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Observing the Male Hijab in a Hypersexualized World

How many of us – both men and women – have actually taken the time to understand the male hijab?

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How many of us – both men and women – have actually taken the time to understand the male hijab?

Practicing the male ḥijāb is becoming increasingly difficult in a hypersexualized world. As much as a man wants to observe the male ḥijāb, the world tries to lead him away to values that are diametrically opposed to the value and spirit of the ḥijāb.

This article will attempt to shed some light and frank confessions about the challenges faced.

We will  covering the following points:

  • The definition of ḥijāb
  • The male ḥijāb and why it’s needed
  • The difficulties in implementing the male ḥijābin the west
  • What is hypersexualization?
  • How hypersexualization makes it difficult to observe the male ḥijāb
  • Working towards a solution

What is the Hijab?

The general meaning of the word ḥijāb is something that serves as a barrier or a covering. In Islamic thought, ḥijāb refers to modesty. It means to adorn (cover) oneself with both the clothing and the character traits that epouses modesty.

Islam has set forth a principle of physical (clothing related) ḥijāb for both women and men.

Specific to a woman, the hijab is wearing clothing that covers the entire body except the hands up to the wrist and the face, when in the presence of any man except her direct relatives (mahram): the husband, father, father’s brothers, mother’s brothers, grandfather, male sibling and biological son.

Anyone who is not listed above would be a woman’s non-mahram. The exact same rules apply to men for his female family members.

Specific to a man, the hijab is wearing clothing that covers everything from the navel to the knee.

Common to both a man and woman’s physical ḥijāb is that all clothing be loose and not transparent.

There is also a social ḥijāb that applies to both men and women. The social ḥijāb dictates how we should behave with non-mahrams. This includes lowering one’s gaze, not touching or being alone with them and not having any sexual relationship with them.

The Male Hijab and Why it’s Needed

Observing the male ḥijāb is becoming increasingly difficult for Muslim men living in the west.

The Islamic dress code for men isn’t as extensive as it is for women. By Islamic law, a man must cover what is between the navel and the knee, whilst a woman’s whole body is considered to be a private part and a source of beauty, therefore must be entirely covered.

Both genders are required to not wear transparent, tight or revealing clothing. The ḥijāb for men and women is also about having a certain mindset when it comes to interacting with the opposite gender (social ḥijāb) and a behavioral expectation.

The male ḥijāb is about viewing a woman as an equal and intellectual human being and behaving in that manner.

The human male knows this. Their intellect and God-given nature or fiṭrah pulls them towards good morals and behaviors, however, Islam helps a man formulate and understand how to practice it.

Whilst the primary qualities a spouse-searching woman looks for in a man could be (financial) security and confidence i.e. can he protect me? Men unanimously seek a woman for her beauty. Everything else comes after.

A man’s sexual attraction towards women is incredibly strong that, if left unchecked, it can (and has) wreaked havoc.

The prefrontal cortex of a human brain is responsible for rational thought and decision making. Research shows that exposure to sexually exciting material such as pornography erodes the prefrontal cortex’s ability to perform its job.

In essence, his ability to think rationally slowly turns off, which is Islam sets boundaries for him (and women).

Given the frontal lobe doesn’t fully form until 25 and that a man starts feeling attracted to women from the age of 13 onwards, it is further important to have boundaries with women.

When a man sees a woman he finds sexually attractive, the part of his brain responsible for logical and rational thinking turns off, which can lead to something ‘minor’ as gazing at her disrespectfully or wasting his time with fantasies all the way to sexual violence.

Humankind as a whole can only set boundaries to an extent, which is why Divine law swoops in to tell man exactly what he must do:

  • Lower his gaze
  • Not touch women, even platonically
  • Not be alone in confined spaces with women i.e. an elevator or a moving car where there is literal isolation with a woman
  • Not watching inappropriate videos
  • Not having women on his social media. Having even non-pornographic pictures of women on social media is harmful.
  • Not attending mixed gatherings where this a chance women could be dressed inappropriately.

And so on.

Islam stipulates preventative guidance i.e. don’t put yourself in a situation which leads to feelings of lust, however innocent your intentions are, because once the biological urges begin, they erode rational thinking.

The Difficulties in Implementing the Male Hijab in the West

Despite this guidance, the male ḥijāb is difficult to implement, especially in the West. If a man wants to adopt the male ḥijāb on a full-time basis, he has to be in constant self-surveillance – everywhere.

At home, he has to be careful with what he watches or scrolls through. If he’s alone, he needs to be careful where his thoughts wander. If he steps outside, he needs to be particular and intentional about where he looks.

Is it practical for a man to walk around everywhere with his head lowered? He can’t approach his female colleagues at work (whom he is required to work with) with his head lowered. In western culture that can be seen as a sign of rudeness and disrespect, and it’s generally awkward to be like that!

He finds his colleague sexually attractive, but has to look her in the eye when working together. In the summer, it gets worse for him. The same colleague starts wearing skirts and shorter clothes to work.

What does he do? Does he quit his job? How feasible is that? What’s not to say he won’t encounter the same problem in his next job?

This is only one scenario. There are thousands of other scenarios God-fearing men go into battle with. And the hypersexualization of society makes the issue a hundred times worse.

What is Hypersexualization?

Hypersexualization is a movement towards a society where everything and everyone is sexualized. It’s a concept that has touched every aspect of society, making it difficult to define it in a few sentences, which is why it’s better to identify it through its characteristics.

The hallmark of hypersexualization is the exaggeration of or focus on the sexual characteristics of individuals, groups or societal constructs. Here are some examples, exemplifying the range of hypersexualization:

  • Normalizing being promiscuous or having sex before marriage
  • Defining a woman’s worth based on how she looks and her ability to satisfy men sexually. For example, you will notice this on the front page of most women’s magazines. There will be a picture of a flawless, barbie-doll looking woman whose picture has been heavily edited and the main headline will be related to sex. It is an active suppression of the intellectual beauty of a woman.
  • Objectification of women. One example of this is how digital or print advertisments of the most mundane products, such as water bottles or pens will somehow feature a woman and have sexual undertones. Another example of objectification is in TV and films. Almost always, a female character’s sexuality will take the spotlight.
  • The ease of accessibility and normalization of porn. Porn is practically free of charge. Shockingly, exposure to porn can start from as young as five years of age.
  • Any trope that seeks to normalize and turn sex into a public act of two people satisfying their animal desires.

At the same time, hypersexualization actively devalues things once considered sacred. Things like maintaining your virginity until marriage and sex being a private act between two people who love each other is considered boring, and people who adopt that mindset are ridiculed and mocked.

Hypersexualization is like climate change in that it has been happening slowly over many decades and its damaging effects are now being realized and possibly too late.

How Hypersexualization Makes it Difficult to Observe the Male Hijab

The answer is pretty obvious.

Observing the male ḥijāb before the era of hypersexualization would have been difficult, so how about now, when sex is literally thrown in their faces?

The free and easy access to porn has totally destroyed a man’s sexuality and his perception of women – but porn is, unfortunately, only part of the problem.

It’s the fact that sexualization happens at every touchpoint of a man’s life. From the advertisments he sees and the things he watches and consumes and all the sexual tropes and themes that slowly influence him to the point where he is at conflict with what society wants him to do versus Islam.

He goes through life constantly battling between the two, inevitably having to make compromises or, worse, lean into hypersexualization and let it overtake him.

With almost constant exposure to hypersexualization, the man begins to see women as mere sexual objects and his own worth depends on how many of these women he is able to form sexual relationships with.

Porn and masturbation becomes OK to consume because everyone’s doing it and ‘science’ says it’s healthy. If he’s 25 years old and still a virgin, something is wrong with him. If he can’t get married, he needs to find a girlfriend to show everyone he is sexually active and in a relationship and not a “loner virgin”.

The subconscious effects of hypersexualization on (Muslim) women directly affect the man as well.

Women feel that to be valued they need to dress, look and behave a certain way (a way that is diametrically opposed to Islamic ideals).

Muslim men are confronted with women who have innocently fallen prey to hypersexualization. The dynamics of a man and woman’s relationship at work or anywhere else changes. Both genders conform to the perverted ideals of society, to some extent.

The problem runs deep but with Islam there is a solution. Islam being the final version of God’s one religion dictates it has an answer to all the problems civilization will face up until the Day of Judgement.

Here are some solutions Islam offers.

Developing a Better Understanding of Allah (swt)

Generic recommendations like ‘read Qurʾān’, ‘make duʿāʾ’ or ‘fast’ have limited effects. There are a few things about Allah (swt) that western male audiences need to be reminded of. These are the following.

Allah (swt) is Deliberate with Everything He Does

The dilemmas you face in life, the place where you end up working (and subsequent challenges you are up against) are not random. Allah (swt) willed them to develop your character and to allow you to rise through the spiritual ranks.

“Allah (swt) does not burden a soul, beyond what it can bear.”

You are strategically placed where you are for a divine purpose.

Keeping this in mind can renew our resolve.

Allah (swt) Judges Based on an Individual’s Circumstances

“Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct…”

Allah (swt) does not judge equally, he judges with justice, based on an individual’s circumstances. For example, He will not judge the amount of charity a rich person gave with the same barometer as the amount a poor person gave. Each person is judged in accordance with their capacity.

Similarly, if you are surrounded by hypersexualization, His judgment on how you dealt with it won’t be at the same level he judges someone who did not face hypersexualization. As long as you did your utmost best, Allah (swt) will overlook faults.

Remind Yourself of Allah’s Mercy

Allah (swt) forgives all sins. Your job is to repent and make a sincere intention to not commit any sin you fall prey to as a result of hypersexualization. If you do repeat the sin, repent once again and renew your resolve. Keep doing this because Allah (swt) is the Oft-Forgiving and All-Merciful. He is not there waiting for you to slip up so He can punish you!

In this regard, Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) has said: Repentance causes [Divine] mercy to descend.

Stop Feeling Guilty About the Wrong Things

Many men fall into the trap of feeling guilty about being attracted to women. This weighs heavily on them and reduces their will power and morale.

Having an attraction to women is a blessing of Allah (swt). It allows you to enjoy the pleasure of sex, which Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (ʿa) has described as the greatest possible worldly pleasure), the fulfillment of having a life partner and the happiness of starting a family and having children.

The attraction is there to be acted upon in the right context. All you need to do is regulate it and not feel guilty about having it.

Reinterpreting Islamic Law

Going beyond what man can do on an individual level, there is an argument for understanding Islamic law (and by extension the Qurʾān and ḥadīth literature) to accommodate the challenges present today.

In this regard, Āyatullāh Sīstānī [may Allah (swt) prolong his life] has made strides in the right direction with his manual for Muslims living in the West.

Our esteemed grand Āyatullāhs issued new rulings based on the challenges of the time. Āyatullāh Makarim Shirazi [may Allah (swt) prolong his life] tackled the challenge of a Muslim eating the food of non-Muslims by issuing a ruling that a Muslim can eat any halal food or vegetarian food made by non-Muslims if they live in a Muslim minority country. He, however, maintains that in a Muslim majority country, one must avoid food made by non-Muslims (as it would be easy to do so).

Issuing rules based on the challenges of the time would remove some of the pressure from Muslim men and women.

Having Open Discussions at Home

A part of a parent’s duty is to get their child ready for the real world. Father’s need to have frank, open and blunt conversations with their sons on what they face when they leave their bubble and go out into the real world.

Encourage children to speak to their parents about any issues they encounter and work towards resolving them. Taboos and stigma associated with such topics need to be uprooted.

As a parent, it can be daunting to talk to your child about topics like sex, porn and feelings. However, it is important to have these conversations in order to help guide them through the process of making sense of what’s going on.

As easy as it is to get angry or scared (which sometimes results in anger) at your child feeling certain things, try to talk openly with your child while validating their feelings and empathizing with their experiences.

Additionally, having regular check-ins without judgment or fear will give them a safe space to ask questions and express any worries they may have.

Having Open Discussions at the Mosque

The majlis or religious gathering might not be the ideal platform to have such discussions but our mosques can make strides towards organizing workshops, camps and getaways that are dedicated to addressing current problems.

These can be fed into the higher offices and eventually reach our religious authority (marājiʿ) who can develop solutions for them grounded in the principles of the Qurʾān and the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) – stopping people from finding their own ‘solutions’, which might be damaging in the long-run.

Make Marriage Easy

Being in a loving and committed relationship grounds men and helps them establish the necessary boundaries at work and elsewhere. Having love for someone else and being responsible to them helps a man stay disciplined. Communities should work towards making marriage as easy as possible.

At the individual household level, parents should encourage their children to get married young and support them as newlyweds. Unfortunately, Muslims in the west have been secularized in this respect – that a person cannot get married until they finish their degree or find a job. There’s no Islamic basis for this.

Make the Changes you can Make

Earlier, we mentioned it’s not always possible to simply leave a job. But if there are convenient and easy changes you can make, implement them as soon as possible. Even if it’s as small as changing where you sit.

As we can see, the harmful effects of hypersexualization are a real problem that many Muslim men are facing on a daily basis. To work towards a solution, we have to admit these problems exist, create a space for open dialogue where there is an exchange of ideas and solutions.

We might not have the answer yet, but through conversation, we can make progress.

This article was originally published on Kisa Family, found here.


References

  1. 2:286
  2. 16:90
  3. Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #1202
  4. Wasāʾil ash-Shīʿah, Vol. 20, P. 23, Ḥadīth #24929
  5. See fatwa
  6. One must refer to the ruling of the marjaʿ taqlīd or religious authority whom they follow for details on this issue.

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