March has become exhausting. A month that is supposed to be dedicated to women has now every women’s issue crammed in. We have no time to celebrate. We just have more to explain than ever.
Last year for International Women’s Day, I issued an invitation to the AltMuslimah readers on my column titled This Women’s Day unlock the secret to world peace. I invited women to shift tactics in our quest for women’s rights. The plea was to turn inward and tune in to the wisdom of our bodies. The caution was that the focus on the external factors was not only draining our energy with little return but robbing us of the concept of joy and pleasure. No matter how devastating the news, despair is a poison of the heart. Pleasure is the antidote.
First, I want to talk about the right to pleasure. There continues to be a resistance to the concept of pleasure as a spiritual practice. Only when we understand the wisdom behind it, can we truly open ourselves to bringing it into our daily life.
The idea is gaining traction. For those who continue to question the concept, I quickly remind them of the history of Islam honoring the erotic, not only in literature but also in our jurisprudence. Imam al-Ghazali , in his work titled The Revival of the Religious Sciences, explains the religious significance behind sex and pleasure:
“And I swear, what they have said is absolutely true! For indeed, in this pleasure [of sex] – a pleasure that cannot be compared to any other pleasure ¬– if only it were to persist, it would indeed be a sign or signal for those pleasures of the next life that have been promised to us. To entice someone regarding a pleasure that he has never experienced is of no use! If an impotent man were to be enticed with sex, or a young child with power, there would be no temptation. Therefore, one of the blessings of the sexual experience and pleasure in this world is the hope of its perpetual existence in the next, so that this can be used as a motivation for the worship of Allah.
Muslims are encouraged not to classify worldly things as evil, but instead to approach them with gratitude for the Creator.
The beauty in Islam is the appreciation of balance between the dunya (this lifetime) and the akhara (the afterlife). Muslims are not only encouraged but required to perform earthly duties. When a man had secluded himself for days in the mosque, the Prophet reminded him that his wife and family had rights, and that one must be careful not to neglect the responsibilities towards them. Muslims are encouraged not to classify worldly things as evil, but instead to approach them with gratitude for the Creator. In fact, there are many hadith were women would come to the Prophet and complain. Their husbands were so devoted to their spiritual practices, they were no longer intimate. The Prophet would become angry and quickly go to the men and correct them. In one case the incident involved the Prophet’s companion Uthman, and said “O ‘Uthman! Allah did not send me for monasticism, rather He sent me with a simple and straight [shari’ah].” There are countless scenarios where this happened, and the Prophet had the same answer.
This message was not solely directed to men. In a few hadoth it was women who were making oaths of abstinence and celibacy, that were quickly corrected. In fact, it was such a common theme, that it is answered in the Quran itself after one of the Prophet’s speeches on the topic:
O you who believe! Do not forbid [for yourselves] the good things which Allah has permitted you; and do not exceed [the law] Allah does not like those who exceed [the law]. Therefore eat of the lawful and good things that Allah has provided you, and fear Allah in whom you believe. (5:87-8)
There is hikma (wisdom) in all the Allah sanctions. This wisdom often ties to the physical and metaphysical practices that strengthen our beings.
Inshallah now that we have an understanding of the right and wisdom behind pleasure, let me share with you three things to cultivate your life force energy to enhance your senses and bring more pleasure into your life. These three practices do not focus specifically on sex, so that it can be incorporated by all. Too often we focus on the physical act or wait until we are in a relationship to develop this creative and powerful energy. Yet there are many things we can do that get us in touch with our sensuality before the physical act. No matter the traditional background, it is seen as a best practice to remain connected to the power behind the sense.
- Establish a daily pleasure practice: This is one of my favorite exercises to do during my retreats. The key is to set a practice that can truly be incorporated without any stress and free from judgement. It is a way to signal to your mind, body, and spirit that this you are identifying pleasure as a priority in your life. It is best when you incorporate it into something that is already part of your routine. One woman decided to spend more time truly savoring her food – enjoying the first bite. One of my favorites was a woman who decided each morning she would wink at herself in the mirror. This turned into a wink and a smile. Once while she was doing it, she laughed out loud. And when her husband asked why she was laughing, she told him about her daily routine. It is now a shared one, where each morning they wink and smile at one another – a shared private message that they both value pleasure in their lives.
- Connect with Nature: In the West, they call it the birds and bees conversation for a reason. There is nothing that represents life force energy more than nature. Find ways to connect with nature, with a conscious decision to pay attention to the natural eroticism that exists with all things. It can be as simple as a daily walk, or even using your auditory sense by listening to the sounds of nature. As a woman who prided herself in belonging to the concrete jungle, I started small by owning a plant and caring for it. Over time, the nourishing of the plant led to talk and connecting to it. Soon, I yearned for the grounding that comes with nature, and time outside has become an essential part of my daily routine. As long as you can see the sky, you have access to the power of nature.
- Learn the power of Asking: In all my retreats I spend time using my past as a peacebuilder to discuss the art of asking. There is so much power in asking for what you want. The very thought forces you to identify with what they want. So many women I speak with fumble in trying to identify their needs and wants. Some cry. They admit they have not only never been asked, but never really thought about it themselves. Some even resent the question. Arguing they have far more priorities to selfishly focusing on their wants. The spiritual key to learning to ask, is to also not be detached to the outcome. The power is in the asking.
If you are interested in staying with me on this journey as I continue to create a space where women can uplift other women for positive change – stay tuned to more writings here. If you would like to be an active participant in co-creating this community – please take some time to complete this online survey. The feedback is helpful – and no prior knowledge of ARL is needed. All you need to share is your first impressions, and what would interest you the most.
Manal Omar is the founder of Across Red Lines. If you have questions for Manal to address in future columns, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org