Contention 49 (Eleventh Contentions)

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Maidens! Choose him that uses his ears more than his eyes.

Commentary:

If he is even minimally smart he will know that what you say, and how you say it, reveals your worth more surely than your skin can.

If he is religious, or otherwise decent, he will also wish to avert his eyes. If the Ka’ba is veiled, and the consecrated host, then so too should be the theophany of woman. ‘When God hates a man He removes modesty from his heart’ (Hadith). Ibn Ata says: ‘The highest knowledge is awe and modesty; once they go, everything goes.’ The guiltless gazer is either weak in faith, or he is married to you already.

The thoughtless believe that we can worship together. John Betjeman used to worship at the Grosvenor Chapel, sitting where he could see Joan Prince, beauty editor at Harper’s Bazaar, who was married to a chapel sidesman. Surveying her as she bent over to receive the sacrament, he wrote

How elegantly she swings along
In the vapoury incense veil;
The angel choir must pause in song
When she kneels at the altar rail.

Voyeurism in church was very Betjemanesque. Listening to women was not. There are Peeping Toms, but there are no Eavesdropping Toms. ‘He knows the treason of the eyes,’ says the Qur’an, ‘and what the hearts conceal’ (40:19). So Betjeman died with his mistress, not his wife; untidy to the end, betrayed by his own roving eye.

‘A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her family, her beauty, and her religion; choose the woman of religion, and joyful shall be your dusty hand’ (Hadith). This is the Hadith of Women: the magazines invite her to the excruciating task of improving her outward appearance; religion invites her to the far easier task of improving her inward (‘God wants ease for you, not hardship’ [2:185]). A society in which earning-power and the battle against ageing top the suitor’s checklist imposes competition for what is finite and fragile; it is a subtle oppressor. But she who seeks him for whom the passion of her Qur’anic recital is the surest sign, enjoys the greater freedom.

(Source: Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, Contention No. 49, Pgs. 86-87)

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