Defining Manhood: The Facade of Being “Hard”

Posted by on Jan 18, 2011 in Gender Relations, Islamic Character, Men, Spouse | 1,933 comments

Last week my sister called.  She has been studying abroad since summer began, so naturally I was thrilled to hear from her.  After hearing how she was, I asked about her new home.  With her living in a Muslim country, I felt assured that everything would be fine.  For that reason, what she described next was a complete shock.  She began to describe a place where a girl can hardly leave her house without being verbally harassed by men walking by.  She said that the catcalling was no longer the exception; it had become the rule. Then she told me about a Muslim girl she knew.  The girl was riding in a taxi and when she arrived at her stop, she handed the driver his money.  In many of these countries there are no strict meters, and since the fare is somewhat arbitrary, the driver became angry.  Eventually the altercation escalated to such a degree that the driver grabbed the girl by the shoulders and began to shake her.  At this, the girl became angry and insulted the driver.  The driver then punched the young woman in the face.

At this point, I was extremely disturbed.  But it was what my sister said next that was most devastating.  Nearby, there was a group of men who saw what was happening, and rushed to the scene.  Naturally they came to help the girl.

No.  They stood and watched.

It was at this point in the story that I began to wonder.  Suddenly I found myself questioning every definition of masculinity I had ever believed in.  I wondered how a man — not one, but many — can stand and watch a woman be abused, and do absolutely nothing about it.  It made me question what ideals define what it means to be a man in today’s society.  Had the definition of masculinity become so distorted as to be reduced to just unbridled sex drive?  Had the image of the ‘knight in shining armor’ really been replaced by visions of macho, catcalling boys in the street?

Most of all, it got me thinking about what it means to be a Muslim man today.  I wondered if our dominate definitions as Muslims are really what they should be.  Today, a man is expected to be stoic, unemotional, inexpressive, tough, and unbending.  Physical aggression is glorified and emotional expressiveness ridiculed. I then decided to examine the epitome of what it means to be a man.  I decided to look at the Prophet ﷺ.

One of the most common definitions of manhood today is the lack of emotional expressiveness.  It is almost universally believed that to cry is ‘unmanly’ and weak.  And yet the Prophet ﷺ described it very differently.  When the Prophet ﷺ was handed his daughter’s son who was dying, his eyes flooded with tears. His companion Sa`d then told him, “What is this, Prophet of God?” He ﷺ said, “This is a mercy that the Almighty has made in the hearts of His servants. And surely God has mercy to the merciful ones among His servants.” [Bukhari]

But today, a man is not only expected to hide feelings of sadness, he is taught early on that even other emotions are not to be expressed.  During the time of the Prophet ﷺ, there were some men who believed the same.  Once while a villager was present, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ kissed his grandsons on the forehead.  At that, the villager said with surprise, “I have ten children.  I have never kissed any of them!” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ looked at him and said, “He who does not have mercy will not have mercy upon him.” [Bukhari] In fact, with regards to showing affection, the Prophet ﷺ was very clear.  He said: “If a man loves his brother in faith, he should tell him that he loves him.”[Abu Dawud]

The Prophet ﷺ used to also show a great deal of affection towards his wives.  Aisha reported that the Prophet ﷺwould only enjoy his meals when she would sit next to him.  They would drink from one cup and he would watch where Aisha would place her lips on the cup so that he could place his lips on the exact position.  He would eat from a bone after she would eat from it, placing his mouth where she had eaten. [Muslim]

The Prophet ﷺ used to also help around the house, contrary to another widely held myth of masculinity.  Aisha reported, “The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to stitch his clothes, milk the goats and help in the chores inside the house.” [Bukhari & Muslim]

But, perhaps one of the most common myths of what a man should be is the idea that a man should be ‘tough.’  Gentleness is widely considered only a feminine trait.  And yet the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Allah is gentle and loves gentleness. He gives for gentleness what He does not give for harshness, nor for anything else.” [Muslim] In another hadith, he says, “He who is deprived of gentleness is deprived of good.” [Muslim]

And yet so much of that gentleness has been lost from our modern definition of masculinity.  It is frightening when a boy can consider it manly to sexually harass a woman on the street, but consider it no question of his manhood to stand and watch while a girl is being hit.  It makes you wonder if maybe our image of what is ‘manly’ in fact resembles a Hollywood gangster more than it does our beloved Prophet.

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  • Walaahalimah

    Allahu Akbar, great article, Jazakum Allah khyran

  • http://www.facebook.com/rix12345 Mini Růžička

    same is here in my country..Stand and watch the Show!
    there was an incident here , two teens were so harshly beaten that they died,on street. the video is also on youtube ,people were watching and no one even thought of stoping this cruelty…and sos many other examples

  • Haris Qudsi

    You know, whats actually worse though, and what’s going to lead to this kind of behavior continuing in Muslims, is that many sisters today, especially in western society, see these attributes as the ones they want in their future husband, and realizing this, many brothers go out of their way to emphasize those characteristics. Having been reared mostly by my two older sisters, im personally very emotionally expressive and affectionate to my peers. But its often misconstrued or misinterpreted as something else and its sad to see. im a pretty big and tough guy on the outside, physically speaking so I don’t seem to be how I am, but how many brothers already have changed their personalities, which before followed the sunnah, because that sister they like only likes the “bad boy tough guy”? It’s crazy and its sad, but it is what it is I guess.

  • Haris Qudsi

    You know, whats actually worse though, and what’s going to lead to this kind of behavior continuing in Muslims, is that many sisters today, especially in western society, see these attributes as the ones they want in their future husband, and realizing this, many brothers go out of their way to emphasize those characteristics. Having been reared mostly by my two older sisters, im personally very emotionally expressive and affectionate to my peers. But its often misconstrued or misinterpreted as something else and its sad to see. im a pretty big and tough guy on the outside, physically speaking so I don’t seem to be how I am, but how many brothers already have changed their personalities, which before followed the sunnah, because that sister they like only likes the “bad boy tough guy”? It’s crazy and its sad, but it is what it is I guess.

  • Ismail Shaikh

    Assalamualaikum,

    Have you seen the lecture by Tony Porter called “A call to men”. He speaks of the Man Box syndrome many men live with it.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/tony_porter_a_call_to_men.html

    Ismail

  • Noha

    BismAllah Al Rahman Al Raheem! MashAllah wa AhamdAllah wa subhanAllah wa 3uthu bil Allah kin al shaytan al rageem infinity! Jazaki Allah Khair sis Yasmin! May Allah SWT reward you infinity fold in both firdous al dunya wa al akhira. To all the brothers and sisters out there , lets please all follow Prophet Muhammad ( mercy to all of humanity and the BEST human to EVER walk the earth) his wives, daughters , companions , the prophets, and the four greatest women who ever lived and were promised paradise. Lets be real and tell hollywood you DO NOT and will NEVEr define who and what we are ans we what believe in ans what we hope to hold on steadfastly be firdous al daryan AMEEEN infinity :-)

  • http://hautemuslimah.com Haute Muslimah

    Excellent read. Thank you!

  • Kashifusman01

    Amazing article. JazakAllah.

  • James_82

    Good article sister but I will have to say that this very negative idea of macho, aggressive, tough is fed by sisters themselves who are either mothers to these men or are looking for a husband. A brother who is quite, gentle, understanding and doesn’t get angry is thought to be abnormal. It’s about time our sisters, mothers, wives realize this and start taking practical measures because the very same brother (a husband, brother, son or father) was a child once who is a Monster today in of above forms. And their is no question that raising children in the way of Islam is a woman’s responsibility as she is that child’s first school.

    Thanks and keep up the good work. May Allah (swt) reward you for this beautiful work that you are doing. Amin.

    • yara

      Salaamualaykum
      In the teaching community, we have a maxim, no amount of theory can substitute
      for the practical. I dare say its a joint responsibility…

    • http://www.facebook.com/everjihad Nur Qurratulain Hamzah

      It should not solely only woman’s responsiblity in raising children in the way of Islam. Man has its role as well in nurturing the islamic environment for the children to grow. I believe it starts when a man looking for a spouse that eventually will be a mother for his kids, mother of nations. A strong man won’t being deceived by the physical beauty of a woman even so the beauty is so tempting to him and it’s really a HUGE TEMPTATION for a brother to resist. However insha Allah, with the love for Allah more than anything else, I believe a brother who love Allah more, will choose a wife that is educated and strong in her faith so that he and she may raise the children together and create a healthy society. Insha Allah.

    • Yasmine

      I cant believe you are blaming women for this. This is exactly where the problem lies. Men like you not wanting to take responsibility for their actions. Just look at muslim society. Who is dominating? The biggest rolemodel for a child is the parent of the same sex. Girls are being raised by women too. How come we dont hear these awful stories about them.

  • Umm Yusuf

    I love this masha’Allah…may Allah preserve you, have mercy on you, and admit you to Firdaws-al-A’la, ameen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=735345067 Umar Khan

    Totally wasted my 15 mins in the morning, your hypothesis, explanation and conclusion on the subject matter is totally based on one insistence/story told by your sister.

    The whole idea / plot / story that you have developed is more to do with ‘who women thin/ want to think / are told to think’ these days.

    • Temitopef

      Really? What in this articleis wrong please? is it okay for a man to hit a woman or a group of men to stand back to watch? And what if it is based on one incident? does it make it right?

    • Mary

      Do you have ANY idea how often this happens? I have heard countless instances of this happening. If you don’t think it is happening, open your eyes. This Ummah is frought with this problem. SubhanAllah. May Allah protect us all from this & give us a way out of this evil. Ameen.

  • Sistajazz

    Prophets and Gods are not the only ones who can tell us as humans what is going on. Listen to your heart.
    What kind of world creates beauty compassion wisdom and peace- a person of llearning compassionate. Avoiding the 3 poisons greed anger and stupidity. Men or woman who hurt others and aid and abet violence is very sad and leads nowhere. Men who hate/ despise women are not gods true followers since god made us all to be treasures.
    besides all that thanks sista for your article.
    me i am still looking forward to a world of the truely intelligent man (human being).

  • Younus

    eve-teasing / cat-calling behavior by men although being down right cheap n disgusting is highly prevalent in most societies, its infuriating for me as a man to think that my sister or someone i know can be subjected to it…..unfortunately there is very little religious awareness and observance in our ummah to identify and correct these problems ! To actually appreciate the exalted character of our Prophet (SAWS), the youth need to be emphasized to learn about his Seerah….and to look him up as a role model instead of any Tom-Harry or Dick they see on TV or in the movies….!!! In the end our actions are a reflection of what we feed on….physically and spiritually…..And apparently our Ummah is not being fed the right things :(

  • Deanna

    It’s really ironic how some men in these Islamic countries claim to be oh so religious, spiritual and a true follower of the Prophet Muhammed (saw) but in reality the things they do, show how they know close to nothing about the true teachings of Allah subhana watallah and the prophet Muhammed (saw).

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