Men, lower your gaze and stop judging women
One side effect of looking like a typical Muslim male is that people think they can share their hardships with me. And one of the most notable hardships that men in today's day and age suffer from has to be women, and their clothing.
The other day, I was on a rickshaw with a female friend who was wearing a collared fatua and trousers. On the way, when she got off the rickshaw to get something from a store, the rickshaw puller said to me in a tone of complaint, "What is she wearing!"
In these situations, I always feel like leading them on, so I asked, "What's wrong with what she's wearing?"
"I can see her body," he said.
"Why are you looking, then?" I asked. "Just don't look, problem solved."
I am often faced with these questions, and in reply I always tell them, "Listen, Allah first told men to practise restraint of the gaze and of sexual desire. After that, He spoke of women's clothing. The first responsibility is yours – the responsibility to avert your gaze. If you don't look, the problem is solved. Let women decide how they will answer to Allah for their clothing and for their actions. Even if a woman walks out without clothes on, men have not been given the right to look at her. Because Allah knows where the root of the problem lies, so He has asked men to control their gaze first. If you can manage your eyes, the rest will also be managed. Women will also be saved from trouble."
Yet, men in our society think it is their birthright to practise superiority over women, to tell them what to do, to use force against them, to dictate their thoughts and their behaviour. But is it really so?
I have had the opportunity to study Islam a fair bit, and that opportunity can lead to some discussions on the matter. Firstly, when it comes to husband and wife, the Holy Quran says, "They (your wives) are a clothing (covering) for you, and you too are a clothing (covering) for them." If one looks at the comparison, they can see that there is equality here – there is a matter of companionship. It speaks of equality in honour and respect. It means that in your family, your wife holds a place of honour equal to yours. For the sake of this honour, the two of you will, together, make decisions on family matters. You will have a mutual understanding, and make life plans together.
After that comes the matter of the fundamental rights of women, their right to education and justice. In reality, it is not the place of men to give them these rights. The state and society will provide that. It is not for men to determine whether women will be educated. It is not for men to determine women's rights. It is not for men to determine women's right to justice. All of these are women's birthrights.
Then we can come to the topic of women's authority in society, and in all aspects of womanhood. Men have no rights here. The Prophet (PBUH) discussed all matters of womanhood with his wives, not with men. This is because none other than women have authority over women. It is simply not possible. Yet, our men want to become authorities over this as well.
Are men solely responsible for providing for women? Of course not. In fact, the work here is divided. Some will work outdoors, some will work at home. Traditionally, men work outdoors and women at home, but if the opposite is true in certain households, nothing has been said to oppose that either. The Prophet (PBUH) himself married one such woman, who provided for him. In the moments when he was immersed in attaining his Prophethood, she managed the household and the outdoor work, all on her own. Therefore, men are not providing for women, they are only doing their share of the work. If he thinks himself powerful for doing his bit, then he uses his faith as an excuse to exercise his authority.
Our men tend to think they can decide on women's right to education, right to justice, and on their freedom of movement. But at the heart of religion, no such edicts exist. In fact, the Prophet (PBUH) had said of women's rights, that if a person raises their daughter well, they will have heaven. The person who raises two daughters will have heaven. Meaning they will have all the rights given to sons. This was said because it was a time when injustice against women was widespread.
There is a hadith from the Prophet (PBUH) that speaks of a bumpy road that a woman will travel on alone. So how can we presume to dictate a woman's right to movement, when this right is enshrined right here? It also says that it will be a time when men will become so well-behaved that women will not suffer from a lack of security. It seems to me like, if you adhere to religion properly, you cannot hold authority over anyone. On the contrary, you will become a person of equality, who does not project strength over others, but has empathy instead.
Recently, social media has been rife with discussions over women's clothing. After the incident at a train station in Narsingdi and the High Court's statement on the matter, some people congratulated the court. In reply, others came together at TSC to criticise this stance. In that gathering, some women wore clothing of their choice. Then, Facebook became another gathering of online abuse targeting these women, whereas the discussion could have ended where it started.
Do men actually have the right to decide what a woman can or cannot wear? If they do, why is it so? Who gave them that right? No one. Religion has set out some rules around clothing, but if someone does not follow them, then the responsibility for that falls solely on their shoulders. Yet, some men have presumed they have this authority and are now forcing their decisions on women. And if a woman does not abide by the standards of clothing chosen by these men, they have to face harassment, name-calling, and so much more.
My devout brothers, learn to take responsibility for your own gaze instead of blaming women. That will resolve most of the problems. Take responsibility for your own sins, stop policing others, and then you will not have any issues with what women are wearing.
If you still must discuss clothing, then maybe you can discuss the history and evolution of clothing in this region. Talk about the politics of clothing, how it can affect your place in society. Talk about how clothing can become a symbol of the beautiful and the ugly. Maybe that might give you some relief!
Translated by Azmin Azran.
Mir Hojaifa Al-Mamduh is a Masters graduate from the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at Dhaka University, who has also completed the Dawra-e-Hadith under the Qawmi Madrasa Education Board. He is the author of the book Bharotborsher Madrasa.