In the sacred construction of reality, Islam identifies the domestic field as the space of sexuality. Sexuality is removed from other spaces and confined, localized, and established in the domestic field. Outside of this field, sexuality is illicit. Only domestic sexuality is licit, and domestic sexuality (as it is interpreted by the Muslim cultural order) is a sexuality castrated of the two components of human sexuality: desire and reproduction. If castration is »the operation by which an individual, male or female, is deprived of the capacity of self-reproduction« (Petit Robert), then the Muslim domestication of sexuality precisely institutionalizes the castration of the capacity to give birth and the capacity for desire. But this double castration is planned and actualized in different ways according to sex. While the castration of the capacity to give birth, although it sterilizes both mar: and woman, is carried out on the female body, the castration of the capacity for desire is carried out on the male body, as we will see below. In both cases, the mutilations suffered by the body of one of them have immediate and mutilating repercussions on the other.
It is in the process of castration that there emerges a phenomenon that the Muslim order tries to negate: the sameness of male and female. The whole Muslim order, as a construction of reality, is directed toward liquidating the identity, the similarity of female and male. Setting up differences between the two is one of the pillars of the hierarchy.
It is obvious that a man resembles a woman much more than he does a god. One could say that Muslim reality as an interpretation of the concrete world is a universal strategy for negating the existence of the human couple. In the two operations of castration that we are going to analyze, it is the couple that is negated in both instances; and the couple's most important manifestations, which are also the strongest links binding male and female (the capacity for desire and for giving birth), are meticulously excised and offered as a sacrifice to the invisible being without material existence — the divine.
Castration of the female body of its Capacity for Reproduction:
the negative Attitude of Islam toward the Conjugal Familie
We have seen that the paradisal female ideal, the houri, is an eternally virgin woman, without a uterus. In Muslim reality, the earthly woman is also deprived of a uterus; she is incapable of giving life; it is God who gives life, not woman.
Reproduction as the Foundation of the Divine
Power to Program the Universe: The Negative Attitude of Islam toward Children
It is God who creates the human being; woman is only the passive receptacle:
- 49. Unto Allah belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. He createth what He will. He bestoweth female (offspring) upon whom He will, and bestoweth male (offspring) upon whom He will;
- 50. Or He mingleth them, males and females, and He maketh barren whom He will. Lo! He is Knower, Powerful. (Surah XLII, »Counsel,« p. 645)
- 11. Allah created you from dust, then from a little fluid, then He made you pairs (the male and female). No female beareth or bringeth forth save with His knowledge. . . . (Surah XXXV, »The Angels,« p. 572)
- 20. Did We not create you from a base fluid
- 21. Which We laid up in a safe abode
- 22. For a known term?
- 23. Thus We arranged. How excellent is Our arranging! (Surah LXXVII, »The Emissaries,« p. 784)
- 47. Unto Him is referred (all) knowledge of the Hour. And no fruits burst forth from their sheaths, and no female carrieth or bringeth forth but with His knowledge. . . . (Surah XLI, »Fussilat,« p. 635)
- 5. . . And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength. . .
(Surah XXII, »The Pilgrimage,« p. 432)
By robbing woman of the giving of life and reducing her to a mere passive envelope in the creation process, God is confronted with the problem of sexual duality: how to retrieve the couple and how to re-create it. It will be reconstituted, but after having undergone a metamorphosis that negates the attribute of femaleness, the capacity to give birth. In sacred reality, it is man who gives birth to woman. The couple is reconstituted, not by fecundation, that is, sexual reproduction, but by parthenogenesis, asexual reproduction. Woman conies out of man. There is scission, not union:
36. Thinketh man that he is to be left aimless?
37. Was he not a drop of fluid which gushed forth?
38. Then he became a clot; then (Allah) shaped and fashioned
39. And made of him a pair, the male and female.
40. Is not He (Who doeth so) Able to bring the dead to life?
(Surah LXXV, »The Rising of the Dead,« p. 779)
In order for the Hereafter to exist, God must be able to give life to the dead And that is only possible if he takes away the giving of life on earth from woman. She gives birth to mortal earthly beings who have no development other than physical. The child born from the coupling of a man and a woman cannot be resurrected after death. For the mortal child, born of male/female union, to become a citizen of the sacred universe — that is, to become immortal — it is necessary to liquidate sexual reproduction. It is necessary to castrate woman of her capacity to give birth.
The Muslim woman is a special female; her biology does not obey the laws of the material world. Sacred biology depends on other laws and other principles. It is an inverted biology, where old women give birth as well as virgins and barren women. Abraham's wife is an example of a woman giving birth in old age:
- 71. And his wife, standing by, laughed when We gave her good tidings (of the birth) of Isaac, and, after Isaac, of Jacob.
- 72. She said: Oh, woe is me! Shall I bear a child when I am an old woman, and this my husband is an old man? Lo! this is a strange thing!
- 73. They said: Wonderest thou at the commandment of Allah? The mercy of Allah and His blessings be upon you, O people of the house! Lo! He is Owner of Praise, Owner of Glory!
(Surah XI, »Hud,« p. 294)
In the example of Mary, it is a virgin woman who gives birth. Sexual union as the creator of life is eliminated:
- 16. And make mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East,
- 17. And had chosen seclusion from them. Then we sent unto her Our Spirit and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man.
- 18. She said: Lo! I seek refuge in the Beneficent One from thee, if thou art God- fearing.
- 19. He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son.
- 20. She said: How can I have a son when no mortal hath touched me, neither have I been unchaste?
- 21. He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me. And (it will be) that We make of him a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained.
- 22. And she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place.
(Surah XIX, »Mary,« pp. 396-97)
The example of Zachariah gives us an instance in which a barren woman, married to an old and feeble man, will give birth by divine will:
- 2. A mention of the mercy of thy Lord unto His servant Zachariah.
- 3. When he cried unto his Lord a cry in secret,
- 4. Saying: My Lord! Lo! the bones of me wax feeble and my head is shining with grey hair, and I have never been unblest in my prayer to Thee, my Lord. 5. Lo! I fear my kinsfolk after me, since my wife is barren. Oh, give me from Thy presence a successor
- 6. Who shall inherit of me and inherit (also) of the house of Jacob. And make him, my Lord, acceptable (unto Thee).
- 7. (It was said unto him): O Zachariah! Lo! We bring thee tidings of a son whose name is John; We have given the same name to none before (him).
- 8. He said: My Lord! How can I have a son when my wife is barren and I have reached infirm old age?
- 9. He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me, even as I created thee before, when thou wast naught. (Surah XIX, »Mary,« pp. 395-96)
Thus sacred biology reverses the earthly order. The young woman who is of an age for procreation is barren, and the old woman is fertile. And when man nd woman mate in the sacred order, it is not their union that is the creative event, but the divine will. In the sacred universe the child becomes a commodity in the divine strategy of reward and punishment. The child, like other earthly riches, is bestowed upon the believer or denied to him according to divine will:
- 3. Lo! it is thy insulter (and not thou) who is without posterity.
(Surah CVIII, »Abundance,« p. 823)
Sacred fertility is not based on biology but on submission to the divine will. The believer who does not submit, who does not love God and his prophets, will be struck with sterility. The divine will declares itself to be firmly against the institution of the biological family (the man/woman/child triad). The Muslim God is a god who rejects having consort and child, seeing it as a degrading situation that detracts from his glory.
- 3. And (we believe) that He—exalted be the glory of our Lord!—hath taken neither wife nor son,
- 4. And that the foolish one among us used to speak concerning Allah an atrocious lie.
(Surah LXXII, »The Jinn,« p. 769)
- 101. The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child, when there is for Him no consort, when He created all things, and is Aware of all things?
(Surah VI, »Cattle,« p. 178)
And it is precisely because he neither begets nor is begotten that he is a superior being. Procreation circumscribes the being in a triple-sequence process: beginning, development, end — birth, life, death. The divine being in his temporal rhythm is infinite; he knows neither beginning nor end:
- Say: He is Allah, the One!
- Allah, the eternally Besought of all!
- He begetteth not nor was begotten.
- And there is none comparable unto Him.
(Surah CXII, »The Unity,« p. 825)
The negative attitude of the Muslim order toward children is expressed in several ways. The first is with regard to the child's access to Paradise, which is subject to certain conditions. The child's status in Paradise, like that of woman, is somewhat ambiguous. We have already noted that the ideal woman, the houri, is eternally virgin, and therefore incapable of giving children to the believer. Although children are in principle admitted to Paradise, it seems that this access (according to Surah LII, »The Mount") is not automatic and is matter of concern for fathers on earth. This access appears to be conditiona. upon the child having adopted the faith of the father, that is, the Muslim faith:
21. And they who believe and whose seed follow them in faith, We cause their seed to join them (there), and We deprive them of nought of their (life's) work. Every man is a pledge for that which he hath earned.
22. And We provide them with fruit and meat such as they desire.
23. There they pass from hand to hand a cup wherein is neither vanity nor cause of sin.
24. And there go round, waiting on them menservants of their own, as they were hidden pearls.
25. And some of them draw near unto others, questioning,
26. Saying: Lo! of old, when we were with our families, we were ever anxious;
27. But Allah hath been gracious unto us and hath preserved us from the torment of the breath of Fire.
(Surah LII, »The Mount,« pp. 696-97)
The believer's anxiety about the fate of his family is justified, in that the sacred sees a danger in the family and is actually in conflict with it. In the sacred universe, kinship allegiance does not necessarily coincide with divine allegiance. The Koran gives several examples of families broken up because of conflict between these two allegiances. One of these is the case of Lot, who was obliged to abandon his wife:
- 32. . . We are to deliver him and his household, all save his wife, who is of those who stay behind.
- 33. And when Our messengers came unto Lot, he was troubled upon their account, for he could not protect them; but they said: Fear not, nor grieve! Lo! we are to deliver thee and thy household, (all) save thy wife, who is of those who stay behind.
(Surah XXIX, »The Spider,« p. 524)
Another example is that of Abraham, who was obliged to disown his father:
- 114. The prayer of Abraham for the forgiveness of his father was only because of a promise he had promised him, but when it had become clear unto him that he (his father) was an enemy to Allah he (Abraham) disowned him. . . . (Surah IX, »Repentance,« pp. 260-61)
Another example is that of Noah, who was forced to abandon his son:
- 45. And Noah cried unto his Lord and said: My Lord! Lo! my son is of my household! Surely Thy promise is the Truth and Thou art the Most Just of Judges.
- 46. He said: O Noah! Lo! he is not of thy household; lo! he is of evil conduct, so ask not of Me that whereof thou hast no knowledge. I admonish thee lest thou be among the ignorant.
(Surah XI, »Hud,« p. 290)
The believers' anxiety about their families brings out one of the most bizarre characteristics of the sacred: a relentless and systematic hatred of the believer's family, especially a polarization of that hatred around the wife and children, identified as enemies of the system.
This animosity of the Muslim God toward the wife and child as a potential source of pleasure and thus of affective and emotional investment for the believer ultimately manifests itself in a phenomenon already mentioned: the reification of the wife and child and their reduction to the status of »wealth,« deprived of will, just like horses, gold, or other material objects.
The distinction between material wealth and human wealth (human agents), significant in the profane approach to concrete matters, is totally absent in the realm of the sacred. The same code that governs access to and consumption of material goods governs access to and »consumption« of human resources as objects of emotional and sexual enjoyment. Economics and sexuality are indissociable in the sacred construction of reality.
For the sacred order to exist, the female element (along with the child as a manifestation of it) has to be liquidated, because it is the incarnation of the finite, the mortal.
It is interesting to note that parallel to the ideological liquidation of the female element in Islam as a new discourse, this element was at the same time eliminated from the historical world. The pre-Islamic Arab goddesses had to be destroyed to make possible the assertion in heaven and on earth of the domination of the male element — that is, monotheism or the reign of the abstract.
The Historical Liquidation of the Female Element:
The Destruction of the Arab Goddesses
When the prophet Muhammad, the messenger of Allah, began his mission, not only was the Arab heaven occupied by various male gods, but a considerable part of that heaven was controlled by goddesses. In Ibn al-Qalbi's work, The Book of Idols, which is one of the key documents on the pre-Islamic religions, the three goddesses, Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Al-Manat, are identified as having a special importance in the Arab pantheon of the seventh century. Al-Uzza, according to him, »was the most important idol among the Quraysh. They performed pilgrimages to her, gave offerings to her, and sought reconciliation with her through sacrifices.« According to Ibn al-Qalbi, she was respected by all the Arabs. Her cult extended throughout Arabia as far as Mesopotamia. Goddess of the Quraysh, the tribe from which the prophet of Islam was to appear, her cult enjoyed a privileged importance, precisely because of its link to the hegemony of the Quraysh in the fifth and sixth centuries and their control of the caravan routes. Her hold on the popular imagination is supposed to have been deep-seated: »She was mother earth, the counterpart of Demeter, controlling fecundity and the phenomena of generation.«
Al-Uzza was not alone. She occupied a prominent place, but she was not the sole incarnation of female divinity. Two other goddesses, Al-Manat and Al-Lat, also enjoyed particular prominence: the first with the tribe of the Aws and Hazraj, and the second with the tribe of the Taqif. Like Al-Uzza, their cults were not limited to one tribe, but were spread throughout all of Arabia.
The cult of the goddesses presented a thorny problem for the messenger of Allah. He would not be able to monopolize power and establish the bases of the monotheistic religion unless these three goddesses were not only discredited but destroyed. Goddesses of fecundity, of generation, of sexual reproduction, they had to be liquidated if Allah and Islam were to triumph. This liquidation was carried out in two ways: ideologically, through discourse; and concretely, through the physical destruction of the sanctuaries of these goddesses.
Ideologically, the attack against the three goddesses was to be carried out on the level of the word. The divine, as the power to baptize, to rewrite reality, and to give names to the world, to beings, and things, impugned the three Arab goddesses by reducing them to mere words without content:
19. Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-Uzza
20. And Manat, the third, the other?
21. Are yours the males and His the females?
22. That indeed were an unfair division!
23. They are but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers, for which Allah hath revealed no warrant. . . . (Surah LIII, »The Star,« p. 700)
Al-Lat, Al-Manat, and Al-Uzza had to become names without power, for, from that time onward, the power of words would come from God, from Allah. In order for Allah to be able to monopolize the power of giving names to the universe, that is, creating it by and through discourse, he had to succeed in cutting the umbilical cord with the goddess — mother or daughter. And the confusion in the minds of the Arabs, among whom Muhammad preached the new religion, came precisely from the fact that they did not understand very well how a god could appear from nowhere without being linked in some way or other to a woman in a relationship of »generation.« In their minds the three goddesses became the daughters of Allah, and Allah was going to have a lot of difficulty getting rid of these offspring bestowed on him by the Arab tribes. The recalcitrant Arabs called the three goddesses »Banat Allah,« daughters of Allah. But God protested strongly against being given any such progeny:
- 39. Or hath He daughters whereas ye have sons? (Surah LII, »The Mount,« p. 698)
- 15. And they allot to Him a portion of His bondmen! Lo! man is verily a mere ingrate.
- 16. Or chooseth He daughters of that He hath created, and Honoureth He you with sons?
(Ssurah XLIII, »Ornaments of Gold,« p. 647)
- 57. And they assign unto Allah daughters — Be He glorified! — and unto themselves what thev desire;
(Surah XVI, »The Bee,« p. 351)
The confusion was troubling and concerned a very crucial point for the existence of the divine, namely, the liquidation of the female element along with sexual reproduction. In addition to the verbal destruction of the goddesses, it was necessary to proceed to their physical destruction. Manat's sanctuary was destroyed in the year eight of the Hegira:
The Quraysh and all the Arabs continued to respect her. It went on like this until the prophet (may God's blessing and peace be with him) left Medina in the year eight of the Hegira, which was the year in which Allah assured him success. When he was four or five nights distant from Medina, he sent to her (Manat) Ali, who destroyed her and expropriated all she possessed.
Al-Lat received the same treatment after the tribe of Ta'if became Muslim. Al-Mugira Ibn Su'ba destroyed and burned her sanctuary. Al-Uzza suffered the same fate. According to Ibn al-Qalbi:
Al-Uzza continued in this way [that is, being worshipped] until Allah sent his prophet (may God's blessing and peace be with him). The latter discredited her, as well as the other idols, and counselled them [the people] to stop worshipping her. Finally, the Koran settled the question.
Khalid Ibn al-Walid, to whom the prophet entrusted the mission of destroying her, had to make several attempts to carry it out. He had to get up courage to confront the goddess in the form of »an Abyssinian woman with disheveled hair, who put her hands on his shoulders and gnashed her teeth. . . . With a single blow Khalid cracked open her head, and she was forthwith turned into a cinder.« When Khalid Ibn al-Walid reported the incident to him, the prophet, who had been supervising the work of destruction, spoke the final word: »That's the end of Al-Uzza! After her there will be no more Al-Uzzas for the Arabs. For certain, she will no longer be worshipped after this day.
Robbing woman of her reproductive power required the destruction of those on high who incarnated fecundity. The physical and verbal liquidation of the goddesses was an absolute necessity. One aspect of this liquidation is the metamorphosis of the sexual act, the most intimate relationship between man and woman, into an »operation a trois« involving man, woman, and God, with the last occupying the central position.
Metamorphosis of the Sexual Act into
an Operation a Trois: Appropriation of Orgasm by the Muslim God
The licit sexual act in Islam is not a sexual act between a man and a woman, but a sexual act that sets up a relationship between three beings: man, woman, and God. According to Bukhari, man must, at the moment of orgasm, pronounce the name of God. He explains the necessity for invoking the divine, at a moment when reason is faltering, by citing the presence of a fourth being, the devil (but we will soon see that in fact the devil is woman's double):
The prophet said: Lo! If one of you, wanting to have intercourse with his wife, says, »In the name of God, keep the devil away from me, keep the devil away from the fruit of our union,« and if then, fate or predestination causes a child to be born of these relations, the devil can never harm that child.
Ghazzali goes a little further in his Book of Good Practices as Regards Marriage, advising that God be invoked not only at the moment of orgasm, but also at the beginning of the sexual act. He counsels the believer to prepare for committing himself to the arms of a woman by reciting some rather long, complicated prayers requiring a presence of mind, which, to say the least, is prejudicial to the concentration on the female body that such an act requires. Regarding good practices in intimate relations between spouses, he has this to say:
It is recommended that the husband begin by invoking the name of God and reciting Surah CXI I, Verse 1 (»Say: He is Allah, the One!«), then the takbir and the tahlil, and finally that he say: »In the name of God, the most High and the most Mighty, O God, see that it be a good posterity if thou hast decided to make one from my loins.« The prophet (blessings on him) has said: »When one among you is going to know his wife, let him say: »O God, keep Satan away from me and keep Satan away from that which thou bestoweth on me as posterity.« If then they beget a child, Satan will cause them no harm.«
When ejaculation is near, it is advisable to recite silently without moving the lips these words: »Praise be to God, who created man from (a drop of] water,« etc. (Surah XXV, Verse 54).
Moreover, Ghazzali reports as an edifying example the case of a pious man who prayed so fervently at the moment of orgasm that his voice reverberated throughout the whole house. Ghazzali also advises the believer to avoid facing Mecca during the sexual act »out of respect for the Kaaba,« as if the sexual act were against God and his sanctuary.
Like reproduction, it seems that the sexual act constituted a crisis situation for the Muslim God, a situation that he had to take over. He had to divert the believer's attention from the female body. He had to liquidate the body at hand, which offered pleasure and a child to man, and make present the absent — the God who could offer in concrete reality neither the one nor the other.
At least two institutions of the Muslim family can be viewed as attempts to disinvest the female body of the affective charge of desire and interest that man risks placing in it, repudiation and polygyny. These are mechanisms for the dissipation of man's affective investment in woman. They constitute a negation of the couple as the basic unit of the Muslim family. The multiplicity of sexual partners that the Muslim family officially and institutionally puts at the disposal of the husband, whether through polygyny (up to four wives at a time) or through serial unions (repudiation permits the husband to dissolve a marriage verballv and unilaterally simply by pronouncing the words »You are repudiated«) encourages the husband to make little emotional investment in a single woman, but rather to scatter his affective and emotional capacities.
The multiplicity of sexual partners for man is epitomized by the presence of the houri in paradisal space. She renders the presence of the earthly woman in Paradise (the ideal Muslim society) not only awkward, but seriously redundant, even superfluous. It is interesting to note that even the houri, however beautiful and perfect she is, does not escape the danger of multiplicity.
The descriptions of paradisal space quoted above leave a certain ambiguity- regarding the number of houris due each believer. Does each have the right to only one houri or rather to several? If the Koran is amibiguous on this point, other texts are less so.
In the Sahih, Bukhari states that each believer has the right to two wives. Al-Sindi, the commentator on Bukhari's text, finds fault with this statement, calling it an error. According to him, »the believer has the right to seventy-three wives, or something like that, and only God knows how many.«
Paradoxically Paradise, conceived as the male space par excellence, is invaded and physically occupied by the female element in the form of the houris. Certain descriptions of the demographic disequilibrium of Paradise, especially those attributed to Al-Suyuti and Imam Ibn al-Qadi, have the ring of delirium. When the believers reach the gates of Paradise, they are greeted by houris, each of whom holds a Koran; each houri steps forward and embraces her believer, declares her love for him, and retires with him to her house: »And in the house there are seventy beds. On each bed there are seventy cushions, and on each cushion a houri dressed in seventy gowns.«
The believer, who has just received a declaration of love from a houri eternally virginal, young, and beautiful, finds himself in her house literally swamped by 4,900 additional houris.
It is interesting to note that in the religious literature demographic dis- equilibrium in favor of the weaker sex — that is, a space taken over by women — is often tied to the images of hell and the end of the world.
The Prophet is supposed to have said, according to a hadith in Bukhari's Sahih:
I was standing at the gate to Paradise. Most of those who entered were poor people, while the well-to-do were detained at the entrance (for the squaring of their account), with the exception of those who deserved hell and who had already been taken there. I stood at the gate of hell. Most of those who entered there were women.
And again according to Bukhari, the Prophet is supposed to have mentioned an increase in the female population as a sign of the end of the world:
I heard the messenger of God say: Among the precursory signs of the last hour will be the disappearance of science and the growth of ignorance; adultery will be more frequent; more wine will be drunk; the number of men will diminish, and women will become so numerous that there will only be one man to provide for fifty women.
So we find, in a dizzying mirror effect, the absence of the couple and the multiplication of women around the believer (institutionalized by polygyny and repudiation) reflected in negative times and spaces like the end of the world and hell. It is necessary to understand how this ambiguous attitude toward the female as an encircling, swarming element is fostered by polygyny (as the basis of the order and happiness of the believer) and is identified at the same time as termination, destruction, and disorder (in the conceptions of the end of the world and hell). But this can only be done by situating it in its overall context — namely, the rewriting of desire in Muslim civilization, the substituting of one set of signs for another set.
Castration of the male body of its capacity to desire:
the phallus made fetish
We have already seen that the Muslim woman does not reproduce the race; it is God who creates the fetus and places it in her receptacle. In sterilizing woman, the Muslim God with the same stroke sterilized man. The child is not born of the sexual union of male believer and female believer. The child is born of the will of a third person, the divine person.
But castrating sexuality of its power to engender life leaves intact a dimension just as crucial — that of desire, of attraction to another body. Desire cuts man and woman off from the rest of the world and isolates them in their quest for orgasm. And orgasm is identified by the Muslim order as a sensation so strong, so enjoyable that it competes with the pleasures promised by God to the believer in Paradise:
But truth to say, there is in concupiscence (al-shahwa) still another manifestation of divine wisdom, independent of its role in giving posterity to man. Indeed, when one satisfies it, one feels a sensual delight which would be peerless if only it were lasting. It is a foretaste of the delights which await one in Paradise, for promising man a delight which he had not tasted would be ineffective.
And that is what makes it necessary for the divine to interfere here as well. The logic of sacred reality is that everything that brings pleasure on earth belongs to God. The divine is by definition monopolistic. The monotheistic God can only subjugate humans by controlling everything that brings them satisfaction, including their bodies; desire and the giving of life are two pleasures that are born of and take place through sexual union. The fury of the sacred order against the female body can only be explained by the fact that heterosexual union allies orgasm and procreation. Homosexual union, which is limited to orgasm, although forbidden by the Muslim order, is far from constituting a worry as major to the system as heterosexuality. One can only understand the fundamentally misogynistic attitude of the sacred by placing it within the power struggle that God, the abstract body, and woman, the concrete body, wage every day. The sacred can be interpreted ultimately as a homosexual experience. It is the attempt of the male principle at self-fertilization, if one regards the monotheistic God as a projection of earthly man. The sacred is, among other things, the fertilization of earthly man by the male principle erected into a divine (that is, abstract) body. It is this that produces the fundamental conflict between heterosexual union and the sacred, which in Islam is focalized around the conflict between reason and desire. Since it cannot prevent heterosexual union on earth without destroying the human race, the sacred will try to drain it of its human dimension, the affective dimension. Islam integrates sexuality by lopping off its human dimension, desire.
The Conflict between Reason and Desire
in the Muslim Order, or the Decapitation of Eros
Islam is the religion of reason. It is organized around the concept of the believer as a reasonable being capable of understanding and deciphering signs (al-ayat). To be Muslim is first of all to understand God's signs, to decipher the ayat:
- 73. Allah . . . showeth you His portents so that ye may understand. 164. [these] are signs (of Allah's Sovereignty) for people who have sense.
(Surah II, »The Cow,« p. B and p. 30)
Muslims are people who understand signs. In the Koran, understanding means using one's reason. Orthographically, the Arabic words for to understand and reason are indistinguishable.
This centering of Islam on reason ('aql) leads to defining under the broad rubric of »desire" (shahwa) everything that risks deflecting the believer's attention from his focal point, God, who is only accessible in and through the constan: exercise of reasoning. In order to illustrate this fundamental conflict of Muslim civilization, which opposes civilization not to sexuality but to desire (which is only a component of sexuality), we must skim through the treatises on love and/or women. We must look at some examples of the discourse of chivalry in our Muslim culture.
There is a tendency for those who compare sexuality in Christian and Muslim civilizations to succumb to hasty generalizations and especially to assert that Islam has a positive attitude toward sexuality. This is true of Abdalwahad Bouhdiba, who in his book, La sexualite en islam, never ceases congratulating himself as a Muslim on the positive attitude of his civilization toward sexuality. In fact, you have to be a man, and a man with a special political conception of woman and her place in society, to decode the Koranic message as a positive one regarding sexuality and women. Islam does not have a positive attitude toward sexualitv. It has a fundamentally negative attitude toward it, as we have seen up to now through the messages that it programs onto the female body. What distinguishes it is its sophistication in the matter. Sexuality is not posed as totally contrary to the order; it is posed as licit. But its most uncontrollable and versatile human element, that which is richest in possibilities — desire — is at the same time identified as the source and substance of the illicit. By connecting the licit (reason) and the illicit (desire) we are going to find the key relational schema that we identified in the preceding chapters — inversion-linkage. We will see that reason and desire are linked in a power relationship where the strengthening of one is inevitably accompanied by a weakening of the other. The achievement of equi- librium — that is, the triumph of reason — necessarily implies a constant struggle that is never finally resolved.
In the discourse of chivalry, which tries to develop a theory of love, reason ('aql) is identified at the outset as the instrument of faith, of divine love: »God has never been been worshipped by anything superior to reason.«
The same author carries this idea even further and makes reason the justification for and the prime quality of human existence: »Reason is the light of everything latent, beauty, of everything manifest; it is the foundation of order, the guide for the servant. Life has no meaning without it, and everything revolves around it.«
And he adds that a man's religion attains its fullness when his reason attains it also.
Once reason has been identified as the key faculty of human existence, the basis of religion, and the essence of order, we are going to see the emergence of desire as the negative pole of the universe, the incarnation of the forces of disorder. Desire is the opposite of the divine will:
Allah made desire the opposite (mudaddun) of the message that he entrusted to his prophet. For God, following one's desire is equivalent (muaqbilan) to forsaking the message of his prophets. God has thus divided people into two groups: those who follow inspiration (al-wahy) and those who follow desire (al-hawa). And this split is clear in various Koranic verses, like the one that says: »And if they answer thee not, then know that what they follow is their lusts.«
The verse that Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzia quotes is Verse 50 of Surah XXVIII, »The Story,« which clearly illustrates the fundamental opposition between God and desire: »And if they answer thee not, then know that what they follow is their lusts. And who goeth farther astray than he who followeth his lust without guidance from Allah. …«
It is around the Koranic verses concerning the conflict between God and desire that the theoreticians of the discourse of chivalry articulate their theory of love. The same author as above, relying on Koranic verses, poses the fundamental distinction in Muslim civilization, the distinction between human and animal. A man who pursues his desires renounces his civilized aspect and falls to the state of an animal:
God . . . compared those who pursued their lusts to the animals who were ugliest in form and concept. One time he compared them to dogs in a verse which reads: ». . . but he clung to the earth and followed his own lust. Therefore his likeness is as the likeness of a dog.« In another verse he compared them to asses: »As they were frightened asses fleeing from a lion." Finally, in other instances God transformed them into monkeys and pigs.
The author of Rawdat al-muhibbin (The Lovers' Garden), Ibn Qayyim al- Jawzia, explains the intrinsically polluting character of desire (al-hawa). If it touches science, it transforms it into bid'a (innovation) and thus into errant behavior (dalala); if it touches power and him who exercises it, it corrupts both and puts them in the service of injustice. And finally, if desire touches the leader of the Muslim community, it transforms him into a traitor to the cause of Islam, making him govern against its laws and instructions. For another writer, Imam Abd al-Rahman Ibn al-Jawzi, »there is no sleep deeper than inattention (al- ghafla), and no slavery more total than desire. And without deep inattention, desire can never triumph over you.« Reason and desire are connected in a power relationship, and any strengthening of one implies the weakening of the other. This inversion-linkage is the key relational schema that organizes the sacred universe and is condensed in the following formulations: »If desire triumphs, the capacity for discernment (al-rdi) disappears«; »The man who has the strongest will is he who triumphs over his desire.
Will (al-'azm) and discernment (al-rdi), which are aspects of reason, work together in the struggle against desire (al-hawa): »If reason governs, desire surrenders (salamahu al-hawa) and becomes its servant and slave. And if desire governs, reason becomes its prisoner. It submits to it.« According to Imam Ibn al-Jawzi, the struggle against desire was identified by the prophet as being the »great jihad,« the holy war, in contrast with the »smal1 jihad,« which is the physical war against the enemies of Islam. He who triumphs over his desires and masters them has the mental and physical strength of ten and takes his place in the scale of values above the mujahid, the warrior who conquers a whole godless town. The cardinal virtue in the Muslim system of values, muruwa, is loyalty to all that the system imposes as sacred and inviolable, especially the fulfillment of its duties, that is, strict and unfailing conformity of behavior to the divine will and its laws. And muruwa is regarded as imposing, among other duties, resistance to desire. The Prophet is supposed to have said that a man's strength »is not measured by his capacity to vanquish other men, but by his capacity to vanquish his own self (nafsahu).« Al-hawa, desire, is the source of all anomalies and abnormal developments (al-balaa'), and the struggle against desire is the sole way of checking them and reestablishing the norm, health.
Once al-hawa, a vague and general concept, has been established as the subversive pole of the Muslim order, the source of destruction, lack of reason, and abnormality, our writers are going to specifically identify it as being temp- tation in two indissociable forms: the devil and woman. We have seen that reason is regarded as the instrument of divine worship: »Nothing disarms Satan like a reasoning believer. » And the will of this reasoning believer, so incorruptible when face to face with Satan, crumbles when Satan allies himself with a woman: »When Satan despairs of someone, he tries to use women as intermediaries.« With Ibn al-Jawzi, the overlap is complete; female beauty is a manifestation of the devil: »Man's looking upon the beauty of women is one of the poisoned arrows of Iblis (the devil).«
According to the same author, Iblis is supposed to have said: »The surest arrow that I have, the one which never misses its victim, is woman.«
This identification of the desire/devil/woman triad is very clear in religious literature. But authors such as Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzia and Ibn al-Jawzi, who took upon themselves the task of explaining love, present this to the believer as a fact of the sacred system and not as a very carefully worked out theory of desire.
For Bukhari, whose aim in writing the Sahih was to establish the rigorous authenticity of the hadiths (the traditions attributed to the prophet), the identification of woman as the danger pole and the incarnation of disorder is plain. According to one of the hadiths: »The Prophet said: 'I will not leave after me any cause of trouble more fatal to man than women.«
Imam Muslim asserts the same thing in his Sahih. According to him, the prophet saw a woman in the street, hastened home and had sexual intercourse with his wife, Zaynab, and later joined his companions to whom he said: »Woman comes in the form of a Satan and she leaves in the form of a Satan. When one of you sees a woman, he must hasten to his own woman. By doing this, he regains his wits (yaruddu ma fi nafsihi).«
Imam Muslim comments on this hadith and explains that the prophet, by giving this advice and by comparing woman to the devil, is referring to desire and to the incitement to disorder represented by woman, who is for men »a constant temptation because of the pleasure she gives them, whether through a mere look or through all that concerns her.« He concluded by saying that she is compared to the devil because she incites to evil (al-sharr). Ghazzali, whose analytical approach has an admirable rigor, summarizes the identification of the diabolic with the female in a concise and clear expression: »When a man's penis is in erection, he loses a third of his reason. Others say that he loses a third of his religion.« And he explains this phenomenon by opposing reason to desire. According to him, erection is a test of man's will, which reduces it to nothing, for when desire flares up, reason cannot control it.
From this comes the necessity to control woman, to neutralize her as much as possible, for she is the unique concrete incarnation of desire. The devil, like God, has no physical existence. Mastering woman means mastering desire. Subjugating woman means the triumph of reason, the divine will, and order. Marriage, according to Ghazzali, is slavery (riqq). The supremacy of man over woman means the supremacy of reason over unreason. Ghazzali, so conscious of the equality of all persons before God as a principle of the Muslim order, decides on a limit to the logic of that principle: »The Prophet said: If I had to order one being to bow down before another, I would require woman to prostrate herself before her husband because of the magnitude of what she owes him.« For a man to obey a woman would be to reverse the order; it would be to install disorder, explains Ghazzali.
And it is the necessity to subjugate woman as the incarnation of desire, the necessity for the believer to dominate and master her that explains the fundamentally misogynistic attitude of Islam, which is very plain in legal Islam and especially in the Sahihs. Misogyny — contempt for women and discrimination against them — is a structural characteristic and a pivotal axis of the Muslim order; the reason/desire conflict overlays and polarizes a whole series of conflicts, each one as determining as the other:
The male principle represents:
The female principle represents
The relationship at the heart of each of these binomials is inversion-linkage, a power relationship in which equilibrium is only achieved by a constant struggle against the forces of disequilibrium. God, order, and reason are never permanent acquirements; they are only the outcome of constant struggles between opposing forces. This is what leads to the idea of equilibrium, which is fundamental in the perception of sacred time. In sacred time there is no such thing as process, an initial combination of elements that is transformed into a new combination, different from the initial combination but not necessarily opposed to it. In sacred time no change is possible without it resulting in disequilibrium. From among an array of possible combinations of opposing forces, God, reason, and order are only one potential result. But any attack on this precise combination, which alone represents »equilibrium,« can bring nothing but disequilibrium. From this comes the identification of change as bid'a, as errant behavior. This also makes it necessary for the believer to remain on the qui vive with the being with whom he shares the most profound intimacy possible in a licit context (ho- mosexuality being condemned as illicit):
In order for the equilibrium between reason and desire to be achievable during sexual relations, it is necessary, in addition to invoking the name of God before and during orgasm, to fetishize the female body, to liquidate desire, to excise the affective and the emotional in order to safeguard the intellect, the faculty of reasoning.
Paradoxically it is because woman is recognized as too important to man that the Muslim God obliges man (so that he can worship God without the shadow of a rival) to fetishize her, to reduce her to a mere heap of organs that can be brought to orgasm by conscious and deliberate manipulation. This is what produces the very special nature of eroticism in the orthodox discourse. It is an eroticism without desire, one that must destroy, or at least minimize, emotional investment and concentrate on investment in the body. The ideal sexual relationship must not be a relationship between a man and a woman, capable of mobilizing their affective, intellectual, and sensual resources in order to maximize the quality of the pleasure they can share. The ideal sexual relationship should be manipulation of the body as a synthesis of organs stripped of affective content and polarized around the genitals.
The Castrated Believer's Reward: The Phallus Made Fetish
Once desire as a component of sexual relations between a man and woman has been meticulously excised, the Muslim God goes on to encourage his doubly- castrated believer (we have seen that the believer does not reproduce either) to apply himself without restraint to that fetishized and fetishizing sexuality. The most perfect expression of this phenomenon is the famous Verse 223 of the Surah entitled »The Cow,« where the female vagina is depicted as a field and the penis as a working tool:
- 223. Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls. . . . (Surah II, »The Cow,« pp. 43-44)
Imam Muslim's Sahih (in an analysis adopted moreover by other Sahihs) explains the very special context of this verse. According to Imam Muslim, this verse came to clarify the doubt in people's minds about the positions for coitus permitted by Islam. He writes that the Jewish tribes believed that when a man took his wife from behind (it is carefully explained that penetration must be into the vagina and not the anus), the resulting child risked being cross-eyed. Other hadiths reported that this verse had come to solve the problem posed by inter- marriages between Muhammad's tribe, the Quraysh, and the Ansar tribe, the tribe of Medina, where the prophet was exiled after the Hegira. A woman of the Ansar, married to a Quraysh, is supposed to have refused to lend herself to the whims of her husband who wanted to make love from behind. She insisted that in her tribe the man could only make love to a woman lying on her side. The conflict became so heated that it was submitted to the prophet for decision. He replied by the verse under discussion and, according to Ibn Dawud, is supposed to have commented on it by explaining that a man can take his wife in any position whatever, »from the front, from behind, lying on the side.«
This verse epitomizes the result of a whole detailed programming of sexuality, drained of its affective dimension and reduced to organic manipulation, to simple bodily exercises in which the male sexual organ will be invested with an almost magical force. The Muslim man must be able to emulate and model himself on the standard of male vigor — the prophet Muhammad himself: »According to Anas, the Prophet in one single night visited his wives, and he had nine (at that time).« The best man of the Muslim nation is »he who has the most wives.« Hassan Ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet, who had a notorious tendency to increase the number of his marriages (he is credited with 200 wives), is supposed to have been particularly approved of, encouraged, and admired by the prophet.«
And it is here that we find one of the fundamental differences between the religious erotic discourse and the orthodox discourse. According to the religious erotic discourse, as we have seen in Part I of this book, the orgasmic capacity of the vagina is unlimited. By contrast the penis is presented as incapable of responding to it; man as a lover, as a sexual being, is presented as inferior to his partner in physical stamina and potency. In the orthodox discourse, on the contrary, we witness a magnifying of the power of the phallus. Man's sexual appetite is described as being unlimited, and the problem posed by the fuqahas (scholars of religious science) as a threat to Muslim marriage is the inability of the wife to respond to the sexual appetite of her vigorous husband. The premise behind the debates of the imams in the Sahihs and the Sunnas is that the sexual appetite of the believer is quite simply fabulous. Muslim marriage and family laws are organized around this belief. How to prevent this supersexed believer from illicitly fornicating is the question that preoccupies the Muslim legislator. How is the believer to be induced to be satisfied with licit relations? Polygyny and repudiation are justified as being the answers to this problem:
As for him, on the other hand, who is particularly assailed by that passion [carnal passion] and for whom one single woman is not enough to preserve chastity, to him it is recommended that he take other wives in addition to the first one, up to four in all. If God, through his will and grace, thus makes his life easy and he has a tranquil heart through them (it is well and good). If not, change is recommended to him. ... It is said that Hassan Ibn AH was a great one for marrying; he married, in all, more than two hundred wives; sometimes he took four at a time; sometimes he repudiated all of his wives at the same time and took others in their place. Muhammad (peace and blessings on him) said to Hassan: »You resemble me physically and morally.«
Since fornication is forbidden, the Muslim man must not only guard against it by increasing the number of legitimate wives, but also by changing them through repudiation as soon as he feels boredom creeping into his relationship with his partners.
So the problem is to make certain that this exceptionally powerful sexual appetite of the believer finds satisfaction within lawful limits. The fuqahas then are going to get into the details of the sexual act; it will be minutely spelled out.
There must be no unnecessary restraints to interfere with the prowess in bed of this supersexed believer. The imams unanimously affirmed that all positions were permitted with the exception of sodomy. And must man abstain from intercourse during menstruation? They answered this question in full detail, including what he should do if the wife refuses to make love. »Al-nushuz,« the refusal of the wife to engage in the sexual act, becomes a very serious crime: »The Prophet said: When a husband calls his wife to his bed and she refuses to come, the angels curse her until morning.«
And Tarmidi assures the wife who does not refuse her husband that »every wife who passes the night at the side of her satisfied husband is sure to go to Paradise.«
At no point in the orthodox discourse do the imams pose the opposite problem: the case of a wife who has an appetite that surpasses that of her husband and so remains sexually unsatisfied. In sacred reality, the sexual act is not an act between two equal beings. It is an act concerning only one person, the believer of the male sex; his physical satisfaction is the aim. The objective of Muslim family laws is to assure the believer's access to this pleasure, which must be strictly physical. The women, whose number he can increase within the framework of the law as much as he wants through repudiation and polygyny, are nothing but interchangeable fetishes. Their function is to permit him to achieve an orgasmic release as mechanical as possible in order to free him for the fundamental relationship — that with God. The function of marriage in Islam is clearly laid out by Ghazzali, who in his Revival of the Science of Religion elaborated the most brilliant theory of sexuality that can be found in the religious literature. For him, man's essential allegiance is to God; God is his raison d'etre. But in order for a man to be able to concentrate on God and worship him, he has to settle the problem of the physical tension of sexual excitement and do that in as summary a way as possible. Any psychic investment by him in sexual relations would be a very serious danger, for it would reverse the divine order, which demands that woman be inferior to man and be fixed at the level of a fetish, the merely physical:
The soul quickly tires of doing its duty because duty is against its nature. If one forces it to do what it is loath to do, it rebels. But if, now and then, the soul can find relaxation through a few pleasures, it is strengthened and becomes ready for work. It is in the familiar company of women that one finds that relaxation which chases away sadness and gives rest to the heart. It is desirable for pious souls to find refreshment through that which is permitted by religion.
Islam is not a construction of the universe whose objective is to permit the human being to actualize his potentialities. Its objective is to take some of a person's potentialities and from them fashion a believer, who is to be a being totally committed to obedience to and worship of a superior, abstract force: God. He is only fulfilled within that unequal relationship. Like woman, man's end is not in himself. He is only defined by relation to the need of another. Woman is defined by relation to the orgasmic need of the male believer. The believer is defined by relation to God's need to be worshipped.