by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 7, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1436)
Stepping out of a train station in a European city and seeing a taxi plastered with an advertisement for a swingers club triggered a thought in my mind that leaders, thinkers, scholars, and activists of the global Islamic movement must ponder over deeply and carefully. The thought is not only about haram and halal of gender relations; it is about a realization that committed Muslims today generally lack confidence in openly propagating their vision of gender relations.
Prior to analyzing this factor it is important to take note of a statement made by the British Proconsul-general Evelyn Baring (aka Lord Cromer) in 1916 during the British occupation of Egypt. Cromer stated, “…it is absurd to suppose Europe will look on as a passive spectator whilst the retrograde government based on purely Muhammadan principles and oriental ideas [that is, Islam], is established in Egypt. The material interests at stake are too important… the new generation of Egyptians has to be persuaded or FORCED into imbibing the true spirit of Western civilization… the position of women in Egypt, and Mohammedan countries generally, is, therefore a fatal obstacle to the attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the introduction of Western civilization.”
The reason for quoting Cromer is to highlight the reality that the contemporary debate about gender relations in the world is first and foremost a political one; everything else is secondary. When it comes to gender relations propagated as “women’s rights” in the Muslim world, the issue as pointed out by Cromer is political, military and economic. Those that disassociate gender relations from the political, military and economic objectives of the Western ruling elite will not be able to see the whole picture.
Now, going back to the taxi ad in Europe, can someone picture a taxi advertisement for an agency in a Muslim country that helps a couple find a second wife based on Shari‘ah principles? Absolutely not, but why? Because Muslim societies, even the ones that are obsessed with beard and trouser length, where polygamy is legal and practiced, take their framework of what is acceptable between genders from Western secular thought. What is acceptable and unacceptable in Muslim societies today among genders is dictated by values current in societies in London, New York, Berlin and Paris. How did the Muslims reach this stage?
A short answer is prioritizing ignorant cultural customs over Islamic values. What does this mean in practice? Don’t dare speak about marrying a divorced/widowed/non-virgin woman, don’t mention polygamy, forget about marrying an older woman. Any relationship that happens between the couple after their nikah (legal marriage in Islam) but before their walimah (reception) is considered culturally forbidden and is considered illegitimate in society.
Islamically sanctioned issues that touch on the above aspects of gender relations are on the back seat primarily for political reasons. Today Muslims lack socio-political, military and economic power. It is partly natural for the weak to look up to the strong and imitate the stronger party, which today in most aspects of material life is the Western secular world. Nevertheless, this is not an excuse for Islamic leaders, thinkers, scholars and activists to please the traditional cultural norms of pre-Islamic era by advocating Victorian family ideals with an Islamic veneer. There are many Islamically legitimate concepts within the Victorian family philosophy, but the unfortunate reality is that the Islamic brain centers adopt it simply because it suits the cultural norms of their congregations or worse, because it is something the West also accepts as normal.
Boyfriend/girlfriend (read fornication), gays and lesbians, prostitution, and online dating are issues that are present in all Muslim societies. Screaming haram and hellfire is not going to make these issues go away. This is not the prophetic approach. Islam has legitimate and rational methods to deal with all of these issues in a Qur’anic, logical and ethical manner.
Even with a vast Islamic presence on the internet, the only reasonable English source that addresses gender relations in a decent and open minded manner is a website led by Dr. Yasir Qadhi called Muslimatters.org that runs a section called “Sex and the Ummah.” Most other sources examined by this author try to avoid contemporary issues by advocating zuhd (refraining from worldly desires). There is nothing wrong with the zuhd approach, but the reality is that it does not work for the masses, as zuhd is a level of faith which one needs to reach, a degree that many do not or simply cannot.
Being in contact with Muslims of various backgrounds in different parts of the world has convinced this author that due to an inferiority complex enforced by Western/secular socio-political mechanisms, Muslims are not capable of withstanding the contemporary cultural and psychological war on genders. One frequently witnesses ritualistic Muslims in the West debate and pontificate on the “virtues” of gay rights, but outright condemn polygamy and vilify temporary marriage. In Muslim countries males are obsessed with limiting physical contact between female members of their family and non-mahram males, but would hardly consider allowing their children to independently use Islamically regulated online matrimonial approaches that automatically eliminates non-halal physical contact.
Another major incapacity in countering the contemporary non-divinely sanctioned gender relation abnormalities stems from lack of communication between spouses. In many Muslim societies wives are not seen as companions, as advocated numerous times in the noble Qur’an and demonstrated through the Sirah. Husbands and wives are human beings with God-given natural urges; they must discuss them and be frank with each other. Islamic morality absolutely forbids treating women as house servants. According to some Islamic jurists a wife can even charge money from her husband for breastfeeding their child.
Muslims must also ponder over another aspect in withstanding the current war on genders by accepting the fact that males and females are equal, but different. Conforming to Western values and norms will not win Allah’s (swt) favor. Consciously trying one’s best to submit to Allah’s (swt) sovereignty and accepting His legislative authority as supreme is the only path to salvation in both worlds. All other criteria outside of Allah’s (swt) legal framework are outright irrational and invalid (5:44). Who knows the creation better than its Creator?
Allah (swt) allowed polygamy for males on a conditional basis to satisfy the needs of orphans who may not otherwise be taken care of by state institutions. No license is given in the Qur’an for males or females to be sexually promiscuous, whether in the legal bounds of polygamy or otherwise. Hence, there is no need to be embarrassed by this Qur’anic approach to solving a problem that no other culture has adequately addressed: what to do with single women with young children who are jointly not connected to a family unit. The “solution” in the Western world is prostitution, which their own have said is a sin, but nonetheless a necessity.
In Western culture, legally polygamous relations are banned but a married man can have multiple affairs. He is glorified. The notion of common law partner has been introduced to the detriment of women. The man can father multiple children with one woman and then simply walk away from the relationship. The woman is left to look after the children. While the state has stepped in to financially support single mothers (although seldom adequately), the system cannot offer emotional support. Why are men allowed to indulge in such conduct and why can’t a legally binding marriage relationship be established and accepted where the man takes responsibility for his behavior?
A professor at your college or a non-Muslim relative can say what they want; the duty of a Muslim is to reason within the Islamic philosophical and legal framework. In fact, the Qur’anic legal call to humanity is a call to accept divine legislative authority. From the Qur’an we learn that Iblis (Satan) accepts Allah (swt) as the Creator of the universe and the Master of the Day of Judgment but he did not accept Allah’s (swt) legislative authority when ordered to prostrate before Adam (a). Muslim males and females would benefit greatly if they relate the story of Iblis in their interaction.
This brief column cannot address all the important issues in the gender war going on today. It is a modest attempt to call leaders, thinkers, scholars and activists of the global Islamic movement to action on this issue. Muslim leaders, thinkers, scholars and activists should jointly work on sophisticated and Islamic-based principled methods in addressing the sexual abnormalities of the contemporary age.
Islam conforms gender rights to specific gender responsibilities, and in order for males and females to effectively discharge these responsibilities, Islam takes a structured approach to interaction between the genders; this has often been viewed (wrongly by many Muslims, and opportunistically by their secular/Zionist enemies) as a purdah or segregation of the sexes. Hijab rules for both men and women are meant for the two to complement one another, especially in the social or public space, and not to separate them from each other.
In order to push their agenda of delegitimizing Islam as the basis of any kind of civil society, the hegemonic powers of today have taken full advantage of the dysfunction in Muslim societies. Through the agency of the retrograde Saudi regime — upon which they have spent billions to protect, and which they painstakingly stereotype as the model of Islam — they propagate establishment of an iron wall between the two genders. Why? So that they can always point to what “Islam” looks like in real life, and so that they would always have reason to ask their own uneducated and indoctrinated masses, “Do you really want something like that?” The justice centers of any human psyche would run away from such a picture: and this has been their objective from the beginning. Lastly, in dealing with these issues, the minbar (pulpit especially during Salah al-Jumu‘ah) alone is not enough, but it must start from there.