Biology becomes destiny.
If you’ve been keeping up to date with the news these past few months (i.e. Harvey Weinstein, salaries in Hollywood, and here at the BBC), you know that it is becoming glaringly obvious (if it wasn’t already) that women are deemed as lesser by the wider world (to different extents and in various ways, obviously depending upon where you live). The Muslim world takes this even further.
One of the ways in which this manifests itself is when Muslim men view women as a ‘trial’. This trial is one of sexual temptation, an allurement towards evil. The male Muslim clergy advise that men must be careful to lower their gaze, to marry if possible, to fast, and so on in order to curb the effects of this ‘trial’. So, women are not only lesser, they are a path to evil, the bad to the man’s good, yin to his yang.
This belief has led to Muslim women being forced to cover from head to toe in Persia and the Middle East. Even in the West, a Muslim woman is treated as spiritually inferior, kept separate in mosques, and even stopped from going out of the house lest she lead some poor male soul to distraction on her way to the local supermarket.
The incorrect idea that women are a ‘trial’ because of their sexual appeal comes from the misunderstanding of the hadith in Bukhari when the Prophet said,
” مَا تَرَكْتُ بَعْدِي فِتْنَةً أَضَرَّ عَلَى الرِّجَالِ مِنْ النِّسَاءِ “
The usual translation is, “I have not left behind me any fitnah (temptation) more harmful to men than women.”
‘Fitna’ is the key word here. It appears in the Quran many times so it is easy to check if it has been translated correctly. Here are just two examples.
(وَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّمَا أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَأَوْلاَدُكُمْ فِتْنَةٌ وَأَنَّ اللّهَ عِندَهُ أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ (8:28
‘and know that your worldly goods and your children are but a trial, and that with God there is a tremendous reward.’
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَعْبُدُ اللَّهَ عَلَى حَرْفٍ فَإِنْ أَصَابَهُ خَيْرٌ اطْمَأَنَّ بِهِ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ فِتْنَةٌ انقَلَبَ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ خَسِرَ الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةَ ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْخُسْرَانُ الْمُبِينُ
And there is, too, among men many a one who worships God on the border-line [of faith]: thus, if good befalls him, he is satisfied with Him; but if a trial assails him, he turns away utterly, losing both this world and the life to come: this, indeed, is a clear loss.
From these verses, you can see ‘Fitna’ does indeed mean ‘trial’ or ‘test’ but it has a generic meaning. There is no temptation or sexual connotation. It is not a case of mistranslation. Rather, the issue here is one of misunderstanding and the sexist culture within which such ahadith are interpreted.
What the Hadith is stating is that women are the greatest trial men have. The trial or test is in how they treat them. Is it a relationship of oppressor and oppressed or one of mutual co-operation and respect? Are Muslim men faring well in this trial when many Muslim women are amongst the most oppressed in the world? I think the evidence speaks for itself.
The clergy have attempted to make biology destiny for Muslim women and almost succeeded. However, when we reduce women like this to their sexuality, stripping them of what makes them human – their intellect and reason, we also at the same time reduce men to sexual predators and a sum of their desires.
In my opinion, that’s a lose-lose situation for us all. For how can we attain our best as individual Muslims and as a community if our opinions of each other are so lowly. The only way now is up and towards the actual evidence of the religion.