Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gheerah & Qawaamah - Between Misogyny and Ihsaan

'Gheerah' and 'qawaamah' are two terms which elicit a variety of reactions - on one extreme, they're used to browbeat women into complete silence and diminish their own self-worth, and on the other, they are derided as being misogynistic and antithetical to all women with self-respect.

The issue, however, is less that of the actual concepts of gheerah (honourable protectiveness) and qawaamah (committed responsibility based on justice) than how they've been co-opted, misinterpreted, and abused - and, even amongst those who have not used them to abuse, there has been poor communication and explanation of those terms.

While I have discussed each term in detail and in separate articles, I did want to emphasize that what we don't seem to understand is that within an Islamic context, both gheerah and qawaamah are meant to facilitate stronger, happier, and healthier marriages.

When gheerah is displayed by a man for his wife, it shouldn't be done in a controlling, irrational manner that has nothing behind it except a negative type of possessiveness. Men and women both have preferences for their spouses - and instead of viewing it as a competition for control, it should be seen as a sign of love, care, and concern for each other.

Rather than 'laying the smackdown,' if a man cares about his marriage, he should actually communicate with his wife *why* he has certain preferences and requests. Even if she doesn't agree with them, the very act of communication and discussion (assuming that, too, is done healthily) will engender positivity and an appreciation for the concern being displayed.
Men should also keep in mind that just as they make requests of their wives, they ought to respect their wives' requests of them - as Abdullah ibn 'Abbas (radhiAllahu 'anhu) said, "I love to do for my wife as I expect her to do for me."

When qawaamah is correctly implemented as well (and I shall forbear from using analogies such as 'CEO of the household' or going into detail over my own specialized theory about it......... ahem), and when a man has sincere intentions to *not* abuse his power, it is highly unlikely that a woman would become resentful.
To the contrary, a competent qawwaam is the type of man who earns respect from those around him - a man who does not flaunt his authority, but ensures that his wife knows that she is respected in turn and considered to be a meaningful partner in their relationship and their household.

The concepts of gheerah and qawaamah are not something we should be ashamed about, but something we *do* need to be aware about and implement correctly.

I for one understand all too well why and how many women have an averse reaction to the very idea of these words - the Muslim Ummah has far too many brutal examples of the abuse committed in the names of gheerah and qawaamah.

Unfortunately, too many people of knowledge and authority have also remained silent in the face of this abuse and done little to alleviate it, choosing to place greater importance on the authority of irresponsible, oppressive men than on the need to enforce 'adl (justice) in the Ummah.

One cannot throw around words like qawaamah and gheerah without linking them to, and emphasizing, the need for Ihsaan that comes with them. We cannot have lectures about 'the ideal Islamic marriage' and tell women to accept the unconditional authority of men without first addressing the men themselves - ingraining in them the severity of what the position of qawaamah entails, and the brutal consequences in the Aakhirah for abusing it.

The Qur'an speaks about marriage in positive terms - why else would words such as 'mawaddah' and 'rahmah' be used? - and we cannot isolate related terms and concepts from the holistic approach that was embodied in the life of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam).

Allah wishes only good for us - He wants our relationships with each other to be based on love for Him, and compassion with each other - and only by understanding these types of ideas in such a light will we be able to move forward from shallow, one-dimensional, and frankly dangerous interpretations and towards something which exemplifies the spirit of Islam.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Qawaamah: The Essence of Masculinity

Originally published in Al-Jumu'ah Magazine (click here)

AMONG THE SEVERAL âyât that are considered points of contention amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike, one stands out in particular:

Al-rijâlu qawwâmûna ʿala al-nisâ’i… [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:34] [1]

Commonly translated as ‘men have a degree over them’ or ‘men are in charge over them,’ this verse is often quoted when discussing the social and domestic duties and responsibilities of each gender. While it is used to establish male authority, it is also unfortunately misused to discourage women from speaking out or seeking an end to family disputes or even abuse.

There are numerous arguments that seek to define or describe the position of a qawwâm. What, truly, is the ‘degree’ that men are given by Allah Himself?

How We Proceed

First and foremost, before looking at the specific âyah, we must establish the foundation upon which we address any issue. We can never start any discussion about the Quran without the understanding that it is complete and perfect, without fault. The Quran is a gift from Allah to all of humanity, for all time; each and every verse is a blessing, and a source of great knowledge and wisdom, the depths of which will never truly be known completely by any one individual:

This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah.  [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:2]

And if whatever trees upon the earth were pens and the sea [were ink], replenished thereafter by seven [more] seas, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.  [Sûrat Al-Luqmân, 31:27]

The words of Allah are not to be questioned in terms of their validity – whatever has been sent down in the Quran has been truly preserved with absolute perfection:

Indeed, it is We who sent down the Quran and indeed, We will be its guardian. [Sûrat Al- Ḥijr, 15:9]

With regards to how these Divine Verses are interpreted, however, it is much more than simply taking the words of Allah and making them mean whatever we wish them to say. Whenever we find Muslims committing sins or mistakes and then trying to justify them by using the Quran or Sunnah, we must know that the fault is never with the Words of Allah or His Messenger œ. Rather, the fault lies with fallible human beings who have both good and bad intentions, and who are influenced by their own time and culture.

Rather, there is a very systematic method that has been used since the time of the Messenger Muhammad œ himself. The process begins with the tafsîr of the Quran by the Quran itself, tafsîr of the Quran by the aḥâdîth of RasûlAllâh œ, tafsîr of the Quran by the Âthâr (sayings of the Companions), and tafsîr of the Quran by linguistics.[2]

The scope of this article will be limited to reviewing the linguistic meanings of the word, and taking a brief look at extant tafâsîr regarding the verse.

Q – W – M

From a literary perspective, the word qawwâm is rich with meaning, both literal and figurative. As ʿÂishah described, it was truly lived according to its full potential by the Messenger of Allah œ, whose character was the living embodiment of the Quran.

The root letters of the word Qawwâm derive from qâf, wâw, mîm – related to Allah’s Name, Al-Qayyûm. It’s also related to the word ‘qâma’ – to stand. When ‘qâmu’ is used in the Quran, such as in Surat Al-Kahf, there is a figurative meaning to it as well; mufâssirîn have said that it means to have a strong and firm intention, to have an unshakeable commitment. [3]

Thus, when men are described as ‘qawwâm’ towards women, it is an expression of how firmly committed and dedicated they are. Shaykh Al-Sha’rawi mentioned that the qawwâm of men with women is not limited to husbands with their wives, but rather, with all men towards all women.

The most obvious examples begin at home, such as fathers with their daughters, brothers with their sisters, and even sons with their mothers. In a more general context, it is that men are expected to deal with women in a truly sincere and dedicated manner, by looking out for their best interests, interacting with them regularly, and striving to protect them and assist them.

‘Qawwâm‘ projects an attitude of nobility and dignity towards women, one which respects them as fully capable human beings. This type of mentality both emphasizes and encourages healthy social relationships that begin at home and extend to the public sphere, thus ensuring a community that cooperates on a basis of goodwill.

Another figurative meaning of the word is exemplified in the form, qâ’imah:  to be persistent; thus, the commitment of men towards women is not an occasional thing, but a regular pattern. A father’s interest in his daughter is not momentary, but consistent on a daily basis. He is truly concerned with her well-being, is involved in her upbringing, and is a source of support and happiness for her. A son does not take his mother for granted, but is attentive towards her and sensitive to her needs. A husband is attuned to his wife, understands her personality and what she goes through on a daily basis, behaves with her in a manner that embodies both honor and respect, and connects with her regularly so as to grant her satisfaction and fulfillment in their marriage.

Masculine Commitment Exemplified

This commitment and persistence is not only emotional, but one that has another goal – that of encouraging and upholding justice, and correcting an individual who may stray from appropriate speech or behavior. A qawwâm is aware of that which is both pleasing and displeasing to Allah, and is both quick and wise in how he advises and rectifies those under his care.

The best example of how a man can advise a woman is the example of RasûlAllâh œ with his wives. There were several incidents during which RasûlAllâh œ reprimanded his wives for speaking in a manner that he did not approve of. Though his approach was firm, it carried weight—not due to harshness, but due to the fact that he was already loved and respected by them because of how he conducted himself with them on a regular basis. In fact, the very way in which he would correct their behavior was such that it engendered even greater affection and awe for his character.

For example, ʿÂisha narrates the following:

A group of Jews entered upon the Prophet œ and said: “Al-Sâmu ʿAlaikum,” (i.e. death be upon you). I understood it and said: “Wa ʿAlaikum Al-Sâmu w’l-laʿn (death and the curse of Allah be upon you).” Allah’s Messenger œ said: “Be calm, O ʿÂisha! Allah loves that one should be kind and lenient in all matters.” I said: “O Allah’s Messenger œ! Haven’t you heard what they (the Jews) have said?” He said: “I have (already) said (to them): “And upon you!” [4]


[The Prophet’s wife] Ṣafiyya heard that Ḥafṣa [Ṣafiyya’s co-wife] had said [about her]: ‘The daughter of a Jew'; so she wept. Then the Prophet œ entered upon her while she was crying, so he said: ‘What makes you cry?’ She said: ‘Ḥafṣa said to me that I am ‘the daughter of a Jew.’ So the Prophet œ said: ‘And you are the daughter of a Prophet, and your uncle is a Prophet, and you are married to a Prophet, so what is she boasting to you about?’ Then he said: ‘Fear Allah, O Ḥafṣa.'”  [5]

Interplay With Emotion

Yet another facet of the word qawwâm is that it overlaps in meaning with the word thabât – steadfastness, to be reliable, to be calm and not easily swayed or agitated. In this particular meaning is a great deal of wealth to be reaped, for it is this meaning which, if embodied fully, raises men to be truly excellent in their roles as qawwâm.

To be qawwâm is to make a conscious effort to put aside strong, passionate emotion, to step back and behave in a manner that reflects maturity and wisdom. Instead of allowing himself to be overwhelmed by his feelings – whether positive or negative – a man who epitomizes thabât is one who acts in a way that doesn’t automatically incline towards his own desires or wants, but in accord with justice. As mentioned in several tafâsîr, including Tafsîr Kashf Al-Asrâr and Tafsîr Al-Qushairi, men were given the position of qawwâm specifically because they are considered to be capable of that level of responsible behavior.

Tafsîr Al-Qushairi says:

[Allah] singled out men for strength and then increased their burden, for burden is [assigned] in accordance with strength. [6]

Tafsîr Kashf Al-Asrâr elaborates further:

He [Allah] gave the men more than the women because the burden is all on them, for theirs is the perfection of strength and the eminence of aspiration. They carry burdens measurable to [their] strength or measurable to [their] aspiration…Resolutions are made measurable to the folk of resoluteness.[7]

For example, one of the reasons that men were given the power of ṭalâq was because they are expected to be mature enough not to abuse the power.

Misuse of Responsibility

Unfortunately today, we see much the opposite – where some men allow their emotions to overwhelm and control them, such that they declare divorce (ṭalâq) over petty matters, and then try to avoid the consequences by claiming that they weren’t ‘in their right minds.’

In many other common cases, men will indulge in abusing their womenfolk, whether verbally and physically or by violating their Sharʿi-rights, and claim justification because they are qawwâm and believe that they are allowed to do whatever they see fit. Too many men believe that their power is unrestricted and that they are given license to privileges without any accompanying responsibility.

In short, the position of qawwâm has been warped into a twisted sense of male entitlement devoid of consequences or obligation to others.

More coming in Qawâma: the Essence of Masculinity (2), inshâ’Allah.



[2] Usool al-Tafseer by Dr. Abu Aminah Bilal Philips, pages 19-23






Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Another Man's Daughter

There is a huge stigma in the Muslim community regarding the remarriage of widows and divorcees, especially those with children. Many Muslim men, whether they themselves are divorced/widowed or not, will shy away from considering remarriage with a woman who has been previously married, and more so when there are children involved. There is a sense that these women aren't 'good enough' and that marrying them is somehow inferior to marrying a woman who has never been married before.

When Abu Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anhu) passed away, Umm Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anha) already had several children - Salamah and 'Umar, and was pregnant with yet another. For most Muslim men today, considering a previously married woman with one child for marriage is seen as alarming, never mind three or more! There appears to be some sort of revulsion at the idea of caring for "another man's children." However, neither Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) nor his Sahabah ever expressed this type of attitude.

When Umm Salamah’s ‘iddah ended by giving birth to her daughter, Zaynab bint Abi Salamah, Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) - fully aware of her situation - proposed to her. When Umm Salamah pointed out that she had several children to take care of, Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa salam) reassured her with the simple words: "Your children are my children." (Narrated by an-Nasa’i)

Those words were not spoken meaninglessly. While Zaynab bint Abi Salamah never grew up with her biological father, she was raised by a man who was her father in every other way - Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam). It isnarrated that whenever Rasool Allah r came to visit Umm Salamah, one of the first things he would do is ask, "Where is our Zinaab?" ('Zinaab' was an endearment for the name 'Zaynab').

One narration states that when she was young, her mother asked her to attend to Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) while he was making wudhu. When she entered, Rasool Allah sprinkled her face with the water from his ablutions, and for the rest of her life, she remained looking youthful, barely revealing any signs of aging.

Zaynab’s bond with Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was evident to others as well. Her uncle ‘Ammar used to pick her in his arms and say: “She is the one who has come between the Prophet r and his family.” (i.e. She was distracting him and keeping him busy as he used to give her a lot of attention.)

Once, RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was playing with his grandsons Hassan and Husayn (radhiAllahu 'anhum) in the house of Umm Salamah, while Umm Salamah and Zaynab were present. Overcome with love, he held them and made the following du'a: "May Allah exalt you, yaa Ahlul Bayt!"
Umm Salamah began to cry, and RasulAllah asked her what was wrong. "O Messenger of Allah, what about us?" she exclaimed. Understanding what she meant, RasulAllah gathered Umm Salamah and Zaynab in his arms and said, "You are part of my family, you are part of Ahlul Bayt!"

Imagine growing up in an environment knowing not only that your mother was the wife of the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), but to have him in your life as a father-figure, someone who was there literally from the first moments of your life, someone who cared for you as his own child, of whom your first memory is the endearing nickname he gave you? Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was much more than just a stepfather to Zaynab bint Abi Salamah - In the true sense of the word, he was her father.

The effect that Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) had on Zaynab bint Abi Salamah was an incredible one. Not only did he impact her emotionally by being a loving father-figure and providing a stable family environment, but she was also affected spiritually. How could she not when she grew up witnessing the Wahy (revelation) being revealed, when he would wake up his entire household to pray Qiyaam al-Layl in Ramadhan, when she heard his Divinely inspired words straight from his lips?

Zaynab bint Abi Salamah grew up to be a direct reflection of the environment she grew up in. She narrated seven ahadith directly from Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), and she also narrated from others amongst the sahabah, in particular, her stepmothers, the other wives of Rasool Allah, such as ‘A;ishah (radhiAllahu 'anha), Umm Habibah (radhiAllahu 'anha) and others.

Zaynab quickly grew to become known as an incredible scholar of Madinah, particularly in the field of fiqh. The famous Imam among the Tabi’un, Abu Rafi’ al-Sa’igh, referred to her as the most knowledgeable woman of her time on many occasions. Amongst her students were her son Abu ‘Ubaydah, Muhammad bin ‘Amr bin ‘Ata, ‘Irak bin Malik, Humaid bin Nafi’, her foster-brother ‘Urwah bin al-Zubayr, Imam Zain-ul-‘Abidin ‘Ali bin al-Hussain, ‘Amr bin Shu’ayb, al-Qasim bin Muhammad, Abu Qilabah, Salamah bin Abdur Rahman and others.

One particular incident demonstrated the true breadth of her patience as well as her wisdom. During the Hurrah (a rebellion against the governor of Madinah) in the reign of Yazid bin Mu’awiyah, she lost two of her sons in battle. On hearing the news, she proved herself to be a mountain in sabr as well as a true faqihah (scholar of fiqh). Holding her dead son before her, Zainab said: “To God we belong and to Him we return! As for the first, he didn’t fight anyone but was ambushed and killed in his home. For him I am hopeful of Jannah. But the other one fought, and I am not aware what his intention was in fighting, and so the travesty for me is even greater in his loss (as I don’t know in what condition he met His Lord).”

Truly, Zaynab bint Abi Salamah was a heroine not only in her time, but for all time.
SubhanAllah, all of this was because Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) chose to marry Umm Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anha), a widow with several young children.

Nor was Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) alone in his practice of welcoming the children of previously married women into his family and raising them with as much love and affection as his own children. When Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (radhiAllahu 'anhu) was martyred, he had a number of young children with his wife, Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays (radhiAllahu 'anha). Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) himself assured Asmaa’ of her children’s safety and security. As an answer to the promise of Rasool Allah, Abu Bakr (radhiAllahu 'anhu) proposed to Asmaa’, and the sons of Ja’far ibn Abi Talib were thus raised in the household of Abu Bakr.

Not only was Abu Bakr willing to care for them as his own children, but he was also in fact honoured to do so. The children of Ja’far were granted the double blessing of not only having a martyr, beloved to Allah and His Messenger (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), as their biological father, but to also have the greatest of the sahabah as their stepfather.

While blended families are becoming more and more common in society in general, they are still relatively rare and even taboo in Muslim communities. Even if both a man and woman agree to such a marriage, the family pressure and community scepticism can be overwhelming.
The idea of a man raising another man’s children is looked down upon and criticised, yet it is precisely those men who had the courage to do so, men such as Rasool Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and Abu Bakr (radhiAllahu 'anhu), who were responsible for raising these children to become some of the greatest heroes and heroines of Islamic history.

It is high time that we embrace this Sunnah, not only acknowledging the challenges that inevitably accompany it, but the incredible rewards and payoff for doing so, in both this world and the Hereafter. Who knows? It could likely be the children raised in such a way are the very thing to bring us to the gates of Jannah.

Usud al-Ghabah fi Ma’rifat as-Sahabah
Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d
(With special thanks to a generous brother - who wishes to remain anonymous - for translating the original biographies.)

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse/ The Salafi Feminist) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Sexual Revolutionary

As Muslims, many of us are caught between two extremes: a culture of hypersexualisation that trivialises and belittles the value of sex, turning intimacy into something crude and vulgar; and a 'back home' culture where everything that is romantic, sexual and intimate is made forbidden and shameful.

This attitude, however, is completely contrary to the Islamic attitude towards sex, displayed by members of the Sahabiyyaat such as Umm Sulaym.
Umm Salama relates that Umm Sulaym came to the Messenger of Allah and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Surely, Allah is not shy of the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a ritual bath after she has a wet dream?” The Messenger of Allah replied: “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” Umm Salama covered her face and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Does a woman have a discharge?” He replied: “Yes, let your right hand be in dust [an Arabic expression said light-heartedly to someone whose statement you contradict], how does the son resemble his mother?” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Many Muslim women are pressured into denying their sexuality, or fully being able to explore and acknowledge it, even within their marriage. Cultural double standards that make it acceptable for men to transgress the bounds of chastity but taboo for women to be honest about their desires are poisonous.

Not only does such a mentality warp and harm those individuals affected by it, but it also interferes in every Muslim's right to a sound Islamic education and a holistic, happy life based on the deen - including the area of halal sexual gratification.

As a result, numerous intimacy-related problems have arisen amongst Muslim girls and women. Whether it’s self-esteem and body-image issues, a lack of understanding regarding their own sexual and reproductive health, fear about sex, considering sex to be ‘dirty’ or serious medical issues like vaginismus or being unable to have an orgasm - Muslim women suffer serious consequences as a result of sex-shaming.

Muslim women should not be made to feel ashamed of being aware of their bodies, their physical needs and their sexuality; these things are all gifts from Allah I, which, with the right intention, can be made a source of ajr (reward) from Him.
On the flip side, these things are also responsibilities, for if misused and abused, they can also be a source of punishment.

Let us embrace the mature, dignified, respectful and positive attitude towards female sexuality that Sahabiyaat such as Umm Sulaym displayed, and cast away the crippling mentalities that pressure women to deny their very natures.

As we’ve seen, Umm Sulaym was not ashamed of asking a question which openly discussed an aspect of female sexuality (wet dreams), in an appropriate manner, despite the fact that others around her (such as Umm Salamah) were shocked that she had the audacity to discuss it in public.

Muslim women need to revive the revolutionary attitude that Umm Sulaym displayed. In order to change the current state of affairs, we should find inspiration in Umm Sulaym’s example and be pro-active in educating ourselves about our bodies, including and especially our sexual health. Nor should this education be restricted to already-married women - it is imperative that young girls be taught about their bodies as they grow and mature into young women. It is necessary not just from a health perspective, but from an Islamic one; after all, how else are they to know about the Islamic rulings that surround menstruation, discharge, sexual gratification and more?

Rather than criticising or scolding girls and women who ask or speak openly and honestly about sex, we should remember the words of ‘Aishah when she said: “How praiseworthy are the women of Ansar! Shyness does not prevent them from having a deep understanding of religion.”

Developing this type of positive sexual attitude is not merely necessary for the overall health of the Muslim Ummah, but is a revolutionary act of heroism as well. One which will, insha Allah, give rise to a new generation of confident and educated Muslim women.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at

How Big Is Allah? - Book Review

“How big is Allah?” is a question that my four year old daughter has asked me before, and a question I always struggled to answer in a way that would be easy for her to conceptualize. Alhamdulillah for the new book, How Big is Allah? by author and illustrator Emma Apple, which came to my rescue!

Brilliantly laid out - both concise and illustrative not only due to Emma’s beautiful black-and-white ink drawings but also because of the clever use of large and small lettering paired with every image, How Big is Allah? is enchanting for both young readers and their parents.

Rather than relying on clichés that tend to be over-used when trying to teach Muslim children about their Lord, Emma’s approach is refreshing and creative. Each page encourages children to think and to reflect, a wonderful way to be like those whom the Qur’an describes:

{[Those] Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], "Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.} (Aal ‘Imran:191)

This book makes it much easier for young children to visualise the concepts of big and small, relativity/proportion, the solar system and space - while tying them all to the original question of “How big is Allah?”

The fact chart at the end of the book makes it easier to explain the definitions of words that might be new and unfamiliar, especially to the younger readers (aged around 4-6).

I found How Big is Allah? to not only be a great bedtime read that reminded my daughter to say her nightly adhkar, but also an encouragement to learn more about nature and science.

With very young readers (like my four year old), I personally suggest reading only the first couple of pages initially and to use them as the beginning of many more discussions about Allah I, our planet, and why we were created.

How Big is Allah? is guaranteed to charm your children with its uniquely vibrant imagery, age-appropriate language and beautifully simple yet effective method of understanding the answer to such a huge question. It’s an absolute must-have for every Muslim home, whether as part of an Islamic homeschooling programme or your own personal library.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

AnonyMouse (Zainab bint Younus) is a young Muslimah who has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She writes for SISTERS Magazine,, and blogs at

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Refutation of Falsehood: Busting Myths About Female Sexuality

When one sees Muslim leaders attempt to take on serious and relevant issues to the Muslim Ummah such as sexually dysfunctional marital relationships, one truly hopes for the best. Alas, well-meaning though they may be, there becomes glaringly obvious a lack of knowledge and understanding regarding female sexuality.

A few claims that are being made and circulated en masse (and dangerously so) are the following:

·        Muslim women (especially from ‘conservative, practicing families’) do not really experience sexual arousal or any feelings of intense sexuality before marriage.

·        Women’s fitrah is such that they are automatically less sexual than men.

·        Muslim women are intimidated and scared by even discussions about sex prior to marriage; if a Muslim man wants to discuss it with his fiancée, he shouldn’t lest she run in the opposite direction.

·        Women don’t ‘need’ to orgasm as much as men do; their sexual feelings are minimal and what they truly seek from sexual encounters is not necessary physical pleasure, but emotional connection.

Not only are all these claims inaccurate, but to perpetuate them on a massive public forum – and by an individual with significant influence over large numbers of Muslims – is extremely dangerous due to the fact that the Muslim community already suffers from a horrific lack of knowledge and awareness about sex and female sexuality.

Despite the fact that Islamic texts fully recognize women’s sexual needs and in fact protects them as a religious right, many male Muslim leaders perpetuate cultural stereotypes about the nature of female sexuality and falsely pass them off as Islamic guidance. Such ridiculous ideas include the belief that women have a lesser need and appreciation for the physical aspect of intimacy; that they do not experience intense sexual arousal prior to marriage; and that the very idea of sex is disturbing and unnatural to them, or that they are unable to comprehend the true nature of intercourse before marriage.

In all fairness, even Western cultures and scientific thought has long held faulty and inaccurate beliefs regarding female sexuality (most famously, the views of Sigmund Freud and the Victorian phenomenon of ‘hysteria’). However, it is also true that Western society has moved along with considerable speed with regards to knowledge of female sexuality than many Eastern (and Muslim) cultures have. It must still be kept in mind, though, that the amount of studies and research collected on female sexuality is dwarfed by those about men, and that there remains a great deal to be discovered about female sexuality in general.[1]

Going back to the claims being publicly taught, there is first of all a severely erroneous conflation between the reality of culturally ingrained attitudes about sex, and the actual innate physical desires and needs that women have for sex.

While it is absolutely true that many Muslim cultures teach women unhealthy negative attitudes about sex and equate female sexual desire with being dirty or impure, this in no way actually reflects the physiological need for sex that exists in the female gender as a whole.

No matter how much cultural brainwashing women receive regarding their sexuality, most women will still inevitably experience feelings of sexual arousal at some point in their lives – and for those who do, it will generally first happen before marriage.

Furthermore, the arousal a woman feels can and does reach strong levels of intensity, including orgasm; for example, in a wet dream. This was acknowledged even by RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who confirmed Umm Sulaym’s question regarding female wet dreams.[2] 
Even outside of wet dreams and masturbation however, women can and do feel intense sexual stimulation – anything from wearing a new pair of jeans or sitting on a massage chair. This is not to be crude, but simply realistic.[3] [4]

Nor are such experiences purely involuntary; many women are curious about their bodies and are actively aware of what stimulates them both physically and mentally (after all, the brain is the most powerful sex organ). Sexual curiosity exists in women just as it exists in men; since many girls mature physically and mentally faster than boys, they can be ahead of the game when it comes to being curious about sex.
Whether it’s reading romance novels (and anyone who thinks that girls read romance novels just for the emotional fluff is fooling themselves) or magazines like Cosmopolitan, girls crave information about both the romantic and the explicitly sexual.

Communication about sexual issues is another matter, one tied much more strongly to the aforementioned cultural brainwashing about intimacy than the idea that women have an inherent and instinctive fear or aversion to sex. Advising Muslim men to ‘just pray Istikhaarah, ya akhee’ instead of respectfully discussing or asking questions related to sex with their fiancées is harmful and, quite frankly, insulting to both the man and the woman. We should not be perpetuating attitudes of embarrassment, shame, and stigma about sexual issues but rather, encouraging men and women to approach the topic with respect, dignity, and honesty. It may be uncomfortable at first or awkward, but then, all positive growth and change is by necessity.
It is necessary to say here that a great deal of work needs to be done in training Muslim men and women on how to discuss matters related to sex and marriage in a respectful, dignified, and mature manner.

There is one final issue – the idea that women are innately ‘less sexual’ than men. While there is no denying the biological differences between men and women, including sexually, there is a big difference between recognizing the difference, and claiming that women simply aren’t as sexual.[5] More accurate would be to state that what men and women find sexually appealing and arousing, how they react to such stimuli, and the levels at which they respond to such urges differ greatly – but do not take away from the inherent sexuality of women.

It is also a fallacy to say that the sole or primary benefit or reason that women engage in sex is for an emotional connection; rather, while some women do enjoy sex more because of the emotional connection, it is not a necessary component of their actual satisfaction or orgasm. In fact, the vagina – specifically the clitoris – has thousands more nerve endings than the penis, which means that its orgasm can be correspondingly much, much more intense than the male orgasm, and contradicts the belief of those men who are convinced that women don’t really ‘feel it.’[6] [7] (Not to mention that women are capable of different types of orgasm[8] [9] [10] [11] [12]and multiple orgasms.[13])

It is worth noting that, once sexually aroused, women have a much stronger need to orgasm than men do. If they are stimulated and left unsatisfied, it causes extreme emotional upset (and significant physical discomfort). Should this become a recurring pattern, where husbands reach climax but make no effort to ensure their wives’ satisfaction, women often end up angry and resistant to being sexually available.
Psychological Haleh Banani mentions as well that women who are emotionally unsatisfied in their marriages yet are sexually fulfilled have higher rates of remaining within that marriage than the other way around. If that doesn’t underscore the point well enough, I don’t know what will.

The claim that women have fewer or less intense desires, or a somehow less important need for orgasm, is in fact an unhealthy way of minimizing female sexuality and its priority in a relationship. This takes place both amongst Muslims and non-Muslims and is a sign of how misogyny permeates our attitudes such that we automatically do not consider women to be of equal footing even in bed (and God help any woman who shows any sign of initiating sexual interest or contact!).
While the argument may go on to rage over who is ‘more’ sexual (keeping in mind that new studies continue to emerge on the topic, with sometimes paradoxical results), there is no benefit to be gained from pushing the view that women are simply less sexual beings.

In fact, it does the opposite, by telling men that they do not have to consider their wives’ sexual needs to be as important or necessary (the caveat that ‘a woman’s right to sexual satisfaction is guaranteed in Islam’ does nothing to change the final message). It is also implying to women that they should give up hope of true sexual satisfaction because it’s unrealistic and biologically unnecessary for them to experience it (but hey, all women really want are snuggles and warm fuzzy cuddles, right?).

It is high time that we begin to provide qualified individuals in the Muslim community who can discuss sex – and especially female sexuality – from a more nuanced and accurate perspective. Otherwise, Muslim leaders who take it upon themselves to talk about the subject are simply contributing to the already terrible state of Muslim intimacy, and the continued struggles of Muslim women seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in their own marriages.

What truly needs to be encouraged, emphasized, and taught is the importance of men and women alike to improve communication with their spouses about matters of intimacy. From there, it should become much easier for husbands and wives to become comfortable with their own and each others’ bodies; and for husbands to understand the various factors affecting women that may be significantly responsible for obstacles to sexual fulfillment. Just as men have their own unique preferences, levels of libido, and so on, so too are the tastes and desires of women varied and vast.

To truly seek an improvement to the sex lives of married Muslims, the first step should not be to make sweeping generalizations of female sexuality that are based on androcentric perspectives. Rather, it must be recognized that championing outdated ideas causes a great deal of harm to both men and women. A more nuanced and accurate understanding of female sexuality must be collectively pursued in order to see significant positive change in Muslim marriages.

[2] Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) relates that Umm Sulaym (Allah be pleased with her) came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Surely, Allah is not shy of the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a ritual bath after she has a wet dream?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” Umm Salama covered her face and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Does a woman have a discharge?” He replied: “Yes, let your right hand be in dust [an Arabic expression said light-heartedly to someone whose statement you contradict], how does the son resemble his mother?” (Sahih al-Bukhari 130)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tending the Hearth

Husbands gone to work or to war; long hours stretching into days, weeks, and months during which wives and mothers spend their days single-handedly raising their children and going to sleep in beds unwarmed by their men. Grueling journeys from one country to another; packing up not just clothing and utensils, but memories and dreams, it is women who find themselves binding their families together and fighting to create a new life and a stronger bond wherever Qadr takes them across the globe.
These are the women of the frontlines – not necessarily the women wielding swords and bandages, but those whose battles are fought on a different front, where their wounds are often invisible but no less painful than physical scars. These are the women who are left to tend the hearth but who tend to others’ hearts as well; the hearts of their husbands and children, while their own hearts struggle to remain strong.

Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was one such a woman. She accepted Islam in its earliest days in Makkah, as a young bride to one of RasulAllah’s cousins, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (radhiAllahu ‘anhu). Instead of a romantic honeymoon, Asmaa’ and her husband experienced something much more memorable – the first hijrah to Abyssinia for the sake of Allah alone. They were amongst the first Muslim expats, as it were, establishing both their marriage and their home in a country foreign to them in every way, from language and food to faith and culture.
As anyone who has traveled and lived abroad knows, the adjustment is never easy, and it was infinitely more difficult for Asmaa’, her husband, and the other Muslim emigrants who not only had to contend with culture shock, but also with the fear of the Quraysh coming after them, and longing for the company of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Divine Revelation that came to him.

Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays spent fifteen years in Abyssinia with her husband Ja’far, raising not only her three sons, but an entire community of Muslims who clung together and held firm to the Deen of Islam. They received communication from RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi sallam), messages which shared with them the latest verses that had been revealed, as well as words of comfort, support, and advice.

Finally, the long-awaited command came: RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was calling his beloved Companions to their new home, Madinah al-Munawwarah. After over a decade in Abyssinia, leaving must have been yet another bittersweet parting for Asmaa’ and her band of emigrants. Even so, they understood the transient nature of this world, and in obedience to the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), once again uprooted themselves and took the arduous journey back to yet another foreign land.

Returning to the land of the Arabs didn’t mean an end to the difficulty, however. As one of RasulAllah’s most beloved and trusted Companions, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib was often on the frontlines of the many military expeditions that the Muslims were engaged in. At the Battle of Mu’tah, RasulAllah established a chain of command: Zayd ibn Haarith, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, and Abdullah ibn Rawaahah. If Zayd were to fall, Ja’far was to take his place – and that is exactly what happened. At the end of the battle, the Muslims were victorious… but all three commanders were martyred, and Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays was left a widow, the mother of orphaned sons.

Wracked with grief, Asmaa’ soon realized that although the battle was over, the war in her heart had only just begun. Her fight now was to raise her sons with the same unwavering faith that her husband had died with, and the same resilience and strength she herself had displayed when they had made the choice to move to and live in Abyssinia. Asmaa’s struggle as a newly single mother was recognized by RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who comforted her.

Abdullah ibn Ja’far (one of the sons of Asmaa' and Ja'far) narrates:

“The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)  gave Ja'far's family some time to mourn over his death and then visited them saying, ‘Do not cry over my brother after this day.’ He then said, ‘Bring the children of my brother to me,’ and we were brought to him like young birds. He then said, ‘Call the barber for me!’ And the barber came and shaved our heads.

The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) then said, “As for Muhammed (one of Ja’far’s brothers), he looks like our uncle Abu Talib, as for ‘Abdullah he resembles me. O Allah! Be the supporter of Ja’far’s family and bless ‘Abdullah (his son) in the transactions undertaken by his hands.” The Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) repeated this three times.
Then our mother came and mentioned how her children were now orphans and began crying. The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)) said to her, “Asmaa’, are you afraid of poverty for them while I am their guardian in this world and in the hereafter?”

(Source: “Women Around the Messenger,” Muhammad Ali Qutb)

Asmaa’ remained a single mother for some time, dedicated to both her sons and her community, determined to be an active participant of the rapidly growing Muslim Ummah.
Allah didn’t leave her alone for long, however – roughly a year later, after the Battle of Hunayn, Abu Bakr (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) proposed to Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays. She accepted his offer of marriage, and they soon developed a relationship of respect, trust and love, such that when Abu Bakr was on his deathbed, he made it clear that he wished Asmaa’ alone to bathe his body and prepare it for his janaazah.

After Abu Bakr’s death, Asmaa’ once again had to contend with being a widow and a single mother for the second time. Yet again, though, a worthy man stepped up to take his place at her side as a righteous husband – this time, it was Ali ibn Abi Talib (radhiAllahu anhu), who was to be the last of her husbands.

The stories of Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays’ life are not unique ones: immigration, financial struggles, the unspoken but still raw difficulty of raising a family, crisis, loss, grief… these are situations experienced by hundreds of thousands of women every day, across the world. These are the battles that women fight on a daily basis, the frontlines that they live on, and they are struggles to be recognized and honoured for being every bit as glorious and worthy of Allah’s Pleasure as other, more glamorous life challenges.

Women like Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays are not alone, but they are unique when it comes to how they tend their hearths and homes while war rages within themselves and outside in the wide world – with the remembrance of Allah no matter how weary the heart may grow, and seeking His guidance in this world and the Hereafter. It is these women – women who truly follow the footsteps of Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays, with blood, sweat and tears as well as laughter and love, emaan and taqwa – who are truly forgotten heroines in our midst. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Book Review: Dowry Divas

As an avid reader with a special interest in Muslim fiction, I jump at the chance to read and review the newest books on the market, especially if they’re written by Muslim women authors. In the course of my Muslim-fiction-hunting, I came across a new name: Zara J, the author of Dowry Divas.

Described on Amazon as ‘The Muslim Sex and the City,’ Dowry Divas follows the complicated love lives of three Muslim women – Layla, Talia, Nadia – and the men they have either married, seek to marry, or are trying to marry them.

A hot-shot African-American lawyer who has just married the hottest Muslim attorney on the block, Layla finds herself completely unprepared to deal with an unwelcome guest at her glamorous wedding. Talia, a successful Latina entrepreneur, struggles with feelings of jealousy and loneliness, and decides to take the risk of seeking a soulmate on the Internet. Nadia tries to escape her father’s preferred candidate for marriage – and finds herself falling for Lateef, a man who already has one wife.
While the book is told from the perspectives of these three female characters, the men they’re involved with are equally fleshed out and dominate a great deal of attention.

Dowry Divas was very different from my usual reading material, which tend to revolve around women in difficult situations who face down their challenges with inspiring strength and courage. To be honest, I found it difficult to relate to the three women – if anything, I empathized with the male characters most, although I had issues with some of them as well. Despite being described as ‘smart and sassy,’ I found the women to come off as both slightly flat and unrelatable – one domineering characteristic they all shared was a rather concerning (to me) obsession with material things, with a particular emphasis on money, designer clothing, purses, and so on. They appeared to be unashamedly jealous and obsessed over marriage, desiring men who had 'swag', money, and who were religious but not 'extremely' religious.

I also found that many Islamic references (ayaat, ahadith, and fiqh rulings) were tossed around in a rather awkward manner in an attempt to explain aspects of ‘Muslim-ness’, such as polygamy. Perhaps the author’s intent was to include these things for the sake of da’wah to non-Muslim readers, but from a literary perspective, I found it a clumsy and unskillful way of getting the point across. I strongly felt that the quality of the writing overall was slightly weak – both the characters and the plot could have been improved with some editing and more development.

While my review appears to be quite negative, the truth is that this was my own personal reaction to a specific genre, which others may find enjoyable. While the characters in this book did not reflect the Muslim women or situations that I am acquainted with, it did make me aware of the fact that there are Muslim women out there for whom these circumstances are a reality, and therefore would be better able to relate the story.

At the very least, it is good to see more Muslim writers, especially women of colour, coming forth and contributing to the genre of Muslim fiction with their own unique perspectives. My only suggestion would be that instead of rushing to produce more books, whether self-published or otherwise, such authors should take the time to develop their skills and polish their work. It is important that the burgeoning genre of Muslim literature should reflect skill as well as talent, quality as well as quantity.

Dowry Divas is a book with a great deal of potential, and has an intriguing premise, though it will undoubtedly resonate with certain readers more than others.

Rating: 2/5 stars

AnonyMouse (Zainab bint Younus) is a young Muslimah who has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She is a writer (for SISTERS Magazine,, and elsewhere), as well as a freelance editor who has worked for international Islamic publishing companies such as Darussalam and IIPH. She also blogs at