I don’t normally dispense life advice; my own having proved such a train wreck, the idea of advising others on how to make a success of their own seems, frankly, a little incredible. Every now and again, however, I feel compelled to make an exception.
The subject of this short post is one that evokes strong passions with vehement accusations and counter-accusations regularly traded between the sexes.
Over the years I’ve been witness to several relationship break downs stemming from the failure to accept what is undeniably an essential human trait, namely gheerah, or [protective] jealousy in English. Let me make it clear from the outset that I believe the failure to respect this visceral sentiment lies mostly at the feet of Muslim women yet I will readily concede that a great deal of Muslim male hypocrisy is also apparent within the discussion. Please bear in mind that the acceptance of the Qur’an and Sunnah as the arbiter of acceptable human conduct underpins the discussion of this subject.
Islam, as any orthodox Muslim will be aware, mandates the segregation of the sexes for adults (i.e. those who have attained puberty) with exceptions for, inter alia, commerce, legal proceedings and exigent circumstances. The rules and regulations of segregation and hijab are there to protect men and women from shameful behaviour (i.e. zina), that far from being simply a private matter between two consenting individuals in reality has far reaching and hugely deleterious, societal ramifications. In any event, whether we can discern the wisdom behind a particular rule or not, as Muslims – ones who have submitted and subjugated our wills to the Divine Will – our duty ,once the commandment has been clearly established from the texts, is merely to obey, not question.
In Islam men are the protectors and maintainers of women:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.)” [TMQ 4:34]
Men are naturally (sexually) predatory when it comes to females; the first estimation a man makes of a woman, whether consciously or sub-consciously, is a sexual one. Whether one wishes to attribute this instinct to countless millennia of alleged human evolution (obviously I do not) or to an innate disposition divinely imbued, is neither here nor there. It simply exists and it is this acknowledgement that lies at the heart of this issue.
Gheerah exists to protect women from the predation of men – men who will have no care for their long term emotional and financial wellbeing nor for the offspring that might result from a casual liasion. The predation can assume a variety of forms. In its most severe and base manifestation it is the act of rape. Thankfully, in peacetime at least, this manifestation is a rarity, despite the increasingly provocative apparel (or lack of) en vogue amongst women. Less violent exhibitions, however, are commonplace and range from suggestive comments and catcalls to unwanted touching and aggressive pursuance of a sexual encounter. Of course not all men are guilty of such behaviour, in fact most aren’t. Yet it remains incontestable that most men, if presented with continual access to a woman they deem physically attractive (or at least not unattractive) will, to use the vernacular, “give it a go” – in some form or another. And given sufficient time a significant proportion of women will succumb.
For the sake of brevity I will get straight to the point. The possessiveness of a man for his woman is as natural a trait as it is honorable. Far from being mocked and derided as “insecurity” or “backwardness” it should be applauded as a marker of virility and solicitude. Women should feel honoured by its protective aegis and take care not to step outside the boundaries it delineates. For a married/betrothed woman to socialise with a non-mahram man is as striking a spark near a plume of gas. To be avoided at all costs. Not only must impropriety be avoided but also any semblance of it.
Narrated Asma’ (may Allah be pleased with her) , “When az-Zubayr married me, he had neither land, nor wealth, nor slave, nor anything else like it, except a camel to get water and his horse. I used to graze his horse, provide fodder for it, look after it and ground dates for his camel. Besides this, I grazed the camel, made arrangements for providing it with water and patching up his leather bucket and kneading the flour. I was not very good at baking the bread, so my female neighbors used to bake bread for me and they were sincere women. And I used to carry on my head, the date-stones from the land of az-Zubayr which the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had endowed him and it was a distance of two miles from Madinah. One day, as I was carrying the date-stones upon my head, I happened to meet Allah’s Messenger sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, along with a group of his Companions. He called me and told the camel to sit down so that he could make me ride behind him. I felt shy to go with men and I remembered az-Zubayr and his gheerah and he was a man having the most gheerah. The Messenger sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam understood my shyness and left. I came to az-Zubayr and said, ‘The Messenger of Allah met me as I was carrying date-stones upon my head and there was with him a group of his Companions. He told the camel to kneel so that I could mount it but I felt shy from him and I remembered your gheerah.’ Upon this az-Zubayr said, ‘By Allah, the thought of you carrying date-stones upon your head is more severe a burden to me than you riding with him.’ I led this life of hardship until Abu Bakr sent me a female servant who took upon herself the responsibility of looking after the horse and I felt as if she had emancipated me.” [Sahih Bukhari]
Though afflicted by severe hardship and despite the man offering her a lift being the Messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself – in public with others around him – this noble sahabiyah honoured her husband by politely declining. Demure and deferential to her husband’s feelings she epitomised female Muslim moral virtue. Furthermore, the Rasul (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) acknowledged and respected her reluctance to travel with him.
AI-Mughira b. Shu’ba (Allaah be pleased with him) reported that Sa’d b. ‘Ubada (Allaah be pleased with him) said: “If I were to see a man with my wife, I would have struck him with the sword, and not with the flat part (side) of it. When Allaah’s Messenger (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) heard of that, he said: Are you surprised at Sa’d’s jealousy of his honour? By Allaah, I am more jealous of my honour than he, and Allaah is more jealous than I.” [Sahih Muslim]
I make no apologies for saying that the first duty of love and obedience a Muslim woman owes her husband is that of avoiding social interaction with non-mahram men, except that which is unavoidable. I realise this post of mine will likely set off a firestorm of criticism and invectives from the Muslim feminist brigade but frankly I’m not bothered. It’s about time some of our sisters were reminded that our role models of “empowered females” should be noble sahabiyah such as Khadijah (ra), Ayesha (ra), Nasibah bint Ka’ab (ra) not Beyonce or Nicki Minaj.
On a final note I will again reiterate that I recognise the presence of a great degree of hypocrisy on the part of many Muslim men. If you suppose it fine to socialise with non-mahram women or to exchange private messages (whatever the medium) with them, then you can hardly complain if your partner feels similarly disinclined to observe the boundaries.
May the peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon Sayyidina Muhammad. Ameen.