Embrace the social teachings of Islam by rethinking modern individualism.

Embrace the social teachings of Islam by rethinking modern individualism.

Sexual Responsibility and the Fulfillment of Desire

Al-Fadl b. ‘Abbas rode behind the Prophet as his companion on the back portion of his she-camel on the Day of Nahr (during Hajj) and al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet stopped to give religious verdicts (fatwa). A beautiful woman from the tribe of Khath‘am approached to seek the religious verdict of the Prophet . Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. So the Prophet turned back to al-Fadl as he continued to gaze at her, took al-Fadl by the chin, and swerved his face away from being able to look upon her. She said, “O Messenger of God! The obligation of performing the Hajj as enjoined by Allah on His slaves has become due upon my father who is an old man unable to sit firmly on his mount. Will it be sufficient that I perform Hajj on his behalf?” He said, “Yes.”[1]

Sexual desire is intrinsic to human nature[2]. It is as built-in as the need for food and drink and can be even more powerful than these as a catalyst, sometimes completely clouding good judgment. The human being’s desire for sex serves as an arena upon which his slavehood to Allah becomes manifest. It is not solely blessing or curse but can be either one. When one’s sexual desire is fulfilled in a godly manner it brings pleasure both in this world and Next, while if fulfilled in a manner contrary to God’s rules its fleeting pleasure serves to drive one further toward creating a mess both in this world and the Next. As Allah Most High says, “It is not its flesh that reaches Him…rather it is the Godfearingness (taqwa) from you [which you display therein] that reaches Him.”[3] Though this verse appears in the Qur’an in a different context, the same idea applies in sexual pursuit: Allah does not need your actions, even the works of the flesh, to be a certain way, since He is free of need of anything (al-Ghani). Instead, it is you who benefits from upholding sexual responsibility as commanded by God. [4] In fact, directing and fulfilling desire in a virtuous way is a means to reach the highest of human potential.

THE CHRISTIAN CONCEPTION OF DESIRE

For those of a European Christian heritage, sexual desire is not an inherently neutral category. Unlike in Islam, wherein it is made godly or cursed by one’s pious intention or lack thereof, Western thought on sexual desire has gone through various phases. The Christian Church had adopted the value of abstinence and celibacy soon after the death of Jesus عليه السلام, leading to an “unarticulated allegiance to an ascetic ideal of sexual morals” among Western Christians that translated to the idea that “self-control means a rejection of pleasure: whatever feels good is probably wrong.”[5] In this way, the Church advocated marriage only as a necessary evil, placing “enormous strain on individual consciences” and “making sexual relations something to be pursued secretly, furtively, and in the dark, even between married persons for whom these activities are usually legal.”[6] When European powers began colonizing Muslim lands in the seventeenth century, Christian thought still dominated in European lands. Impressed with the economic and political might of Europe, some modern Muslims too began to wonder if ascetic celibacy was more pure and indicative of a higher moral stance.

Around this same time, however, Christian notions began to be challenged by liberal thinkers back home in Europe, likely in reaction to the “enormous strain” these notions had caused. Through their support for individual rights and their distaste for institutional (e.g. religious) control, liberal thinkers began advocating a companionate model of marriage that was based on “a vision of marriage as the union of two individuals bonded through sexual love,”[7] “instead of a code of strict obligations to others.”[8] By the twentieth century, emphasis on sexual desire and the free expression of one’s sexuality has taken a further leap toward individualism. While Christian and early modern thought held onto the (however imperfectly viewed) moral value of man and wife uniting sexually through marriage, current Western trends now see sexual desire as wholly the prerogative of the individual self. Uninhibited by gender or other social constraints, one seeks a partner who can best reflect back their own selves: “that mirror of vision in which they can look at themselves in the very gaze of the other, perceiving, in one and the same glance, their view and themselves.”[9]

WESTERN PHILOSOPHY ON DESIRE

Parallel to the discourse on sexual desire there exists within the classical Western intellectual tradition a discussion on the nature of desire broadly speaking. The desire for something dictates your action and is motivated by the pleasure you feel at its acquisition or even at its mere thought. It compels you to do what you deem to be good, or at least what you deem pleasurable, and forms the basis of all that you pursue in life.[10] From such a perspective, desire is what moves you and forms the basis for your every deed; it is in a sense the very thing that defines who you are.

As the liberal mindset has increasingly placed the human individual, rather than God, at the center of its moral discourse, the meaning of the word desire has become replaced synecdochically by sexual desire. This is due to a number of factors, including denial of God and the Afterlife; glorification of the body and the physical experience (with a simultaneous denial of the soul and the spiritual world); and the liberal focus on the rights of the self over the rights of God. With such a shift in emphases, all other desires of the human being, particularly the most lofty ones (such as the desire to know God), are ignored or argued away as tools of authoritarian discourses of the past that only served to deny the desires of the body and the self.

If an earlier phase of liberal thought emphasized equal rights, the current “postmodern” phase is obsessed with conceptions of power, with the power to choose how one experiences pleasure and with whom being of increasingly central concern. Even biological realities are ignored in pursuit of this pleasure-seeking power, with “the traditional association of femaleness with femininity and maleness with manhood” now deemed “scientifically and morally improper.”[11] The reach for power, and the resentment toward notions of sexual propriety that put an automatic bar upon certain executions of power, have caused the freest thinkers to question the category of sexual identity altogether. As one famous feminist remarked, “Until the myth of the maternal instinct is abolished, women will continue to be subjugated.”[12] In the words of another, “women couldn’t be oppressed if there were no such thing as ‘women.’ Doing away with gender is key to the doing away with patriarchy.”[13] Along the lines of earlier Western philosophical conceptions of desire, postmodern theories of desire still accede to desire as the essential activity of the subject, but now see sexuality as foundational to any conceptualization of this essential activity.

Also, for the postmodern thinker, there is no longer any discussion of human “purpose,” because that betrays belief in the existence of a moral system to which the human being is bound. Being bound to such a system would prevent him from pursuing whatever it is that his self wants, which is a postmodern moral negative, since human desires are increasingly being deemed “good” in and of themselves. Instead, the focus is on “realness,” i.e. “less and less to be a real anything but the real me.” According to such a framework, giving importance to every sexual inclination and freely being able to pursue those desires by “picking and choosing what works” is what “make(s) staying alive more worthwhile.”[14] Increasingly, the focus of Western culture is on being able to proclaim one’s desire and to pursue it without shame, even if that desire goes against every moral and religious system the world has ever seen.

THE PURPOSE OF HUMAN EXISTENCE

This conception of the uninhibited pursuit of desire is foreign to Islam. Instead of making the shifting and directionless inclinations of the self the defining feature of human identity, the Muslim knows that the human being’s defining characteristic is his utter dependence on God. Rather than a free agent, the human being is at his[15] core a slave (‘abd), dependent on his Creator at every moment for his breath to continue, his life to go on, and for things to go right. This Master-slave relationship is what dictates the terms relevant to any discussion regarding the life of this world. It is the manifestation of his slavehood to the Divine that is the purpose of human existence.[16]

Though the modern person might chafe at the idea of being a slave, when one realizes that his Lord is Perfectly Wise (al-Hakim), All-Knowing (al-Alim), the Loving (al-Wadud), the Kind (al-Latif), and the One Most Solicitous of the Good (al-Barr)[17] for His servants, it becomes easier to submit. And with that submission comes a life worth living:

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, and is a believer, to him We shall grant a goodly life (hayatan tayyiba), and [in the Afterlife] We shall reward him according to the best they ever did.[18]

Attaining that goodly life, the life of deep and true contentment and fulfillment, requires one to shift one’s focus fundamentally away from one’s individual self to that which Allah desires from His creation. When that happens, many things start falling into place, including one’s place among the rest of creation.

THE SPIRITUAL REALITY OF SEXUAL PLEASURE

Of the creation of Allah is desire itself, and the pleasure one feels at fulfilling it. Due to its alignment with the Qur’an and Sunnah, Muslim scholars positively acknowledged the Platonic idea that desire is “what moves you.” In fact, that is the purpose for which God created desire within man. The divinely intended point of desire is to goad human beings toward that which is good, and depending on how one turns the intention for pursuit of pleasure in his heart, every permissible action can be converted into such a “good.” In the words of the Messenger of God ﷺ “Every matter of the believer is good…when he is met with a blessing, he gives thanks and is rewarded for it.”[19] By turning his heart toward gratitude, the partaking of food and drink, the desire to have many children or great wealth, and the desire for sex can all be a spiritual positive. In this way, the individual who sees the real Source of his pleasures and gives heartfelt thanks takes on the Prophetic role of the “grateful slave,”[20] one who gives thanks and is shown increase[21] in both this world and Next. But the human being also has the unfortunate potential to ruin the opportunity these blessings present by being an ingrate (kafir), one who refuses to recognize that his pleasures are emanating from the largesse and great kindness of Allah Most High.

When seen through the eyes of the grateful slave, and not the entitled sexual creature, the purpose of sexual pleasure becomes clear. The human being who understands that his life in this world is limitary, and that he is headed toward an Afterlife wherein he will be judged, knows that this pleasure like all others was created by God as a test to see to whom he will submit: to the rules of God or to the inclinations of his lower self (nafs). In the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din, Imam al-Ghazali accepts the philosopher’s point that pleasure is what urges one on, and he clarifies that in the case of the believer the role of sexual pleasure is to both encourage the human being to work for Paradise, as well as (secondarily) to help continue the human race. Sexual pleasure in this world increases the desire for Paradise because of God’s promise that it will also exist there:

By knowing [sexual] delight he is able to draw an analogy which suggests to him what the delight of the Afterlife must be like. For the delight of the sexual act, were it to last, would be the greatest pleasure of the body, just as the pain of a burn is the body’s greatest agony. Encouragement and deterrence [al-targhib wa al-tarhib], which drives people towards their saving happiness, can only be brought about by means of palpable pain and pleasure, since what cannot be perceived through experience will never be greatly desired.[22]

Due to the assumption that sex and sexual pleasure are a low and dirty thing, Christians have historically misunderstood the promise of God made in the Qur’an regarding the existence of sexual pleasure in Heaven. Muslim scholarship however understood it for what it really is: the greatest physical encouragement for the human being to do good in his earthly life, and to reproduce and give birth to other human beings who will do the same.

Because the human being’s perspective is often limited to his own desires and inclinations, Allah Most High sent Muhammad ﷺ (and the prophets before him) to teach us the long view. The culmination of human development, spiritual and otherwise, is found at the point when one tames one’s desires such that they become completely in line with what the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ brought.[23] This struggle is what the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ termed the greater jihad, which is to tame the lower self (nafs) so that you come to want only that which Allah wants from you. In the arena of sexual pleasure, what made the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ relationships godly and beautiful were two factors: a) he was always conscious of and grateful to God, and b) he fulfilled his sexual responsibilities, i.e. those things that Allah Most High requires of the human being when in pursuit of sexual pleasure. In fact, his perfect fulfillment of sexual responsibility was simply a manifestation of his constant witnessing of Allah and His Favor.

THE PERFECT MODEL

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ embodies the most perfect model for human pursuit of pleasure. Love of women was one of the very few things of this worldly existence that was beloved to him, and it was made beloved to him by God Himself.[24] He loved his wives, he loved to keep their company, and he once said, “I restrain myself from food and drink [at times], but I do not restrain myself from them. ”[25] His Companions considered him to have the sexual strength of thirty men, [26]and the renowned 16th century scholar of hadith Shah ‘Abd al-Haqq al-Dihlawi considered his sexual vitality to be of his miracles (mu‘jizat). This is because the normal person who fasted as rigorously and lived as frugally as the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would be expected to appear weak and to not be very sexually potent. But despite these physical deprivations, he ﷺ had a beautiful, bright visage and the sustained ability to maintain the sexual right of his wives. [27]

What is perhaps an even greater miracle is that he maintained the right of Allah with consistency while possessing human desire. As his wife ‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) attested about him, the Messenger of God ﷺ “remembered Allah in all his moments (fi kulli ahyanihi),”[28] which undoubtedly included his moments of sexual intimacy. In the words of the Great Sheikh ibn al-‘Arabi, who argued in defense of the Prophet’s ﷺ love for women: “Do you think that which would take him far from his Lord was made lovable to him? Of course not. That which would bring him near to his Lord was made lovable to him.”[29]

These words indicate not only the positive value of sexual pleasure in Islam, but also the high level of spiritual awareness that the Prophet ﷺ possessed. For the average human being, the remembrance of God is far from mind while engaged in the sexual act, but for Rasulullah ﷺ it was the reverse. His greatest passion was being in the presence of Allah, and he would sometimes be so engrossed in the Divine Presence that he would tap ‘A’isha on the thigh and exclaim, “Talk to me, ‘A’isha!” in order for her to interrupt his rapture. When fatigued from having to be immersed in worldly affairs, he would ask his muezzin Bilal (Allah be pleased with him) to call for the prayer, saying “Relieve me O Bilal!” for it was in the prayer that he found his heart’s real joy (qurrat ‘ayn). [30]

It was not that the Prophet ﷺ was able to remember Allah at all moments because he lacked normal human impulses. Rather, he had been granted the perfection of being able to engage in both things at one and the same time. As the prophet of God inspired with sublime knowledge of His Creator, even in his moments of intimacy, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was enacting his servitude, obedience, and love of Allah Most High. He did all this while being utterly human—in fact, the Arabs of his time were proud of his strength and sexual vigor because it was a sign of being a healthy male[31]—and his human sexuality allowed him to be a true role model for those who followed him. He was made by God to love women in order that we as his followers could know that even in the area of sexual desire, it is possible to be present with Allah in one’s actions and in one’s state, as a means to perfect one’s slavehood to Allah. This lesson is more important than ever for the modern Muslim, who is inundated with sexual images, scenarios, and ideas that are absolutely contrary to what Allah commands regarding the fulfillment of sexual desire. What we should see when we look to the Prophet’s ﷺ love of women is the inspiring, illuminated possibility of the spiritual perfection that is wholly still human and actively partaking of the physical experience of the life of this world.

To state it once again, the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ perfection is seen in how excellently he balanced his human inclinations with his spiritual inclination toward the Divine. While some Muslims after him were only able to maintain high spiritual states by forgoing carnal pleasure, he was forced to forego none. The balance is clear not only in his ability to consistently maintain remembrance of Allah internally, but also to do so externally by upholding the laws of God regarding sexual desire and its fulfillment. Such simultaneous balancing of high spiritual state and perfect sexual comportment may not be easy or possible for others, but the Muslim who works to uphold his sexual responsibilities out of obeisance to the Prophet’s ﷺ example does not lose out even when he falters internally. He gains tremendous spiritual benefit simply by following the Messenger of God’s ﷺ outward example regarding sexual responsibilities, because Allah Most High has told us that if we want Him to love us, we should follow the Prophet ﷺ and by this we will gain Allah’s love.[32]

UPHOLDING SEXUAL RESPONSIBILITY

The Prophet ﷺ would lower his gaze if met by an unrelated woman out of respect for the command of God to not gaze upon the opposite sex without legitimate need. He taught us: “The first glance is for you, but the second glance is against you,”[33] meaning that while one may inadvertently look upon someone and be attracted and find pleasure, one is not to look again because of where it might lead. He upheld the rights of his wives: he was kind to them, divided his time and resources equally between them; housed and clothed them with dignity; tolerated their quirks;[34] and even when angered never displayed his anger through abuse or harsh words. He taught his male Companions that when engaged in sex, they had to uphold the sexual responsibilities enjoined by God. “Do not fall upon your wife like an animal, but send forth sweet words and kisses,”[35] teaching them the woman’s need for foreplay so that she too could attain sexual pleasure. On another occasion he taught his Companions, “Do not begin intercourse until she has experienced desire like the desire you experience, lest you fulfill your desires before she does.”[36]

These were not abstract rules or sentiments. As can be seen in the pious men of the generations that came after him, the Muslims absorbed the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ regarding sexual responsibility. When one Companion went to visit another, he noticed that his wife was shabbily dressed. He asked his fellow Companion’s wife why she appeared thus and she replied, “Your brother is not interested in the luxuries of this world.” So he went and instructed her husband on how to strike a balance between worship and worldly life, and then closed his instruction with the words, “Verily your Lord has a right over you, your self has a right over you, and your spouse has a right over you, so fulfill the rights of those who enjoy rights over you.”[37]

Along with engaging in sexual indulgence due to pious intention, those who believe also show real restraint for the sake of Allah. The quintessential story of sexual restraint is of course that of Yusuf (Joseph ) عليه السلام, in which he categorically refused the sexual advances of a beautiful and powerful woman to whom he had easy access.[38] At this moment in his life, he had reached the fullness of manhood but had not yet been given prophecy. Yet Allah Most High had been preparing him for prophethood and had granted him even at this stage “great judgement and knowledge,”[39] such that as soon as she cornered him for seduction, his heart immediately knew it would be a gross and vile thing to do were he to give in. When commenting on Sayyiduna Yusuf’s exceptional ability to hold himself back in such an enticing situation, a contemporary scholar has remarked: “[The prophets] do still have desires, they do still have inclinations, but they keep their inclinations and desires in check by the certitude of their knowledge from Allah concerning His religion, commands, and outcomes in this world and the Next.”[40] They see clearly the Truth of all that Allah has revealed, and are able to turn their heart’s desire in the direction where the greatest benefit lies, thus becoming models for every human being who comes after them to do the same.

Thus, such accounts of sexual restraint are found not only among the prophets and Companions but repeat throughout the annals of Muslim history and even among men and women of contemporary times,[41] those who choose to uphold the Sacred Law for the sake of God. Imam al-Ghazali relates one such story about Sulayman b. Yasar (d. 721 CE), a hadith scholar and one of the most handsome of all men. He was alone while camped out in the desert one day and was approached by a bedouin woman.

She unveiled her face, and it was like a piece of the moon. “Satisfy me!” she said. He thought that she was referring to food, so he picked up some leftovers and gave them to her. “I don’t want that,” she said. “I want what a man gives to his wife.” “Satan has sent you to me!” he exclaimed, and then, setting his head between his knees, began to sob and weep without interruption. Beholding this sight, she drew on her veil once more and went away to her family.

Though Sulayman b. Yasar had refused the beautiful woman’s advances—such that one could say he had cause to be proud—he continued to weep for days with shame before his Lord, presumably out of deep gratitude for having been spared in such a risky trial.[42]

Of course, the cornerstone of maintaining such sexual restraint is the institution of marriage. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ taught his followers two important remedies to treat illicit sexual inclinations: 1) to go to one’s spouse immediately “for it will repel that what he feels”[43] and 2) for the spouse to not neglect the other’s sexual need.[44] Considering these teachings, the sexual responsibility entailed in keeping unlawful sexual desire at bay is mutual to both spouses, not just the one afflicted, and is in every sense a “responsibility.” Though one should never disclose one’s illicit sexual thoughts to others, let alone to one’s spouse, the assumption held by both man and wife should be: I serve as a shield and a protective garment[45] for my spouse, protecting him or her from those desires that would be harmful to family and society and displeasing to Allah Most High.

THE END GOAL

The word muslim means “one who is in submission.” The truly Muslim follower of Muhammad ﷺ submits not to his passion but to Allah Most High, Who created him for a higher purpose than mere carnal pleasure. Both Muslim men and women are encouraged to seek fulfillment of their sexual desire, but in a manner that also fulfills their sexual responsibility. Sexual responsibility in Islam entails lowering the gaze; avoiding flirtation and being in seclusion with a member of the opposite sex; dressing modestly in front of unrelated members of the opposite sex, and beautifully for one’s spouse; marrying if one is able or fasting to decrease sexual desire if one cannot; and fulfilling one’s spouse whenever he or she is in need. For a man, there is the added responsibility that he only take on women he can appropriately support financially and otherwise, and to raise any resulting children as a man should,[46] instead of leaving it all to her “maternal instinct.” This list is not exhaustive. Each man and woman will face unique situations in life wherein they will experience sexual tension. Even as a group, twenty-first century Muslims are constantly being presented with new sexual ideas that as a civilization we have never faced before. In every situation, the question to be asked is, “What does Allah want from me here?”

What I mean by the phrase “sexual responsibility” is simply this: that we should have taqwa (Godfearingness) in how we think and act within the arena of sex and sexual desire, such that in every sexual situation we face in life (and there are many), we learn the command of God and apply it to ourselves. What should hearten and embolden us to seek such knowledge without fear is the consolation that Islam is truly the Middle Way[47]—neither suppressing the pursuit of sexual desire, nor allowing us to follow our desires so freely that it leads to our own physical, emotional and social destruction.

The healthy fulfillment of sexual responsibility opens up the luminous possibility of human beings living together harmoniously and in a manner that truly allows us to flourish, both individually and collectively. Once men and women take care of their sexual responsibilities, they clear both their internal selves as well as the public space of strife (fitna) such that they can begin to collaborate positively on the real work of this world:

And true believers, men and women, are the faithful friends and protectors of each other (awliya); They bid the right and forbid the wrong, keep the prayer, give the due alms, and obey Allah and His Messenger: Those Allah shall certainly soon show mercy; Verily Allah is invincibly powerful, all-wise.[48]

In conclusion, despite how much the postmodern critic might protest this fact, the male gaze does see woman as an object of sexual pleasure. Islam as the lived and true religion does not deny this fact, but uses it toward good end, as it does every human potential. At the same time, the teachings of the sacred law of Islam do not privilege the male gaze by deeming women intrinsically objectified. As was seen in the case of al-Fadl, the riding Companion of the Prophet ﷺ mentioned at the start of this essay, while the divine ruling for him was to avert his gaze, the ruling upon the Prophet ﷺ was to answer her religious query and satisfy her need for knowledge. Sexual pleasure, though powerful, is not the only pleasure the human being experiences, and certain pleasures (such as that found in the pursuit of knowledge) take precedence, as long as they too are tamed according to the rules of God. Sexual responsibility is but one of the many things Allah Most High holds the human being accountable for. The fact that Islam holds the human being accountable for his sexual responsibility is a testament to how positively it views the strength of the human will. The human being is not a slave to his private parts but instead is able to use his God-given autonomy to turn even strong desire toward whatever it is he truly wants. By learning Allah’s commands via the sublime Qur’an and the consummate teachings and example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the human being can find the way to pursue his desires in a wholesome manner, ultimately leading him to a goodly life in this world and endless bliss in the Next.

 

[1] Sahih al-Bukhari, 6228.

[2] I would like to thank Sulma Badrudduja for inspiring me to write this piece, and my teacher Umm Sahl for encouraging me to write it with conviction.

[3] Qur’an, Surah al-Hajj, 22:37.

[4] لن ينال اللهَ لحومُها المُتَصَدَّقُ بها، ولا دماؤها المهراقة بالنحر، أي لن يصل إلى الله اللحم والدم، ولكن ينالُه التقوى منكم فإنه هو الذي طلب منكم وعليه يحصل الثواب. والمراد لن تصلوا إلى رضا الله باللحوم ولا بالدماء، وإنما تصلون إليه بالتقوى، أي الإخلاص لله، وقصد وجه الله، بما تذبحون وتنحرون من الهدايا

Ibn ‘Ajiba, Ahmad, al-Bahr al-Madid fi Tafsir Qur’an al-Majid. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 2010, vol. 4, p. 415.

[5] Brundage, James A., Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987, p. 7.

[6] Ibid., p. 9.

[7] Simmons, Christina, Making Marriage Modern: Modern Women’s Sexuality from the Progressive Era to World War II, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

[8] Amato, Paul R., “Institutional, Companionate, and Individualistic Marriage: A Social Psychological Perspective on Marital Change,” in Marriage and Family: Perspectives and Complexities, ed. H. Elizabeth Peters and Claire M. Kamp Dush. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009, p. 78.

[9] Irigaray, Luce, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985, p. 327, as cited in Butler, Judith, “Desire,” in Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 376.

[10] Schroeder, Tim, “Desire,” 2015, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/desire/. [Last accessed: January 13, 2021.]

[11] Murad, Abdal Hakim, “Fall of the Family,” https://thesilainitiative.org/articles/fall-of-the-family/20210712/by-abdal-hakim/  [Last accessed: December 27, 2021.]

[12] Simone de Beauvoir, as quote by Abdal Hakim Murad in “Fall of the Family.” See de Beauvoir’s Second Sex for a thorough discussion.

[13] Bornstein, Kate, Gender Outlaw: Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 115.

[14] Bornstein, Kate, Hello, Cruel World.

[15] I have used the pronoun “he” when referring to the human being according to traditional English language convention. Meaning, both men and women are indicated through its use.

[16] “Nor have I created jinn and Man, but to worship Me (li ya‘budun).” Qur’an, 51:56.

[17] Al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid, The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, trans. David B. Burrell and Nazih Daher. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1995.

[18] Qur’an, Surah al-Nahl, 16:97

[19] Sahih Muslim. The complete hadith is as follows: “Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.”

[20] Al-Mughirah ibn Shu’bah reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would pray until his feet were swollen. It was said to him, “Why do you do this when Allah has forgiven your past and future sins?” The Prophet said, “Shall I not be a grateful servant? (Bukhari and Muslim)

[21] Qur’an, Surah Ibrahim, 14:7.

[22] Al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid, On Disciplining the Soul and on Breaking the Two Desires: Books XXII and XXIII of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din), trans. T.J. Winter. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1995, p. 165. What is interesting to note is that al-Ghazali mentions the inculcation of the desire for Paradise as the first (and seemingly primary) reason for the creation of sexual desire in mankind; procreation is listed as a reason as well, but secondarily.

[23] “None of you believes until his desires are in compliance with what I have brought.” (sahih hadith cited in al-Sunnah of ibn Abi ‘Asim)

[24] “[Two] have been made beloved to me from this world of yours: women and perfume. And my true delight was made to be the Ritual Prayer.” (al-Nasa’i)

[25] اصبر عن الطعام و الشراب و لا اصبر عنهن al-Dihlawi, ‘Abd al-Haqq, Madarij al-Nubuwwa, trans. Sayyid Ghulam Mu’in al-Din Na’imi. Lahore: Shabbir Brothers, 2004, p. 563.

[26] Al-Bukhari, al-Nasa’i. The Prophet’s exceptional strength is well known, such as in the story of his easily throwing the greatest wrestler, and this great physical strength was part and parcel of his spiritual strength and the miraculous gifts given to him. But the hadith regarding the strength of thirty men was directly related to the context of his strength in intimate relations. The servant of the Prophet, Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him), said that he ﷺ had visited all of his wives in one hour of the night or day. When asked if the Prophet actually had the ability to do this, he answered, “We used to say that he was given the strength of thirty [men].”

[27] al-Dihlawi, ‘Abd al-Haqq, Madarij al-Nubuwwa, trans. Sayyid Ghulam Mu’in al-Din Na’imi. Lahore: Shabbir Brothers, 2004, p. 564.

[28] Sahih Muslim

[29] Ibn al-‘Arabi, Muhyi al-Din, Futuhat al-Makkiyya, as cited in Murata, Sachiko, The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992, p. 186.

[30] Al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid, On Disciplining the Soul and on Breaking the Two Desires: Books XXII and XXIII of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din), trans. T.J. Winter. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1995, p. 172. Also, see endnote 24 above.

[31] al-Dihlawi, ‘Abd al-Haqq, Madarij al-Nubuwwa, trans. Sayyid Ghulam Mu’in al-Din Na’imi. Lahore: Shabbir Brothers, 2004, p. 563.

[32] Qur’an, Surah Al ‘Imran, 3:31.

[33] “Do not follow a glance [at the opposite sex] with another, for verily the first glance is for you while the second is against you.” (Tirmidhi)

[34] There were occasions where his wives did not get along with each other or displayed petty behavior due to their natural sense of jealousy. Allah revealed that the Prophet ﷺ should give them the choice to stay with him or leave: “O Prophet! Say to your wives: if you want the worldly life and its ornaments then come and I will provide for you [some provision] and I will release you in a beautiful way. But if you want Allah and His Messenger and the Abode of the Hereafter, surely Allah has prepared for those of you who do good forgiveness and a magnificent reward” (Qur’an, Surah al-Ahzab, 33:28-29). According to the contemporary Yemeni scholar Habib Umar b. Hafiz, the meaning of this verse is not that the wives of the Prophet ﷺ were disallowed from partaking in worldly things, from dressing up and beautifying themselves, etc. Instead, what Allah is asking of the wives of the Prophet ﷺ through this verse is: what is your core intention, what is it that you desire through your marriage to the Messenger of God ﷺ? All of them, as befits their own lofty spiritual station, affirmed that their true desire was Allah and His Messenger ﷺ and the Afterlife, not the ornaments of this world. (Habib Umar b. Hafiz, Chicago, lesson given at private residence, March 27, 2011)

[35] Al-Daylami.

[36] Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni, as cited in Al-Kawthari, Muhammad b. Adam, Islamic Guide to Sexual Relations, London: Turath Publishing, 2008, p. 58.

[37] Sahih al-Bukhari 1867.

[38] Qur’an, Surah Yusuf, 12:24. The verse reads, “She was dying for him, as he would have been for her, had he not seen the sovereign proof of his Lord of its utter vileness: Even thus we did, to keep the appalling from him and foul indecency; Verily he was of Our servants made purely sincere.” Translation taken from Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, The Quran Beheld: An English Translation from the Arabic, 2022.

[39] Qur’an, Surah Yusuf, 12:22.

[40] Umm Sahl, Lecture dated June 5, 2021 for the course “A Most Beautiful Story of Prophet Yusuf ‘alayhi al-salam,” kiflayn.com [Last accessed: July 25, 2022]. 

[41] For examples of men who uphold the Sacred Law with regards to sexual decorum, see the beginning and end of the following article. Khan, Fareeha, “Reconnecting with Our Scholars Upon the Plain of Taqwa,” https://thesilainitiative.org/articles/reconnecting-with-our-scholars-upon-the-plain-of-taqwa/20200102/by-dr-fareeha-khan/ [Last accessed: July 5, 2022.]

[42] The remarkable story is worth reading in full in al-Ghazali, On Disciplining the Soul, p. 184-186. According to Sheikh Nuh Keller, Sulayman may have wept so profusely because he had been given a trial similar to that which had been posed to the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph, Allah be pleased with him) when Potiphar’s wife (Zulaykha) had attempted to seduce him. Sulayman wept because he saw himself as not even worthy of such a trial. (Keller, Nuh, lesson on Imam al-Nawawi’s Riyad al-Salihin, December 26, 2021).

[43] “When a woman attracts anyone of you and she captivates his heart, then he should go to his wife and have sex with her, for it would repel that what he feels [i.e. sexual desire].” Sahih Muslim, as cited in Al-Kawthari, Islamic Guide to Sexual Relations, p. 9.

[44] See the chapter “Sex as a Right of Both Spouses,” in Al-Kawthari, Islamic Guide to Sexual Relations, p. 12-22.

[45] “It has been made licit for you the whole night before the fast to take conjugal liberties with your women: They are your garments, and you are their garments…” Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2: 187. As translated in Keller, The Quran Beheld, 2022.

[46] See: Khan, Fareeha, “Ibrahim ‘alayhi al-salam: The Father of Supreme Devotion,” https://thesilainitiative.org/modern-questions-grounded-answers/ibrahim-the-father-of-supreme-devotion/20201021/by-dr-fareeha-khan/ [Last accessed: December 30, 2021.]

[47] The phrase “ummatan wasatan,” literally “middle community,” from Qur’an 2:143 is variously translated. Some translators, such as Muhammad Asad, use the phrase “middle way” as I have done here, while others incorporate the meanings of the term “middle/wasat” as found in authoritative tafsir literature to emphasize the just and balanced nature of the ummah of Rasulullah ﷺ. Sheikh Nuh Keller, for instance, translates the phrase thus: “a select nation of faith, nobly upright in equity.” Keller, The Quran Beheld, 2022.

[48] Qur’an, Surah al-Tawba, 9:71. As translated in Keller, The Quran Beheld, 2022.

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