Written by Theresa Corbin and originally posted on Aljumuah.com
You are fitna! If you’re a Muslim woman, it’s likely that you have heard this a thousand times. You might have even been convinced that your own existence is somehow bad or the cause of evil or misguidance (which is essentially what fitna means).
“Women are Fitna” has unfortunately turned into a blanket statement and a kind of religious manipulation to keep women from participating in, well, pretty much everything including their own lives.
Much of what Muslim women face in terms of oppression is because many misunderstand the meaning of one particular ḥadîth (a saying of the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]):
I have not left behind me any fitna more harmful to men than women. (Bukhâri)
And this misinterpretation plays out in very real and destructive ways in Muslim women’s lives.
Fitna in Driving?
Maha Salman recalls a trip to her husband’s country, where she was unaware of cultural standards. She ended up feeling traumatized after being told she had caused fitna. Salman says, “While I was visiting with my family, I needed to get something out of the car.
I put on my outer garments, grabbed the keys, and went to the parking garage. As I approached the car with car keys in hand, one of the [morality police] started running toward me yelling fitna and something else in Arabic that I didn’t understand.”
While disallowing women to drive is seen in few countries, it is still based on the “religious” assumption that women driving, in their particular local context, will lead to fitna, or a door to sin, in many ways. Yet we know that in the Prophet’s time his wives rode camels, the modern equivalent to driving. The Prophet œ said:
The best women among the camel riders are the righteous women of the Quraysh. (Bukhâri)
Fitna in the Mosque?
Tayiba Haqq remembers a time when she was made to feel less than human when she was refused entrance in a masjid in the U.S. She recalls, “We [she and her husband] were out and time for prayer came. So we looked for a place to pray and found a masjid.
When I went to go pray, a big man came out and told me I wasn’t allowed to come in, even though I was fully covered and only my hands, feet, and face were showing. He welcomed my husband in but refused me. I had to pray out in the parking lot. And I am an old woman. I felt so disrespected.”
Haqq’s experience is not atypical. According to the blogger known as Woodturtle, “People are told that it [preventing women from entering the mosque] is because women beautify themselves when going out, and cause fitna or religious strife in the community […].” [i]
However, having little space for women, and even disallowing women to enter the masjid because of some perceived fitna, flies in the face of the saying of the Prophet (PBUH):
Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from going to the mosque. (Abû Dâwûd)
Fitna in Public Spaces?
Shahnaz Iqbal was excited to move to Egypt when she heard her husband wanted to return to his homeland. But what she found when she arrived was that she was seen only as a target. She says, “I never wanted to leave the house, you know. I felt anxiety all the times.
Men’s eyes were always on me, or men would start following me, saying disturbing things. My husband said that they [the men who were harassing her] think they can get away with it because they think all women are fitna and deserve to be harassed if they come out of the home.”
Many women suffer from this kind of treatment in public in majority Muslim countries even when wearing proper hijab. [ii] Men feel the right to mistreat women in this way, claiming that women cause fitna for them.
This is the unfortunate and predominant attitude toward women even though the Quran puts equal responsibility on men to maintain appropriate conduct:
Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.). That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do. [Sûrat Al-Nûr 24:30]
The term “fitna” is often used as a weapon against women, a way to silence us, to afford minimal space for us, keep us out of the public sphere, financially dependent, and hidden. But can this interpretation really be the intentions of the ḥadîth in question?
Would our Prophet (PBUH), who sought counsel from women, who encouraged his wife to be taught the healing arts, who deeply loved a businesswoman, and encouraged women in all areas of life, really want this saying of his to be used in a way that oppresses women?
To understand what the real fitna is, continue reading here on Aljumuah.com
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