From Issue: 1009 [Read full issue]
Bundle of Fitnah
The most pronounced feature of the legal determinations that exclude women from public life is the obsessive reliance on the idea of fitnah. In these determinations, women are persistently seen as a walking, breathing bundle of fitnah. One can hardly find a responsa that deals with women without the insertion of some language about the seductions of womanhood. So, for instance, women may attend mosques only if it does not lead to fitnah; women may listen to a man reciting the Quran or give a lecture, only if it does not lead to fitnah; women may go to the marketplace only if it does not lead to fitnah; women may not visit graveyards because of the fear of fitnah; women may not do tasbih or say amen aloud in prayer because of the fear of fitnah; a woman praying by herself may not raise her voice in prayer if it leads to fitnah; a woman may not even greet a man if it leads to fitnah; and every item and color of clothing is analyzed under the doctrine of fitnah.
It does not seem to occur to the jurists who make these determinations that this presumed fitnah that accompanies women in whatever they do or wherever they go is not an inherent quality of womanhood, but is a projection of male promiscuities. By artificially constructing womanhood into the embodiment of seductions, these jurists do not promote a norm of modesty, but, in reality, promote a norm of immodesty. Instead of turning the gaze away from the physical attributes of women, they obsessively turn the gaze of attention to women as a mere physicality. In essence, these jurists objectify women into items for male consumption, and in that, is the height of immodesty.