Behind the Veil lives a thriving Muslim Sexuality

Leading feminist Naomi Wolf’s personal experiences challenge Western perceptions of veiling, sexuality and freedom.

Ideological battles are often waged with women’s bodies as their emblems, and Western Islamophobia is no exception.  But are we in the West radically misinterpreting Muslim sexual mores, particularly the meaning to many Muslim women of being veiled or wearing the chador?  Read the full article at the Sydney Morning Herald.

Surprise Fact:  Muslim women experience more sensual joy in their marriages than Westerners!

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Full Article Here

See also:  Hidden Spirituality– Discussions about hijab are almost always political or sexual.  But what about its spirituality?  After all, it is part of a religion…

Related Articles:

Sociology of the Hijab

Sex in Islam

Hijab Success Stories

Islamic Marriage Articles

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14 comments on “Behind the Veil lives a thriving Muslim Sexuality

  1. Pingback: Bikini vs. Burqa: from my Facebook wall | qãhırıï

  2. Pingback: Hidden Spirituality | qãhırıï

  3. From Facebook

    Pearce It may be true for some, as modesty serves Western women, as well. But to take a few anecdotes from carefully selected individuals and generalize to a significant part of the world’s population is sloppy, at best. Did any of those interviewed have a history of forced clitoris removal?

    al-Qãhırıï You’d have to ask the author, but outside of select african and asian populations, FGM is unheard of, so I doubt it. I doubt she wouldn’t have spoken out about it, considering her background.

    Pearce Interesting speculation.

    al-Qãhırıï ‎”The practice of clitoridectomy preceded the introduction of Islam in Arabia and in different parts of Africa. This results in severe sexual debilitation of women who cannot possibly achieve sexual fulfillment which is their right as Muslims. Therefore, this practice is totally unIslamic because it is in direct violation of both Qur’an and hadith which clearly stress the importance of sexual satisfaction for both the husband and wife.” (An Islamic Perspective on Sexuality: Islamic articles and rulings about sexual issues- female genital mutilation)

    You’re not gonna pin clitoridectomy/FGM on us. It’s as alien to most Muslims as it is to most Westerners, and we are leading the efforts to educate the uneducated/backwards minority who practice this about it. It has already been nearly totally eradicated from the Arabian Peninsula, due to education and regulation. Keep in mind that this was only practiced in Arabia, North Africa, East Africa, and some parts of West Africa- and only then by a minority- and these are only a small portion of the worlds’s Muslims, proving this is a pre-Islamic, and un-Islamic, not Islamic, practice.

  4. From Facebook

    Amirah thank you Hamzah Abdul-Malik, your commentary brought up issues that did not occur to me upon my initial reading of the article. i admit that i myself am woefully ignorant of many of the spiritual aspects of hijab that you mentioned. and from my experience, even in conversations with other Muslims, the issue of hijab is almost always raised within a context of sexuality, not spirituality. my primary reason for wearing it is, as many women in the article said, that “when I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected.” but could you please elaborate on the spiritual aspects of hijab for a relatively new muslimah?

    Hamzah There is a lot to talk about regarding the spiritual side of modesty, so I’ll try to keep it brief.

    1. Modesty is an expression for one’s love for Allah and seeking his forgiveness:
    In the Quran, Allah instructs the Prophet to tell us “if you love Allah then follow me and Allah will love you and forgive your sins.”
    One of the greatest traits of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was his remarkable level of modesty. By following his example, we establish our love for Allah and open ourselves to receiving His love and forgiveness.

    2. We draw nearer to Allah through ascending through levels of modesty:
    When we talk about modesty, we must understand that there are levels. There is the obligatory level, which is the most beloved to Allah, because all of the other levels build upon that level. Allah says in a hadith Qudsi: “The most beloved thing to Me that a person can do to draw nearer to me is doing that which I have made obligatory upon him.”
    The obligatory level consists of being modest in public by concealing one’s ‘Awra (the legally-defined private areas of the body) and refraining from all forms of sexual deviance. The higher levels of modesty consists of being modest in private, in your own household with your family and even with yourself. The Prophet’s modesty at home was at such a high level that, although they had healthy marital relationships, his wives didn’t look at his private parts. nor did he expose himself in such a way. This is narrated in a hadith of ‘Aisha: “I never looked at the Prophet’s private parts and never saw them.”
    Then, the levels of modesty continue to strengthen until we become modest with the Jinn and the angels. This modesty can strengthen so much that, as one scholar said, “the unseen will become like the seen,” such that you become so aware of the angels’ presence that it will be as if you see them plainly.
    A person can become so conscious of his modesty with the angels that the angels will become shy of him! This is a level the companion Uthman b. ‘Affan reached.
    The Prophet encourages us to observe this level of modesty in a hadith: The Prophet said, “Didn’t I forbid you from nakedness? Didn’t I forbid you from nakedness? There are beings [angels] that never leave you in the day or night, except when you are engaged with your spouse or when you are using the bathroom, so lo, be modest with them, and lo, be honorable with them.”

    We are even advised to be modest with the jinn as well, even though we generally don’t see them. This is achieved by creating a spiritual veil between us and them when taking our clothes off by saying, “bismillah aladhi la ilaha illa hu”, as indicated in hadith. The translation of it is: “In the Name of whom there is no god other than Him.”

    And finally, and most importantly, the highest level is being in a constant station of modesty with Allah at all times, even when we are asleep, and even in our dreams.
    This level is affirmed in a hadith, when, one day, the Prophet told the people to cover their ‘Awrah (legally-defined private areas of the body) from everyone except their spouses, they asked, “what if we are alone, o Messenger?” He replied, ‘Allah is more deserving of your modesty than the people.”

    3. The more modesty and shyness we have with Allah, the more shyness Allah will have with us. He will refrain from punishing us because of this. We know this because the Prophet mentioned a man who was shy with Allah, and hence Allah was shy with him. And Allah’s shyness is manifested by saving us from his punishment and answering dua.

    4. Hence, modesty and faith are linked. As believers, we cannot increase our faith without increasing our modesty. If one increases the other increases.
    The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Modesty and faith are linked, if one of them increases the other will increase.”
    Similarly, if our modesty decreases our faith will decrease. Hence the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Modesty and faith are linked, once one of them is taken away, the other will follow.”

    Modesty is such an important part of Islam that Islam is almost defined by it. Hence, the hadith, “Every religion has a outstanding attribute, and the attribute of Islam is modesty.”

    5. In light of this, it must be said that the hijab is only one part of the multi-dimentional state of modesty.
    Moreover, hijab is only a partial, yet fundamental, part of the spiritual station of modesty. In a broad sense, modesty encompasses our speech, our eyes, our movements, even our thoughts, as well as our dress. Yet, we must note here that without practicing physical modesty, spiritual modesty can not increase. Hence, outward modesty is vital to one’s spiritual growth.
    This is why the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever doesn’t have modesty with Allah in public will not have modesty with Allah in private.”
    And regarding the topic of the hijab, it is said that the Prophet said, “A woman that removes her veil outside of her home has removed the veil [of modesty] between her and Allah.”
    So the hijab, in all of its components, is a vital part of a woman’s relationship with Allah. It serves as a doorway that leads to many spiritual openings and secrets. In fact, it plays such a profound role in a woman’s relationship with Allah that Allah explicitly mentions that the Virgin Mary’s adorning of the hijab was a prelude for the immediate arrival of Prophet Jesus, peace and blessings be upon them both.

    [19:16]
    Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East.

    [19:17]
    She took up a Hijab (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.

    [19:18]
    She said: “I seek refuge from thee to (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear God.”

    [19:19]
    He said: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.

    These are just some of the spiritual aspects of modesty. As with all spiritual stations, they can only truly be realized by experience. Words can’t do justice to these realities.

    Amirah wow! thank you so much for this much needed clarification! Allah knows best!

    Amirah i just keep re-reading your post Hamzah Abdul-Malik. this is one of the best explanations of hijab that I have received since taking my shahadah. I now seek to increase my understanding of spiritual modesty.

  5. I hate these articles East vs West or West vs East and who enjoys more life, who is happier, who enjoys more sex, blah, blah! It is obvious this “feminist” during her trips in the muslim world only sat with women and didn´t get the chance to listen to the men´s side. Why pornography is so sold out in the Arab world, for example? Why so many men in the Arab world´s main fantasy is with “western women”? Why so many young gulf men (married) go running on vacations to Thailand, Russia, etc. to “spend nice time”? So what kind of logic is that? Definetly that was just a “personal experience got from women´s gatherings” that doesn´t reflect AT ALL the reality out there in most muslim countries.

    • She didn’t claim to be writing a definitive, comprehensive work treatise on the subject.

      I don’t think the point was to encompass the entire issue, but to illustrate personal experiences (which she did not deny being personal) that challenged ONE aspect- sexuality- of her and other feminists’ opinion of a complex subject.

      To demand more than that, when the author clearly defined the subjectivity and narrowness of her scope, isn’t intellectually sound.

      I’m not trying to “cheerlead” for the author- I obviously think the article is interesting- but I think she did a valuable service by flipping the script from feminist generalization and patronizing of people they know nothing about, to trying to show the world the view from the inside looking out.

      Allaahu A’lam

      • “isn´t intellectualilly sound”? Where is the intelectuality on a person´s experience specially when it has been already stated her position and beliefs? That is the same thing as those “novels” that are around about a “western woman who married a muslim man who later took her daughters and forced them to marry older men”. Please, when we use the word “intellectuality” we talk about FACTS, no people´s own fantasies, whatever! and I finish here my opinion concerning this issue, Gracias y hasta la vista!

        • As a student of Sociology and Anthropoloty, I learned that personal observation is a valid source of information. Academia, worldwide, accepts it. Many, many scientific, technical and philosophical breakthroughs have come about through personal observation, along with other factors. It would be important to know that to avoid having a blind spot exposed. And, when a person is considered an expert, or a leader in their field, their personal opinion is considered valid due to the fact that it stands upon years, even decades, of empirical research, as well as proven reliability.

          So, knowing this, and many, many, if not all, scientists do, it can only be said that writing off personal experience isn’t intellectually sound. It doesn’t make sense to do so when observation, without tool or instrument, is the basis of experimentation and discovery.

          What’s the difference between me asking questions to ten people in a living room, and handing out ten surveys with the same questions to the same people? What’s the difference between me having noted for decades how many and what kind of looks I get when wearing one style of clothes, then wearing another style and seeing if its the same? It is called participant observation, ” a structured type of research strategy. It is a widely used methodology in many disciplines, particularly, cultural anthropology, but also sociology, communication studies, and social psychology.”

          In science, a basic principle of accepting results is that the experiment, and findings, can be reproduced. If this is so, it is scientific. If you’re ready to go to Morocco to test if these observations and conclusions are indeed scientific, I am ready to sponsor your trip; and that’s a promise.

          In the meantime, I discourage you from rushing to conclusions, condemnations and generalizations. It doesn’t show you to be as intelligent as you really are.

          • “It doesn´t show you to be as intelligent as you really are”…
            Well perhaps I´m not that smart 😦 Oooops sorry for being so stupid not to appreciate the super- important scientific contribution of Ms. Phd´s experience collected during “a casual coffee and tea gathering with sweet sisters.”
            I´m so dumb sometimes, please forgive my lack of degrees and intelligence, I¨m just a simple hispanic picking up tomatoes to be sold at Walmart! Anyway Mr. Degrees, sorry brother (you see how dumb I am, I made a mistake again 😦 ) Thanks for the lesson about how to appreciate the importance of “an American woman experiencing an oriental fantantasy in Wonderland”. So, adiós! Hasta la vista and let´s leave it there 🙂 I have still a lot of tomatoes to pick, Lol

            • When did this become about race? And what makes you think I’m not Hispanic? Don’t you know about Cubans changing their names when they came over? You know there are Afro-Latinos in Colombia, Ecuador- everywhere- who are even blacker than me, don’t you?

              And what does picking fruit have to do with this? I’m sure I’ve picked as much fruit as you have, if you’ve picked any. Yes, bell peppers, melons. I been there. Factory work, too. Night shift.

              Again, you’re assumptions are way ahead of your research. And why should you say things about yourself that no one is saying about you. I said you are intelligent, you said you are “not that smart”, “so stupid”, “dumb sometimes”, and lacking degrees and intelligence. Why are you saying these things, even if you are joking (and I’m not sure)?

              Just calm down. Share your knowledge. Find what’s appreciable about the knowledge others share. You do so much more to convince people in your blog because you leave emotions out of it. Why the explosion here?

              Soy tu hermano, no tu enemigo. I fight your enemies with you.

    • And if you are going to ask those questions, you should also ask:
      Why do so many Western men- young and old- go to Thailand, Russia, etc. to have a “nice time”?
      Why are European women in particular- again, young and old- going to the Caribbean and Africa for a “nice time?”
      Why do many western men go “East” (Arabia/Asia) and “South” (Africa/South America) to marry?
      Why do many Muslim men marry from Muslim countries?
      Why do many Muslim women marry from Muslim countries?
      Why do many Muslim families go to SE Asia for family vacations?
      Why do many westerners (Muslim and non-Muslim) move to Muslim countries and stay long-term, even never wanting to leave?
      Why did Malaysians protest against pornography?
      Last but not least, how many Muslim countries have I been to, before saying what does and doesn’t reflect their reality?

      Don’t you see? There are too many issues, which themselves are too complex, to generalize. The only honest person is the one who admits they are being subjective, the only valid views are the ones that are not dogmatic.

      • Because the person who wrote this article knows exactly that IS NOT TRUE AT ALL, she as we say in Spanish “se curó en salud” (she was clever enough to take the medicine before the disease attacked her). I don´t see really the scientific or INTELLECTUAL importance or benefit to read about an individual´s opinion or personal experience on certain matter specially when the one has already clearly state her beliefs or religious orientation. I guess since in this world there are every kind of people, then the article is good for those who like to read an individual “unique” experience.

  6. FROM FACEBOOK

    Bilal Excellent post. Such a perspective is so rarely shared through mainstream media sources. I wonder if facebook can trump CNN?

    al-Qãhırıï To be honest, the author got fried for this in some circles, and appreciated for others. She’s a leading feminist and dissident, though, so she can’t be ignored.

    Hamzah Of course the only problem I have with this is that, once again, they are looking at Muslim modesty from a sexual standpoint instead of a spiritual one, which reinforces the Orientalist idea of the “exoticness”, or erotic-ness, of Muslim women instead of the spiritual and intellectual enlightenment that is cultivated through modesty. It is as if the only way they can rationalize public modesty is through an erotic lens. No doubt, there is a sexual element in modesty, but there are much deeper spiritual benefits than that. They should know better than this, especially since they have this “spiritual” tradition of modesty among nuns.

    al-Qãhırıï You’re right, Hamzah. I didn’t catch that. but I think it can be excused because:
    1) It’s more of a journal entry than a research paper. She’s just recounting what she saw/experienced.
    2) She does go into the issue of modesty (in her quotes of Muslim women, and details of her own experience in hijab), and
    3) She is still challenging Western academic and feminist extrapolations (orientalism) about Islamic society, and ungrudgingly pointing out the positives. I applaud her for that, especially being a Jewish feminist, not your most sympathetic demographic.

    But what you are talking about is very real, though. I exposed it in a Sociology of Gender class I took just after becoming Muslim. That class had some of the most offensive ideas I’ve ever encountered, but I’m glad I took it because it enabled me to see this worldview fom the inside, and learn how to deal with it. Check it out: Sociology of Gender: The Hijab

    Hamzah What I’m emphasizing here is that Muslim women are generally viewed – whether negatively or positively – through a sexual lens. This article, in my opinion, is no different. I’m sure she might be sincere, and well intentioned, and that might be the best anecdotal observation she could make, but ultimately it is still stuck in the narrow paradigm of sexual objectification. I see where you’re coming from, but given how much Muslim women are currently sexually objectified, I fail to see how much this changes the paradigm. This is symbolized by how she presents the information: Muslim women are hiding from the Western gaze. They are channelling their sexual “power and intensity” for their husbands. They have higher levels of “sensual joy” in marriage. She examines the “sensual dancing” that bridegrooms make to “please their husbands”. She compares the Muslims “sexual power” to the “reduced libido” of young men in the west. And on and on. The TITLE itself sets the tone of the sexuality of the veil. And all the well intentioned comments can’t change this Freudian perspective of modesty; that’s why I can’t applaud her for this article.

    Hamzah This is why we Muslims – men and women – need to take more control over the discourse of Islam and push back with our own paradigms instead of applauding other “well intentioned” people for defining them for us. That is one of the things that made Malcolm and the Nation so effective. They didn’t let themselves be misrepresented or marginalized into a shallow paradigm.

    Hamzah By the way, I’m not attacking you personally. This is a reminder for me as much as it is for everyone else.

    Hamzah That link you posted on your comment was nice: “Sympathizing Western feminists thus perpetuate the paternalism and repression that they suffer by re-inflicting it on Muslim women.” Well put.

    al-Qãhırıï No, you’re totally right, especially about the need to control- or at least be autonomous within- the discourse. I was just watching a documentary on Muhammad ‘Ali last night, which included Malik Shabazz/Malcolm X’s teachings and discourse. That shaykh was a genius, maa shaa-a-llaah, for doing instinctually what academics still can’t get a grasp of.

    Keeping your criticisms in mind, I will end with this point:

    1. IF the aim is to refute specific stereotypes about veiling, i.e. that it implies Muslim women have no sexuality, then what she did was blameless.

    2. BUT, IF she is refuting stereotypes about the hijab, IN GENERAL, and her only argument is sexuality, then she is “guilty” of:
    a) Orientalist/Islamophobic objectification of Muslim women,
    b) Feminist politicization of all sexual issues/sexualization of all political issues (which would mean that this is only her normal discourse, as opposed to a biased treatment of Muslims),
    c) a & b

    Either way, I give her credit for her good intentions and open-mindedness, and still think that the article does more to eradicate bias than to re-inforce it. We can’t expect her to represent Islam in the discourse when she is not a Muslim, after all.

    At the end of the day, though, what you are saying is very perceptive and valuable. It’s way over a lot of people’s heads, so it’s important to make sure you enter your voice in the discourse as publicly as possible, for the sake of those who can’t grasp this, but are nonetheless affected by it at the subliminal level.

    al-Qãhırıï And I have to admit my own bias: I favor the author because I’m a fan of her book and film The End of America.

    Hamzah I just have to say one more thing: Even if she is combating the specific stereotype of the lack of sexuality in Muslim women, it still doesn’t make the article any better. On one hand you have people saying, “Muslim women’s sexuality is repressed because of the veil.” On the other hand you have people like Wolf saying, “No, Muslim women’s sexuality is ‘intense and powerful’ because of the veil!” I’m saying, why are women constantly being measured and judged by their sexual prowess? Why is the veil the only subject that is relevant to Muslim women? Why is the discourse of the veil revolving around Muslim women’s sexuality in the first place, instead of the soul, the heart, and their relationship with Allah? In fact, I would argue that Wolf actually is reinforcing some stereotypes, such as wearing the veil for the husband, and wearing the veil for sexual purposes, when in actuality many, if not most, Muslim women aren’t even married and dress modestly simply because Allah wants them to and they want to be closer to Him. Thus, her defense of Muslim women, despite being well-intentioned, is still ill-informed, which makes a good recipe for good-natured misguidance. That’s the problem that I see here.

    Hamzah By the way, I wanted to ask, does “al-Qahirii” have something to do with being in, or from, Cairo (al-Qahirah)?

    al-Qãhırıï I wanted a name that meant “Indomitable”, which translates to ‘laa uqhar’ in ‘Arabic. Not very catchy. So I thought of ‘qaahir’, but this is a name Allaah uses for himself in the Qur-aan- a bit risque. Then it came to ‘al-qaahirii’. It has nothing to do with the place- I’ve never ben to Africa. Anyway, it’s just a pen name- I go by Daniel or Danyaal.

    As for you comment: we’re both right. I see the value of bringing people to a higher (though admittedly incomplete) level of awareness; you see that they are still left in ignorance. As far as I can see, both analyses are methodologically sound, and consistent with the relevant facts.

    Bilal Actually, I appreciate both of your responses. It reminds me.

    Bilal I hope you both don’t mind, but I reproduced your comments (and cited you as the authors of them) where I also posted this on my profile.

    I think that your discussion here can elevate the discourse in general, and that people beyond this group should benefit from that.

    al-Qãhırıï feel free. asSalaamu ‘alaykum

    Bilal Shukran Ahki wa Ustadh

    al-Qãhırıï it’s all good. and the ustadh ain’t even necessary, i’m just a youngblood…

    Bilal much appreciated. But when I am learning from someone, age is irrelevant…you get the respect due to a teacher.

    al-Qãhırıï well it’s like i told my students at the end of this semester: try to find a better teacher next time, huh?

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