The Real Housewives of Ancient Egypt

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Ever attended a ladies’ social get-together or party? Of course you have, if you are female!

Ladies of all ages love to dress up, get together, and have a heart-to-heart conversation over sumptuous food. For a woman, getting together with her girlfriends is actually one of the few things in life that really helps her release stress and uplift spirits.

little girls tea
Photo courtesy: http://www.multiplydelicious.com/thekids/

Whether its a group of little girls dressing up and playing ‘tea-party’ in their backyard garden, spirited teenaged divas baking their first batch of cupcakes in the kitchen, twenty-something college-goers taking a party-breather after their midterm exams, neighborhood housewives convening a potluck luncheon, or matronly matriarchs balloting the coveted “committee” prize at a restaurant “kitty party”, us sugar-and-spice-loving X-chromosmers never tire of coming together to chat, eat and drink to our hearts content (and not necessarily in that order) in the company of the ‘girls’ in our lives.

A sprinkling of a little bit of everything we love: gourmet dishes, giggles, glamor, gabbing, and (unfortunately, may Allah save us) gossip, embody the hallmarks of our coffees, luncheons, high teas, dinners and potlucks.

The pretexts for, and the activities carried out in these parties might vary, depending upon the age of the attendees, but the fun had in them remains the same for us girls, young and old alike.

The Outcome of Frequent All-Girl Parties

dinner-tableAs of late, the female love of fashion, food and felicitation, has been milked to the maximum through highly glamorized and larger-than-life onscreen adaptations of the drama that ensues when some felines females come together to scratch socialize.

Whether they are schoolgirls, students, working women, or housewives living in luxurious homes (‘desperate’ or ‘real’, take your pick), the intrigue and drama that results whenever they come together for some repartee is now recorded, sensationalized, and broadcasted as a flamboyant spectacle for all to see and get entertained with.

The fact is, however, that any gathering that is convened for no necessary purpose, valid reason, good cause, or noble intention, brings about more harm than good. If care is not taken, many vices can emerge as a result of the unnecessary and frequent socializing undertaken by ladies; there is no doubt about that.

Gossiping, backbiting, showing off of wealth; the resultant envy and spite; competition and boasting of/about new worldly acquisitions and achievements; the avarice that this causes – all these are just a few of the undercurrents at play when ladies get together for no specific purpose except to while away the time by having some seemingly ‘harmless’ fun.

The Dinner Banquet Held for Egyptian Socialite Ladies – As Mentioned in the Quran

I find it very interesting how the Quran and sunnah, both, have mentioned such gatherings that women enjoy convening and attending. In this post, I will talk about the one mentioned in the Quran.

The Quran elaborates how, once, a handful of powerful and affluent Egyptian housewives were relishing the latest society ‘scandal’ caused by hearsay about an attempted seduction gone awry, when a respectable nobleman’s young ‘trophy’ wife tried to entice one of her palace’s male-slaves towards having an affair with her:

وَقَالَ نِسْوَةٌ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ امْرَأَةُ الْعَزِيزِ تُرَاوِدُ فَتَاهَا عَن نَّفْسِهِ قَدْ شَغَفَهَا حُبًّا إِنَّا لَنَرَاهَا فِي ضَلاَلٍ مُّبِينٍ

Now the women of the city spoke [to one another]: “The wife of this nobleman is trying to induce her slave-boy to yield himself unto her! Her love for him has pierced her heart; verily, we see that she is undoubtedly going astray!” [12:30]

These gossiping ladies were consequently invited to a banquet by the said wife (the one they were talking maliciously about) at her home, when the latter heard about their partaking in ‘juicy’ gossip (مَكْرِهِنَّ) of which she herself was the main protagonist.

Specifically, this dinner party had an ulterior agenda: of showing off the object of her attraction (Yusuf) to them all, in order to induct them into her scheme of – factually speaking – exploitation, attempted rape and blackmail.

To spell it out, in case you still don’t get it: the hostess wanted to refute her guests’ opinions about her having supposedly ‘lost it’ (i.e. gone bonkers) by lusting after her male-slave, by showing him to them in person, and thus ‘proving’ to them (in a decadent, deviant sort of way) how her seduction of him was ‘justified’ because he was physically so attractive:

فَلَمَّا سَمِعَتْ بِمَكْرِهِنَّ أَرْسَلَتْ إِلَيْهِنَّ وَأَعْتَدَتْ لَهُنَّ مُتَّكَأً وَآتَتْ كُلَّ وَاحِدَةٍ مِّنْهُنَّ سِكِّينًا وَقَالَتِ اخْرُجْ عَلَيْهِنَّ فَلَمَّا رَأَيْنَهُ أَكْبَرْنَهُ وَقَطَّعْنَ أَيْدِيَهُنَّ وَقُلْنَ حَاشَ لِلّهِ مَا هَـذَا بَشَرًا إِنْ هَـذَا إِلاَّ مَلَكٌ كَرِيمٌ

Thereupon, when she heard of their malicious talk, she sent for them, and prepared for them a sumptuous banquet, and handed each of them a knife, and said [to Yusuf]: “Come out and show yourself to them!” And when the women saw him, they were greatly amazed at his beauty, and [so flustered were they that] they cut their hands [with their knives], exclaiming, “God save us! This is no mortal man! This is not but a noble angel!” [12:31]

plush-couch-and-fireplaceThe Arabic word مُتَّكَأً means, “divan, couch, sofa, cushion, or ottomon.”

Clearly, the hostess went to great lengths to prepare a luxurious setting for her lady guests at this banquet (أَعْتَدَتْ لَهُنَّ).

And when Yusuf was brought out before these female guests, it was “mission accomplished” for the hostess.

Her shallow, gossipy female guests were as smitten by her physically attractive boy-slave as she was. She could now get them to join forces in cahoots with herself to more effectively blackmail him into submitting to their collective advances:

قَالَتْ فَذَلِكُنَّ الَّذِي لُمْتُنَّنِي فِيهِ وَلَقَدْ رَاوَدتُّهُ عَن نَّفْسِهِ فَاسَتَعْصَمَ وَلَئِن لَّمْ يَفْعَلْ مَا آمُرُهُ لَيُسْجَنَنَّ وَلَيَكُونًا مِّنَ الصَّاغِرِينَ

Said she: “This, then, is he about whom you have been blaming me! And, indeed, I did try to make him yield himself to me, but he remained chaste. Now, however, if he does not do what I bid him, he shall most certainly be imprisoned, and shall most certainly find himself among the despised!” [12:32]

Here I’d like to point out that, before she convened this banquet, this housewife had not only been caught red-handed by her husband and some other inmates of her house whilst trying to seduce Yusuf (and this happened rather publicly, in fact, hence the ensuing scandal and gossip), but had also been reprimanded for it by her husband, who, being a decent man, had forgiven her, and adjured his protégé, the distraught young Yusuf, to also overlook and henceforth ignore what she had done. Consequently, Yusuf continued living in the same house as she.

Despite that, it is obvious how she is, at this dinner banquet, still persisting in her scheme of getting him to succumb to her advances. In fact, she is practically boasting about her seductive prowess in front of her girlfriends! Talk about relentless pursuit.

I have learned a few things from the mention of this whole episode in the Quran, which I am listing below.

Needless to say, but I will say it to remind you nevertheless,- since this story has been narrated by Allah in the Quran,- it is 100% true. It is not the concocted, sensationalized fiction found in bestselling romance novels today. This is what makes it worth pondering upon to extract real-life lessons for ourselves from it.

The fact that this whole incident actually happened should leave us with the following points to think about:

TheWeak Gender? Yeah, Right!

Women, especially housewives married to powerful men, are not as weak and non-influential as they consider (read: undermine) themselves to be.

Rather, a married woman belonging to a high-class clan can yield not just an immense amount of power over her domestic subordinates, but she can also use her brains to cunningly manipulate the people around her (including her husband) to make them do exactly what she wants them to do.

This is not always a negative thing. It is for this reason that Muslim men have been strongly advised by Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) to marry the religiously committed woman.

And, any haters reading this blog, go ahead and call me a misogynist for doing this, but at this point, I will also quote a famous hadith along the same subject.

Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) once said, whilst addressing a female audience in person:

أَذْهَبَ لِلُبِّ الرَّجُلِ الْحَازِمِ مِنْ إِحْدَاكُنَّ

“A cautious, sensible (الْحَازِمِ) man (الرَّجُلِ) could lose his intelligence (لُبِّ) because of one of you (women).” [Sahih Al-Bukhari]

So ladies, please stop undermining and underrating the power and influence you yield over others, including your (mahrum) men. You can be quite a force to reckon with, I tell you. 🙂

Behind the Curtain Agendas

The next lesson I learned through this narrative from Surah Yusuf in the Quran, is that women, especially housewives, can convene elaborate and extravagant banquets in their homes for the other ladies in their social circle for hidden, self-serving motives; motives besides the apparently innocent and noble intentions of hosting guests for the sake of Allah, and earning rewards in the Akhirah for feeding them.

Many a time, especially in those circles where knowledge and practice of Deen is lacking, the purpose for holding social gatherings is purely self-serving and worldly in nature e.g. one-upping the last event hosted by one of the attendees at their residence; showing off one’s new home; displaying one’s culinary and homemaking expertise for all to admire (and consequently bask in the ego-boosting compliments); ‘celebrating’ the accomplishment of a worldly milestone (which can be academic, familial, or corporate in nature e.g. the birth of a new baby, a child’s graduation, or a career promotion).

The motive could even simply be chasing away idleness and its associated boredom by having something to do for a while (namely, to organize and host a banquet).

That is why, the innate intentions behind our actions make the whole difference in our book of deeds.

Beware of the Exploitative Boss

Another lesson I learned from this incident is that it is actually very easy for someone in authority to misuse their power and influence to oppress and exploit their subordinates, even if it is a female doing that to a male. Today, the world screams and protests against the rampant rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, objectification and exploitation of girls and women by men.

However, by quoting the above incident in Surah Yusuf, the Quran has testified to how even a woman in authority can try to corner and rape a young man/boy who is under her thumb.

The plotting (كَيْدِهِنَّ) of the above-mentioned socialite housewives of ancient Egypt had such a long-term impact on the young Yusuf that, even after spending years in the prison that they banished him to as a punishment for not submitting to their sexual advances, when he was finally getting the chance to be bailed out (released from jail), the first thing Yusuf asked the then ruler/king who was facilitating his release, was to find out if these women were still intending to persist in their pursuit of him:

وَقَالَ الْمَلِكُ ائْتُونِي بِهِ فَلَمَّا جَاءهُ الرَّسُولُ قَالَ ارْجِعْ إِلَى رَبِّكَ فَاسْأَلْهُ مَا بَالُ النِّسْوَةِ اللاَّتِي قَطَّعْنَ أَيْدِيَهُنَّ إِنَّ رَبِّي بِكَيْدِهِنَّ عَلِيمٌ

So the king said:Bring him to me.” But when the messenger came to him, (Yusuf) said: Go you back to your lord, and ask him, What is the state of mind of the ladies who cut their hands? For my Lord is certainly well aware of their snare.” [12:50]

So much for women being “weak”.

If any lady reading this post identifies herself as an influential “housewife”, and she is married to a man who is a “mover and shaker” among society’s elite, she should try to use this privilege that Allah has bestowed her with, to bring about a lasting, positive change in her circle of influence, as well as to work towards establishing the limits, rulings and commands of the Deen of Islam in her territory/jurisdiction.

I say this because, another one of the important lessons I have learned from this incident is that, when women come together, they can make a long-lasting impact on others around them, through their collective actions.

So let the righteous and resourceful women amongst us join forces to bring about a positive impact in our communities by collaborating in beneficial projects that will help promote and establish Islam in the societies we live in.

If the housewives of ancient Egypt could persist in a scheme that was vile, why can we not persist with the same zeal for causes that are noble and righteous?

Why do we sigh heavily and resignedly claim, “But what more can I do? I am but just a woman.”

My Personal Experiences With Ladies Parties

I have been enjoying getting together with ladies, be they friends or acquaintances, since as far back in my life as I can remember.

However, it was in my twenties that such sisterly social gatherings became more free from the evils of gossip, backbiting, rumor-mongering and other vices (such as music, movies, and listening to candid recountals of amorous escapades – أسْتَغفِرُ اللهِ رَبِّى مِن كُلِّ ذَنبٍ وَّ أتُوبُ اِلَيهِ). I cringe from remembering the sins that I indulged in when I got together with my friends when I was a teenager, up to the age of twenty-one years old. May Allah grant me forgiveness.

Since then, ‎الحمد لله, and up till now, the social gatherings I attend with other ladies have become much, much better. Most of them include the remembrance of Allah via discussions of the Quran and ahadith, and involve faith-rejuvenating dialogues about how to obey Allah more, or how to act upon His Deen more in our everyday lives.

Photo courtesy: Penny Stephens (http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2007/03/29/1174761667456.html)
Photo courtesy: Penny Stephens (http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2007/03/29/1174761667456.html)

I am truly grateful to Allah for allowing me the chance to improve myself through the company of my pious female friends, and to enhance my social activities with them through many diverse avenues of permissible enjoyment.

I am thankful to Allah for His bringing in so many righteous, inspiring and likeable sisters as lifelong friends into my life.

I could never have imagined, when I took that first, fear-and-doubt-ridden plunge 12 years ago, towards reverting to Islam as a complete, 24/7 lifestyle (and consequently, lost more than a few “old” friends, who intentionally became distant from me after seeing me “change” i.e. become religious),- that Allah would eventually grant me so many more, and much more sincere, new sisters as friends. ‎الحمد لله الذى بنعمته تتم الصالحات

That being said, I still have my guard up. I am still extremely conscious of who I socialize with (i.e. outside family), who I share my meals with, and most importantly (ever since I’ve had children) who I allow into my home.

Sometimes, not very often ‎الحمد لله, I get the distinct feeling of the “one-upping” kind of competitiveness from a sister or female friend. By that I mean, though she might be very righteous, sincere and genuine in and of herself, but when she is around me, I sense a subtly suppressed compulsion inside her to compete with me, either personality-wise, domestically (cooking, clothes, shoes, home decor, [*yawn*] the same ol’ stuff), professionally, family-wise, or spiritually.

I get a little uncomfortable when competitiveness or rivalry of any kind creeps into a sincere friendship. And once I sense this rivalry from a sister (i.e. her desire to ‘copy’, one-up, or outdo me), I start to keep a little distance from her.

Besides this one factor, I really love and enjoy the company of pious sisters. I truly believe that the global Muslim sisterhood is one of the greatest blessings any Muslim woman can enjoy in this short, worldly life!

Next up, please stay tuned for the second part of this post, in which a detailed hadith describing a candid discussion between the housewives of ancient Arabia about their husbands will be analyzed, اِنْ شَآءَ اللهُ.

Continue reading: The Real Housewives of Ancient Arabia

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10 thoughts on “The Real Housewives of Ancient Egypt

  1. Love your connections of Quranic stories to real life. I am able to relate to it a lot. Problem is: In a non-Muslim country, where you only have ONE coveted circle of Muslim friends, it’s hard to transform it into a circle of remembrance of Allah 😦 (. I know it sounds bad, but this is what it is. I’m no scholar. I try to change the subject but people listen so avidly to a piece of gossip, it’s rude to interrupt it.

    And this one lady in our community (she MashaAllah manages an online islamic university – from her home! MA MA and conducts Islamic classes via Skype to students all around the world).. so I asked her to conduct a 1-hour lesson for us girls each week, but she couldn’t, because she said she was too busy.

    Any suggestions?.. 😦

    1. I can understand your predicament. Hang in there, sister.

      Transformation starts slowly and proceeds gradually.

      Allah has said in the Quran: إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّـيِّئَاتِ — “Indeed, those things that are good, remove those that are evil. [11:114]”
      So I would like to suggest that you become the change you want to see, and start by introducing short discussions on small ayaat of the Quran and brief ahadith, or start discussing an interesting Islamic book with your friends (such as “Enjoy Your Life“). Keep it very brief and short, otherwise they will run. 😉
      Continue making dua to Allah simultaneously, that He grants you the company of righteous friends. Dua’s make a ton of a difference.

      Slowly and gradually, a change will come about, insha’Allah. And even if it doesn’t, and your friends leave you (many of my ‘old’ friends have left me too, by the way, but Allah has replaced them beautifully), it will be a test of your steadfastness.

      I know how lonely it can get to migrate from a group of backbiters/gossipers as friends, until the lovely righteous ones come along. It happened to me in my early twenties. I was very lonely for a few years.
      But continue to seek Allah’s help with patience and salah (اسْتَعِينُواْ بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلاَةِ إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِين – “Seek help with patience and salah, indeed Allah is with those who are patient” [2:153]), and a few months/years down the road, you will be granted lovely new friends by Allah, who will last for the rest of your life, insha’Allah.

    2. Assalamualikum, I totally feel you. You know I used to have crazy Eid parties at my house that were so not halal =/ but this last year we turned it into an Eid dars. Same people were invited but we just sat in a circle and everyone just said one thing they learned in Ramadan and wished to implement it. Before the party, I wasn’t expecting my friends to enjoy it because I was known to throw the best crazy parties but then after the dars a lot of my friends told me how it was nice to have it =)

  2. aoa wr wb , alhamdulillah very nice- enjoyed it . May ALLAH Grant us truly pious and beneficial company else its better to have one such friend than a host of them.

  3. Assalamualikum,

    JazakAllah Khair for a really good read. I am totally hooked to your blog =)

    I had a question regarding your comment on gathering for graduations, child being born etc. Are we not allowed to get together for such reasons? Can we celebrate these parties and have a word of Allah during the event? In the west, these events are very common. I understand why baby showers are not halal but can you explain please. Thanks!

    1. Wa alaikumus salam Rabiya. 🙂

      Nothing wrong with celebrating happiness or inviting guests over for a banquet even without a reason. The intention behind the act is what makes it (in this case, the party) either an act of worship or a sin, besides of course the way it is executed i.e. whether or not the party itself involves any impermissible aspects.

      If the intention is showing off of achievements or acquisitions, self-projection, garnering praise that pleases the ego, or receiving returns for the amount of money spent on similar gatherings hosted by others (e.g. I know firsthand from some people based in the West, that high-school graduation parties are thrown to receive money from guests, and actually prove to be very good fund-raisers. This is proven by the fact that sometimes the invitation cards clearly stipulate “No Boxed Gifts please”, thus obligating the guests to give cash to the hosts. Any gift that is obligated places a financial strain on others, and is thus not correct in principle), then such gatherings will not be permissible based on these intentions.

      But if the intention is simply to celebrate one’s happiness with others, and things are kept simple (no deliberate extravagant spending on ostentation or self-projection) at the party, then there is nothing wrong with that. The aqeeqah is an example of such a permissible banquet (remember, with things being kept simple) which celebrates the birth of a baby, and involves slaughtering an animal and feeding others (including the needy) with the meat.

      Allah knows best.

      1. JazakAllah Khairan. May Allah grant you and your family the highest place in Jannah, ameen. lol i totally feel you on the ‘no boxed gifts’ on invites

  4. Jazakumullah khairan kaseera for this enlightening post. The “gossip circle” is nothing but a trap of Satan and our own nafs. If we work on living according to noble Islamic principles instead of animal-like instincts, it is my personal experience that life becomes much simpler and cleaner. May Allah Bless and Guide us all.

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