There Is No Patriarchy in Jannah
NOW, LET’S GET to the crux of the issue – if men get hûr as their ‘something special’ in Jannah, what is there for women that’s of equal standing? Why, again, are women not promised male hûrs?
It should be noted that the following are a personal reflection on the discussion regarding the Ḥûr Al-ʿÎn in view of the relative silence regarding women’s specific rewards in Jannah.
To understand the answer to this question a little better, it’s necessary to pause for a moment and think about the purpose of Jannah itself. Jannah exists as the ultimate form of reward to the believers who spent their entire lives doing what Allah commanded them to, and restraining themselves from what they were prohibited from doing.
In Jannah, there are no longer any prohibitions – what is evil and detrimental to humans will already be completely removed, and everything else will be available in its most pure form and will not cause any kind of harm whatsoever. For example, there will be rivers of wine flowing in abundance in Jannah – yet it will never cause any kind of headaches or hangovers with painful consequences.
What is interesting to note is also that there is a running theme in the Quran and Sunnah that informs us that the more difficult something is to do (or not do) for the sake of Allah, the greater the reward is for that action. The Prophet ﷺ said:
Whosoever leaves something for the sake of Allah, then Allah the Mighty and Magnificent, will replace it with something better than it. (Aḥmad)
Allah is the Most Just, and in the Hereafter –as in this world– He knows that justice means treating people according to their own standards, not that of others. Men and women are intrinsically different in certain specific physiological ways, and the Sharîʿah reflects this, while also recognizing the majority of ways in which men and women are in fact equal and alike.
Similarly, in Jannah the vast majority of rewards are the same for men and women – they will have access to a limitless array of sights, smells, tastes, property, and so many other experiences. Yet there will also be certain specific differences that apply to each gender, based on the differences that apply to the genders in this world.
Almost all men will say that one of the most difficult things for them to control and restrain themselves from in this world is the fulfillment of sexual desire. Islam has rigid expectations of believers – that they lower their gazes from the opposite gender, that they do not come near to any kind of interaction (physical or otherwise) that will lead to zina (sexual relationships outside of marriage). While polygyny was made permissible to Muslim men, in part to provide a ḥalâl option for those men who find it difficult to be satisfied with only one spouse, even polygyny comes with heavy responsibilities and specific conditions. The Prophet ﷺ told us,
I am not leaving behind me any tribulation that is more harmful to men than women. (Ibn Mâjah)
It can thus be seen that the Hûr Al-ʿÎn in Jannah are a reward for those men who kept themselves chaste in the dunya despite the severe difficulty of doing so. But if that’s the case for men, then what is the equivalent fitna in this world for women, and what is the equivalent reward?
There is perhaps no greater trial, tribulation, or difficulty for women in this world than the oppression of men and their authority over women.
Muslim or non-Muslim, whether in the past or the present (and more than likely, in the future as well), women have borne their greatest pain due to men. Whether from within their own homes or from complete strangers, women face high rates of assault and abuse from men; women are raped in times (and places) of peace as well as conflict; women suffer from lack of access to healthcare, education, and finances. The vast majority of the time, these injustices are inflicted as a result of power systems which have been set up by the male gender and which benefit them primarily.
Oppression aside, the authority of men over women is in and of itself a fitna for women. While we do not deny at all that Allah granted qawâma to men, it doesn’t mean that it is something easy to live with. Keeping in mind that many scholars apply qawâma to such a degree that a woman may not leave the house, visit her family, or even cut her hair without her husband’s permission, it isn’t difficult to acknowledge that Muslim women find this aspect of the Dîn most challenging to uphold. Even unmarried women are considered beholden to their fathers (or other immediate male relatives in the absence of a father or husband) as their ‘guardians’ who wield authority over certain aspects of their lives.
Muslim women know that we are equal human beings to men in the Sight of Allah; our gender does not make us inferior or less intelligent (regardless of how many people try to misinterpret the ḥadîth). Nonetheless, we recognize that within the Sharîʿah is a system that gives men certain privileges that we do not have – whether it be the status of qawâma, imâma, or nubûwwa, or even the right to polygamy – and yet we choose to accept, to submit to, and to obey the command of Allah, solely because we recognize that He is the One Who sent down these laws, and we seek His Pleasure and His Pleasure alone.
However, it is still the reality that we are obliged to obey – to some degree – the decisions of fellow human beings, who are as flawed and weak as we are ourselves. To know that regardless of how pious, righteous, intelligent, wealthy, or what our social status is, that we are subject to the final choices of a man, is something which strikes at women deeply at both an emotional and intellectual level. It is a test from Allah which tests our mettle and our faith on a daily basis, especially if one has a spouse who does not have the same level of respect towards his wife as he expects from her – or if he happens to be lacking in justice, consideration, compassion, or an overall mentality of fairness.
Though some may argue that the position of a woman with her husband is like that of a parent with a child, it is actually insulting to present it as such. The parent-child relationship is entirely different; as children, we spend our entire lives with our parents, being raised by and cared for by them, we experience unconditional love (for the most part), and when we are disciplined by them, we have an understanding that it does not diminish their love for us, nor does it reduce our respect for them.
In the case of a spousal relationship, however, it is very different – we go into a marriage viewing ourselves both as adults, as spiritual and intellectual equals, exchanging mutual respect and compassion for each other. For the man to be able to claim a position wherein he can – theoretically – command or prohibit certain things, even if they are Islamically permissible, creates a power imbalance which may or may not be abused. And the sad reality is that for many people, that position of qawâma is abused. Allah Himself has told us:
O you who have believed, surely among your spouses and your children there is an enemy to you… [Sûrat Al-Taghâbun, 64:14]
While women being fitna towards men is often discussed, it is not often that we hear this âyah being explained as husbands being a fitna for their wives. Yet the truth is that many Muslim women feel tested in their îmân due to their marital situations. The power and authority which Muslim men yield over women – whether in the context of family or general community – is considerable, and abuse of that position has led many Muslim women to deal with many serious repercussions.
Considering how much women struggle because of the patriarchy – whether societally imposed or based upon certain religious rulings – it makes sense that perhaps the greatest reward that women will experience in Jannah is complete freedom from it.
The purpose of Jannah is reward and freedom from all obligations, responsibilities and duties; in Paradise, we are beholden to no other human beings, and there is no difference between the rulers of this world and their subjects, other than their reward in accordance to their taqwa and their deeds. While it is true that certain individuals, such as the Prophet ﷺ and the other prophets, will be superior to others in terms of their reward and their position in Jannah, this does not mean that anyone will be in a position of authority over anyone else. There is no evidence whatsoever to say that men, as a whole, will be considered superior to or receive a greater reward in comparison to women as a whole. Again, the only difference between people will be based upon their righteousness and their deeds in this world.
What greater reward and freedom can there be for Muslim women than to be completely and utterly liberated from being under the authority of men in any way, shape, or form?
While there are those who no doubt would wish to argue this point, it can be said that the existence of the Ḥûr Al-ʿÎn in and of itself is a proof that the human women of Jannah will be free from any obligation to men – for while we are expected to be sexually available for our husbands in this world, there is no such requirement in Jannah. Why else would there be so many Ḥûr allotted to each man, if not to fulfill his carnal desires while the human women experience a release from the obligation?
Too Wonderful for Words
It should again be noted that the above is merely one individual’s thoughts on the discussion regarding the Ḥûr Al-ʿÎn in view of the relative silence regarding women’s specific rewards in Jannah.
Another way to think about the lack of detail in the Quran and Sunnah regarding women’s rewards in Jannah is to consider the fact that scholars have noted that the greatest of Allah’s rewards in Jannah is deliberately left undescribed.
Patience, like fasting, is a deed for which Allah will not measure any fixed reward, the latter being considered a significant part of the former. Imam Ibn Al-ʿArabi said:
Our Lord, may He be Blessed and exalted, has told us that the reward for righteous deeds may be multiplied by a factor between one and seven hundred, but He has withheld from us knowledge of the amount of the reward for patience and has kept knowledge thereof to Himself. Only those who are patient shall receive their rewards in full, without reckoning. [Sûrat Al-Zumar, 39:10] (Aḥkâm Al-Qur’ân (4/77)
No doubt, patience encompasses numerous situations and circumstances, from patience with individuals to patience with difficult life circumstances. Women, who are accustomed to being told “Have patience, sister!” in response to any appeal for assistance, are perhaps most acquainted with the reality of patience on a daily basis.
It is this, then, which may well be the key to that question which so many women wonder about – why aren’t women told what their specific rewards are? It is because we have such patience with the patriarchy and its associated fitna that the reward for it is of such high measure, to be tailored to each woman when she enters Jannah, that there are simply no words to describe its vastness.
In the end, it can be said that the rewards Allah has in store for those of us who enter Jannah is far greater than anything we can conceptualize for ourselves. As always, it must be understood that Allah is the Most Just and will never withhold from us that which He promised – an eternity of unbridled joy and pleasures without end, of freedom from all the pain and discomfort that we ever experienced in this world.
And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:124]
And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds that they will have gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow. Whenever they are provided with a provision of fruit therefrom, they will say, “This is what we were provided with before.” And it is given to them in likeness. And they will have therein purified spouses, and they will abide therein eternally. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:25]
 Surah Saffât, 37:45-47