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The academic study of masculinity has recently emerged as a parallel to feminist strategies of deconstructing historical, cultural, class, religious, and other factors shaping notions of maleness. In the case of Islam and Muslim societies, elements contributing to masculinities are normative pronouncements of the religion, the models of the Prophet and his companions, as well as philosophical, ethical, and social discourses and practices.

The Qur˒an seems to privilege the male as being "a degree higher" and gives him responsibility over females. Nonetheless, feminist scholars such as Asma Barlas have been trying to recover an underlying antipatriarchal ethos behind the stories of the sacred text, for example, in Abraham's breaking with traditional models of patriarchy through rejecting his father's gods. The Prophet himself embodied traits of strength and gentleness, and served both as a warrior and tender husband and father. ˓Ali, the fourth caliph, as a heroic male figure embodies both military prowess and spiritual wisdom, whereas ˓Umar, the second caliph, projects the harsh and uncompromising enforcement of social control while dispensing impartial justice.

Both pre- and post-Islamic Arabic cultures contain well-developed concepts of muruwwa, or manliness, combining moral notions of integrity, fidelity, valor, chastity, and honor. In medieval Muslim societies and Sufi spheres, the ethical code of futuwwa (Arabic) or jawanmardi (Persian) was enacted by societies or guild-like alliances of young men bonded around ethics of honor and companionship. A sort of Persian cult of male strength and chivalry is still performed in the zurkhana, or "house of strength," where gymnastic exercises are carried out to the background of the chanted national epic, the Shahnameh.

Contemporary studies of film and literature from the Muslim world explore their themes of male competition, violence, and coming of age in a highly gendered social world. Certain tropes, such as the wily woman who deprives males of virility and the constant need to preserve and control female honor, play on male anxieties. Some anthropological and literary studies have highlighted the role of the wedding night in Arab societies, where in traditional contexts male sexual performance and female virginity were expected and verified, giving further clues into the psychological background of asserting male potency as a quasi-sacrificial blood ritual.

Further research analyzes how maleness is inculcated through rituals such as circumcision which, in certain Muslim societies such as Turkey, may be a prepuberty ritual accompanied by public display and celebration, including dressing the boy in a military-type uniform. The cultural significance of male attributes such as beards and mustaches, which may also have a religious or political valence, is another dimension of the Muslim embodiment of maleness. Variations in conceptions of the ideal masculine have also merited attention in terms of homosexual identities, black Muslim male embodiment, the effect of colonialism and the colonial gaze on Muslim constructions of the masculine, and so on.

See alsoBody, Significance of ; Feminism ; Gender ; Homosexuality .


Cornwall, Andrea, and Lindisfarne, Nancy, eds. DislocatingMasculinity: Comparative Ethnographies. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

Ghoussoub, Mai, and Sinclair-Webb, Emma. ImaginedMasculinities: Male Identity and Culture in the Modern Middle East. London: Saqi Books, 2000.

Marcia Hermansen

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