Women are Considered Sexually Active in Islam
The statement that in Islam women are considered sexually active, can mean two different things: either they are more sexually active than men or they are as sexually active as men. In the first sense, it would mean that women have a stronger sex drive; and in the second sense, it would mean that women are as normal as men in their sexuality. By looking at the context of Mernissi''s writing, I would be justified in saying that she is using this statement in the first sense, that is, women are more sexually active than men.
In my study of the Qur''an and authentic ahadith on this subject, I have not come across any statement which says that women are more sexually active than men. I can say with confidence that as far as Islam is concerned, there is no difference between the sexuality of men and women. There are, however, certain ahadith which can be used by Mernissi to prove that women are more sexually active than men provided she decides to stick to one part of those ahadith and ignore the other part! It is obvious that such partial use of hadith is an unacceptable academic exercise.
For example, in one such hadith, Asbagh bin Nubatah quotes Imam ''Ali as follows: "Almighty God has created the sexual desire in ten parts; then He gave nine parts to women and one to men. " If the hadith had ended here, Mernissi would be right in her claim, but the hadith goes on: "And if the Almighty God had not given the women equal parts of shyness, then each man would have nine women related to him." (Wasa''il, vol. 14, p.40) In other words, Allah has given the women greater part of sexual desire but He has also neutralized it by giving equal parts of shyness to them. Seen as a whole, this and other similar ahadith do not support the claim that in Islam women are more sexually active then men. As for the question that why did Allah give more sexual desire to women and then neutralize it with shyness, I shall inshaAllah deal with it in the chapter on sexual technique. So how has Mernissi arrived at her conclusion? While contrasting the views of Freud and Ghazali on passive and active sexuality of women, Fatima Mernissi has studied the view of both writers on the process of human reproduction. First she quotes Freud as follows: "The male sex cell is actively mobile and searches out the female and the latter, the ovum, is immobile and waits passively..." (Beyond the Veil, p. 36, quoting Freud''s New Introductory Lectures, p. 144) This proves to Mernissi that in Freud''s view, woman is sexually passive. Then she contrasts this with Ghazali''s view by quoting him as follows, "The child is not created from man''s sperm alone, but from the union of a sperm from the male with a ovum from the female...and in any case the ovum of the female is a determinant factor in the process of coagulation." (Beyond the Veil, p. 37) This proves to Mernissi that in Ghazali''s view, woman is sexually active.
I doubt whether Ghazali would agree with the conclusion which Mernissi draws from his last sentence. Moreover, even if Ghazali meant such a thing, then it cannot be substantiated from the original sources of Islam, the Qur''an and the sunnah. We have a clear hadith which refutes such a connotation to the process of reproduction. Once the Prophet was asked, "O Muhammad! Why is that in some cases the child resembles his paternal uncles and has no resemblance whatsoever to his maternal uncles, and in some cases he resembles his maternal uncles and has no resemblance whatsoever to his paternal uncles?" The Prophet said, "Whosoever''s water-drop [i.e., sperm or ovum] overwhelms that of his or her partner, the child will resemble that person."(At-Tabrasi, al-Ihtijaj, vol. 1, p. 48 For a similar hadith in Sunni sources, see Ibn Qayyim, Tibyan, p. 334-5. Also see an interesting study on birth control among the Muslims, Sex and Society in Islam by B.F. Musallam.) In other words, if the wife''s ovum overwhelms the sperm of her husband, then the child will resemble the mother or the maternal uncles; and if the husband''s sperm overwhelms the ovum of his wife, then the child will resemble the father or the paternal uncles. This hadith makes it quite clear that male and female play equal role in reproduction; sometimes, the male sperm overwhelms the female ovum and at other times the female ovum overwhelms the male sperm.
Then she quotes Ghazali''s statement about the pattern of ejaculation of sexes as follows, "...The woman''s ejaculation is a much slower process and during that process her sexual desire grows stronger and to withdraw from her before she reaches her pleasure is harmful to her." (Beyond the Veil, p. 38) By this statement, Mernissi wants to prove that in Islam woman is considered sexually more active than man. When I read this statement for the first time, I said to myself that this can not be true at all times: sometimes the male ejaculates first and at other times the female ejaculates first. And I was surprised that Ghazali would say such a thing. So I checked the Arabic statement of Ghazali and noticed that while translating the above quotation, Mernissi has conveniently left out the word "rubbama" which means "sometimes". (Al-Ghazali, Ihya, vol. 2, p. 148) So the correct statement of Ghazali is that "The woman''s ejaculation sometimes is a much slower process..." With this correction, Mernissi''s argument loses its legs.
Adapted from: "The Islamic Sexual Morality, Its Foundation"
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