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Understanding Islam

Reader comment on item: Female Desire and Islamic Trauma

Submitted by Reema Saffarini (United Arab Emirates), Jun 28, 2004 at 07:11

I am a Muslim woman living in a Muslim country and I happened to come across Daniel Pipes' article "Female Desire and Islamic Trauma,' which has been published on May 25, 2004 in the New York Sun, and must say I was surprised at the ideas and thoughts he presented in his article.

In his piece, Pipes said the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq touched such a nerve in the Muslim world that "one analyst said that the rape pictures ‘would equal a nuclear explosion' if seen in Muslim countries. Such extreme reactions raise the delicate topic of sex in Muslim-Western relations."

Well, I believe the broadcasting of the prisoners' pictures in the whole world caused an expulsion, not in the Muslim world only. I don't believe that Westerners were not shaken by the pictures, otherwise why is the White House under investigation. Torture in all its forms, sexually or not, is absolutely rejected. I don't think that any human being would not have any "extreme reactions" when he/she sees the pictures and the videos.

As with regard to Pipes views with regard to Islam and Female sexuality, he says that the Islamic civilization "not only portrays women as sexually desirous, but it sees them as more passionate than men." Accordingly, Pipes says, "this understanding has determined the place of women in traditional Muslim life."

As a Muslim, I believe that the teachings of Islam, which came from God, who is impeccable, and the Hadith or Prophet Mohammad's traditions and sayings were never based on women's sexuality. The issue of women being more sexually desirous than men, or vice versa has never been what determines the place of men or women in the traditional Muslim life. It is Islam and its teachings that determine the place of men and women and portray their roles in society. Islamic teachings are not based on the issue of sexuality.

In his article, Pipes talks about how sexually "women are viewed as the hunter and the man as her passive victim," in contrast with the West where "men actively undertaking the hunt… and women passively [endure] the experience." He added, believers are threatened by the dangers posed by women and their "rampant desires" because women "represent the forces of unreason and disorder." In addition, women's "irresistible attractiveness" gives them "power over men that even rivals God's." As such, women "must be contained, for [their] unbridled sexuality poses a direct danger to the social order."

I must say that when I was reading this part of his article I felt that I was reading part of the Greek mythology, were Gods fall in love with humans, and irresistible attractiveness was what gave women the power over men and Gods.

This is not how things work in Islam. No body's power or position is threatened by women's lust in society. Making sexuality the center of life is not how a Muslin society functions. I was especially interested when Pipes said that women's "rampant desires" would end up "representing the forces of unreason and disorder."

The Muslim society in this article is portrayed as if it part of "One thousand and one nights" stories, where women are looked at like the harem, if given the power, the world would be filled with mayhem and chaos, as they will rule with their sexuality and raving beauty, a power that rivals God. To takes me to another point, nobody rivals God, the powerful, the Great, and the giver of life. God is a divine entity that can never be rivalled nor defeated.

Pipes goes on in his article to describe how in the Muslim society, men and women are separated and contact is reduced between them, due to female sexuality. He added that women cover their faces, and are separated from men in the residential quarters. He pointed out "Many other institutions serve to reduce female power over men, such as their need for a male's permission to travel, work, marry, or divorce."

Before commenting on this part, lets look at human beings in general. Human beings, whether men or women, have their needs and desires, and in order to prevent problems that would occur like pre-marital relations, pregnancies, diseases and so on, Islam came with the idea of separating men from women. Yet, this does not mean that women live by themselves separated from everything that is ‘male,' and vice versa. Islam put guidlines for how people should deal and behave with each other. Simple rules that help the society stay clean and virtuous.

Extreme cases of separation that the West sees come from culture and tradition, not religion. Religion, Islam, in reality is a way of life that corrects wrong beliefs in cultures and traditions and adds more to what is right, whether in ideas or behaviours.

Pipes also talked about how some "institutions serve to reduce female power over men, such as their need for a male's permission to travel, work, marry, or divorce." From what I am going to say here I don't want to be understood that I believe that women are inferior or can't think for themselves, because I am one of the people who fight those who think this way, viciously.

If you live in a Muslim society you tend to find that the men are the bread earners and the strong pillars that sustain the family. Accordingly, the family goes back to the men, especially its head whether that is the father, or the brother if the father is dead for advice and guidance. This does not make women inferior, because conversing with the head of family does not mean a woman can't think for herself, she can, but what happens is that both share ideas and viewpoints and reach a point of understanding, not that there is any conflict in the first place.

In addition, to go back and talk to the head of the family is a sign of respect. What I am talking about may not be very convincing for many, but it is true. Women under Islam are never oppressed or ruled by force.

In his piece, Pipes also says that "married couples should not get too attached; to insure that a man does not become so consumed with passion for his wife that he neglects his duties to God, Muslim family life restricts contact between the spouses by dividing their interests and duties, unbalancing their power relationship (she is more his servant than his companion), and encouraging the mother-son bond over the marital connection."

There is no script, Hadith, verse in Quran, or a saying that states that married couples should not get attached to each other, because passion will blind the men from fulfilling their duties to God. Life is balanced in Islam, and being attached to one's spouse is not forbidden in Islam, on the contrary, this is how things should be. Life between married couples should be filled with love, honesty, commitment, and loyalty. Nothing stops a man, or a woman, from fulfilling their duties to God.

In addition, a woman is not a servant, but a companion, a lover, and a friend, and there is no such thing as division of duties to "restrict contact between spouses' to "unbalance their power relationship," and "encourage the mother-son bond over marital connection." First of all, life is already balanced under Islamic teachings.
Second, there is no need to encourage the mother-son bond over the marital connection, because the mother-son or mother-daughter bond is already honoured in Islam and need not to over power another relationship. Tying the mother-son bond to marital relations in his article is like using information out of context to distort the reader.

As with regard to Pipes reference to Muslims acceptance of modernity, and the fear of "Western erotic ways" that would constrain Muslims in "the political, economic, and cultural arenas," I would like to point put that this is not true. A society is never built based on sexuality- who is more passionate, who is different. Muslims do not reject modernity, because Islam itself as a religion that is suitable everywhere, every place, at any time.

Muslims reject how morality is a victim in building what the West like to call "modernity" and how some people live to satisfy their instincts. I am not generalizing, but it is a fact. Pre-marital relations are the norm now. I know that people in the West are like Muslims, want to build a family, live in peace, find love, yet finding love and the right person is all done in a right way. In addition, having sex with strangers in bars or clubs just to satisfy a desire is not right. That is what Islam reject, the loss of morals. Other than that there is nothing Muslims would reject, and nothing would stop them from developing and producing in the political, economic, and cultural arenas.

As a closing note, from what I've seen in general, people, whether in the West or in Islamic countries, fail to see the differences between Islam and culture. And as I've said before, Islam came to change the wrong beliefs and ideologies cultures had. Unfortunately, people do not realize that.

As for the West and the way Muslims are viewed, especially in the Middle East, the idea of the orient or "the other" is very strong that understanding differences is very hard, and realizing the realities of each other is difficult. I blame the media in general, the Muslims themselves for not taking measures to present their true identity, and the West as a whole for not trying to find the truth about Islam.
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