Although not new, I have recently heard complains from Muslim women who are told that if they don’t dress appropriately [whatever the vague term means], they cannot expect men to behave properly or to respect them. This claim is both funny and enraging for many reasons.
First of all, how can respect be equated with clothing? Muslims are encouraged to respect everyone regardless of their looks. Respect comes from moral qualities, principles and values… not from simple pieces of clothing.
We are told that we must oversee men’s desires. According to this premise, the only object of a man’s desire is how women look like and the clothes they wear. Even when this could be true at some level, this statement has many connotations:
A) Men just care about a woman’s looks.
B) Men do not consider internal beauty, intelligence, manners, piety, etc….
C) Men, unlike women, need someone to control their sexual desires.
Is this true? Are men unable to control themselves? Are we still just pieces of ‘meat’?
While it is positive for people (both, women and men) to be modest, modesty is not only a matter of clothing. Modesty implies a behavior and an attitude that sometimes is misinterpreted as shyness and passiveness. To be modest is neither of these things; instead, it means to know our limitations, to recognize that we are all equal in the eyes of Allah except in terms of piety. Modesty requires us not to have a level of pride that blind our perceptions of reality. Modesty allows us to be beautiful beyond the physical.
Further, I find the idea problematic because Islam was sent down correct people’s bad habits. Has Islam failed in making men ‘civilized’ beings?
Even when some men wish to put all responsibility of their sexual desires on women, it is difficult to conceive that these men have so little self-control when one of the main practices of Islam is restraint and discipline. In addition, it is quite disturbing to think that some men see themselves as uncontrollable beings that are sexually aroused at the slightest look of a woman.
When it comes to religious practice, some men claim that they cannot focus on prayer because they cannot stop thinking about the fact that women (who are usually concealed behind glass in the mosque) are not dressed properly. What is more, some even claim that the announcements made about sisters-swimming weekends arouse them!
One must remember that as Aminah Assilmi mentions in the film Me & the Mosque… if people are really into spiritual connection with Allah, one should be able to see someone walked in a bikini and not feel aroused. It is all about personal responsibility, and ultimately self-respect. Why should men claim that they are like animals that require ‘meat’ to be covered, otherwise they will jump on it?
Finally, this statement implies two further things:
A) Women do not experience sexual desire (therefore men can wear and behave immodestly).
B) Men should be released of all moral and physical responsibility for their appetites. Thus, rape, abuse, harassment are women’s fault but not theirs.
It is commonly implied that since women have no sexual desires, men should not be concerned about being modest. The big news is that women do have sexual appetites but are usually called to suppress it. Why don’t we encourage men to do so, too? Modesty, discipline and self-control have been commanded to men and women alike. Moreover, we all have been required to take responsibility for our acts. There are forces outside our control, but we have control over our own reactions and actions. Hence… yes, one should be able to see someone on a bikini and have enough self-control to let it go. Allah has given us free-will and rational thinking, to be able to achieve this.
As far as clothing goes, the way women (or men) dress is between them and Allah. The rest of us should be beyond simple animal instincts and desires and recognize that even when we want to put the blame on others, Allah does not liberate us from our responsibilities.
It is not about what others cause us to do, it is about what we ultimate choose to do.