Muslim women between total concealment & flagrant promiscuity
The Muslim woman has been the subject of severe debate among the extremist thinkers both Muslims and non-Muslims. The rigorous understanding and the rigid mentality of Muslim extremists imagine women in and of themselves as the source of evil and temptation which should be contained and confined in its home to limit its poisonous nature from seducing men who can’t help but fall prey to every woman who walks down the street. This kind of mentality led to the belief that women should be fully covered from head to toe including her face and hands and should be donned in black drapes in a desperate attempt not to grab attention. Women should consequently be segregated from men in all fields of work as being in a mixed environment opens all doors of evil. Walking down the street alone without a male guardian is unquestionable as it is seen as an inviting gesture to lonely wolves out there.
This humiliating look at women as a potential sexual object which should be concealed from all eyes and confined in home detention is very similar to another bleak look at women by non- Muslim extremists who think that women should be liberated from all social norms and unleashed from the fear of becoming sexual object and thus her body becomes totally lawful to be exposed, manipulated, plastered and exploited. This extreme idea of liberating the woman’s body from the confinement of thick clothes led to the dangerous idea of thinking of women with little or no clothes. They failed to look at women as human beings who enjoy intellectual abilities and can reach out to its full potentials in different fields of life. They rather turned women to be part of the world of “matters”, a “soulless object” which can be plastered for product advertisement to guarantee the success of top- edge marketing plans, posing either nude or in revealing clothes for magazines to assure higher circulation, become an actress in movies which displays sensual hot sex- scenes to gain higher ratings and make block-busters. Not to mention the top professional fashion designers, who are mostly men, and who are eager to reveal the woman’s body by designing low cut tops, miniskirts and hot shorts.
This obsession with the woman’s sexuality and this mania of total concealment or extreme promiscuity represent a distorted understanding and degrading evaluation of the woman as a human being who is a lot more than only her assumed “sexuality”. The consistent effort and relentless persistence of combating the potential sexual hazard of every female led to the establishment of unhealthy environment where the two integral parts of the society are totally segregated in a fashion which is in total opposition to the natural composition of societies. By the same token, thinking of the woman’s body as an object which can be lawfully manipulated and legally exposed is no less humiliating to women. Such way of dealing with the woman’s body strips her off her basic right of becoming more than just a beautiful body or a cheap means of promoting lustful desires.
The balanced approach of Islam towards human sexuality
Islam took a balanced approach which assured the woman’s right as a full human being who enjoys a dignified social status, equal religious obligation and same contribution to the development of the world both on the intellectual and functional levels. At the same time Islam acknowledges the created sexuality of both men and women and did not call for suppressing such sexual drive but rather guided us to lawful ways of handling our human sexuality without feeling ashamed of our sexual zeal and at the same time protected humans from falling prey to sexual obsession which strips human off their dignified status of intellectual beings to the degraded status of sexually-driven animals.
Therefore, Muslim men are obliged not to think of women as potential sexual objects who are designed to give a momentarily sexual gratification and therefore are prohibited from looking at women seductively or stare at their body parts; an act which is both offensive and humiliating to woman as an equal partner in humanity. From this dignified understanding for women comes the prohibition of having sex outside wedlock because Islam does not look at the relationship between men and women as a one night stand which aims at sexual satisfaction but rather keen to establish a long term relationships based on love, respect and mutual goals for building a warm and healthy family. Men are also asked to respect their bodies and not to reveal their sexuality through wearing tight-fitting clothes or certain clothes- fashion which leads to the incitement of sexual desires.
By the same token women are asked not to reveal their sexuality and to prevent others from thinking of them in terms of sexual objectification. Therefore adult Muslim women are asked to cover their hair and body except for her face and hands. The reason for revealing the face and hands in public is to ensure the woman’s full ability to interact and to reach the maximum level of communication with people and production at work without feeling any hindrance. This way she is assured to be an active participant in society while keeping her dignity intact.
There are claims that one of the benefits of total exposure of women’s body and free sexuality is the guarantee of the safety of women from any sexual harassment as men are not teased to look behind the covered body, but these claims lack authenticity. Checking facts revealed by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women states that Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. Across Asia, studies in Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea show that 30 to 40 percent of women suffer workplace sexual harassment. In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.
By the same token, places where women are thought of as a potential sexual danger and should be having limited or no access to public life prove to create a filthy environment of illicit sexual acts as a reaction to the abnormal notion of women’s potential sexual promiscuity.
These two extremist views of women represent a deviant understanding of the Islamic teachings and goes directly against the numerous Prophetic traditions which state that “Women are the twin halves of men” and this statement establishes the law of equity between men and women in terms of the appointed legal responsibilities and religious obligations and the legal rights they enjoy and the religious rewards they receive. Differences in some Juristic rulings and social responsibilities between men and women are directly related to their different natural characteristics such as motherhood for women and hard labor for men. The relationship between men and women are not based on severe competition where survival is for the fittest but it is rather built on a shared responsibility and complementarity of each other’s social roles.
Women and the concept of “Fitna”
Some people developed a false understanding of women to be some source of “fitna” or “temptation” in and of itself and thus should be treated with utmost caution and be under constant surveillance. This warped logic goes against the merciful teachings of Islam which granted women equal rights and dignified their status through granting them a share in inheritance, the right of financial independency, right to vote and to hold political, scientific, and social leading positions. Islam encouraged women’s civic engagement and praised its role as an active part of the civil society. The misinterpreted hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in which he says, “I did not leave after me a more dangerous temptation on men than women”, is taken by extremists as a slogan for thinking of women as a serpent who seduces men at every corner. Having a closer look at the hadith, we would discover that the problem does not lie in women in and of themselves but it lies in men’s thinking of women as a potential temptation which might lead them to commit erroneous acts. Therefore the hadith revolves around men and how , according to their natural inclination, may view women and thus has nothing to do with women as equal human beings with full potentials. The concept of “fitna” is not only about men who can be tempted by women to do erroneous acts but actually the lexical meaning of the verb “f t n” means to overwhelmingly capture the attention and it has another meaning of testing and examining.
According to these two meanings, it would be easy to understand that the concept of “fitna” could apply on many notions such as money for example, it is a huge source for temptation as it is desired and thus forms a test for human beings which they ought to pass through being honest and not to steal, take bribe etc.. This explains the Quranic verse in which God the Almighty says, “And know that your properties and your children are but a trial (fitna) and that Allah has with Him a great reward.” (8:28)
Also other elements which are seen as the sources of fitna or temptation is revealed in the verse in which God says “Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire - of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life, but Allah has with Him the best return.” (3:14)
The listed items in the verse such as women, children, wealth, food and drinks, prestige and status are not sources of temptation in and of it- self but actually carries the potentiality of becoming a source for misguidance if people failed the test of using them wisely. The excessive zealotry and intense love of these sources of happiness could very well be correspondent to the seven deadly sins in Christianity which are warned against such as
• Lust – to have an intense desire or need
• Gluttony – excess in eating and drinking.
• Greed - excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness
• Laziness – disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous
• Wrath – strong vengeful anger or indignation
• Envy – painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage
• Pride - quality or state of being proud
Therefore waiving the card of “fitna” against women as a potential source of evil is a flagrant attempt to degrade women and their noble status in Islam.
Are women seen as a bad omen?
Another famous Prophetic tradition which is widely misquoted is the narration of Abu Hurairah in which he reports that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “ Bad omens do not exist except for three things; women, houses and horses”; this hadith was collected by al- Bukhari. In the luminary book of “’Umdat al- Qary” for Sheikh Abu Muhammad Badr al- Din al- ‘Ayni, he elucidated al- Bukhari’s reported tradition and explained that this hadith is not complete and was only partially heard by Abu Huraira. He reported through an authentic chain of narration that when Lady ‘Aisha heard about Abu Huraira’s narration, she was infuriated and said “By the one who revealed the Quran on Muhammad, peace be upon him, the Prophet never said that. The Prophet rather said, “The people at the time of Jahiliyya (pre-Islam error) used to think of these three things as ominous”. This means that Prophet Muhammad was only narrating what the people of Jahiliyya used to think and not that the Prophet believed in it. The narration of Lady ‘Aisha was authenticated by Ibn ‘Abd al- Barr who received the narration from Abu Hassan al- A’raj. Abu Hassan is authenticated by Yahya and Ibn Hibban and a group of hadith collectors including al- Bukhari who authenticated his narrations.
This elucidation of the reported hadith corresponds with the Quranic verses which states, Say, "Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us; He is our protector." And upon Allah let the believers rely.” (9:51)
And another verse says,” No disaster strikes upon the earth or among yourselves except that it is in a register before We bring it into being - indeed that, for Allah , is easy –(57:22)
Also this elucidation of the hadith corresponds to another Prophetic tradition in which the Prophet emphatically negated the existence of bad omens or the permissibility of believing in superstitious omens.
In conclusion, the extremist look at women as a potential source of seduction which deserves total concealment is no less degrading than the flagrant look at women as an “object” which her body can be the subject of harassment, exploitation and abuse under the false guise of freedom. The truth of the matter is that women have the right to have a choice of concealing her body and not to expose it to others except to the one whom she chooses to share her life with. The woman has the right to be treated as an intellectual human being and not as a sexual seductive object. Islam raised the intellectual status of women and granted her the full right to be a full human being without being condemned as a serpent evil or exploited as a sex object due to her body and sexuality.