ones. (52:20)

Gardens and vineyards, and maidens with swelling breasts, of equal age, and a cup that is overflowing (78:32-34)

Arda Viraf categorically calls this voluptuous “damsel”, a believer’s religion personified. This is not so clear in the Quran; in fact it has been accepted literally for fourteen centuries. Moreover, at least in Surah Rahman, Hoor Al Ain are a promise of Allah for the believer with the rhetorical question – “Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?”  To treat it as a mere metaphor or an illusion to allure men to do good deeds, (I can sympathize with the traditionalists), would be a deceptive promise.

However, why I quoted Moghissi is because she links the promise and belief in Huris with fundamentalism. She writes:

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). 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.

I’m not concerned here with how Huris have been linked to jihad. I am more concerned with their effect on the lives of earthly women. They have become the ‘ideal female’ – passive and stripped of the human dimension. They teach women to be submissive, quiet, “well-disciplined”, like “well-guarded pearls” that no man has ever touched. Huris teach women to wait for the men, eagerly reclining on cushions. They teach women to desire youthfulness, full figures and big black eyes.  This concept of sexuality also has effects on ‘legal consequences for women’ by creating a ‘sexual hierarchy, with women as sexual objects at the service of men.’

Even if Huris are only metaphorical (which I am certain they are), their effects on human females are very real and so we have books like The Ideal Muslimah (some poignant excerpts here) teaching women to be obedient, pleasing, respectful, pleasing, cheerful, secretive, obliging, eager, forgiving, and one who tries to look good.

The Huri is creating the need for Muslim feminism.