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New Brunswick Islamic Center

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What is a man? What makes a man? What is masculinity?



What is a man? What makes a man? What is masculinity?

This, and other higher order questions, are what separate us from animals. What is freedom, what is liberty, what is society... These are the questions at the heart of what it means to be a human being. Their answers, however, cannot be pinned down by mere reason and observation. Nobody is bound to anyone else's definition of liberty for example. This is why in a secular arena, these matters are hotly contested. Intellect can get you far, but nothing air tight. 


As believers, Revelation guides us through these higher order questions. When I compared most common/cultural/historical views on masculinity with the Quran, Sunna, and examples of the Sahaba, I found quite a wide gap. Keep in mind, there is a big difference between "what makes a man" and "what's the kind of man that I personally like or am attracted to." 

Most culturally concocted schemes of what a man should be actually leave most men in a disadvantage about which they can do absolutely nothing. Here are some: 


1 A man is measured by his earning power. 

We would say a man in Shari'a must provide for the dependents in his life. But in our theology of sustenance, all he possesses is the effort. Beyond that, rizq is from Allah. Many wealthy men inherited in one fell swoop more money than a hard working father, grandfather, and son combined. Shari'a merely looks at the effort to provide, not the result. Poverty does not decrease one's worth as a man, but laziness does, even for one who inherited much.


2 Size. 

This is related to a) attractiveness and b) the ability to protect. The former is subjective, but the latter is a duty; the onus of protection of the family is upon the man in Islam. However, size in itself is completely a matter of rizq. Allah will never demand a man to be something unless that man can control it. 

Now, people can have preferences; but that's a very different matter than the question of "what makes a man?"


3 Being an alpha male.

Leading. Always being right. Going for the kill. Constant competition. Everything viewed from the lens of authority. The natural alpha male needs to control these impulses and channel them through the right intention and look at the example of Sayyidna Umar. However...if these alpha guys look down at B-personalities or the follower types, they need to be put in check. What would you call Prophet Harun?? Prophets Musa and Harun are a classic A and B personality pairing. The beta/follower personality also has to trim up those traits. You can't be influenced to oppress or disobey Allah for example. Prophet Harun is the model for people of this nature, and nobody is superior by being alpha or beta. That's from Allah. Superiority is by taqwa alone.


4 Being a warrior.

I'm personally impressed by the military. The Marines in specific. It's law and order and they've got both brains and braun. But objectively, there are quite a few non-fighting men in the Sira. Sayyidna Uthman never fought in a battle even when the rabble rebelled against him. Hassan bin Thabit backed off an oversized enemy soldier at Khandaq and it was Sayyida Nusayba who killed him. So again, we can say that a man has the duty to protect his nation, but if he's just naturally not suited for conflict, it does not make him any less of a man. 


5 Fathering a lineage of boys.

This was big in the old world when you needed farm hands and soldiers to protect the tribe and village. But again, it is out of one's control and therefore can never be a standard of "what is a man." If anything, this was completely broken by the Prophet ﷺ who fathered only girls and no boys that produced a lineage.

6 Having a temper and exploding is often seen as a guy thing.

There's nothing that says that in our deen. Yes, Umar was quick to anger, but over the years in the sira you see him controlling it more and more, then putting his anger to great use as Khalifa. But the Prophet ﷺ was far from quick to anger and so how can this possibly be a trait to look up to? If it exists in one, then they must channel it in the right direction.


7 Delicate introspection.

I'm not a fan of poetry myself, but that doesn't mean that reflective, even delicate, people are not men. Some people are created with a melancholy nature. If they are providing and protecting, then what's the problem? Allah has created people in so many different ways, we cannot pin masculinity just to the example of Umar. Companion Hassan bin Thabit was a delicate poet about whom the Prophet ﷺ said, "He is aided by the Holy Spirit (al-Ruh al-Qudus)," which is the Angel Jibril. And many desert Arabs did not relate to Sayyidna Uthman because he was a soft spoken man raised in luxury.


8  Not being aware (or caring) about how your actions affect others.

We laugh at these types of guys but if anything, being dense about how others feel about your attitude will just ruin your relationships if anything. Nobody is losing out here more than the person himself. And some people are slower at this than others. It's the effort of being considerate that matters. 

9 Attracting beautiful women. 

I've written and deleted so much on this topic. All I can say is, a "hasana in the dunya" is really nice, but in the end, it's the dunya, and all beauty is fleeting anyway. If you don't learn to see beyond the physical, you're just never going to be happy. 


10 Being rough with kids.

Being a provider is a lot more than food, roof, and security. Emotions are part of the equation. And there are plenty of stories of people who spend decades recovering from dads who failed to provide certain emotional needs. In fact, I think most people would prefer to feel good with their dads than to eat and dress well. Emotional well-being is under the category of qawama, being a provider.


Ok so these things DO NOT make a man. So what does??


Four simple things:

1 Qawama Part I

Being a provider. But again, a wife, kids, and elderly parents are not animals or machines. They need a lot more than material sustenance. Money is the base, but emotions, morals, companionship, and religious guidance are also part of what a Muslim man must provide.


2 Qawama Part II

Being a protector. The Prophet ﷺ told Sayyidna Ali, never sell your swords or your shield.


3 Being true to Allah.

"Rijal (men) who were true to their oath with Allah." Study the Sacred Law and go by the book. This is what we'd call moral leadership. Allah honors those who obeys Him. It's that simple. 


4 Not dressing or appearing with what is culturally associated with women.

The Prophet ﷺ made it very clear that men and women should be distinct in their dress and appearance. This will differ from culture to culture. In Shari'a neither men nor women may appear in public in form-fitting or transparent clothing.

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