Wednesday, January 07, 2015

On Handsome Men, Women's Desire, & Umar ibn al-Khattab

There is a famous story set during the time of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s khalifate regarding the man who was ‘too handsome for Medinah.’ The story is as follows:

As was his wont, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab patrolled the streets of Medinah at night, observing the state of his community at its most relaxed and vulnerable. Passing by a house, he heard the voice of a young woman raised in longing as she recited a couplet.

هل من سبيل إلى الخمر فأشربها؟
أو هل من سبيل إلى نصر بن الحجاج

“Is there no way for me to receive wine that I may drink it? Or is there no way for me to be with Nasr ibn Hajjaj?”

Alarmed by the desperation and longing in her voice, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab knew that he had to do something. The next day, he summoned the man known as Nasr ibn Hajjaj – and discovered that he was one of the most handsome men of Medinah.

Hoping to diminish the effect that this young man obviously had on the women of Medinah, Umar commanded that Nasr’s hair should be cut from the front - only to realize with dismay that the man’s beauty only increased.

Next, Umar told Nasr to wear a turban and cover his hair completely – with the same result. Exasperated, Umar finally demanded that Nasr’s hair be shaved off entirely. Unfortunately, Nasr’s handsomeness simply became even more obvious.

In response to Umar’s actions, Nasr composed the following poetry:

لظـن ابـن خطـاب ٍعلـي ّ بجُمـة ٍالى رُجّلت تهتـز هـز السلاسـل ِ
فصـلّـع رأســا ً لــم يصلّـعـه ربّــهيـرف رفيفـا ً بـعـد أســود جـائـل ِ
لقد حسد القرعان اصلع ُ لم يكناذا مـا مـشـى بالـفـرع مُتخـايـل ُ

"Umar could not see my curls,
My hair which when combed waved like a chain;
He made that head bald where once there was profuse hair;
He who was bald headed felt jealous of him who had hair,
As he could not be proud of his hair, he deprived me of his hair."

News of ‘Umar’s actions spread, and the young woman who had first recited the fateful couplet that had begun this entire saga shared her own feelings on the subject.

حلـقوا رأســه ليـــكـسـب قــبـحاً
غيرة مـــنـهــــم عـليـه وشـحـــا
كـان صـبـحـا عـلـيـه لـيـل بـهـيـم
فمحــوا لـيـلـه وأبـقــوه صـبـحـــا

"They shaved his head so that he may become ugly, jealousy from them of him and a stinginess,
The morning on him was like a dark night, then they erased his night and left him as morning. "

‘Umar was further vexed by how dramatic the situation had become. “Ya Ibn Hajjaj!” he exclaimed. “You’ve charmed the women of Medinah! By the One in Whose Hands is my soul, I do not want you as a neighbor in any town I live in.”

So saying, ‘Umar ordered Nasr to be exiled to the city of Basra (in Iraq), which was a military town. A few days later, Nasr sent ‘Umar a letter, pleading his innocence and asking to be allowed back to Madinah. Nasr’s mother went to ‘Umar, begging him to allow her son to return.
“Your sons are with you,” she told him. “But you have exiled mine! This is truly unfair.”
“Your son is a danger to the morals of the women of Medinah!” ‘Umar retorted. “As long as I live, I will not allow him to return and create temptation with his looks.”

While this story is usually mentioned with an air of jest, or as part of a discussion on the wisdom of ‘Umar’s policies, I want to take a moment to look at this incident through a slightly different lens.
When it comes to female desire, many Muslims react in one of two ways: either they deny it entirely, or they demonize it as a source of evil and ‘fitnah’ for men. A woman’s expression of desire, whether it be verbal or otherwise, is condemned as being something filthy and in need of being immediately silenced.

Yet when we look at this story and the way that ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) reacted to the unnamed woman’s poetry, we see a completely different attitude. ‘Umar did not storm into the woman’s house and command her to be quiet, or to be ashamed of herself, or to rebuke her for daring to give voice to her emotions.

Instead, he recognized her desires as being completely natural, and rather than targeting her for being out of line, went to the source of the fitnah itself: the object of her longing affection.
‘Umar’s concern for the women of Medinah was not tied to labeling them the fitnah or uncontrollable, but to acknowledge their difficult circumstances (it is said that this was a time during which many of the men in Medinah were participating in Jihad elsewhere) and to do what he could to make it easier for them to bear.

Consider this in comparison to the way that Muslim women today are treated when they dare to mention the struggles they experience, whether it be with regards to the temptations of developing emotional relationships with men they interact with regularly at school or at work, or the very real issues of masturbation and porn addictions.

We today need to change the way we look at women and female desire, and instead of viewing them as something strange, impure, or impious, remember the attitude of Ameer al-Mu’mineen ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiAllahu ‘anhu): to understand, to empathize, and to help in a productive manner.

Ibn Sa'd
Ibn Asaakir; Taareekh Dimashq
Ibn Hajr; Al-Isaabah
Umar ibn al-Khattab, Volume 1, by Dr. as-Sallabi)


Unknown said...

Interesting. How authentic is this story?
Obviously attraction to the opposite gender is natural, but from either side it has to be controlled. The early Muslims were strong people focused on the afterlife, and refused to let the temptations of this life bend them - no matter how seducing they may be.

I'm sure you know the story of the young man speaking from the grave, he chose death than to give into his fantasies. He chose death. Do young women like young men desire women? Duh, of course!! The story of the young man avoiding haram should be given more attention than this story - the moral of having strength/faith to overcome human weakness, rather than simply acknowledging it. How else can the the modern men/women overcome today's obstacles? A young man pursuing an ambitious career has to wait years to be financially stable, emotionally available etc before thinking about marriage. Stories of strength, courage, morals, unyielding values are the answer to stay true to our Rabb ; not simply acknowledging human weakness.

Unknown said...

Sorry, meant to say "Do young women desire men, like young men desire women?"

candy said...

Is this some other story because most of us have heard the following version:
Once Hazrat Umar (R.A) was patrolling at night. A woman, sitting on the terrace, was reciting some verses. One couplet meant:

"The night is dark and goes on lengthening and my husband is not near me with whom I may play".

Her husband had gone for jihad and, love-torn, she was singing such painful couplets. Hazrat Umar (R.A) was very much aggrieved. He remarked:
"I have inflicted a great severity on the women of Arabia. Then he came to Hazrat Hafsa (R.A) (his daughter) and asked her as to how many days a woman could live without her husband.
She said: "Four months:'
Next morning he issued an order that no Solider should live away from home for more than four months.

AnonyMouse said...

That is a separate story.

Juveria said...

I can't find any authencity of this story subhanAllah please be weary u many be unintentionally lieing subhanAllah

Unknown said...

These narrations are more or less authentic;
Even Saudi Arabia's scholars who maintain strict principles to the salaf agree to it's authenticity;

This story is well-known and widely narrated in the books of the scholars. It was narrated via many chains of narration, but not one of them is free of reservations. The soundest of its chains of narration is the mursal chain of ‘Abdullah ibn Buraydah, but the fact that it is widespread and mentioned in the books of the leading scholars of the Muslims and those who are most well versed in history and biography, along with the fact that it has been transmitted through numerous chains of narration, indicate that it has some solid basis.


Parvez Khan said...

regardless if the story is true or not,

to punish an innocent man just because a woman could not control her gaze; is clear violation of the Quranic teachings.

Nasr’s mother was certainly correct when she said: "This is truly unfair.”

no ruler can force a man to wear a turban or force him to leave his home as this contradicts basic human freedom.

the above story is similar to clerics forcing women to cover her face due to "causing fitna"