Misconceptions about the Feminine Element

The starting point on the path of purification and righteousness consists of a constant effort to overcome the “nafs”, the lower self, which is, so to speak, the individual representative of the world and its temptations.

The “nafs” has also been compared to the feminine element who, by her ruses, tries to seduce the pure spirit and thus bring him down into the trap of worldly appetites and wishes. The fact that the word ‘nafs’ is feminine in Arabic makes this comparison both easy and apt [1] Arabic nouns may be either of feminine or masculine gender. The word “sun” is feminine and the word “moon” is masculine.

However, both men and women are guided by Qur’an to control and discipline their “nafs”. The poem about Rabia, the Sufi women saint, quoted by Jami- is still valid in this respect

If all women were like as the one we have mentioned,
Then women would be preferred to men
For the feminine gender is no shame for the sun,
Nor is the masculine gender an honor for the crescent moon [2]

Annmarie Schimmel in the book entited “Mystical Dimensions of Islam” describes that with all the misconceptions, Muslims scarcely reached the apogee of hatred displayed by medieval Christian writers in their condemnation of the feminine element. Eve was never made responsible for the fall of Adam, and the often repeated Christian accusation that “woman has no soul according to Islam” has no basis in the Qur’an or in the classical tradition  [3]

We are told very specifically that God created man and woman from a single entity (4:1). O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).(49: 13). We all, men and women, stem from the same Source, and this is of key importance.

يأيها الناس إنا خلقناكم من ذكر و أنثى و جعلناكم شعوبا و قبائل لتعارفوا إن أكرمكم عند الله أتقاكم إن الله عليم خبير.

Spiritually, it does not matter whether we are male or female. The spiritual realm is beyond the cellular and material dimension. Disputes about what women should or should not do are frequently associated with cultural, political or socio-economic issues, and with maintaining the illusion of control.

Hazrat Pir states
The fragrance of rose has no gender

  1. Annmarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1975, p, 112-113
  2. Abdurrahman Jami, Nafahat al-uns,  Edited by M. Tauhidipur.  Tehran, 1957., Teheran, 1957
  3. Annmarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1975, p. 128-129