If asked that why does Islam consider love for women as a deadly enemy of civilization and a danger to the social order, Mernissi would answer that emotional investment or the focus of attention “should be devoted to Allah alone in the form of knowledge-seeking, meditation, and prayer.” This is what she describes as Ghazali’s view.1 In other words, Mernissi is saying that Islam, like Christianity, considers love for God and love for women as two antipathetic phenomena. However, to be fair to Mernissi, I must say that this is a misconception from which even a scholar like Ghazali is not immune.
Although I have already quoted in detail the Islamic view which believes that love for women is not inharmonious with spiritual way-faring, I intend to discuss this issue in the light of what Ghazali, with his Sufi tendencies, has to say.
In his discussions on marriage in Ihyau ‘Ulumi ‘d-Din, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali has a section on “Encouragement for marriage” (at-targhib fi ‘n-nikah). In this section he has quoted some saying of the Prophet about virtue of marriage. Then he has a section on “Discouragement from Marriage” (at-targhib ani ‘n-nikah). In this section apart from the sayings of some mystics (Sufis), Ghazali has quoted three hadith: two from the Prophet and one from Imam ‘Ali. Interestingly, the third hadith is not even relevant to the issue; it is more relevant to family planning -it talks about having fewer wives and children!
Moreover, all three ahadith are classified by the scholars of hadith as unreliable (da’if).2
Then Ghazali goes on to discuss about the “benefits and harms of marriage.” Before scrutinizing the ‘harms of marriage,’ I wish to comment on two ‘ahadith’ of the Prophet which Ghazali has quoted from his Sunni sources and which Mernissi has also used in her book.
- The first hadith is as follows:
- The Prophet said, “When the woman comes towards you, it is Satan who is approaching you. When one of you sees a woman and he feels attracted to her, he should hurry to his wife. With her, it would be the same as with the other one.”
- After quoting this hadith, Mernissi adds the comments of Imam Muslim that “She resembles Satan in his irresistible power over the individual.”
While discussing the issue of forgery or interpolation in hadith, our ‘ulama’ say that one source of forgery was the mystics and the so-called pious mullahs who imported various ideas of celibacy and monasticism from without Islam into the hadith literature. And since the evilness of woman is a main component of Christian monasticism, similar ideas also crept into the hadith literature -either in form of total forgery or in form of interpolation. When I read the above hadith, I suspected it to be an interpolation; especially its opening sentence. My suspicious was confirmed when I started to look for a similar hadith in the Shi’ah sources. The Shi’ah sources narrate a similar hadith as follows:
The Prophet said, “When one of you sees a beautiful woman, he should go to his wife. Because what is with her [i.e., wife] is same as what is with the other one.”4 The same hadith is also recorded with a slight difference: The Prophet said, “O Men! Verily the act of seeing [a beautiful woman] is from Satan, therefore whoever finds this inclination in him should go to his wife.”5
The hadith narrated from Sunni sources equates the woman to Satan, whereas in the Shi’ah sources there is no such implication at all. On the contrary, in the second version of the hadith found in the Shi’ah sources, it is the man’s sight which is related to the temptation by Satan! If we have to choose between the sources of the Prophet’s sunnah, then we have no choice but to accept the version given by the Imams of Ahlu ‘l-bayt, the family of the Prophet. After all, no one could have known the Prophet better than the Ahlu ‘l-bay. In our view, Imam Ghazali, Imam Muslim and Mernissi are all wrong in their attempt to equate woman with the Satan. The hadith they have quoted has been interpolated, most probably, by the mystics to encourage monasticism which they have imported from Christianity.
- The second hadith is as follows: The Prophet said, “Do not go to the women whose husbands are absent. Because Satan will get in your bodies as blood rushes through your flesh.”
First of all, I was not able to find a similar hadith in the Shi’ah sources. This, plus its content, casts doubt on the authenticity of the hadith. Secondly, the source of this hadith is Sahih at-Tirmidhi. And I am surprised how could Ghazali and Mernissi use this hadith while their source, Imam at-Tirmidhi, himself comments that “This is a strange hadith!” (haza hadithun gharib.) Thirdly, even if the hadith is accepted, it does not prove what Mernissi wants from it: “The married woman whose husband is absent is a particular threat to men.” Because the hadith equates the men, and not the women, with Satan. Actually, the women in this hadith emerge as the victim of men who have been overwhelmed by the Satan!
Now let us return to the work of Ghazali in which he is described the harms of marriage. Ghazali names three things as the harms of marriage and we shall discuss each of them separately:
The First Harm:
“The first and greatest harm [of marriage] is ‘the inability to gain lawful livelihood.’ This is something which is not easy for everyone especially during these time bearing in mind that livelihood is necessary. Therefore, the marriage will be a cause for obtaining the food by unlawful means, and in this is man’s perdition and also that of his family. Whereas a single person is free from these problems …”7
Then he goes on to quote the mystics on this issue whose statements are of no value to us unless they are based on Qur’an and the sunnah. They praise celibacy under the influence of monasticism which has been condemned by the Prophet and the Qur’an.
The logical conclusion of what Ghazali and other mystics say is that ‘if you are rich, it is okay to marry; but if you are poor, you should not marry otherwise you will end up seeking provision from unlawful means!’ This is totally rubbish and goes against the Qur’an which says, “Marry the spouseless among you … if they are poor, God will enrich them of His bounty.” (24:32) “Do not kill your children because of (fear of) poverty -We will provide for you and them.” (6:152) The Prophet said, “Whoever refrains from marriage because of fear of poverty, he has indeed thought badly of God.”8 I do not know how can a person gain spiritual upliftment by thinking negatively about God’s promise!
The second Harm:
“The inability [of men] to fulfill the wives’ rights, to forebear their [ill] manner and to bear patiently their annoyance.”9
What is Imam Ghazali saying? Does he mean that women in general are over-demanding, ill-mannered and a nuisance? Can he really base this view on the Qur’an and sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? I do not think so; and that is why we see that Ghazali has produced only the sayings of some mystics in support of his views. And it is obvious that this cannot be substantiated by the original Islamic sources.
The Third Harm:
“The wife and children will distract him from Allah and attract him towards seeking [the benefits of] this world and planning a good life for his children by accumulating more wealth … And whatever distracts a person from Allah -whether wife, wealth or children- is disastrous for him.”10
If what Ghazali says is true, then not only marriage, but children, friends, relatives and every material thing in this world must be labelled as ‘harmful’ to a Muslim because all these have the potential of distracting a person from God and the hereafter. Here Ghazali sounds more like St. Paul! And if it is true, then a Muslim should have nothing to do with this world, he should just confine himself to a cave in an isolated jungle or desert and pray to God! The absurdity of this idea from the Islamic point of view is obvious.
What Ghazali and other mystics say is not very much different from the monastic ideas of the Christian Church. And, incidentally, they suffered the same fate as the Christian monks. You have already read the comments of ‘Allamah Rizvi about the monks that “when the nature took its revenge, the monks and abbots cultivated the idea that they were representatives of Christ, and the nuns were given the titles of ‘brides of Christ.’ So with easy conscience they turned the monasteries into centres of sexual liberties.” Similarly, when nature took its revenge against the Sufis, in words of ‘Allamah Mutahhari, they started to “derive (sexual) pleasure in company of handsome persons and this work of their’s is considered as a journey towards Allah!”11
1. Beyond the Veil, P.45.
2. See the editor’s footnote in Ihya’, vol.2, p.101 and also in al-Kashani, Tahzibu ‘l-Ihya’, vol.3, p.57.
3. Ihya’, vol.2, p.110; Beyond the Veil, p.42.
4. Wasa’il, vol.14, p.72-73.
5. Ibid, p.73.
6. Ihya’, vol.2, p.110; Beyond the Veil, p.42.
7. Ihya’, vol.2, p.117.
8. Wasa’il, vol.14, p.24.
9. Ihya’, vol.2, p.118.
10. Ihya’, vol.2, p.119.
11. Aklaq-e Jinsi, p.67.
Adapted from: “Marriage & Morals in Islam” by: “Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi”