We know that in legal Islam it is man who provides for woman. For example, the Moroccan Family Law, promulgated in 1957, which has its source in Al- Muwatta of Malik Ibn Anas, states in Article 15: »Every person provides for his needs through his own resources, with the exception of the wife whose upkeep [nafaqa] is incumbent on her husband.«***98.11.2**
Is the providing of nafaqa, the explicit economic relationship that is the foundation of the relationship between the sexes and the pillar of the Muslim family, a relationship unique of its kind and not found in other spheres, or is it simply the reflection of a structural schema that organizes all relationships in the economic field? Verse 34 of Surah IV of the Koran teaches us that the superiority of men over women is justified by the fact that men provide women with nafaqa, the resources necessary to maintain human life. Is the link between the relationship of domination and consumption limited to the sexual relationship, or is it institutionalized in other spheres?
How do men, women, and children subsist in the Muslim order? Is access to riches, to subsistence unconditional and unorganized, or does it follow a strict and precisely established code? The answer is that the quest for life in orthodox Islam follows a precise code in which each element and being occupies a defined place in the process of the creation and distribution of wealth. Nothing is left to chance; everything is codified and organized around a desire that is the end purpose of the universe and its reason for existence: God's desire to be worshipped.
The universe is organized, managed, and animated as the response to and incarnation of the divine will. The divine will is clear and not in the least ambiguous: It is God's desire to be worshipped at all times, eternally, and without interruption by the creatures that he created, in particular by the believer. This desire of God's to be worshipped without reserve or restraint, constantly, and eternally, is set forth and legitimated by and through a precise economic infra- structure: the fact that God possesses everything, material goods (riches, the environment, heaven and earth, and everything in between) and immaterial goods (knowledge, science, learning, the power of decision), and the fact that the believer possesses nothing — any goods that he might possess come to him from God.
It is not possible for the believer to acquire material or immaterial wealth except through the intermediary of the divine will. Wealth, food, shelter, and opulence are not achieved through human work. In the Muslim universe human work is not the creator of wealth. One acquires wealth by submission to him who possesses that wealth: God. Access to wealth and opulence is assured through allegiance to the possessor, the provider, the almighty, the proprietor.
The divine will is precisely this desire to reduce the will of the one who possesses nothing (the believer) to the will of the one who possesses everything (God). The dispossessed, the believer, dedicates his life to worshipping the provider, God; he must try to live every moment according to God's will and desires. There would be no problem if God's desire and men's spontaneous desires coincided. However, they apparently do not inevitably and spontaneously coincide.
God's desire to be worshipped by his servants, the believers, should not in the normal course of events pose any problem, for among God's qualities and attributes is omnipotence: It is enough for him to say something for it to be. Nevertheless, the worship that the master demands from the servant does not seem to be a spontaneous thing, and the whole Koran can be read as an attempt to eliminate the obstacles that threaten to thwart it. The entire holy book is a recognition that the master-servant relationship is far from being easily achievable. The worship of one being by another seems problematic even when the master is an omnipotent being who possesses the universe and controls it at will. Even for a God, making oneself worshipped seems to be a far from easy thing. The divine desire to be worshipped seems to run into certain obstacles that interfere in the relationship with the one he desires as his servant. These obstacles come essentially from the resistance that the servant's will and desires are bound to pose to the idea of worship. It seems that there is no inevitable coincidence between the wills and desires of two beings who enter into a hierarchical and unequal relationship, even when one of them is a God and the other a mere mortal.
The resistance that threatens to wreck the scheme for submission of one being to another comes from the slave, the inferior, the believer. So the obstacle to worship does not lie with the master but with the slave. It is the will and desires of the slave that threaten to ruin the scheme for the relationship of worship that the slave is supposed to dedicate to the master and not the reverse. The danger comes from below, not from above, from the weak party instead of the powerful one. The center of resistance to the scheme of submission by the believer to God is the will and desire of the believer, which threaten to come into conflict with those of God.
In this sense, the holy book of Islam is an attempt by the powerful party, God, to help the weak party, the believer, conquer the resistance that his will and desires threaten to pose to the scheme for submission. What are these threats? How can the believer curtail and master them?
The holy book is a system of laws that precisely answers this problem. The Koran is a treatise on the question of submission to the almighty and how to achieve it. It is a discourse that organizes the cosmic environment and the existence of the beings who people it in order to solve this problem, as it is viewed by the party that has the power and desires the submission of the other. The universe in the discourse of orthodox Islam is a universe as viewed and desired by the almighty. Nowhere in the holy book do we have direct access to the point of view of the weak one, the servant, the slave, the believer whose submission God demands. We only have access to the servant through the master.
This fact is fundamental for viewing the relationship between the sexes as it is shaped by Muslim civilization. The relationship between the sexes is nothing but a reflection and incarnation of the fundamental relationship between God, the Master, and his slave, the believer. One of the givens of the relationship between the sexes, as Islam has designed and effected it, is that this relationship is shaped according to the desire of the master, the husband. The woman's desire- is never directly expressed. It is unheard except when expressed through the mediation of the master. The political economy of Islam is set up and orchestrated around the silence of inferiors. This silence is the expression of the abolition of their will and the manifestation of their submission.
The political economy of Islam:
Wealth in exchange for Submission
In analyzing all relationships in general and those called love relationships in particular, one must try to answer several questions: Who is speaking? Whose ideas are being expressed in the relationship? What is exchanged in the relationship, and who fixes the terms of the exchange? An egalitarian relationship would be one in which the two parties express themselves equally and give their points of view regarding the terms of exchange, the needs of each one, and how to satisfy them — in short, negotiate the terms of the exchange. On the contrary, an unequal relationship would be one in which one partner alone expresses his desires concerning the relationship and fixes the terms of exchange solely according to his own needs.
The relationship between the divine being and the believer is an example of the unequal type. The discourse on the relationship between the divine and the human is a monologue by the divine being. (For this part of the analysis the sole reference will be the Koran, which is the divine discourse and the key discourse for orthodoxy.) The Koran is the point of view of the divine being on the relationship that must exist between him and the human being. The Koran is the universe according to the desires and will of the divine being. Nowhere in the holy book are the desires and needs of the human being expressed directly. One only has access to them through the divine discourse, which alone constructs reality for the two parties. The sacred construction of reality is the expression and reflection of the desire and will of the almighty, and this desire and will are invested in one sole objective, which is the raison d'etre of the universe itself — God's desire to be worshipped:
- 25. And We sent no messenger before thee but we inspired him, (saying): There is no God save Me (Allah), so worship me. (Surah XXI, »The Prophets,« p. 421)
- 56. O my bondmen who believe! Lo! My earth is spacious. Therefor serve Me only. (Surah XXIX, »The Spider,« p. 527)
- 36. And serve Allah. . . . (Surah IV, »Women,« p. 107)
The divine being's desire regarding the relationship that he would like to establish with the human being is expressed in the form of an order: »Worship me.« This order is the expression of a power relationship that is legitimated by what God gives the believer in exchange. An egalitarian relationship presupposes reciprocity', that the goods and services furnished by one party have a value more or less similar to what is received in exchange. An egalitarian relationship presupposes an equal division of wealth from the start. It implies that the elements of exchange are of equal importance to the reciprocal needs of the two parties. An egalitarian relationship implies that the value of the elements pledged in the exchange is identical or at least equivalent. An exchange in which reciprocity is absent, in which the elements received do not have the same order of urgency and importance as the elements given, is an unequal exchange. And divine love seems to belong to this category.
The divine being and the human being have radically different relationships to the available wealth. One party, the divine being, has a monopoly of the wealth, and the other, the human being, is totally deprived of it:
- 6. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and whatsoever is between them, and whatsoever is beneath the sod. (Surah XX, »Ta Ha,« p. 405)
The divine monopoly of everything that exists introduces an element that renders any idea of exchange in the relationship impossible. As a matter of fact, one of the parties, the human being, figures among the possessions of the other. The divine being owns the believer. The relationship of possession wipes out the possibility of exchange. In order for there to be exchange, there must be two wills that confront each other at the start and negotiate a relationship and fix its terms. So, in the sacred universe, which is a coherent and logical universe par excellence, the being possessed has no will:
- 23. And say not of anything; Lo! I shall do that tomorrow,
- 24. Except if Allah will. . . . (Surah XVIII, »The Cave,« p. 382)
In contrast to the absence of will in the human being, we find the omnipotence of the divine being. This divine power is embodied in the complete control of time and space and manifests itself in a minutely detailed and total programming of the least movement that animates beings and objects in the universe:
- 49. Lo! We have created every thing by measure.
- 52. And every thing they did is in the scriptures.
- 53. And every small and great thing is recorded. (Surah LIV, »The Moon,« p. 707)
- 23. Thus We arranged. How excellent is Our arranging! (Surah LXXVII, »The Emissaries, p. 784)
Human beings have no control over the environment in which they live, nor their own existence. They live totally alienated in an ecological milieu where a will foreign to their own programs the smallest occurrence with ease:
- 22. Naught of disaster befalleth in the earth or in yourselves but it is in a Book before We bring it into being — Lo! that is easy for Allah — (Surah LVII, »Iron,« p. 721)
Time is a divine monopoly. The essence of power, planning, programming, and action, time is completely out of the control of human beings, and they are thereby defined as being stripped of the capacity to make their own history, to have an impact on their own environment:
- 11. . .And no one groweth old who groweth old, nor is aught lessened of his life, but it is recorded in a Book. Lo! that is easy for Allah. (Surah XXXV, »The Angels,« p. 572)
- 34. And every nation hath its term, and when its term cometh, they cannot put it off an hour nor yet advance (it). (Surah VII, »The Heights,« p. 196)
Not only do human beings not control time, but they themselves are programmed within a tight web of constant surveillance of their least actions:
- 29. . . .We have caused (all) that ye did to be recorded. (Surah XLV, »Crouching,« p. 663)
- 16. We verily created man and We know what his soul whispereth to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.
- 17. When the two Receivers receive (him), seated on the right hand and on the left,
- 18. He uttereth no word but there is with him an observer ready. (Surah L,' »Qaf,« p. 688)
Not only do human beings not control time, but time itself in the sacred construction of reality, is metamorphosed into a prison, a trap. Sacred time is the surveillance of, and consequently the programmed frustration of, the slightest inclination toward self-determination by humans; the divine being watches and controls the least movement:
- 4. He is with you wheresoever ye may be. And Allah is Seer of what ye do.
- 6. He is Knower of all that is in the breasts. (Surah LVII, »Iron,« p. 718)
And if time is surveillance, recording, control, and observation by a supreme authority, space also is answerable to the same authority and obedient to its will. Prisoners of time, humans are also prisoners in space, a space programmed, arranged, and connected to a will other than their own, that of divine power.
The human being's relationship to his environment is supplanted by the relationship between God and that environment. The human being only has access to the environment through the divine will. It is only because God created the world for the believer that this believer has access to it, and he is totally passive in this process. Everything has been arranged and organized according to a precisely elaborated divine plan:
- 12. And He hath constrained the night and the day and the sun and the moon to be of service unto you, and the stars are made subservient by His command. Lo! herein indeed are portents for people who have sense.
- 15. And He hath cast into the earth firm hills that it quake not with you, and streams and roads that ye may find a way. (Surah XVI, »The Bee,« pp. 345-46)
6. Have We not made the earth an expanse,
7. And the high hills bulwarks?
8. And We have created you in pairs,
9. And have appointed your sleep for repose,
10. And have appointed the night as a cloak,
11. And have appointed the day for livelihood.
12. And We have built above you seven strong (heavens),
13. And have appointed a dazzling lamp,
14. And have sent down from the rainy clouds abundant water,
15. Thereby to produce grain and plant,
16. And gardens of thick foliage.
(Surah LXXVIII, »The Tidings,« p. 786)
In the sacred environment structured in this way, we now need to identify the modalities of men's access to the earth's riches. How can a man subsist? Are the available riches on earth immediately consumable, or do they require an intermediary process of transformation - namely, work?
The Relations of Production in the sacred Economy:
Inequality as the mode of access to earthly riches
The question to be examined first of all is the state of these riches: Are they raw, or are they in a state to be consumed? Answering this question permits us to clarify the status of one very important element of civilization, work. Is it necessary to work in order to subsist and survive, or does the survival of a human being depend on something else, and is it conditioned by other processes? The first answer is that no animal, no human being can assure its own subsistence:
- 60. And how many an animal there is that beareth not its own provision! Allah provideth for it and for you. He is the Hearer, the Knower. (Surah XXIX, »The Spider,« p. 528)
- 10. And We have given you (mankind) power in the earth, and appointed for you therein livelihoods. Little give ye thanks! (Surah VII, »The Heights,« p. 192)
- 64. Allah it is Who . . . fashioned you and perfected your shapes, and hath provided you with good things. . . . (Surah XL, »The Believer, p. 625)
- Lo! We have given thee Abundance;
- So pray unto thy Lord, and sacrifice.
(Surah CVIII, »Abundance,« p. 823)
It is clear that the means for survival, »good things" and »abundance,« are immediately available, and it is God who has decreed it thus.
In the sacred economy, God created goods that are immediately utilizable by the human being. God created »warm clothing" and »riding" animals; he sends down »drinking" water from the sky; »causeth crops to grow . . . and the olive and the date-palm and grapes and all kinds of fruit.« He put »fresh meat« in the sea:
- 5. And the cattle hath He created, whence ye have warm clothing and uses, and whereof ye eat;
- 6. And wherein is beauty for you, when ye bring them home, and when ye take them out to pasture.
- 7. And they bear your loads for you unto a land ye could not reach save with great trouble to yourselves. L>o! your Lord is Full of Pity, Merciful.
- 8. And horses and mules and asses (hath He created) that ye may ride them, and for ornament. And He createth that which ye know not.
- 10. He it is Who sendeth down water from the sky, whence ye have drink, and whence are trees on which ye send your beasts to pasture.
- 11. Therewith He causeth crops to grow for you, and the olive and the date- palm and grapes and all kinds of fruit. Lo! herein is indeed a portent for people who reflect.
- 12. And He hath constrained the night and the day and the sun and the moon to be of service unto you, and the stars made subservient by His command. Lo! herein indeed are the portents for people who have sense.
- 13. And whatsoever He hath created for you in the earth of divers hues, lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who take heed.
- 14. And He it is Who hath constrained the sea to be of service that ye eat fresh meat from thence, and bring forth from thence ornaments which ye wear. And thou seest the ships ploughing it that ye (mankind) may seek of His bounty, and that haply ye may give thanks.
(Surah XVI, »The Bee,« pp. 344-46)
So here we have an economy of gatherers rather than one where the production of usable products entails an effort, specifically, work. This makes it interesting to discover how these riches are distributed, since no effort is required to make them consumable. Are they accessible to everyone? It seems that they are not. The distribution of riches is totally at the discretion of God, which in fact means his whim:
- 12. His are the keys of the heavens and the earth. He enlargeth providence for whom He will and straiteneth (it for whom He will). Lo! He is Knower of all things. (Surah XL11, »Counsel,« p. 638)
- 30. Lo! thy Lord enlargeth the provision for whom He will, and straiteneth it (for whom he will). . . . (Surah XVII, »The Al-Isra,« p. 367)
But the divine whim itself follows a precise plan — the creation of inequality among men:
- 32. . . We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raised some of them above others in rank that some of them may take labour from others. . .
(Surah LXIII, »Ornaments of Gold,« p. 649)
The plan for inequality among men does not stop at life on earth; it is prolonged and projected into the Hereafter also:
- 13. And every man's augury have We fastened to his own neck, and We shall bring forth for him on the Day of Resurrection a book which he will find wide open.
- 21. See how We prefer one of them above another, and verily the Hereafter will be greater in degrees and greater in preferment.
(Surah XVII, »The Al-Isra,« pp. 365-66)
Not only is inequality among men a consequence of the divine will, but precisely because of this, it is blasphemy to upset it. Questioning the relationship of inequality is upsetting the divine design. A master who tries to become close to his slave, to divide his wealth with him in such a way as to give him more equality, is a being who violates divine will and upsets the divine plan:
- 71. And Allah hath favoured some of you above others in provision. Now those who are more favoured will by no means hand over their provision to those (slaves) whom their right hands possess, so that they may be equal with them in respect thereof. . . . (Surah XVI, »The Bee,« pp. 353-54)
This inequality is far from being a chance or an accident; it is the plan and the order; questioning it is disorder. The relationship of inequality represents the end purpose of the universe and is identical with the divine desire, that of being worshipped. The ideal believer is a man who bows down, who prostrates himself, is obedient and respectful of the will of the almighty, the will of him who possesses everything:
- 112. (Triumphant) are those who turn repentant (to Allah), those who serve (Him), those who praise (Him), those who fast, those who bow down, those who fall prostrate (in worship), those who enjoin the right and forbid the wrong and those who keep the limits (ordained) of Allah—And give glad tidings to believers!
(Surah IX, »Repentance,« p. 260)
To obey the almighty, to fear the exalted one, to bow down and prostrate oneself are the behaviors that create success and acceptance:
- 51. . . . We hear and we obey. And such are the successful.
- 52. He who obeyeth Allah and His messenger, and feareth Allah, and keepeth duty (unto Him): such indeed are the victorious. (Surah XXIV, »Light,« p. 465)
- 29. . . Thou (O Muhammad) seest them bowing and falling prostrate (in worship), seeking bounty from Allah and (His) acceptance. The mark of them is on their foreheads from the traces of prostration. . . .
(Surah XLVIII, »Victory,« p. 682)
A successful man is a man whose body bears the mark of prostration, of submission, of bowing down to the exalted one. In fact, by bowing, kneeling, and prostrating himself, man is only following the universal pattern of behavior toward the possessor:
- 18. Hast thou not seen that unto Allah payeth adoration whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is in the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the hills, and the trees, and the beasts, and many of mankind. . . . (Surah XXII, »The Pilgrimage,« p. 434)
This unequal relationship is all the more total and complete because one of the parties, the superior, has no need of the inferior. God is sufficient unto himself. He does not need men; they can give him nothing: They are castrated of the power of reciprocity, the necessary basis for a relationship of equality:
- 38. Allah is the Rich, and ye are the poor. (Surah XLVII, »Muhammad,« p. 676)
- 15. O mankind! Ye are the poor in your relation to Allah. And Allah! He is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise. (Surah XXXV, »The Angels,« p. 573)
The nature of the exchange between the Master, God, and the servant, the believer, is detailed, specific, and allows for no ambiguity, because any ambiguity would risk a dangerous lack of comprehension, a faulty reading of the divine will. From the outset the two partners in the exchange have at their disposal entirely different assets to put into the balance, and it is this difference as to the substance to be exchanged that immediately introduces inequality and disequilibrium into the relationship. From the very start there is a difference in the needs as well as the assets that each of the partners can invest in the exchange. The need of God is a need of an affective order. He wants to receive worship and not material goods. By contrast, the needs of man, as they are defined by the divine, are needs of a material order, consumable wealth. The exchange is thus not only unequal because of the identity of the two parties — one being a powerful God possessing everything in the universe — but also because of the nature of the values exchanged: the material versus the affective. The poor one can only give the affective — worship. The rich one can only give what he has — material wealth.
In this sacred construction of the universe, one sees very clearly not only that inequality expresses the differences in identity and potentialities of the two parties, but also that it constitutes a division of work that is the result of the initial differences. The contribution of the strong, powerful one can only be economic. The offering of the weak, inferior, economically deprived one can only be affective. And given the overall context of the divine design, where we have seen that time and space express and effect an unequal relationship, the contribution of the weak one within the divine relationship is given a negative value. It is in no way a challenge to the superiority of the divine:
- 55. And warn [them], for warning profiteth believers.
- 56. I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me.
- 57. I seek no livelihood from them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me.
- 58. Lo! Allah! He it is that giveth livelihood, Lord of unbreakable might.
(Surah LI, »The Winnowing Winds,« p. 695)
One of the characteristics of the relationship of worship between God and man is its inflexibility. There are no other possible alternatives in the exchange as it is fixed by the almighty. Any alternative is an attack on the will and desire of the master. And man's love, as we have seen, is precisely his resignation to the will of another, his obliterating any thoughts of self-affirmation. For the weak one (here, man) worship means self-mutilation; it means cutting out the quality that is the mark of the human — the will and freedom to conceptualize alternatives, to upset the plans of others. For a human being, will means the possibility of questioning the design or plan of someone else. The worship that God demands of man requires him to excise from himself his capacity to formulate conceptions, create alternatives, produce changes, and question relationships and the system underlying them. Worship, which is an affective capacity, the impulse of love toward another, inevitably implies the paralysis of another capacity — that of will, of the exercise of liberty. Love, as the divine conceives, demands, and imposes it, is an exercise in self-mutilation and a design for the worshipper to kill in himself every day any impulses toward liberty, any impulses to change the status quo, the plan of the loved one. Any manifestation of the will of the lover, the worshipper, can only be a weakening of the loved one, God. The inversion-linkage, which we have seen in operation in other contexts, assumes here its most perfect form. Resignation to the will of another is not only the sole form of worship possible, but it can only continue to exist if the worshipper agrees to kill in himself every day any attempt or inclination to imagine alternatives, much less to put them into practice. For to do so would be to leave the terrain of love for the terrain of disputation, of new ideas — the forbidden terrain of bid’a!
In summary, one can say that the love relationship between man and God is a rigid and fixed plan in which the partners are linked in a static relationship where the unequal exchange only succeeds because the weaker party has agreed to excise his will, his freedom to imagine, to envisage, and eventually to assert alternatives. A being without will, freedom, or the capacity to imagine alternatives and elaborate systems different from the one under which he lives, has much more in common with a thing than a human, if the latter is defined as being the potentiality of change, the possibility of alternatives.
Before looking at how the love relationship between God and man is actualized in the domestic field in the man/woman relationship, we must explore, through Paradise as the ideal Muslim order, the ideal relational schema that organizes the paradisal society and how it differs from those established as model relationships on earth.
The interest in exploring the relationship schema in Paradise lies in the fact that it is an ideal, overall model. It gives us a plan for society in which God, beings, and the environment are organized according to the divine will, the whim of the almighty, without any possibility of will or freedom on the part of the weak one or any questioning of the status quo. For the difference between life on earth and life in Paradise is that in the latter the population is a select one, where only those who have achieved the total submission of their will to the almighty have been chosen. Demographically speaking, the difference between life on earth and Paradise is that the earthly population is heterogeneous. There are some men who have the possibility of carrying out the divine whim, submission. There are others who have the possibility of not conforming. The population of Paradise, on the contrary, is homogeneous.
So the paradisal model allows us to analyze better what happens in a third field, defined as problematic, the domestic field. For we will see that from the beginning women, the number one citizens in this field, are defined and identified for many reasons as problematic citizens. Their position in the divine plan is posed as a problem from the very start.
It is moreover very revealing to find that in the paradisal society the earthly woman is, if not replaced, at least given serious competition by a major rival: the houri. What messages does the Muslim order, in its vision of an ideal world, inscribe on the female body? If one regards Paradise and its organization, structure, and administration as the code of an ideal Muslim system, what does one find when one looks at the female body in Paradise — in Paradise viewed as a total context and coherent system?
Is the houri, the paradisal woman, the ideal, example, and model of femininity, different from the male body in Paradise, as a page on which to write messages? Does the houri, passivity in the extreme, signify only herself, or is she in fact the mirror image of male passivity?
Everything that exists and happens on earth has meaning only by reference to what happens in that twin space, Paradise, which is the standard, the ideal. It is for this reason that we have to understand the structure of Paradise, the organization of its space, the actors who confront each other there, and their means of survival. We need to find out how the two essential needs of the human being, food and reproduction, are taken care of in Paradise. What is the population of Paradise? Who are the beings who people it? What relationships do they have with each other and with the environment? How does this population survive, feed itself, and reproduce itself? Only the code that regulates life in Paradise can clarify what happens on earth.
The ideal economy:
The economic structure of Paradise,
The eclipsing of the work Process
The Mode of Production in Paradise: An Economy of Gatherers
Paradise is characterized by an abundance of riches, in sharp contrast with their scarcity on earth. These riches are available to the chosen, and they are not a cause of dispute among them. It is the access to Paradise that is problematic; once the chosen have succeeded in getting there, their needs are totally filled without any effort on their part.
The paradisal ecology is conceived as follows: The individual has but to stretch out his hand to be fed. Fruits and the flesh of fowls are ready to be gathered; beverages such as milk, honey, wine, and pure water flow in the rivers and shaded streams; the climate is mild; there is no need to adapt to rigors of weather.
The ecology of Paradise is an ecology where man and his milieu are in a state of perfect symbiosis and harmony. There is no conflict between the human Deing and his environment. The latter is perfectly adapted to the needs of the former. The daily routine of the believer in Paradise is reduced to a very limited range of activities: eating and reposing in the company of placid sexual partners, the houris. There is no work routine in Paradise. There is only a rest routine. Life is exempt from all struggle, Paradise being the absence of conflict and effort. Food (fruits, flesh of fowls) and drink (wine, milk, honey, water) are available in nature, on the trees, in the sky, in the rivers and streams. Metals and precious stones (gold, silver, pearls) and luxurious fabrics (silk, brocade) make up the daily wear of the citizen of Paradise. The furnishings in Paradise are reduced to couches, cushions, carpets, silver goblets, and so on:
- 12. And [Allah] hath awarded them for all that they endured, a Garden and silk attire;
- 13. Reclining therein upon couches, they will find there neither (heat of) a sun nor bitter cold.
- 14. The shade thereof is close upon them and the clustered fruits thereof bow down.
- 15. Goblets of silver are brought round for them, and beakers (as) of glass
- 16. (Bright as) glass but (made) of silver, which they (themselves) have measured to the measure (of their deeds).
- 17. There are they watered with a cup whereof the mixture is of Zanjabil,
- 18. (The water of) a spring therein, named Salsabil.
- 19. There wait on them immortal youths, whom, when thou sees, thou wouldst take for scattered pearls.
(Surah LXXVI, » Time' or 'Man',« p. 781)
Paradise is a space where only one human activity is operational: repose. There is a total absence of the idea of work, which implies conflict, the necessity of exertion, and an unbalanced relationship between man and his environment from the start.
Nevertheless, despite the absence of a necessity for work or exertion, despite the great generosity of nature, there are servants there. They are of the male sex, young, and their raison d'être is to serve the believer:
12. In gardens of delight;
13. A multitude of those of old
14. And a few of those of later time.
15. On lined couches,
16. Reclining therein face to face.
17. There wait on them immortal youths
18. With bowls and ewers and a cup from a pure spring
19. Wherefrom they get no aching of the head nor any madness,
20. And fruit that they prefer
21. And flesh of fowls that they desire.
22. And (there are) fair ones with wide, lovely eyes,
23. Like unto hidden pearls,
24. Reward for what they used to do.
25. There they hear no vain speaking nor recrimination
26. (Naught) but the saying: Peace, (and again) Peace.
27. And those on the right hand; what of those on the right hand?
28. Among thornless lote-trees
29. And clustered plantains,
30. And spreading shade,
31. And water gushing,
32. And fruit in plenty
33. Neither out of reach nor yet forbidden,
34. And raised couches;
35. Lo! We have created them a (new) creation
36. And made them virgins,
37. Lovers, friends,
38. For those on the right hand;
(Surah LVI, »The Event,« pp. 713-14)
Here we see appearing another citizen of the paradisal society, the houri. The houris are created by God. They are faultless, young, loving, and virginal. God has created them for »those on the right hand,« those who have succeeded in passing the test of unconditional worship on earth — having killed within themselves any will capable of disturbing the order, of questioning the divine whim and the world as structured by that whim.
We will keep in mind, then, four characteristics of the paradisal economy:
- The abundant, generous, and immediately consumable nature.
- The short-circuiting of the work process, made unnecessary by the generosity of the environment, with gathering being the most complex act that the chosen have
- Division of the male population of Paradise into two groups according to function, one of which is subjected to the other, the group of servants being assigned to serve the group of the chosen.
- Certain ambiguities and incoherencies in this programmed, coherent, and rational world, with regard to the division of the population of Paradise by sex and the organization of the process of reproduction.
The Paradisal Mode of Reproduction:
Duel Between Sterile Houris and Phantom Earthly Women
Although the mode of economic production in Paradise is very clearly specified in the Koran, a book which defines the code of every element and mechanism and situates them in a total system characterized by an implacable logic and faultless coherence, it turns out that the paradisal mode of reproduction is an area where there are certain ambiguities. This is particulary the case in the relationship between the houri (the paradisal woman) and the earthly woman, and in the relationship of these two women with the believer. Another ambiguity is the existence and status of children in paradisal space.
The conditions of citizenship
in Paradiese: maleness and maturity
What is the demographic and social composition of the population of Paradise? Do all the individuals who live there enjoy the same status, or are they linked to each other by hierarchized relationships? Does the family unit exist and is it operational? Does the paradisal family function on the concept of the couple? There is a contradiction (and they are rare in the Koran) between citizenship in Paradise according to allotting and equipping of space and citizenship in terms of access to Paradise. Although access to Paradise is guaranteed to earthly women, directly as believers and indirectly as wives of men believers, Paradise is equipped solely for the happiness of men. The presence of eternally young and beautiful sexual partners, the houris, seems to make the sojourn of earthly women there a matter of unhappiness and anxiety rather than of happiness and delight. Several verses identify earthly women as having rights as believers that would merit entry to Paradise on a footing of equality with men:
- 97. Whosoever doeth right, whether male or female, and is a believer, him verily We shall quicken with good life, and We shall pay them a recompense in proportion to the best of what they used to do.
(Surah XVI, »The Bee,« p. 358)
- 124. And whoso doeth good works, whether of male or female, and he (or she) is a believer, such will enter paradise and they will not be wronged the dint in a date-stone.
(Surah IV, »Women,« p. 122)
In other verses access to Paradise is guaranteed to earthly women as wives. In these verses wives clearly have the right to all the benefits enjoyed by men, including eternity:
- 70. Enter the Garden, ye and your wives, to be made glad.
- 71. Therein are brought round for them trays of gold and goblets, and therein is all that souls desire and find sweet. And ye are immortal therein.
- 72. And this is the Garden which ye are made to inherit because of what ye used to do.
(Surah XLIII, »Ornaments of Gold,« p. 653)
But when you look at the spatial logistics, how space is organized and equipped in Paradise, you realize that it is a space equipped, on the level of sexuality, solely for the believer of the male sex. Not only does he have a sexual partner, the houri, who makes the earthly wife's value to her husband extremely marginal, but also nowhere in Paradise are the needs of this earthly woman taken into consideration. There is, for example, an amazing indifference to woman's sexual needs in Paradise, in contrast to the great detail with which the man's orgasmic satisfaction is programmed. There are several descriptions of Paradise in the Koran, one as beautiful as the other, but the one in Surah LV, »The Beneficent,« is surely the most brilliant and musical. The arrangement and variety of the pleasures described there assure total gratification to the believer of the male sex, who seems to be the only inhabitant who matters:
46. But for him who feareth the standing before his Lord there are two gardens.
47. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
48. Of spreading branches.
49. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
50. Wherein are two fountains flowing.
51. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
52. Wherein is every kind of fruit in pairs.
53. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
54. Reclining upon couches lined with silk brocade, fruit of both the gardens near to hand.
55. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
56. Wherein are those of modest gaze, whom neither man nor jinni will have touched before them.
57. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
58. (In beauty) like the lacynth and the coral-stone.
59. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
60. Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness?
61. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
62. And beside them are two other gardens.
63. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
64. Dark green with foliage.
65. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
66. Wherein are two abundant springs.
67. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
68. Wherein is fruit, the date-palm and pomegranate.
69. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
70. Wherein (are found) the good and beautiful —
71. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? —
72. Fair ones, close-guarded in pavilions —
73. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? —
74. Whom neither man nor jinni will have touched before them —
75. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? —
76. Reclining on green cushions and fair carpets.
77. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?
78. Blessed be the name of thy Lord, Mighty and Glorious!
(Surah LV, »The Beneficent,« pp. 710-12)
Other verses give detailed information about the houris — their eyes, the state of their hymen, their age, their character — while nowhere in the text are found dmilar descriptions detailing, if not the beauty, at least the modest or even perhaps hidden assets of earthly wives. In these lengthy descriptions of Paradise, the houri seems to find her perfect place in an ideal, harmonious environment, which she overwhelms with her presence and beauty to the point where it becomes difficult to imagine the earthly wife there. In the light of such descriptions the earthly wife becomes more and more a phantom, if not a sour note in the divine harmony.
There are even verses that specify, without the least equivocation, that the status of houris in Paradise is that of wives. This places the rivalry between earthly woman and houri on a very precise terrain — the legitimacy of the relationship:
51. Lo! those who kept their duty will be in a place secure
52. Amid gardens and watersprings,
53. Attired in silk and silk embroidery, facing one another.
54. Even so (it will be). And We shall wed them unto fair ones with wide, lovely eyes.
55. They call therein for every fruit in safety,
56. They taste not death therein, save the first death. . . .
(Surah XLIV, »Smoke,« pp. 658-59)
The houri is explicitly designated as »wedded" to the believer. She is an integral part of the equipment of paradisal space, which is organized around the idea of repose. The presence of the earthly wife in paradisal space would create, at the very least, a disharmonious note, if not a discordant one. In any case, she constitutes a disturbance of the paradisal objective, the quiet life, insofar as her place is already occupied. Her role on earth, that of primary sexual partner, has already been allotted.
As we have seen, one of the characteristics of Islam as a blueprint for human life is its coherence and almost mathematical logic. Confusions, ambiguities, and incoherencies are foreign to the Muslim order. The status of the earthly wife and her role in Paradise represents one of those rare instances where the Muslim system allows the existence of a fuzzy area, a zone of doubt. Now we must draw some overall conclusions about the economic field in general and the paradisal economy in particular before dealing with the domestic field, where we will try to find the elements of an answer to the ambiguity that surrounds the status of the earthly woman in Paradise.
The female Model as Mirror of the male condition:
decoding the Houri
Decoding Paradise, its citizens, and their raisons d’être means decoding the ideal Muslim order and elucidating its foundations and its conception of beings and their purpose. How is the houri to be understood? What paradisal value system does she represent? What differences and similarities are there between her condition and that of the male believer? Do they have the same or different functions? And what are the raisons d’être of the houri and the male believer in the sacred economic field in its overall context?
The houri is defined in physical terms. She has no spiritual dimension; she is a thing because she has neither will nor any possibility of development. She is created to be consumed as a sexual partner by the male believer. Her value comes from her physical beauty, which God gives as a gift to the believer. Her purpose is to be consumed as a body lacking any will or specific aim. She is stripped of the human dimension, if one defines human as the possibility of developing in various ways and thus partaking of the unexpected, the unplanned. A human being is distinguished from the other animals by the capacity to surprise, to choose one path of development among many possibilities, to be free and able to escape all strict and rigid programming.
The houri is not human because she is deprived of her freedom of choice, of development. She has been created for one sole destiny: to be consumed by the male believer in a solely fetishizing sexual relationship, a relationship between two automatons without intellectual or spiritual dimensions. The houri has no intellect; she does not think. She is a thing that awaits consumption. And as such, she is the mirror image of the male condition in Paradise.
The male believer is an automaton. He is a being reduced to a digestive tube and a genital apparatus—a genital apparatus, moreover, deprived of its creative function, for the houri is a virgin. The genitality of the believer is stripped of its capacity for giving life, for projecting itself into the future.
Paradise, with its food and its houri, is programmed for a consumer-believer deprived of the creative dimension. The believer is fulfilled in Paradise by renouncing all the potentialities that define a human being, all possibilities of making choices not programmed by an external will. The purpose of the believer is to fit himself into the plan organized, conceived, and programmed by another will. The purpose of the believer is to reduce himself to a consumer and annihilate within himself his creative potential, for to create within the paradisal context would be to disturb the order and destroy the plan. The believer is passive: He digests, makes love to a houri deprived of a uterus (for she is a virgin), and relaxes. Like the houri, he forms an integral part of a system where he exists as a thing deprived of will. The only difference is that the houri is consumed as an object by the believer, and he is consumed as an object by the system. In the Muslim Hereafter, where one would expect that the spiritual dimension of the being would be magnified, one witnesses the metamorphosis of the human being into a thing. In the ideal society of Islam, the ideal citizen, the successful believer, is an automaton reduced to a few limited, programmed movements of the digestive track and genital apparatus. His end is a state of passivity. Any attempt on his part to escape this passive state would be an attack on the paradisal equilibrium. The houri is the mirror and epitome of this passivity. It is her very passivity that the believer desires. The paradisal female model, far from being of minor importance, represents the actual principle that is the foundation of the Muslim Hereafter. And the principle of passivity, which is the keystone of the paradisal system, the Muslim ideal of society, is also the keystone of the domestic field as it is designed and programmed by Muslim family laws.