‘Like A Garment’ article, is an initiative that seeks to educate Muslims to find conjugal bliss in their marriages.
The name of this article came from one of the most beautiful, poetic and profound metaphors of the Qur’aan.
“Permitted for you, during the night of the fast, that you approach your wives. They are your garments, and you are their garments”[al-Baqarah; 187].
In this verse, each spouse is described as a ‘garment’ to the other. The famous exegete Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d. 311) stated that this description most aptly described the act of intimacy between the spouses, for during that act, each spouse sheds his or her other garments and then wraps around the other, taking the place of clothes.
Al-Qurtubi (d. 671) also comments on this metaphor, and adds that just as clothes protect their wearer from the external elements, similarly each spouse protects the other from external passions that would harm a marriage.
Combining between the various explanations of this beautiful metaphor found in the books of tafseer, we can derive many meanings from it:
- The act of procreation is so intimate that it is literally as if one of the spouses covers up the other, just as clothing covers up one’s body. Another euphemism that the Qur’aan uses for the sexual act is the verb ghashsha, which means ‘to cover up, to envelop’.
- One primary purpose of clothing is to conceal one’s nakedness, since this nakedness (or `awrah) is embarrassing to display, and should be hidden from the eyes of others. Similarly, each spouse conceals the other spouse’s faults, and does not reveal them to others.
- Clothing protects one from the external elements, such as heat and cold. Similarly, spouses pro- tect one another from external desires that originate from many different sources. By satisfying these desires within the confines of marriage, external passions are removed.
- Clothing is the primary method through which humans beautify themselves. Without clothing, one is incomplete and naked. Similarly, spouses beautify and complete one another; when a person is not married, he or she is not yet complete and has not reached his or her full potential. Marriage is an essential part of being fully human, just like clothes are an essential part of being fully civilized.
- Clothes are only worn in front of others, and are not necessary in front of spouses. It is only in front of one’s spouse that the other spouse can discard his or her garments.
- Clothes are the closest thing to one’s body. Nothing comes between a person and his or her clothes. So the analogy of spouses being ‘like clothes to one another’ implies such a closeness – there is nothing, literally and metaphorically, that should come between spouses.
The Hadith of Jabir: Part 1
Jabir b. Abdillah was the son of a famous warrior, Abdullah b. Haram. Jabir was from the Ansar, and accepted Islam as a young boy. He was blessed to participate in the Treaty of Aqaba, and lived an extremely long life. Because of this, Jabir became one of the most profuse narrators of hadith, earning his name in the top five companions in terms of quantity of hadith narrated.
Jabir married young – he was probably seventeen when he got married. His marriage occurred shortly after his father died a martyr in the Battle of Uhud. His story is mentioned in most books of hadith, including the two Sahihs:
Jabir b. Abdillah reported that once he was on an expedition with the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and when they were close to the city of Madinah, he sped on his mount. The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam asked him why he was in such a hurry to return home. Jabir replied, “I am recently married!”
The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam asked, “To an older lady or a younger one?” [the Arabic could also read: “To a widow or a virgin?”], to which he replied, “A widow.” The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, “But why didn’t you marry a younger girl, so that you could play with her, and she could play with you, and you could make her laugh, and she could make you laugh?”
He said, “O Messenger of Allah! My father died a martyr at Uhud, leaving behind daughters, so I did not wish to marry a young girl like them, but rather an older one who could take care of them and look after them.” The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa salam replied, “You have made the correct choice…”
This is part of a much larger hadith, known as the ‘hadith of Jabir’. It is a hadith full of benefits, and in fact separate treatises have been written by our scholars just on this one hadith. Some of the benefits we can derive from the portion cited above include:
- The frankness of the Prophet’s salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam question. He is encouraging Jabir to find a playful wife, and wants the both of them to enjoy each other. This clearly shows that it is one of the primary goals of a marriage that each party find satisfaction in the other.
- The connotation of being sexually playful is clearly implied, without any direct reference. From this, and many other references, we see that the Qur’aan and Sunnah are frank about sexuality, but never vulgar. This should be our attitude and tone as well.
The Hadith of Jabir: Part 2
In above section we mentioned the famous hadith of Jabir b. Abdillah, in which the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam asked Jabir if he had married a young girl,
“…so that you can play with her and she can play with you, and you could make her laugh, and she could make you laugh.”
The famous commentator of Sahih al-Bukhari, al-Hafidh Ibn Hajr, mentioned that this hadith also occurs with other wordings as well. In one authentic version, the hadith states, after Jabir men- tioned that he had married an older lady,
“Why did you turn away from a young girl and her saliva?”
- Once again, we are struck with the frankness of the prophetic words. Clearly, the words ‘ playful- ness’ and ‘laughter’ indicate that what is being encouraged is the couple’s romance, foreplay, and generally ‘having fun’ with one other. It would do us well to contrast this straightforwardness of our Prophet with the ultra-reserved Muslim culture that we find around us, where ‘love’ and ‘romance’ are considered filthy words that should never be uttered in public!
- This understanding is further reinforced by examining the life of our Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. In every sense of the term, he was a loving, caring, gentle, and compassionate husband to his wives. It is even correct and proper to say that he was romantic with his wives in the most ideal and noble of ways. Some of these hadiths will be mentioned in the later sections.
- The variant wording that occurs (which mentions the saliva of a young girl) is explained by Ibn Hajr and al-Qurtubi as a reference to kissing the lips and licking the tongue. In other words, what is being referenced is passionate kissing – the perfect foreplay!
The Islamic attitude towards sex is completely at odds with those of many Christian thinkers. St. Augustine (d. 430), who is perhaps the single most influential theologian of early Christianity, viewed sexual desire as something foul to be guilty and ashamed of. His writings had a profound impact on all future Christian notions of sex (and were also used to justify the prohibition of priests getting married).
That is why, to this day, even many non-religious Christians are baffled by Islam’s attitude towards sex. It is mainly due to such notions that Islam has been viewed by many Westerners as being a ‘licentious’ religion. Such hadiths, like this one of Jabir, are mocked and ridiculed (one website comments, “How can a prophet of God command his followers to enjoy their wives?”). This shock stems from the basic Augustinian notion of sex being inherently evil.
We must be aware of these psychological underpinnings when discussing Islam with others. For us as Muslims, sexual desire in and of itself is never associated with evil; it is only the misuse and abuse of such desire that is evil. Rather, sex is quite clearly implied in the Qur’aan as being a bless- ing from Allah, to be thoroughly enjoyed between spouses
The Hadith of Jabir: Part 3
The final phrase of the hadith of Jabir that is relevant to us is:
Jabir said, “So when we were about to enter the city, the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam said to me, ‘Slow down, and enter at night, so that she who has not combed may comb her hair, and she who has not shaved may shave her private area.’ Then he said to me, ‘When you enter upon her, then be wise and gentle.’”
[Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim].
- The Prophet sallallahu alayhi wa sallam did not want Jabir to surprise his wife. At a time when there were no cell phones or other means of informing the family when a traveler would return, the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam would send a crier into the city, announcing that the caravan was returning. Hence, he told Jabir to wait for this crier before proceeding into the city.
- We learn that spouses should physically beautify themselves for one another. Combing the hair is but one way to beautify; anything that increases the beauty and handsomeness of one spouse in front of the other is something to be encouraged. The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam told the impatient Jabir that it was better for him to delay his arrival in order that his wife prepare her- self for him.
- The explicit command to shave the pubes is an amazing phrase! We all know that a part of our Islamic tradition is that one must shave one’s pubes; in this hadith, this command is put in the con- text of the sexual act. In other words, the husband is told to be patient so that his wife may beau- tify her private area in order to increase the aesthetic pleasure and gratification of sex. A hus- band and wife should make sure that even around their private areas, they look attractive to each other!
- Again and again, we see the frankness of the prophetic traditions, and the encouragement to enjoy intimacy in marriage. Contrast this to the ultra-conservative attitudes predominant in many Muslim cultures. It is as if some Muslims wish to be ‘more strict’ than the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam himself!
The Hadith of Jabir: Part 4
The concluding part of the hadith of Jabir raises many other benefits, which we continue discussing below.
- The last phrase of the hadith is translated as ‘…then be wise and gentle’. The Arabic is ‘fa-l-kayyis al-kayyis’, which is an emphasis on this word. The word ‘kayyis’ primarily means wisdom, but it also has the connotation of gentleness. Scholars have understood this phrase to mean that Jabir should approach his wife in a gentle and wise manner.
- The fact that the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam is instructing Jabir what to do at this time shows that he instructed his Ummah even about such personal matters. In one hadith, which deals with the etiquette of the restroom, the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, “I am to you like a father, and I teach you like a father does…” [Reported by Abu Dawud]. Since Jabir did not have any older brothers, and since his father had passed away, the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam took on this responsibility, and even advised him about sexual conduct. From this, we may extrapolate that people of knowledge should likewise not be shy when it comes to teaching Muslims conjugal etiquette when the need arises.
- Imam al-Bukhari, Ibn Khuzayma, and Ibn Hibban all narrated this wording, and they all under- stood the reference here to be an indirect reference to the act of intimacy. Once again, the wording is frank without being vulgar.
What is meant by ‘al-kayyis’ is that Jabir should act in a wise manner; he has been gone for some time, and is newly married. Therefore, both parties are missing each other, and it is a sign of wisdom that they gratify themselves and do not delay this unnecessarily. Also, there is a connotation of gentleness as well; Jabir should realize that he is a young man, and therefore he should not act in a manner that might be painful to his wife.
The hadith of Jabir has many other benefits in other areas of fiqh. However, for our purposes, this is the last part regarding this beautiful hadith and how we can benefit from it in the context of Islamic sexuality.