As Muslims, many of us are caught between two extremes: a culture of hypersexualisation that trivialises and belittles the value of sex, turning intimacy into something crude and vulgar; and a 'back home' culture where everything that is romantic, sexual and intimate is made forbidden and shameful.
This attitude, however, is completely contrary to the Islamic attitude towards sex, displayed by members of the Sahabiyyaat such as Umm Sulaym.
Umm Salama relates that Umm Sulaym came to the Messenger of Allah and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Surely, Allah is not shy of the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a ritual bath after she has a wet dream?” The Messenger of Allah replied: “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” Umm Salama covered her face and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Does a woman have a discharge?” He replied: “Yes, let your right hand be in dust [an Arabic expression said light-heartedly to someone whose statement you contradict], how does the son resemble his mother?” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Many Muslim women are pressured into denying their sexuality, or fully being able to explore and acknowledge it, even within their marriage. Cultural double standards that make it acceptable for men to transgress the bounds of chastity but taboo for women to be honest about their desires are poisonous.
Not only does such a mentality warp and harm those individuals affected by it, but it also interferes in every Muslim's right to a sound Islamic education and a holistic, happy life based on the deen - including the area of halal sexual gratification.
As a result, numerous intimacy-related problems have arisen amongst Muslim girls and women. Whether it’s self-esteem and body-image issues, a lack of understanding regarding their own sexual and reproductive health, fear about sex, considering sex to be ‘dirty’ or serious medical issues like vaginismus or being unable to have an orgasm - Muslim women suffer serious consequences as a result of sex-shaming.
Muslim women should not be made to feel ashamed of being aware of their bodies, their physical needs and their sexuality; these things are all gifts from Allah I, which, with the right intention, can be made a source of ajr (reward) from Him.
On the flip side, these things are also responsibilities, for if misused and abused, they can also be a source of punishment.
Let us embrace the mature, dignified, respectful and positive attitude towards female sexuality that Sahabiyaat such as Umm Sulaym displayed, and cast away the crippling mentalities that pressure women to deny their very natures.
As we’ve seen, Umm Sulaym was not ashamed of asking a question which openly discussed an aspect of female sexuality (wet dreams), in an appropriate manner, despite the fact that others around her (such as Umm Salamah) were shocked that she had the audacity to discuss it in public.
Muslim women need to revive the revolutionary attitude that Umm Sulaym displayed. In order to change the current state of affairs, we should find inspiration in Umm Sulaym’s example and be pro-active in educating ourselves about our bodies, including and especially our sexual health. Nor should this education be restricted to already-married women - it is imperative that young girls be taught about their bodies as they grow and mature into young women. It is necessary not just from a health perspective, but from an Islamic one; after all, how else are they to know about the Islamic rulings that surround menstruation, discharge, sexual gratification and more?
Rather than criticising or scolding girls and women who ask or speak openly and honestly about sex, we should remember the words of ‘Aishah when she said: “How praiseworthy are the women of Ansar! Shyness does not prevent them from having a deep understanding of religion.”
Developing this type of positive sexual attitude is not merely necessary for the overall health of the Muslim Ummah, but is a revolutionary act of heroism as well. One which will, insha Allah, give rise to a new generation of confident and educated Muslim women.
Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com