The psychology of hate and why men hate the ‘other’ women

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes” – Winston Churchill

Abu Eesa made a mistake. And it is my sincere belief that if he has been a real student of Islam, he has learned valuable lessons from it (although it’s hard to say what lessons he has learned as a ‘scholar’).

Islam teaches humility and repentance to Allah if you have hurt another human’s feelings (particularly if that human is another Muslim). Quran categorically lists the errors of some of the prophets all of whom were wise men and competent judges of their people so that humanity can learn from their mistakes and from their habit of repentance. Quran also reprimands the Prophet Muhammad when he (80:3–11): عبس وتولي  – “frowned and turned away.” This entire Quranic chapter is called عبس, meaning ‘frown’ and tells the Prophet that he was indeed wrong in frowning and turning away from a blind man who had approached him for he may have learned valuable lessons from the Prophet and may have grown in purity. The chapter goes on to tell the Prophet that he paid eager attention to the ones who could see/the self-sufficient/the knowledgable  even though he could not guarantee that they would increase in purity, yet ignored the blind man who ran to him with eagerness and fear of God in his heart.

What do we learn from this chapter? We learn that indeed it is the job of the teachers of deen to attend to the needs of everyone who seek their knowledge (including the self-sufficient and the needy) but it is particularly important for them not to frown and turn away from anyone who is a fellow Muslim because they do not know how much eagerness or fear of God they have in their hearts. Moreover, they don’t know who may benefit from their wisdom. To then mock them, and curse them to “wither and wiggle in rage” is certainly not in keeping with the Prophet’s sunnah nor is it in accordance with the teachings of the Quran.

People who support this blatant disregard for the Prophetic tradition and Quranic discipline and adab are at greater fault. In this most remarkable essay, the writer argues that “neural activity is important because it tells us something critical about how people think about one another. Those who are close to us are considered mindful human beings, “like me.” As people become more and more different from us, or more distant from our immediate social networks, they become less and less likely to engage our MPFC (medial prefrontal cortex). When we don’t engage this region, others appear relatively mindless, something less than fully human” – that is the psychology of hate and how we deny human beings their humanity. Abu Eesa and those who support him have distanced themselves from other Muslims who are “not like them” and hence such Muslims, progressives and feminists, are considered “relatively mindless, something less than fully human.” They “don’t understand Abu Eeas’s superior British humour”, they “don’t know him enough”, they are “hateful and want to cause fitnah.”  Abu Eesa’s supporters and recently he himself reposted his Facebook Note from June 2013 in which he calls the ‘sisters’ “awesome.” The keyword is ‘sisters’ who “keep pushing it higher and higher and raising the standards in Deen and ihsan. They are busy running the homes, raising the next generation, doing the da’wah on the streets, educating themselves and others, and just being all round superstars.” And then he lists examples of the superstar sisters. They are not journalists or fashion designers or businesswomen or anthropologists or neuroscientists; they are either students of Islam or ones who sacrifice “a good and free life” to support their husbands. But what about the thousands of Muslim women who don’t want to sacrifice a good and free life for a man, who want to study subjects other than Islam, who don’t cover their heads, who believe that women and men are equal in worth, and who support everyone based on humanity? They are less likely to engage Abu Eesa’s MPFC and hence are the ones who are mocked and cursed. More dangerously, he has consciously or inadvertently taught his students to hate and be arrogant. His students use similar sexist rhetoric to scare Muslim men from supporting women. The mindset is that if Muslim men support women they are emasculated and so for a Muslim man to be manly, he must make fun of women.

Is Abu Eesa really a misogynist who hates women? I don’t think so. I don’t think he hates *all* women. But the words he uses (which are banned in my own home) certainly do show hatred towards women who don’t form part of his approved circle.

I have said before that I don’t believe that traditional Islam, Islam as it was at its inception, and Islam as practiced in orthodoxy today by the likes of Abu Eesa believes in the equality of men and women in society. I don’t think that was ever the purpose of the earliest movement, but (if you read that previous post you will see that) all free Muslim women within Islam have equal rights. This is why it came as a shock to many Muslim women, including me, to see an alleged ‘ustad’/imam/sheikh ridiculing and cursing Muslim women only because they are also feminists.

Abu Eesa is now asking the ummah to “stay united” and not let “secular” people cause fitnah. Muslims have been united even if we showed our disagreement with him. We feel united and part of one ummah which is why we are offended when one of us shows his blatant male chauvinism. And this is one of the reasons I feel it was necessary that Muslims showed their disapproval in large numbers.

I believe that Abu Eesa’s *jokes* were deliberate to warn the women in his ‘circle’ from ever joining the feminist movement – for if they did, he would mock them in a similar fashion. He didn’t make one passing comment, but a series of sexist remarks cloaked in the garb of British humour. He didn’t educate himself enough to learn that IWD is not only supported by feminists but is celebrated even by women who refrain from calling themselves feminists.  But that is beside the point. The point is that since Abu Eesa and other men like him have no role to play in IWD, they feel that it threatens their security as the “all-knowledgeable” custodians of Islam without whom no movement can prosper, and so he feels it is a day that must be mocked, shunned and ridiculed.

No, Yasir Qadi that is not British humour. I’m amazed that British people are not offended by this persistence that Abu Eesa has “dark British humour.” His humour is of its own kind. If Abu Eesa claims to be British in humour then he should also be British in apology and should have apologised unconditionally right away if he realised that he had “frowned and turned away.”

But he didn’t realise it and only made it worse when a woman displayed her anger:


What AE said in response was not a *joke*, he is right. I also don’t believe he was condoning such behaviour. But I think he is not enlightened enough to understand the gravity of his words on public forums. It was worse than his regular *jokes.* It was an arrogant and angry outburst at the woman for which he claims he had to stoop at the intellectual level of his interlocutor (BTW, if you can access it, there’s a scholarly paper on how “challenging chauvinist attitudes often results in anxiety or other symptoms“). Again, Muslims have questioned if Abu Eesa’s response was in keeping with proper adab. While one may be able to pick and point to ahadith in which the Prophet cursed his interlocutors in the same tone as was used (Volume 8, Book 73, Number 57) one quick scan of the page will show that he never cursed fellow Muslims and Islamic history stands witness that he in fact pardoned and blessed those who harmed him in Taif. That is the Prophetic tradition. Abu Eesa on the other hand, apparently caused post-traumatic stress for not just one Muslim sister through his comments, but others too who didn’t realise they were suffering from PTSD. Like Omid Safi says, “Abu Eesa is simply, sadly, pathetically, and unprophetically, not funny.”

Abu Eesa’s students keep pleading that they know him better and that this is his ‘style.’ However, he didn’t contain his ‘style’ to his classroom; he brought it out because the women he hates are the ones outside his classroom. And the women he mocked, who are angered, are Muslim. Non-Muslim women don’t know Abu Eesa and don’t care about what he says because in their minds he’s just another Muslim man acting like just another stereotypical Muslim man mocking Muslim women, women from his ummah, women who look like him and behave like him. Only Abu Eesa doesn’t realise this. And then we complain why our men are stereotyped! This is also why Muslim women are angry with him. They feel betrayed by one of their own. They feel he’s belittling their cause – a cause that wants recognition of Muslim women as fully equal in worth as human beings, a cause asking men to be tolerant and respectful, a cause expecting men to be their allies, a cause they think Abu Eesa should be supporting as a self-professed follower of Quran and Sunnah.

Muslim women have always asked for their rights from the beginning of Islam. Islamic/Muslim Feminism as it is called today, is not bidah (an innovation). The very reason that men like Abu Eesa exist and think like he does is enough for feminism to exist in Islam of today. Abu Eesa makes IWD essential.

However, I noticed that Abu Eesa is making an effort to show women that he’s not a monster (and he isn’t!) – by re-posting an old Note in which he praises Muslim sisters, he shows that he respects at least the women in his circle.

The teacher just needs to learn to extend that circle.

List of reactions

Safiyyah Surtee’s status update –

Abu Eesa’s anxious outburst –

The Shaykh and the F Word –

How Al Maghrib Blew It –

Muslim male allies –

Wa’Mutasima! –

An Open Letter to Abu Eesa Niamatullah –

On Islam and Feminism –

Imam  Suhaib Webb –

Guest Post – Speak Good or Remain Silent: A Response to the Recent Remarks of a Muslim Teacher –

Muslims for White Ribbon –

Damsels in distress, the chivalrous caliph, and the misogynistic scholar: a modern fairy tale –

Al Maghrib’s comment –

Yasir Qadi’s thoughts on Abu Eesa –

What Abu Eesa’s comments did to my family this week –

We deserve better than sexist and racist “teachers”: Honoring real leaders, and a rejoinder to Abu Eesa –

Oh, Abu Eesa: an apology letter on your behalf –

Feminism, male privilege, and Abu Eesa –

Women in the Egyptian Islamist Movements: Research and Reflexivity by Sara

Introduction: who and why?

A group of people that I am very interested in researching ethnographically are the women involved in Islamist movements in Egypt.  They would be a suitable subject for numerous reasons.  First, gender in Egypt is still an under-studied field with very little research on it that has not been completed before or during the colonial period.  Major changes have occurred since independence, and it is a field that still needs to be explored.  Second, Islamist movements are a relatively new phenomenon, especially in Egypt.  They came into existence in the 1930s and gained momentum in the 1980s.  They are increasingly popular and have a sizeable female audience.  It would be interesting to understand how women relate to the movement and how they envision themselves as part of it.  Finally, the reason the topic caught my interest was because of the apparent contradiction in the idea of a woman being part of a movement that is supposedly patriarchal.  This last reason is perhaps the most important one, and something I will focus on in this paper.


“Texts have ways of existing that even in their most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstance, time, place, and society – in short, they are in the world, and hence worldly” (Said: 35).  This quote from Edward Said is immensely telling: it shows that as a researcher, you are inevitably part of your context.  Your life will affect your research, and the best one can do is be aware of how in order to avoid it as best as possible.

Perhaps the most important issue to address in this ethnography is the issue of reflexivity.  For this section I will rely extensively on Saba Mahmood who discusses in detail the issue of reflexivity with regards to movements that appear to deny agency and equality to the participants involved.  Moreover, my position is a difficult one: I am Egyptian-Dutch and grew up in Zambia.  During my childhood I was exposed to predominantly “western” media and education.  Thus despite having an Egyptian father and being a Muslim, I often find myself reproducing certain stereotypes about Muslims that are in western media and western discourses on the Islamic world.  “As researchers, our social and political locations affect our research” (Guillemen & Gillam: 274).  Thus it is better to be aware of my position before entering the field.

I realize that in choosing the subject of women in Islamist movements, I am to an extent reproducing the Orientalist discourse of the subjugated Muslim woman as well as the discourse of the violent patriarchal Islamist man.  I am choosing to focus on this subject because I want to answer the question of why women would choose to participate in a movement that is patriarchal.  There are already several assumptions there: that the movement is patriarchal and that women could never choose to participate in patriarchal movements.  It is extremely important to always ask the question of why I chose this particular topic.  With regards to Islamists, it is a topic that has long fascinated and scared western academia, and this has certainly also made me curious.

In the article on the Makuleke restitution case in South Africa, the author skillfully shows how certain narratives about certain groups become the dominant narrative.  In the Makuleke case, because the story has been portrayed as a success story by so many, it has become a success story.  This may also be the case with the Islamist movement in Egypt. It has been written about for more than 50 years by academics who have portrayed it in a certain way, especially with regards to gender.  This is what piqued my interest in the group, but I must be careful not to allow these discourses to affect my actual research.  As Said wrote, “In every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is to avert its powers and dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality” (Said: 47).  One must be aware of these discourses and their power before beginning the research.

On the other hand, another reason I was drawn to this topic was because very few researchers have given Islamists and especially female Islamists the chance to describe and articulate their own experiences and views.  “The critic is responsible to a degree for articulating those voices dominated, displaced, or silenced by the textuality of texts” (Said: 53).  Dominant discourses about Muslims, Islamists, and the Middle East in general more often than not portray these groups negatively.

My position as a feminist also brings up a range of questions.  “Women’s participation in, and support for, the Islamist movement provokes strong responses from feminists across a broad range of the political spectrum.  One of the most common reactions is the supposition that women Islamist supporters are pawns in a grand patriarchal plan, who, if freed from their bondage, would naturally express their instinctual abhorrence for the traditional Islamic mores used to enchain them” (Mahmood: 1-2).  I have realized that my position as a feminist has also been molded by the western influence I have had in my life.  It was only when I moved to Egypt that I realized how many liberal feminist ideas I had unconsciously accepted and reproduced, including the idea that it is natural for every human being to want to be free.  As Mahmood points out, there is also the possibility that some will freely choose to be subordinated, or, as in this case, choose to be part of a movement in which they are subordinated.  “The pious subjects of the mosque movement occupy an uncomfortable place in feminist scholarship because they pursue practices and ideals embedded within a tradition that has historically accorded women a subordinate status. Movements such as these have come to be associated with terms such as fundamentalism, the subjugation of women, social conservatism, reactionary activism, cultural backwardness, and so on – associations that, in the aftermath of September 111, are often treated as “facts” that do not require further analysis” (Mahmood: 5).  One of the biggest difficulties would be to acknowledge the stereotypes and pre (mis) conceptions I may have about the group I want to study.  Although objectivity is never possible, it is certainly possible to be reflexive about one’s ideas and one’s findings: what do I think about women who participate in Islamist movements, and how does this affect my methodology and my findings?

I realized that one of my research questions is already biased and aims at moving the research in a certain way.  The question about how the women in Islamist movements relate to gender already brings up a number of issues.  Why am I assuming that these women had to think about the relationship between gender and Islamism – does this not assume that there must be something to think about or resolve?  It is also possible that for the women in the mosque movement, it is not gender that influences the way they relate to the movement and its activities.  Religious perceptions may be a more important factor.  Finally, Mahmood argues that women in these movements are subordinated, both by a “patriarchal religion” (i.e. Islam) and by men who uphold a patriarchal system of gender relations.  I would question whether these women see themselves as subordinate to the men in the movement, or to God.  I would also question Mahmood’s assessment of Islam as patriarchal.

It also became clear to me that it was perhaps an added advantage that I was already familiar with the discourses produced about Islamist women.  It is important to know dominant discourses before embarking on any research, as these could have effects on both the way the researcher sees the participants and the way they see themselves (Burke: 720).  Understanding the way Islamist women are portrayed is especially important for me as a researcher as it will affect the way I approach the participants and the way I analyze and frame questions.  Moreover, it is also important to be aware of the way the participants may view me – as not fully Egyptian, as westernized, and perhaps not Muslim in the way they are.  However, the fact that I am Muslim may be an advantage, as it gives me familiarity with concepts and also may make them more comfortable.

Reporting the results – audience and speaking to power:

My audience for the ethnography would likely be made up of fellow social scientists, academics, and development workers.  Each group would be looking for different things in my research.  For example, I would expect social scientists to be especially interested in reflexivity and in the cultural aspects; development workers to be interested in the findings and possible implementation strategic, and the academics to be interested in methodology and objectivity.

As mentioned previously, the Islamist movements are sensitive ones that have been studied intensively and that have been exposed to many stereotypes and misconceptions.  It would thus be important to address these before reporting the results.  If the audience is western, for example, it would be important to address dominant representations of Islamists and Muslim women in general in mainstream media and academia.

Anonymity would be very important in reporting the results, since the Islamist movements are under surveillance in Egypt.  Thus it would be important to ensure that the participants’ identities are concealed.


“It is argued that, since all reading is misreading, no one reading is better than any other, and hence all readings, potentially infinite in number, are in the final analysis equally misinterpretations” (Said: 39).

Possibly the most interesting part of this ethnography would be the self-reflexivity aspect.  It would be a chance to critically engage with the participants and to challenge myself in terms of prior beliefs and preconceptions.  Women in the Islamist movement are an interesting group to study, as they are a group that have been repeatedly portrayed as submissive, subordinated, and powerless.  Through an ethnography, I would aim to allow their voices to speak and explain their reality.


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Geertz, E (1993) The Interpretation of Cultures. London: Fontana Press.

Guillemen, M. and L. Gillam (2004) ‘Ethics, reflexivity and “ethically important moments” in research’, Qualitative Inquiry, 10/24: 261-280. Accessed 18 March 2011 <,%20reflexivity%20pp261-278%20ca9050.pdf&gt;

Kelle, U (1997) ‘Theory building in qualitative research and computer programs for the management of textual data’, Sociological Research Online, 2/2: <;

Laws, S with C. Harper and R. Marcus (2003) Research for Development: a practical guide. London: Sage/Save the Children.

Mahmood, Saba (2005). The Politics of Piety. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Mikkelsen, B (2005) Methods for Development Work and Research. New Delhi: Thousand Oaks/London: Sage Publications.

Robins, S. And K. Van der Waal (2008) ‘‘Model tribes’ and iconic conservationists? The Makuleke restitution case in Kruger National Park’, Development and Change, Vol 39/1:53-72. Accessed 18 March 2011 <;jsessionid=F50D4561741D0D9B9CC50C847FE8E620.d03t01&gt;

Said, E.W. (1991) The World, The Text and The Critic, Cambridge: Vintage.