Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Crisis of Masculinity

In a time where feminism is a word used as both a badge of pride and an insult amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike, where female empowerment is not just an idealistic concept but a steadily growing reality, there are plenty of men who claim that the rise of feminism has led to a crisis of masculinity (or lack thereof).

Many Muslim men find themselves on the defensive against those they consider the “new aggressive breed” of Muslim women, and often attempt to respond by going on the offensive, assuming a “uber-manly” persona. Yet in trying to assert their own manliness, they may end up going to the unIslamic extreme of misogyny, adopting cultural ideals of manliness and attempting to aggressively dominate women.

We know that Islam has clearly laid out guidelines for gender roles, with certain traditional expectations as well as revolutionary concepts. Women are encouraged to be good wives and mothers; but they are also encouraged to be educated, intelligent, and active in their communities and society as a whole.

But what about men? Yes, men are qawwamoon over women, they are in positions of authority and meant to be leaders on both the domestic and public scale - but what are the qualities and characteristics that our society and cultures consider to be 'masculine' and praiseworthy? Are they, in fact, truly positive, or have they been so warped and twisted by external influences that they in fact contradict the spirit of masculinity exemplified in the Sunnah?

The truth is that the standards of masculinity in both Muslim and non-Muslim societies have truly done an injustice to men as a whole - while keeping in mind the various issues related to feminism and the focused agenda on empowering women whithout involving men along the way.

Examples of such unhealthy standards are the idea that men who weep, who show softness, tenderness, and compassion in any way are 'weak' and 'effeminate'; that men do not experience problems like depression or heartbreak (or at least do not show their emotions when experiencing those issues; that men whose sisters, daughters, or wives are visible or active in any way are not 'keeping them under control'; and sexist jokes that repeatedly present men as selfish, hypersexed, incompetent bumbling idiots who are unable to look after themselves, express empathy for their wives, or care for their own children.

All of these ideas are perpetuated in media and in society, presenting a bizarre and paradoxical image of what being a 'man' really means.
The logical question arises: What *are* Muslim men supposed to be like? What does it mean to be a Muslim man? How do we define masculinity in an Islamic sense?

The first, and obvious, answer is clear: the ultimate example of masculinity is none other than our beloved Prophet, the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). In his personality, his actions, and his entire life, he was the perfect example of the ideal human, the ideal Muslim, and the ideal man.

A glance at the male Companions of the Prophet (sallAllahy ‘alayhi wa sallam) reveals to us men of drastically varied personalities and talents: shy, gentle ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affan; fierce ‘Umar ibn Khattab; stern, wise Abu Bakr; poetic Hassan ibn Thaabit; and noble Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr (radhiAllah ‘anhum ajma’een).

Being around RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) taught them that true masculinity lay not in conforming to a cartoonish parody of an ideal, but in embodying excellence of character that emphasized spiritual health as well as contributed to psychological well-being, and the overall positive growth of their families and societies.

These men understood that it was not wrong for men to weep from sorrow, nor for them to be affectionate and easy-going with their wives, nor to admit their own imperfections or ignorance in certain matters - whether they were around men or around women. They understand that their position and authority as Qawwamoon came from being authentic human beings who weren't afraid to show their humanity - including to those who could perceive their honesty as weakness. Their confidence in themselves and their humility as human slaves of Allah combined to create and foster an environment where they were respected as true leaders, and to assure other men that there were many different ways to *be* a strong, masculine leader.

Unfortunately today, we see too many men today who do not understand - and do not live by - the true essence of masculinity, but rather, rely on a warped ideal of masculinity as a response to changes that they feel unable to handle with intelligence, emotional maturity, and a holistic understanding of the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), who was himself described as being 'more modest than a virgin girl' - which, I'm sure most of you will agree, does not seem at first to be a 'masculine' trait, and yet described the most perfect, most masculine man of all creation.

In short, it can be said that the only solution to the crisis of masculinity facing Muslim men who find themselves suddenly on par with women of equal intelligence and increasing influence is to remember that true masculinity, and the authority that accompanies it, comes not from clumsily trying to become a stereotype of a 'macho' man, but to hold themselves to a standard of emotional intelligence, authenticity, and Ihsaan (excellence).


1 comment:

abusajidah said...

I agree with Robert Bly's argument (Iron John) that men are challenged by a lack of modeling. Before the industrial revolution, boys would follow their father into the fields, the mines, the bazaar. They saw what men did.

Industrialism changed all that with men leaving home before their little boys woke up. Men come home late. Their sons have no idea where they were or what they did. The little boys spend all day at home with their mothers, or all day at school with teachers who are women.

That modeling void is filled with popular images of men either fighting or fornicating. After generations of this, when men feel powerless, we act on that conditioning to reestablish our equilibrium through sex or violence.

Sex and violence have their place, but there is more, as you assert in your piece. Getting back to a healthy understanding of masculinity involves men being together, a lot. It also, in my view, involves a nuanced understanding of institutional patriarchy as an essential substitute for the absent father.

Thanks for bringing up the topic. There's a lot to talk about.