There is only one thing worse than sensationalist trends amidst Western media wanting to save brown women from brown men: Muslim women having to prove they’re human! If it wasn’t enough that Muslim women make the news largely to feed the propaganda machine against Islam, i.e. honour killings, genital mutilation and burqa abuse, Muslim women now face media scrutiny to prove they enjoy human activities, among them marital relations. An article featured on Jezebel, which is a feminist blog aimed at women's interests faced the repugnant ire of Muslim women earlier this month when they published what many deemed reductive Islamaphobia viz. “horny Muslim women.” This reductive Islamophobia - “normalising the Muslim” trend also caused TLC, an American cable TV channel owned by Discovery Communications to cancel a show on Muslims – “because it made Muslims seem too normal.”
To typify and caricaturise, first Muslim men (bearded ‘jihadists’ and their seventy virgins in Paradise) and Muslim women (exotic, submissive sex slaves) says more about the hypersexual Orientalist than anything else. It does however provide the platform to highlight three more issues. The first among them, the obvious amongst us Muslims: sexuality is a normal part of our faith. In recent years there is an increasingly positive trend among Muslim therapists and Islamic scholars to promote sexual health, not merely as the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity, but physical, emotional, mental and social well being in relation to sexuality. While Islamic societies may go to great lengths to make sure all things sex-related remain out of the public eye, sexual relations between a married man and woman is deemed an act of worship, even if not for the purpose of procreation. This outward or external bashfulness, if it could be called that, is part of the self-theophany within every Muslim under the umbrella of hayaa.
The second issue is that there is no honour or prestige entitled to one who opts for (non) marriage or perpetual celibacy as a form of worship in Islam. A monastic existence has only been encouraged in dire circumstances. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh): “By Allah, I am the one among you with the most fear and awareness of Allah, yet I fast and break the fast for days, I pray and I sleep a part of the night, and I marry women. Whoever disdains my way is not of my creed.” (Al Bhukari)
Related to this, is the question of why Maryam bint Imraan, (umm Eesa) is eternally honoured with the epithets ‘al-Batul and al-‘Azraa’, both of which are emphatic ways of saying “the chaste virgin”. If it were such an honour to marry and enjoy married life and in that marital relations, so much so that Islam has granted women the right of talaq (divorce) if their sexual needs are not fulfilled, why was it seen as an honour for Mayam (as)?
Maryam bint Imraan’s greatest virtue as being a ‘pure virgin’ in an Islamic context is not the same as in Catholicism. Islam encourages the remarriage of widows and divorcees and abhors celibacy, especially if it seen as an act of worship. In Arabic ‘Batul’ from “tabattul”, means “to cut oneself off in worship. And from this meaning, Maryam was called, the virgin, al-Batul (an intensive form showing emphasis), because she completely cut herself off from (interactions with strange) men. This was the only way the birth of Eesa (as) would seem such an effective enough miracle.
One must bear in mind that the dogma of the Catholic Church “The Immaculate Conception” maintaining that from the moment Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, she was kept free of original sin is not to be confused with her virginal conception of her son Jesus. This misunderstanding of the term immaculate conception is frequently met in the mass media. Likewise, Catholicism, among the world’s major religions looks down on all forms of non-procreative sex. In a bid to equate the subjugation delivered by Catholicism onto Muslims, the media thrust is to malign woman's sexual rights within the guidelines of Islam: from a woman's right to a pleasurable experience to her Islamic right to be free from every form of abuse.
Lastly, when Muslim women (as witnessed in responses to the Jezebel post) speak against a reductive Islamophobia and a typification of what it means to be veiled, we alter the goal posts and how the game is being played. We become players, instead of the played.
If our very non-homogeneous lives are to serve as a reflection of our faith, defending its rights and promoting its liberties, how far will we go in living our Muslimness? After instituting pervasive racial profiling, is it now just a question of waiting till they cut us up to determine what produces an Islamic DNA? As an example, Georges Cuvier wrote in his studies on race: “The Negro race is marked by black complexion, crisped or woolly hair, compressed cranium and a flat nose. The projection of the lower parts of the face, and the thick lips, evidently approximate it to the monkey tribe: the hordes of which it consists have always remained in the most complete state of barbarism.” It is an uncontested fact that in the United States this type of “scientific racism” was used to justify Black African slavery thereby assuaging moral opposition to the Atlantic slave trade. What we see here in the ‘normalising of the Muslim woman’ ‘ horny just like you’ is a reverse form of scientific racism, i.e. a pseudo-scientific technique to support and classify individuals of different phenotypes into discrete races or ethnicities. Any thinking person would only be forced into a deeper state of Muslimness to contest such gobbledygook. An obvious start would be through the discipline involved in actualising the concepts of hijab and salaah. Wa billah at taufeeq.
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