The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
The most complete of the believers in faith are those with the most excellent character, and the best of you are the best in behaviour to their women. (Sunan al-Tirmidhī)
Last Friday I went to an event where the topic of discussion was: “Hypermasculinity vs Prophetic masculinity? What makes a Muslim man?”. I was really keen to attend the event to gain a more Islamic perspective on the issue especially because of the constant debate about ‘toxic masculinity’ that I’m privy to on social media.
The outcome of the discussion that evening deserves a whole series and I would be doing myself a disservice if I attempted to dissect it in one post. A couple of years back, I started writing letters for my daughter about what I want her to learn about the world and the kind of woman that I hope she becomes. This event made me feel like I need to write one for my son because my hopes and aspirations for him are so radically different from what I’m currently exposed to. We need to be having conversations about manhood, and the kind of men that our society needs and the sort of masculinity we should be celebrating.
With that said, I want to focus primarily on my exchange with one of the speakers to draw out a few points. Throughout his speech, he consistently made reference to the opinion that toxic behaviour isn’t endorsed or encouraged by other men. Whilst I believe that to be his experience based on his social circle, during the question and answer session, I decided to push back on the generalisation to other people’s experiences. I specifically wanted to emphasise the importance of creating an eco-system of accountability (best put by Abdel-Rahman Murphy in an Instagram post) that allows upright men to keep other men in check when their toxic behaviour manifests.
I gave the example of the case of alleged molestation in a mosque in Texas where the perpetrator in question was given time to flee the country by the mosque’s board before a report was made. The Imam who spoke publicly about the issue was placed on leave thereafter.
Thankfully the speaker was familiar with this case and we agreed on the point that criminals or criminal behaviour needs to be brought to justice within our community. And then he proceeded to make the point that this was an isolated issue that’s clearly not representative of all men.
I interjected and corrected him that I didn’t imply otherwise. Stereotyping a group of people is not the Sunnah of my prophet and it definitely is not the approach that I take towards my own community or any other community. In reference to the title of this post, not all men is a true statement but I also find it to be an easy getaway. I found it extremely disappointing that the only answer that I could get to my question about accountability was Not All Men and the conversation derailed afterwards. The point that I wanted to make before it was derailed is that encouragement and a lack of accountability amongst men doesn’t always have to be explicit. It will not always demonstrate itself in vulgar language or outright outrageous behaviour,
sometimes toxic behaviour is condoned through silence and inaction.
The example that I gave was deliberate (and clearly I didn’t do a good enough job of explaining) to illustrate that whilst we do have men who speak up like the Imam in this situation, we need more accountability in our communities especially in the wake of #MosqueMeToo.
I wholeheartedly believe that derailing conversations like this with the “Not All Men” approach is harmful. It’s dangerous because it undermines the real pain of women within our community and it poses a barrier to the healing conversations that we need to have about the crisis of masculinity and its association with toxic behaviour.
What it demonstrates to me when I immediately hear “Not all men” to a well-intentioned question is an inability to listen without defensiveness. But ultimately what was scary for me within the conversation that evening, is that we are so acutely desensitised to oppression and injustice, that one person’s oppression isn’t one too many?
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I pray that you benefited from this post and I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic! What is your Friday Favourite reflection, book or podcast recommendation?
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