“The most complete of the believers in faith are those with the most excellent character, and the best of you are the best in behaviour to their women” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1162].
Let’s start with the obvious: I am not a man. I do not have the lived, embodied experience of reconciling with what it means to be man in this world. Nor did I grow up in the afforded reckless abound called boyhood. Apart from my father, the large contingent of my early life was defined by being the eldest daughter from a family of just sisters. So what can I possibly know about masculinity let alone men? How can I have any informed approach in instructing men and their behaviour?
Despite the small joys of girlhood, the shadow of what I would have been afforded as a son or what my life would have been if I had a brother, was a constant reminder cast over seemingly trivial daily occurrences by those closest to me.
I found that masculinity, manhood, maleness — whatever you’d prefer to call it — would be altogether an intimate yet distant code of conduct; a threatening riptide rolling towards beaches of my own island of being.
I learned that a feminine existence came with a stringent stipend, high insurance, many societally imposed debts for which you inherit and are held personally liable. Your life on blast, energy maxed out while dodging the 24/7 pervasive high interest surrounding all of your conduct with the public’s burden of proof chained to your feet.
On the other hand, the allowance of men and boys seemed bereft and bankrupt of all accountability. At its best, most believe masculinity to be duty bound, dashed with chivalrous panache — providing and protecting. At its worst it is still worshiped, negligent, lawless, renegade, wild and brash; both a destructive foreboding storm.
Like many women, I was born into a guarded, caged reality.
I learned that a feminine existence came with a stringent stipend, high insurance, and many societally imposed debts for which you inherit and are held personally liable. Yet the allowance of men and boys seemed bereft and bankrupt of all accountability.
From girlhood to womanhood, the feeling of being safe walking streets in daylight will forever be unfamiliar without the weighty ownership of masculinity. Whether a woman’s experience of the world could be a Themysciran eventuality is foolishly naive, but yet admirably brave dream. What that hazy daydream means for me, and many other women, is solace in a precarious and risk filled existence. I often imagine what it might mean to walk well lit streets on lovely summer nights without the creeping horror of what if’s in the back of my mind.
In a world of countless #MeToo’s and the likes of Jordan Peterson being invited to RIS, young men flock to Red-pill pick up artists as prophets of pursuit. I often wonder what it means to be a man, apart from insidious schemes rooted in the supposed natural right to control, terrorize and conquer in gropes. Part of that answer, is not found in any lobsters or any book touting rationality superior & thus masculine.
As the title of this article suggests, a man, like a woman, should be a good Muslim — which necessitates feminist ideals.
“It is true that you have certain rights in regard to your women, but they also have rights over you.”
Last Sermon of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ)
Before I go any further, I’m not saying that men and boys are not subject to violence. Nor am I asking men to renounce their identity as men. I am not asking men to be effeminate or to change their sexual or romantic orientation. I only ask, on behalf of the voiceless & those with hoarse throats, that men actively seek to be better people, redefine their masculine raison d’être — for themselves if not anyone else — for we’d all benefit from it.
The search to define a healthy, constructive masculinity identity, in part, starts with Quranic principles, examples, Hadith and a holistic political understanding of intersectional feminism. These ideas and ideals are not contradictory but case studies to draw from.
A simple start would be to afford women humanity. What does it mean to afford someone humanity? Affording women respect as a human beings on no other basis such as their relationship to a man. Women have ownership of their own bodies. They are not the warded objects of fathers, brothers or husbands. Their fathers, brothers or husbands do certainly have a duty of responsibility towards them as loved ones, but not over them like chattel.
A simple start would be to afford women humanity. What does it mean to afford someone humanity? It means providing women with respect as human beings, period. Not based on their relationship to a man or otherwise. Women have ownership of their own bodies. They are not the warded objects of fathers, brothers or husbands.
Women are rational and emotional beings, as rationality for every human being is a result of emotion. Their decisions are their decisions. Their no’s are no’s, whether it’s a soft-spoken “no” or a loud and confident “no,” and whether or not it’s delivered with de-escalatory smile. This is something which men know in relation to themselves. Women are to be afforded compassion regardless of their proximity, similarity or reciprocity of attraction to you.
Should you be so lucky to have a woman be attracted to you, then her initiation of any interaction, her voluntary, ongoing and enthusiastic consent is not only imperative, but also affirmation and validation. What’s more encouraging than that?
Women are not inherently deceptive, conniving or irrational beings. Women are not feeble children nor demonic masterminds out to ruin lives. We are human. Each of us come with our own unique character traits and our own herstory. When we speak our truths, listen.
To believe in a woman’s humanity is to be accountable for your actions and conduct in your relations with women. To afford women a chance in asserting their rights is, as a man, to use your allowance to leverage change.
That means taking action against, for the most parts, your peers. As the patriarchy is not an intangible system with unidentifiable benefactors. The members include men, and upholding allies include some women. To stand in opposition to cultural norms, such as rape culture, means to intervene, interject, question, repair and sometimes end relationships.
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “By preventing him from oppressing others” [Sahih al-Bukhari 2444].
For Muslim men, my peers, my elders, my juniors, there’s an Islamic obligation to treat women in the ways I have mentioned previously. I most certainly am neither the first nor the last writer to take on this issue. The prophetic example mentioned by my colleague, Hasnaa Mohktar, who describes how the Prophet (ﷺ) participated in childrearing and household labour now associated and belittled as a solely with feminine domain by the Muslim community. That in itself is a testament to the toxicity and crisis of modern masculinity.
It would be unwise to end this article without address the realities of how Muslim men are perceived by the Western White Feminism. Muslims as a whole are a largely visible, racialized group. Orientalist myths about gender relations within the Orient are tightly wrapped within the fabric of Western popular culture. Muslim women and men are the Othered Bonnie and Clyde, or rather the Beauty and the Beast. Bigoted screenplays have Muslim men as violent, cruel, raging and sinister oppressors of their communities, while Muslim women are assumed helpless or gullible. It’s monstrous representation that does neither group justice.
What’s so incredibly frustrating is how conversation about oppressive patriarchal norms in the Muslim community are usually inhibited by fear of proving bigots right. However, it doesn’t change the fact that misogyny is exists ubiquitously, inside and outside of the Muslim community, in different forms and stages. Trust that Muslim women know what it is to be alienated at the hands of their own. Work with them, for them but not against them.