And God Knows the Soldiers

"And God Knows the Soldiers" - Khaled abou el-Fadl

I just began reading “And God Knows the Soldiers”, a book by Khaled abou el-Fadl that deals with authority in Islam. I’ve only read the preface so far, but it has some interesting anecdotes:

I was attending a lecture in a mosque in North America when the imam advised the congregation that it is improper for men to sit where women once sat. He asserted that after a woman leaves a seat, men must wait until the woman’s body heat dissipates before taking the same seat or, if they wish, they can fan the spot.  The reason for this rule, the imam explained, is that the female body heat lingering in a seat is bound to cause fitnah (sexual seduction).

I have heard of this idea before, although it seems slightly ridiculous. However, although I’ve heard it from several Muslim men I have never seen it in any text or lecture.

I had never heard of such a rule despite having attended hundreds of lectures on Islamic conduct in many parts of the Muslim world. Furthermore, I had not encountered such a bizarre assertion in any classical or modern book. In fact it seemed to me that a person who is sexually aroused by the lingering body heat of a woman is probably in need of professional attention.

Years later, I found this same opinion attributed to the jurist Abu Hanifah who reportedly recommended that men not take the seats of women until these seats lose their warmth. I also located this same ruling attributed to the Prophet in the form of a hadith.  Reportedly, a woman sat down with the Prophet to discuss some affair with him. After she left, an unidentified man was about to take her seat when the Prophet instructed him not to sit in her place until her body heat dissipated from the seat.  Importantly, this report is found only in classical texts that document FABRICATED traditions that were attributed to the Prophet.

I am not sure if the above-mentioned imam dreamt up the female-body-heat ruling of if he picked it up from one of the books on fabricated traditions. In either case, it is bewildering that such traditions would become buried and forgotten in Islamic history only to re-appear in one form or another centuries later.  A historical awareness would have easily deconstructed the discourse of the imam but instead his so-called Islamic ruling became a material proof of his piety and Islamicity.

The last point Fadl makes is extremely important.  If we were more aware of which traditions are authentic and which are not, we would be able to know that certain “rulings” from imams are not authentic. But how can we ensure that Muslims know enough history to know this? And what about hadith that no one is sure about?

What also struck me is that the ruling contradicted common sense and also belittled men. What kind of man would get turned on from sitting on a seat previously occupied by a woman? Like Fadl said, that man should probably get some help.

And why is there no similar ruling saying a woman should not sit on a seat previously occupied by a man? Do men not create fitnah, or are women better able to control themselves? I personally disagree with both those ideas – it is wrong to say only women or only men create fitnah, and it is also wrong to say that women are more capable of controlling themselves physically than men (although many people have said that science has “disproved” this – women DO have lower sex drives). I think if a woman controls herself better it is because it is socially unacceptable for her to do otherwise.

What do you think the imam in the story would have said if Fadl had pointed out his mistake?


21 thoughts on “And God Knows the Soldiers

  1. Who knew women’s body heat had so much power?! 😀

    Women may have lower sex drives than most men, but so what? This doesn’t mean men can be excused from controlling themselves for this reason. It’s a great opportunity for them to practice self-control — lower the gaze, turn off the TV/movie/porn, go for a brisk walk, take a cold shower. No one is holding them there forcing them to look and lust.

    Enjoyed this!

    • “go for a brisk walk, take a cold shower” – LOL, yes!

      Even if women did have lower sex drives it would of course, like you said, not be an excuse for men to not control themselves. I just don’t think women do have lower sex drives. And in Muslim communities you always have 2 extremes – people think women have no sex drive or that they are over-sexed and so need to be controlled.

  2. I don’t know about what that imam would say, but I can imagine finger pointing and calling the author “too liberal” might fall within the conversation..


    Anyway, one would assume that mosques in America are more liberal, because America in general is a bit more liberal… Not true, not true at all..

    I’ve said this to others, Mosques in America are very conservative.. Many people say they are more conservative than in actual Muslim countries…

    My experience supports that theory, and I would hate for that imam to be someone I am supposed to look up to, or worse, send my daughters and sons to go learn from.

    Anyways, I’ve heard the recent news about your buddy Geert Wilders becoming a relative threat to the other political parties.. I am so sorry to hear that.. What does that say about the society right now? tsk tsk **shaking my head**

    • I’m actually going to post on that soon, since Fadl discusses how the Muslim community in America is actually very conservative. I can see this even from American converts – they tend to be pretty conservative.

      And yeah, Wilders…I don’t even know what to say. His party is not the party with the most seats in parliament yet, but it is the party that has won the most seats this election :S Maybe I should post on that too. Sigh.

  3. I think I would’ve walked out of that lecture. That concept is absolutely ridiculous. What does that say about men? Or even about human beings in general?

    I also think that it goes against the Sunnah of the Prophet – it would’ve been very hypocritical as well for him to spout off about seat warmth when he regularly held conversations with women in the first place.

    Authenticity of hadiths is SO important! It amazes me that so many hear words from the imam and think that whatever he is saying *must* be sahih. You know I bet if he started talking about how integration of the sexes isn’t a bad thing, everyone would’ve demanded to know his sources.

    I agree with Sarah Elizabeth too lol, the imam/congregation would’ve said something about him being too liberal.

    • “What does that say about men? Or even about human beings in general?”

      Exactly!! If I was a man I’d be pretty insulted.

      And actually Fadl gives another story about an imam and women and then people DID ask for his sources…I’ll be posting that next i’A.

      It’s funny how being liberal is seen as being anti-Islamic :/

  4. That’s funny and disturbing. Actually, when I sit in a chair that’s still warm from it’s previous occupant I kind of get grossed out. So maybe there’s something to it. I find it interesting someone would actually lecture about this, like in public in from of a congregation. It does illustrate the point about hadith and authenticity. There’s probably a whole group of people out there fanning chairs because they think it’s the sunnah.

    • “There’s probably a whole group of people out there fanning chairs because they think it’s the sunnah.”

      Lol, funny image! Sad, but true…

      Fadl was also trying to show that just because an imam says something, doesn’t mean we should believe it without asking how he came to that conclusion. If members of the congregation had asked, maybe they’d have found out it was a false hadith.

  5. There are, in existence, men who get turned on by absolutely anything. They get obsessed just froma smile or a leg, or your heat – anything. Anything. I used to think it crazy myself – but the truth is that there are a LOT of sick men out there.
    TOday we can identify these sick individuals and put them into treatment, or sex offenders lists of send them to counselling – but back then they had none of these things.
    It may also be to do with pheremones – men pick up female’s pheremones and vice versa, our pheremones are really stong around the time we ovulate and maybe the “heat” is actually the remnance of our pheremones.
    I still stick by my statement that there are a lot of sick men, that get turned on by anything.

    • “There are men who get turned on by absolutely anything” – very true, and many of them seem to be concentrated in the Islamic world, if only because they misinterpret Islam to make it seem as if they don’t ever have to control themselves or their urges.

      So instead of acting mature, they make laws forbidding high heels and lipstick. Yeah. “Men”.

  6. i’ve only read the preface and i think the first chapter of that book, both of which were great.

    i wouldn’t use the word “conservative” to describe American Islam. i dunno what to call it, but in a way “conservative” might imply “traditional” or “orthodox”, whereas this is a new freak of an islam. (tho it doesnt apply to all of american islam obviously).

    as Abu al-Fadl showed, ppl are going out of their way to “prove” their great piety and scholarship with ridiculous ideas and show. it’s to a large part a result of a lot of saudi petro-dollars that have been dumped onto america and its mosques.

    Allahu a’lam.

    • So far it’s an amazing book, you should definitely read the rest.

      I think is conservative in the sense that it is trying to be very traditional and orthodox, as it sees those forms of Islam as the best (and by extension more liberal forms of Islam as heretical). Saudi, of course, wants this, and as you said it is probably pouring money into mosques there (and everywhere else for that matter).

      I see Dutch Muslims as pretty conservative and traditional too, actually. Most Muslims here are Moroccan/Turkish in origin, two of the more liberal Muslim countries, and yet once they came to Holland they became quite conservative.

  7. Your blog is refreshing. I plan to go to your blogspot one and read the archives, and then I will come back here!!


  8. Interesting post. here is my own choice. for hyeginic reason i like pause a while before so seating. may be less than a minute. be it a man or woman whatever.

    • Hi Pra, welcome 🙂
      Yes I could imagine that people might pause before sitting for hygienic reasons but like you said, then it wouldn’t make a difference if it was a man or a woman sitting there, or if you are a man or a woman.

  9. Why would someone’s body heat have anything to do with maintaining one’s hygiene? I’m just seriously curious.. I mean, even someone with AIDs can hug and even kiss another person without any cause for hygiene concerns.. Why would sitting right after someone else be cause for concern? I mean, we share a public toilet seat with who knows how many other women, so why would sitting after someone, fully clothed, be of cause for concern?

    I am playing devil’s advocate a bit here, but I am truly curious about this…

    My personal opinion is that it is superstitious garbage aimed at women… But that’s just me ;)~

  10. That’s true, probably you want to wait, but not for hygiene concerns, possibly just personal comfort.. Do we really need a hadith for this? Or an Imam telling us about something that really only has to do with personal taste? Someone would have to be extremely sweaty for it to go through their clothes and onto a chair.. And yea, what does it have to do with men waiting for a woman’s heat to dissipate? Why is gender involved? Power issues once again.

    Garbage thinking, if you ask me…

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