Lost in Translation (And Taken Out of Context): Marital Sexual Relations

So recently I was led to a post in which these verses were used as an example of “women as the property of men.”

Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. (Qur’an 2:223)

I was pretty surprised to see this used in this way, because I thought the context was very well-known. These verses were delivered when a man asked the Prophet (P) if it was harmful to future generations if he entered his wife from the back. (There was a myth during that time that penetrating the vagina from the back would borne cross-eyed children.) It is not a sign of ownership, but the permission to have sex in whatever way the couple pleases. And other translations of the verses read as, “Your wives are tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when and how you will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand…” to basically encourage foreplay.
The Quran is timeless. Timeless does not mean that context doesn’t matter. As a matter of fact, it is precisely the context that makes it timeless, in emphasizing that these actions are only to be taken in the following conditions. This allows us continuous reference.
It is the interpretation, unfortunately, that changes once the contexts of the Quranic verses are forgotten and instead interpretation is derived from culture rather than the actual historical conditions and issues being addressed at the time of revelation. Because these conditions are actually outlined in the Qur’an, they are as important as the rest of the parts. The conditions are a part of the orders, and it is the inclusion of these in part of the whole, the recognition that certain actions are called for in certain conditions, that make the Qur’an timeless.
Much of my efforts here involve attempting to shake culture off Islam. I feel many Muslims have forced their practicing of Islam to bow to culture, (like during weddings, for example, instead of “This isn’t our cultural practice,” we hear things like, “This isn’t Islamic!” when Islam dictates nothing about what color the dress should be) and I feel that this is the reason there is so much conflict. Culture, after all, is the very reason there are so many sects and divisions in Islam that fight violently amongst themselves, divisions that would otherwise be completely unsupported!

13 thoughts on “Lost in Translation (And Taken Out of Context): Marital Sexual Relations

  1. brad-t, thank you for visiting and hearing it out! I'd like to address the beginning of this statement you made: "I don’t think it’s debateable that Islam, as it exists in the world today, is largely anti-feminist…"If you had said "I don't think it's debateable that current fundamentalist Muslim governments, as they practice Islam today, are largely anti-feminist…" I would not have disagreed with you.But that isn't your wording, and so I do. So here's the conflict: when we say "Islam" I don't think we're talking about the same thing. You're talking about Islam in a form currently practiced by its followers as a legitimate representation of the religion itself as it truly exists. I do not believe some of the things passed in the name of Islam are truly Islamic, and so they escape my definition of being part of Islam or truly representative of the religion as it was meant to be practiced.The principles and philosophies of Islam itself (and not particular, very specific Muslims) are not anti-feminist. They are actually, if anything, feminist. Women were allowed to practice rights in Islam in the 7th century that weren't acknowledged as rights for women in the rest of the world until the 20th.


  2. "You're talking about Islam in a form currently practiced by its followers as a legitimate representation of the religion itself as it truly exists."Well, this is getting into a bit of semantics. I did specify that I mean it as it is practiced in the world today, and to single out governments wouldn't correlate with what I'm saying. Governments surely do have blood on their hands here, but they are not the only ones spreading a "corrupt" Islam. It was not Muslim governments who killed after the Danish Prophet cartoon fiasco. It was "Muslims," practicing Islam as they perceive it.Whether or not it is a legitimate representation of the core values of Islam, it is the unfortunate state of what we have right now.I think it's clear that Islam, like almost every other religion, has an ultimate core of good. Unfortunately, that core does the world little good when it has been enveloped in crust of hate and violence. And I don't think the peaceful, loving, feminist Islam that you speak of here — the Muslim that you so clearly are — has enough representation in the world at this moment to be influential. Hopefully we can all work towards a future where that is no longer the case.


  3. Yes, for you I suppose it is getting into semantics. But for me it's an important difference. For me, when I live my life, it is the cause of sweeping generalizations that creates almost an unbearable tension. People often demand that I explain why things are the way they are in Islam, and when I attempt it they have either an underlying anti-religious bias or are circling over Islamophobia and US centrism. (Maybe the comments on the previous post enough proof. That's what happens. I'm called a radical for promoting democracy from both sides.)You see, I do have enough representation in the world. You just hear more from people who are violent. (Not surprising, since those who speak out against the violence are backed into a corner from every direction and are often faced with what I described in the first paragraph.) That's what makes the news. Good people are murdered quickly, where it could take years to take down dictators, because its the actions of the ill-meaning that are the most extreme and therefore speak the loudest. But that does not mean they are representational of the sentiments of the majority.It is through this that governments are formed to sway to those who speak the loudest, and those governments in turn through their corrupt laws and brutal enforcements foster extremist communities like some sick self-fulfilling prophecy."It was "Muslims," practicing Islam as they perceive it."And that's important. It wasn't Islam, it was Muslims. And it's not truly representational. That's what I had a problem with in the first place.


  4. Pingback: Why I want to become a “Shaykha” | AntiDogmaSpray

  5. Sumayah

    Ok, so I’ve heard multiple versions of the hadith that apparently resulted in revealing this verse to Prophet Mohammad (S). I thought it was that the wife did not want to be penetrated from the back since it was an old Quraish tradition and it did not make her feel comfortable so her husband went to the Prophet and he said the back was okay as long as it was vaginal.


  6. Salaam! Love your insight on this post, it’s helpful and puts me more at ease than the turmoil I was just experiencing (and still am, honestly speaking). I was reading Fatima Mernissi’s book, The Veil And The Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation Of Women’s Rights In Islam and while I like the flexibility and allowing of different sexual positions, I’m concerned about a bit of the context in which this verse was revealed according to her book regarding mutual consent. Mernessi was saying how in addition to clarifying that sex of the man penetrating the woman from the back is allowed, this verse didn’t answer women’s questions of being allowed to refuse certain positions if their husbands demanded them from her when she didn’t want them. Mernissi was saying how this verse revelation followed when there was a debate between women and men on women being able to refuse other positions that their husbands wanted if the women didn’t want them and they asked God for answers, and they got this answer of men’s liberty to have sex in whatever position they wanted. Mernissi pointed out that this was without regard for the women’s consent, which is upsetting considering that women also asked God for answers as to whether they would have to comply to positions that they didn’t want but their husbands wanted/demanded. In other words, women’s right to consent and refusal wasn’t addressed, but men’s entitlement to their wives was. Do you know if it’s true that this verse also served to give men the liberty to have sex with their wives like this as en entitlement from God? I don’t want to believe that it did and honestly it made me nauseated to think that the verse was revealed in a way to favor men’s entitlement over women’s bodies. Perhaps the context I got from the book may not be fully accurate, but I’m not sure. If you have any insight it would be much appreciated :)



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