Discussing Ghayra in Abbasid Literature: Jealousy as a Manly Virtue or Sign of Mutual Affection

In: Journal of Abbasid Studies
Pernilla Myrne University of Gothenburg Sweden

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Jealousy is a thriving theme in Abbasid poetry and narratives, but it is not confined to the realm of storytelling and poetic motifs; its meaning and boundaries are discussed from various points of view of Abbasid scholarship. In this article, explanations and definitions of ghayra as an emotion as well as cultural practice are investigated on the basis of a selection of Classical Arabic literary sources. It is a study of attitudes towards jealousy in literature that is predominantly normative, and hence excluding subjective experiences as they are expressed in poetry and anecdotal literature.

* I wish to thank the Swedish Research Council for enabling me to conduct the research for this article.


Jealousy is a thriving theme in Abbasid poetry and narratives, just as in many other literary heritages. It is not, however, confined to the realm of storytelling and poetic motifs; its meaning and boundaries are discussed from various perspectives within Abbasid scholarship. The common term for romantic and sexual jealousy is ghayra, a word whose meaning is obscured by being used to endorse jealousy as a manly virtue and at once to denote a familiar and rudimentary emotion not bound by gender. According to Lisān al-ʿArab, ghayra designates disdain and anger (anafa and ḥamiyya) and seems to be caused not by love but by possessiveness and a sense of justice.1 It is an emotion as well as a code of conduct for men, in the sense of “a man’s dislike of another’s participating in that which is his right,” “care of what is sacred, or inviolable, to avoid suspicion,” and “anger at the conduct, or action, of a wife.”2 Yet, medieval lexicons acknowledge that ghayra is felt by women as well. It occurs between wives in polygynous marriages and there is even a specific form of the verb, aghāra ahlahu, “to make one’s wife jealous,” for a man who takes a second wife.3

Abbasid treatises discuss a variety of explanations and definitions of ghayra as an emotion and a cultural practice, in which the difference between women’s and men’s ghayra is frequently a crucial issue. Some ḥadīth collections of the third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries set apart a section on ghayra in the chapter on marriage, sometimes with a specific subdivision devoted to women’s ghayra — apparently to provide normative representations of gender roles based on sunna. The earliest book on love, Iʿtilāl al-qulūb by the theologian Muḥammad b. Jaʿfar al-Kharāʾiṭī (d. 327/938), originates from ḥadīth and has a separate section on ghayra as well.4 Characteristically, it combines the example of the prophet Muḥammad and his wives and companions with poetry by Abū Nuwās, among others.5 Jealousy is certainly a common motif in love poetry and stories.6 We find stories about the idealized ghayra of the pre-Islamic and early-Islamic heroes in khabar literature, for example the stories about the Persian and pre-Islamic Arabian kings in al-Maḥāsin wa-l-aḍdād.7 Attempts to explain ghayra are also found in philosophical and scientific works like, for instance, al-Hawāmil wa-l-shawāmil written by Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī (ca. 310/922-414/1023). This work contains discussions between al-Tawḥīdī and his fellow philosopher Abū ʿAlī Miskawayh (ca. 320/932-421/1030) on various philosophical and scientific issues. One discussion is exclusively devoted to ghayra and it incorporates norms reminiscent of those found in ḥadīth literature into an ethical system built on empirical observation.8 An even more empirical and less normative stance is taken by the hitherto obscure writer of the earliest extant Arabic erotic work entitled Jawāmiʿ al-ladhdha. The author is ʿAlī b. Naṣr al-Kātib, according to Ibn al-Nadīm most probably the secretary with the same name who died in 377/987.9 The bulk of his chapter on ghayra consists of a medical explanation of the causes of jealousy, its benefits, and the cure of its harms.

In this article, I will discuss the attitudes towards jealousy in Iʿtilāl al-qulūb by al-Kharāʾiṭī and some main ḥadīth collections, Sunni as well as Shiite, from the third/ninth and early fourth/tenth centuries.10 I will then compare the ḥadīth attitudes towards jealousy with the slightly later “scientific” attitudes in al-Tawḥīdī’s Hawāmil and Ibn Naṣr’s Jawāmiʿ. Inasmuch as this is a study of attitudes towards jealousy as expressed in literary works that explicitly deal with the topic, i.e., that include chapters or subchapters specifically devoted to ghayra, I have not considered subjective experiences. Hence, I have excluded poetry and anecdotal literature that might have contradicted the sources described here, most of which emphasize that jealousy occurs in marriage.11

Al-Kharāʾitī and the Boundaries of Tolerance

The attitude toward love in Iʿtilāl al-qulūb by al-Kharāʾiṭī may be characterized as ambiguous, perhaps because it reflects several literary traditions included in the book: ḥadīth, poetry and stories (akhbār). For instance, an early chapter consisting mainly of ḥadīths is labeled “Condemnation of love” (dhamm al-hawā), whereas the author elsewhere shows tolerance towards love and lovers — or rather, so do the protagonists in the narratives he quotes. In general, the author himself offers few direct comments and it is therefore all the more remarkable when al-Kharāʾiṭī makes a resolute objection to one of the ḥadīths he is quoting, a ḥadīth that seems to have caused debate among the muḥaddithūn. It occurs in a chapter named “Enduring disagreeable things obeying love” (bāb iḥtimāl al-makrūh fī ṭāʿat al-hawā); the ḥadīth is as follows:

A man said: Messenger of God, I have a wife, and I love her, but she does not stop anybody touching her with his hand (lā tamnaʿ yad lāmis). The Prophet said: Divorce her. He said: But I cannot bear being without her. The Prophet said: Then keep her.12

One interpretation of the ḥadīth is that the lāmis, the “toucher,” successfully convinces the woman to have sexual relations with him; the expression lā tarudd/tamnaʿ yad lāmis may refer to an unfaithful wife.13 The outcome of this interpretation, however, was a challenge for many muḥaddithūn as it meant that the Prophet advised the husband to accept (and forgive) a wife who had committed zināʾ. Al-Kharāʾiṭī relates that some among ahl al-ʿilm supported this interpretation on the basis of the Qurʾan, where lāmastum al-nisāʾ signifies having sexual intercourse (Q 4:43). The Prophet’s advice could be interpreted meaning that the man should keep his wife if he fears that he otherwise will commit zināʾ by having sexual intercourse with her after their divorce. In that case, it would be better to remain married to a sinful woman and have legal sex with her. Al-Kharāʾiṭī, however, doubts that the Prophet would advise a man to keep his wife in spite of her zināʾ, and argues quite animatedly against it: how could anyone believe that the Messenger of God would command a husband to keep an unfaithful wife “inflicting on him someone who is not his, but who would inherit what is his and look at his wives’ private parts (ʿawrāt).”14 Instead, he suggests that the lāmis from the ḥadīth report was someone who came to the wife of an absent man, asking her for her husband’s belongings, a request that she did not reject. In this line of argument, al-Kharāʾiṭī appeals to the readers’ piety and reason; even though the Qurʾan does equate lams with jimāʿ, believers are urged to choose the most pious interpretation of the ḥadīth. Moreover, al-Kharāʾiṭī argues:

We have never seen a man who loves a woman and tolerates seeing her with another man or knowing that she is unfaithful. So, how could it be possible to hear of such an incident involving one of the Prophet’s Companions (ṣaḥāba) and interpret it in this way? Reason cannot accept this in light of what is narrated about the Prophet and his Companions concerning ghayra, which will be mentioned later. They beat their wives for less serious motives, so how could this man have tolerated that his wife did not refuse others?15

According to al-Kharāʾiṭī, the limit of men’s tolerance towards their wives is their ghayra, a very manly virtue on account of the Companions of the Prophet. In his chapter on ghayra, al-Kharāʾiṭī elaborates on his interpretation of the above-mentioned ḥadīth in order to prove that ghayra would have prevented any of the Companions from tolerating a cheating wife. Some of his examples are gruesome: ʿAbdallāḥ b. ʿUmar (d. 73/693), son of caliph ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb and one of the most prominent amongst the Companions, brutally beat his wife for having talked to a man from the other side of the wall. The man was actually her relative, so she was allowed to talk to him, but Ibn ʿUmar’s fierce jealousy made him hit before asking. Likewise, Companion and commander Muʿādh b. Jabal (d. 18/639) beat his wife severely when she presented the apple she was eating to one of her male slaves.16 With these violent stories in mind, al-Kharāʾiṭī elaborates on the issue of wife beating in more general terms, reporting that the Prophet first disapproved of it, but after the revelation of Q 4:34, he endorsed it under the circumstances mentioned there. Overall, al-Kharāʾiṭī depicts a prophet who is unenthusiastic about violence towards those who are to be protected; still he is reported to have said, “Never ask a man why he beats his wife.”17 Wife beating as a result of manly ghayra is an entirely private matter, although divinely approved.

The Companions’ Example and Ghayra in Ḥadīth

According to al-Kharāʾiṭī, the jealousy of the ṣaḥāba was distinctive and could be violent, but the Prophet’s own example is less fierce. Al-Kharāʾiṭī relates about an incident involving a concubine of the Prophet, Māriya the Copt, who was pregnant with his son. Once, when the Prophet visited her, he found one of her male relatives in her company whereupon he was overwhelmed with doubt about the paternity of the child.18 The Prophet was able to keep his doubts to himself, until ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb saw his troubled countenance. After hearing about the Prophet’s suspicion, he betook himself to the dwelling of Māriya, with his sword ready to kill the possible offender. He was just about to strike him, when the relative uncovered his private parts, revealing that he had been deprived of his reproductive organs, and hence was acquitted. In this account, ʿUmar is quite aggressive in his protection of the Prophet, whereas the Prophet himself keeps silent and avoids violence. Other ḥadīth scholars, however, portray a less sensitive Prophet who reminds the believers that he himself is even more jealous than Saʿd b. ʿUbāda, a prominent anṣārī and leader of the Khazraj tribe in Medina, who had such fierce ghayra that it made him swear to kill any rival with his sword.19

Not only is ghayra a characteristic of the ṣaḥāba, and thus commendable, it is encouraged and even commanded by God. In an oft-quoted ḥadīth with some variants, the Prophet exhorts the (male) believers to cherish their ghayra, since God is jealous ( yaghār/ghayūr) as well,20 especially when the believers do something he has forbidden.21 In fact, God is the most jealous and for this reason, he has forbidden adultery (or abominable crimes, fawāḥish).22 In this context, ghayra means caring for what is sacred, notably marriage,23 and ensuring that it is not violated. There are two forms of ghayra, however, one that God loves and one that he hates. Good ghayra is directed against disobedience to God and violation of what he has made sacred (maḥārimuhu), whereas bad ghayra is unwarranted jealousy. If used correctly, a man’s ghayra will make him take good care of his family (yuṣliḥ bihā l-rajul ahlahu) and is, accordingly, beneficial for the whole community. Unwarranted jealousy, on the other hand, can negatively affect good women.24

Some scholars take this reasoning a step further and censure or even condemn men who do not possess ghayra. The Iraqi ḥadīth scholar and historian Abū Bakr b. Abī Shayba (d. 235/849) and the Shiite ḥadīth scholar al-Kulaynī both report that the Prophet said, “All men are jealous, except those with twisted hearts.”25 According to another ḥadīth, quoted by al-Kulaynī on the authority of imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765), God will remind a man who has reason to feel ghayra but does not, by sending a bird called al-Qafandar (ṭāʾiran yuqālu lahu l-qafandar) that repeatedly will tell the man to be jealous, saying: “God is jealous (ghayūr) and loves those who are jealous.”26 If the man persists and will not show ghayra, he is considered to be a dayyūth, a man who knows of his wife’s infidelity and tolerates it; consequently, the angels will despise him and God will take away his spirit of faith (rūḥ al-īmān).27 The austerity regarding this issue which al-Kulaynī refers to, is also found in the position of another “hardliner”, the Andalusian Mālikī scholar ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853): the dayyūth is an entirely faulty creature who will be condemned and deprived of Paradise. On the Day of Resurrection, God will not speak with the dayyūth who will, instead, be painfully punished (ʿadhāb alīm).28 Apparently, the man who does not take his responsibility for maintaining the social order built on gender segregation and hierarchy, is one of the worst threats against this order.

Additionally, as al-Kulaynī and others point out, causes for ghayra are not confined to infidelity. It is bad enough that women walk on the road and visit the market, thus mingling amongst men; they should preferably not leave the house at all. In this respect, Ibn Abī Shayba quotes a saying by ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb exhorting men to keep their women “naked” (istaʿīnū ʿalā l-nisāʾ bi-l-ʿury), that is, stripped from adornment, because “if a woman has many garments and beautiful finery, she is bound to go out.”29

Women and Ghayra

If ghayra can be identified as a manly virtue, it would be reasonable for women to prefer jealous men. And some of them did, with excellent results. Muḥammad b. Saʿd (d. 230/845), compiler of Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr and main biographer of the female companions of the Prophet (ṣāḥibāt), transmits an anecdote about the marriage of the parents of caliph Muʿāwiya, Hind bt. ʿUtba, daughter of ʿUtba b. Rabīʿa, and Abū Sufyān b. Ḥarb, all from the Quraysh aristocracy in Mecca and initially hostile towards Muḥammad. Hind had insisted in choosing herself a husband, so her father singled out two men for her to choose between. The first man would be a tolerant husband letting his wife govern, whereas the other would demand absolute obedience, being “fiercely jealous” (shadīd al-ghayra), quick in suspicion and insisting on rigorous seclusion.”30 Hind decided that the latter, who turned out to be Abū Sufyān, would befit a noble, free woman and predicted that their son-to-be would become a “worthy protector of the clan’s women, defender of its troops, preserver of its rights, adorning them with grounds of respect.” Indeed, their son Muʿāwiya became the first Umayyad caliph. Although this narrative is about pre-Islamic codes of behavior, the outcome of the marriage was an Islamic leader, indicating that manly ghayra was well worth keeping.31

Some scholars take this idea a step further and quote a ḥadīth asserting that enduring ghayra is women’s jihad.32 If women endure their husbands’ ghayra, and whatever suffering it may cause, such as restrictions and violence, they will be rewarded in the hereafter. In a Shiite ḥadīth attributed to Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq and quoted by al-Kulaynī, Jaʿfar advises a man who praises his wife to test her by behaving jealous for her, which probably would involve a certain amount of violence.33 If she is able to endure his ghayra and remains virtuous, she is really worthy of his praise.

Women’s ghayra seems to be wholly fruitless and for some ḥadīth scholars it is even hard to believe that women would be capable of real ghayra. Others, like al-Kharāʾiṭī and Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī (194/810-256/870), have no doubt whatsoever: there are too many stories about the jealousy of the Prophet’s wives to think otherwise. They refer to ḥadīths in which the Prophet’s response to jealousy is usually considerate, even compassionate. In one such ḥadīth, an unnamed wife offers the Prophet a pot of food while he is in another wife’s house. The wife in whose house he is becomes instantly jealous and throws the pot on the floor. The Prophet quietly picks up the food saying to the people present: “Eat, your mother is jealous (ghārat),” so as to excuse her behavior.34 In yet another ḥadīth, ʿĀʾisha is jealous of her new co-wife, Ṣafiyya; when the Prophet notices this, he embraces her.35 Moreover, the Prophet wants to protect his own daughter from rival wives when he refuses Banū Hishām b. al-Mughīra to give their daughter in marriage to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, who at the time had Fāṭima as his sole wife.36

Jealousy even caused the Prophet’s wives to take recourse to trickery and quarrels, as Ibn Saʿd reports. Although he tends to portray ʿĀʾisha as a pious example,37 she seems to have been particularly prone to intriguing because of her jealousy toward (potential) co-wives whose beauty attracted the attention of the Prophet.38 This motif generates a number of lively and entertaining narratives, of which the story of the honey stands out. When one of the wives thinks of giving her husband honey to make him stay longer with her than with the other wives, ʿᾹʾisha becomes jealous and — depending on which story one follows — she conspires with either Ḥafṣa or Ḥafṣa and Salwā in order to prevent the Prophet from eating the honey. In at least one variant of the story her tricks are successful.39 Al-Bukhārī even elevates ʿĀʾisha’s ghayra to a higher level by mentioning that the wife she is most jealous of is Khadīja, because the Prophet used to praise her and it was revealed that she had been given a palace in Paradise.40

ʿĀʾisha is not the only jealous wife of the Prophet, as is evidenced by Umm Salama who objects to the Prophet’s marriage proposal saying that she is “fiercely jealous” (shadīd al-ghayra) and as such unsuitable as a wife since he already had several wives.41 The Prophet’s answer, that God will remove her jealousy, positions women’s ghayra opposite men’s in the divine order, but, significantly, it did not hinder him from marrying a jealous woman to begin with and it did not diminish her standing with him either. Moreover, Umm Salama was not ashamed of admitting that she was a jealous woman. At yet another occasion, related by Ibn Ḥabīb, the Prophet forgives a jealous woman who behaves inappropriately, as “a jealous woman (ghayrāʾ) cannot tell the difference between the top of the valley and the bottom.”42

A different stance is taken by al-Kulaynī, who, as a Shiite, would not feel obliged to take akhbār about the Prophet’s wives into consideration. Instead, he condemns women who have ghayra as much as he censures men who have not. The emotion of ghayra, he asserts, is for men; women’s jealousy is ḥasad, “envy,” a word with negative connotations.43 God gave ghayra to men, since he allows them four wives and as many concubines as they want, whereas women can only have one husband.44

Jealousy According to al-Tawḥīdī and Miskawayh

Al-Hawāmil wa-l-shawāmil consists of 175 discussions between Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī and Abū ʿAlī Miskawayh on philosophical as well as scientific subjects; number 95 is on ghayra. The book was written when the two philosophers were at the court of the Būyid vizier Ibn al-ʿAmīd in Rayy, probably between 358/969 and 360/971.45 Al-Tawḥīdī attempted to obtain a position at court, but to no avail; Miskawayh was in charge of Ibn al-ʿAmīd’s library.46 Al-Tawḥīdī was a respected Shāfiʿī jurist and most likely aware of the general interpretation amongst ḥadīth scholars of ghayra as a manly virtue.47 All the same, he seems to approach the topic without prejudices. According to Gharaozlou and Negahban, he is one of those philosophers “who employed an unfettered intellect to find answers to their problems” and at the same time able to bring “philosophy down to the level of his readers’ understanding.”48 Miskawayh was an established historian and philosopher, especially influential in the field of philosophical ethics.49 When exchanging questions and answers in Hawāmil, the two scholars use “autonomous reason” as contrasted to “religious reason,” as Arkoun puts it.50 It is therefore all the more interesting to compare their discussion of ghayra with the ḥadīth scholars’ stance on the topic as we have just seen.

Al-Tawḥīdī directly addresses the issue posing questions like why women’s ghayra is fiercer than that of men. Just like in the ḥadīth reports, the gendered qualities of ghayra are immediately put to the fore. The question, which may be derived from al-Tawḥīdī’s own observation, is promptly refuted by Miskawayh. Al-Tawḥīdī furthermore displays a very negative view on jealousy as “damaging the souls,” apparently without separating women’s jealousy from men’s in this regard, a view that is again rebutted by Miskawayh.51 Moreover, al-Tawḥīdī asks about the essence (ḥaqīqa) of ghayra, its origin and distinct features, and whether it is to be considered as praiseworthy or reprehensible.

As just mentioned, Miskawayh does not agree that women’s ghayra is fiercer than that of men; on the contrary, men may sometimes have stronger ghayra than women.52 Nevertheless, both its manifestation and ethical value is gendered, according to Miskawayh, taking his cue from ḥadīth scholars without, however, referring to a divine order. The essence of ghayra is guarding the women in the household (manʿ al-ḥarīm) and protecting one’s possessions (ḥimāyat al-ḥawza) in order to preserve the progeny and lineage.53 Accordingly, Miskaway’s philosophical reasoning ends up at the same position as that of the ḥadīth scholars: he identifies a good and bad type of jealousy and echoes those who maintain that it is neither commendable to be jealous when it is not appropriate, nor to desist when there are obvious signs of misconduct. Whereas good ghayra is there to secure the patrilineal society, bad ghayra emanates from erotic desire (shahwa) and the wish to have exclusive possession of a person — legally or illegally — rather than from a man’s wish to secure his lineage. And just like male virtue, good ghayra can only be possessed by men.

Miskawayh diverts, however, from the ḥadīth discourses on jealousy in seeking evidence from nature and psychology. Jealousy is a natural and innate disposition (khuluq ṭabīʿī) of people and animals alike, and it is praiseworthy as long as it is neither exaggerated nor understated, in the same way as the other akhlāq.54 Yet, jealousy is more relevant for males than for females because males are entitled to protect, and for that they need anger and courage which are its ingredients. Miskawayh ends his discussion with some ethical conclusions based on humans’ view on animals.55 Animals with little ghayra and whose males abstain from guarding the females, like dogs (kalb) and goats (tays), are despised by humans, whereas animals whose males jealously guard the females, like sheep (kabsh), are praised. Once again, ghayra is defined as a manly virtue, although with a more empirical set of arguments.

Jawāmiʿ al-Ladhdha: A Medical/Psychological Treatise on Ghayra

A less normative attitude is found in Jawāmiʿ al-ladhdha whose author, ʿAlī b. Naṣr, apparently subscribes to the opinion that men’s and women’s ghayra are different, reporting that some (including himself?) believe that “men’s jealousy is a sharpness of temper (ḥidda), whereas women’s is a surplus of sexual desire (shahwa).”56 These two kinds of ghayra might be compared with the good and bad jealousy as formulated by Miskawayh, but Ibn Naṣr does not provide any moral judgment of jealousy as to its causes and manifestations, only to its effects on the partner.

The chapter on ghayra in Jawāmiʿ al-ladhdha begins focusing on women’s ghayra. “Women’s pleasure,” Ibn Naṣr states, “equals their desire and their jealousy equals their pleasure.57 Excessive jealousy in a woman is a sign of excessive sexual appetite.” He then relates that a scholar in the field of ʿilm al-bāh (“sexology”) had raised objections against what seems to be his own opinion, namely that women are more jealous than men. In this sexologist’s view, men find it harder than women to endure rivals, because women are forced to tolerate living with co-wives and concubines in accordance with the sharīʿa.58 He furthermore argues that women’s ghayra does not always stem from a surplus of sexual desire — for some women its reason is pride and for others possessiveness. Just like Miskawayh, this particular scholar refers to animals as an example, stating that females among animals like horses, camels and donkeys, never seem to mind a new female in their flock, while males do not accept new males. These observations make him infer that ghayra is for males (al-ghayra li-l-dhukūra).59

Although it is not always easy to distinguish between Ibn Naṣr’s own views on the one hand and quotations on the other, the outcome is equally fascinating. One of the great merits of the book is the plurality of opinions — philosophical, medical, psychological — expressed through poetry, anecdotes and literary debates, and illustrated by numerous quotations from Greek, Indian, Persian and Arabic literature. In the chapter on ghayra, for example, Ibn Naṣr relies in part on a an ancient Greek physician, probably Aretaeus of Cappadocia (fl. first century ce?), citing a text that does not seem to have survived elsewhere.60 Jealousy is explained by Aretaeus from a perspective that is at variance with all other attitudes thus far described: in his view, jealousy is a sign of mutual love. To be sure, just like several other scholars mentioned earlier, he warns against excessive jealousy, since it violates the partner. Unlike the others, however, he recommends medicine to cure the root of jealousy, which he sees in the partner’s attraction to someone else:

Aretaeus [Arṭiyās] al-Rūmī wrote:61 The reasons of ghayra are various. Among them are possessiveness (nafāsa); a man being greedy for a woman, wanting her for himself, and a woman wanting a man for herself.62 Whenever their jealousy grows stronger, it is one of the signs of affection between them and of their desire to be together. It is necessary, however, to restrain excessive [jealousy] because it stops being praiseworthy and enters the realm of evil thoughts. In this state, one is no longer concerned about the partner or the distress and ruin [, the humiliation and harm]63 one inflicts upon the other. At that moment jealousy increases.64 It may be cured by mixing the brain (dimāgh) of a female rabbit (arnab unthā) with a beverage [or something else]65 without the woman knowing; or by mixing millstone dust from barley flour (ghubār daqīq shaʿīr al-raḥā) with rain water and letting her drink this; or mixing the gall of a wolf (marārat al-dhiʾb) with honey and letting her drink this. [. . .] He wrote: If you are content with a woman and so is she with you, if you are pleased with her and so is she with you, and you do not want anyone else to have a relation with her, then use what we have mentioned. Beware of using it if you eventually want to separate from her or sell her if she is a slave; likewise, do not give it to a woman with whom you want to have pleasure and then dismiss, because if you give this treatment to such women, you are committing a sin.66

The quotation addresses men, but the Aya Sofya manuscript adds that women often treat men with these same remedies. Nonetheless, in this context, the harm caused by ghayra is entirely between two individuals and has nothing to do with male virtue or the man’s wish to secure his lineage. Excessive jealousy hurts a relationship bound by affection and damages beloved ones. Here, ghayra is a psychological emotion more than a cultural practice. The remedy will eventually make the woman be attracted to the man so that she stays faithful to him. In this fashion, the man eliminates the sources for his jealousy, namely his beloved’s attraction to his rivals.

Ibn Naṣr also presents medical formulas for improving the pleasure of sexual intercourse with the same effect. The man can cover his penis with, for instance, good oil, blood from the crest of a rooster, or blood from a billy goat, and then have sexual intercourse with the woman of his choice. Ibn Naṣr informs us about antidotes to these treatments as well, should the man change his mind about the woman. Finally, Ibn Naṣr presents recipes for “the magic properties” (al-khawāṣṣ) that make a woman refuse other men, or even all men.67 The recipes call for ingredients associated with potency, such as testicles and penises of hyenas, wolves, oxen, and other animals. These may be mixed with diverse substances and ingested or rubbed on the penis before intercourse. Whether these remedies or their antidotes were actually ever applied remains uncertain; the odd ingredients might have been readily available at the market, but the procedure of rubbing a penis with the gall of a wolf does seem rather insurmountable.68

The mere attempt to find a medical solution, instead of violence and segregation, is in line with the philosophy of Jawāmiʿ. Unlike al-Kharāʾiṭī and some other ḥadīth scholars, Ibn Naṣr never suggests violence or threat of violence as an acceptable manly behavior. It is not sophisticated for a ẓarīf, aman of the world,” to behave in such a manner; a man is either beloved by women, or uses his knowledge to become so.69 He may treat his woman behind her back and experiment with her desire, but in the end he does not force her; after his treatment, she simply will desire him. The only time Ibn Naṣr dwells upon a violent manly ghayra is to warn against it: men who take protected women as mistresses are bound to face it sooner or later.70

Concluding Remarks

In ḥadīth literature, to possess manly ghayra means both to feel jealousy and to act upon it, i.e., to operate in keeping with the code of honorable conduct associated with ghayra. In practice, this means protecting the women of the household and preventing them from associating with men who are not immediate relatives. This definition of ghayra has not much to do with romantic jealousy. Moreover, it is more of a cultural practice than an innate emotion. Men’s jealous behavior is self-centered, urging them to protect their property from intruders, and at the same time self-sacrificing, regarded as beneficial for the community. In this context, women’s ghayra is out of place. It is not beneficial, since the woman has no one to defend, and it would thus be only selfish. Women may be jealous, but they should preferably try to dispense with this emotion; they should not let jealousy influence their behavior. If they do, however, several ḥadīth scholars urge men to show compassion.

As to philosophical and medical/psychological attitudes towards jealousy, both al-Tawḥīdī and Ibn Naṣr seem to have observed that women are more jealous than men. For al-Tawḥīdī, it is a hypothesis — or a personal preoccupation derived from his own observations — which is at once dismissed by Miskawayh, who is the authority in al-Hawāmil. Perhaps, the actual question here is: Why is it that women are jealous when jealousy is regarded as a property of men and a manly virtue? Miskawayh’s answer is brief; he is not really interested in women’s jealousy. Men’s ghayra, on the other hand, has a natural purpose and an ethical dimension. It is there to defend the family and secure the patrilineal society. He attempts to prove this with observations on animals (some animals possess ghayra, some do not) combined with morals (we praise the animals that possess ghayra and despise those which do not). He seems to target scholars such as Ibn Naṣr when he criticizes the association of jealousy with sexual desire.

Ibn Naṣr, on the other hand, provides the only view that considers the love relationship, regardless of its legal status, and the effects jealousy has on it. He seems to adhere to the understanding of jealousy as a subjective emotion. Whereas ḥadīth scholars may urge men to carry out their ghayra so as to provide good examples, Ibn Naṣr advices men to secretly give their loved ones potions to satisfy their own selfish desire. Nevertheless, he is not devoid of an ethical standpoint, men are for example advised not to give their treatments to women who will eventually suffer from it. His ethics operate on an individual level. Moreover, women may give these remedies to men as well. Ibn Naṣr provides one psychological explanation as to how women’s ghayra differs from men’s — women’s jealousy stems from sexual desire, that of men stems from temper — and one sociological — women possess less jealousy than men from being forced to live with co-wives. Finally, Miskawayh’s view on ghayra has much in common with those of the ḥadīth scholars, while Ibn Naṣr’s explanation is radically different, illustrating the exceptionally vibrant intellectual climate of the time.

1 Ibn Manẓūr, (d. 711/1311-12), Lisān, gh-y-r.

2 Lane, Lexicon, II, 2316.

3 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, gh-y-r; Fīrūzābādī (d. 817/1415), Qāmūs, gh-y-r; cf. Lane, Lexicon, II, 2316.

4 See Gharīd al-Shaykh’s introduction to Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 6-7, for biographical notes on the author, who was born in Samarra, moved to live in Syria and died in Jaffa or Asqalan.

5 See Gruendler, A Theologican’s Endorsement, for al-Kharāʾiṭī’s relatively forgiving attitude towards passionate love. Gruendler’s fundamental study includes translated akhbār and poems on “love martyrs” which are especially interesting.

6 See, for example, the poetry in Ibn Dāwūd, Kitāb al-zahra, 82-90.

7 Ps.-Jāḥiẓ, Maḥāsin, 272-301. In these stories, men are easily seduced — favoring obscure promises of sexual satisfaction over loyalty to the king — and therefore punished. Or, they act unmanly, with little jealousy, and let their women fall into misery. The book was attributed to Jāḥiẓ early on, but this attribution is definitely refuted, see Pellat, Nouvel essai, 147. Parts of the book rely on al-Maḥāsin wa-l-masāwī by al-Bayhaqī (third/ninth-fourth/tenth century); see Gériès, Maḥāsin, and Gériès, Bayhaqī.

8 See Gharaozlou and Negahban, Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī and Rowson, al-Tawḥīdī, 760-761.

9 Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, 287. I am most grateful to Everett Rowson for sharing his knowledge about this book. He concludes that it was written not later than the middle of the fifth/eleventh century. See his excellent overview in Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature: Arabic: Middle Ages to Nineteenth Century. For the chapter on ghayra, I rely on two mss; Aya Sofya 3837 (634 ah) and Fatih 3729 (582 ah).

10 The Sunni sources used include collections such as Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ; Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf; and Tirmidhī, Jāmiʿ; the Shiite ḥadīth compilation that I use, al-Kāfī by Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī (d. 329/940-41), is a little later, but contemporary with al-Kharāʾiṭī.

11 Additionally, I do not discuss whether jealousy, or any emotion, is innate or socially constructed; it would be fruitful, though, to discuss the theoretical approaches of research devoted to the history of emotions in pre-modern Europe (such as Rosenwein, Worrying about Emotions) and Classical Antiquity (e.g., Konstant and Rutter Envy, Spite and Jealousy) in relation to Islamicate history.

12 Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 306. There are a few variants to this ḥadīth, e.g., lā tarudd instead of lā tamnaʿ, and “enjoy her”, instead of “keep her”; cf. Suyūṭī, Sharḥ Sunan al-Nisāʾī, 67-68. The ḥadīth is found in Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, 545; Shāfiʿī, Umm, 37. The different versions, opinions and arguments around its interpretation are summarized by Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, who argues that yad lāmis must indicate zināʾ, and that the husband suspects that his wife would be able to commit an adulterous act, but that he has no evidence. I found al-ʿAsqalānī’s text, where the ḥadīth is debated, online in a transcript of a short Azhar MS entitled Risāla fī ḥadīth lā tarudd yad lāmis li-bn Ḥajar,

13 Lamasa l-marʾa wa-lāmasahā is, according to al-Zamakhsharī (Asās al-balāgha, II, 180) the same as jāmaʿahā (having sexual intercourse with her), and a woman who lā tarudd yad lāmis is a fājira (prostitute, adulteress). See also Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, r-m-z and kh-r-ʿ, where a rammāza is explained as a fājira who lā tarudd yad lāmis. In an anecdote related in Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih, ʿIqd, III, 415, a man is asked why he keeps a wife who lā tarudd yad lāmis; the man answers that she is beautiful and the mother of sons, or the mother of the household. The story does not tell what the wife has done, but since it is also included in the section on zināʾ in Ibn Qutayba, ʿUyūn, IV, 103, we may deduce that she has been adulterous.

14 Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 306.

15 Ibid.

16 Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 312; also Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 275.

17 Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 312.

18 Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 310-311.

19 Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, VII, 2002; Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf, IV, 54; in Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 276, Saʿd swears to kill his wife, not his rival.

20 Inna Allāha ʿazza wa-jalla yaghāru fa-l-yaghar aḥadukum: Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 309, 310; Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, VII, 2002; Tirmidhī, Jāmiʿ, III, 467; Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf, IV, 54; Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 276-277; Kulaynī, Kāfī, V, 535 (stating that the protagonist of this tradition is imam Muḥammad al-Bāqir (d. ca 116/734).

21 Ghayrat Allāh an yaʾtī l-muʾmin mā ḥarrama ʿalayhi: Tirmidhī, Jāmiʿ, III, 467; Kharāṭī, Iʿtilāl, 309.

22 Laysa aḥadun aghyara min Allāhi taʾālā min ajli dhālika ḥarrama l-fawāḥisha; Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 309. In Muḥammad al-Bāqir’s version of the tradition it is rendered: inna Allāha tabāraka wa-taʿālā ghayūrun yuḥibbu kulla ghayūrin wa-li-ghayratihi ḥarrama l-fawāḥisha ẓāhirahā wa-bāṭinahā; cf. Kulaynī, Kāfī, 323.

23 Or rather, milk al-nikāḥ (marriage) and milk al-yamīn (concubinage), which both ensure the husband’s control over his wives’/concubines’ sexual and reproductive capacity; cf. Ali, Marrriage and Slavery.

24 Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 310. According to Kulaynī, Kāfī, V, 537, it could “make the healthy among them sick.” See also Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 276.

25 Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf, IV, 54, and al-Kulaynī, Kāfī, V, 536. For a different ḥadīth with the same meaning, see Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 275.

26 Kulaynī, Kāfī, V, 536. Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq is together with his father, the aforementioned Muḥammad al-Bāqir, the “first outstanding leaders” of Imāmī/ Jaʿfarī Shia; both are important authorities in al-Kulaynī’s Kitāb al-kāfī (see Kohlberg, Shīʿī Ḥadīth). According to a subsequent ḥadīth, al-Qafandar is a shayṭān; the same ḥadīth is also quoted in ps.-Jāḥiẓ, Maḥāsin, 272, where the bird is called al-Qarqafanna (?).

27 Kulaynī, Kāfī, V, 537.

28 Ibid.; Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 275.

29 Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf, 54; also in Ibn Qutayba, Uyūn, IV, 77, where ʿUmar advises: “Do not let your women stay in the upper rooms and do not teach them the Scripture. Take help from nakedness against them. Say ‘no’ to them frequently, as a ‘yes’ would urge them to continue asking.” This khabar is elaborated in ps.-Jāḥiz, Maḥāsin, 274-275. Ibn Qutayba and ps. Jāḥiẓ also provide a variant attributed to ʿAqīl b. ʿUllafa; Uyūn, IV, 77; Maḥāsin, 273.

30 Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt, VIII, 170-171.

31 There are examples from later eras as well of women preferring jealous men, like the woman who complains to Salm b. Qutayba, son of the Umayyad governor of Khurasān, about her husband having “little ghayra”; cf. Ibn ʿAbd Rabbihi, ʿIqd. VI, 115.

32 Kulaynī, Kāfī, V, 9, 507; Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 277.

33 Kulaynī, Kāfī, V, 505.

34 Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 311; Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, VII, 2003. The wives of the Prophet were given the honorific title ummahāt al-muʾminīn, “Mothers of the believers,” in Q 33:6; see Stowasser, Women in the Qurʾan.

35 Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 311.

36 Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, VII, 2004; Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, II, 553-554.

37 Cf. the tarjama of ʿᾹʾisha in Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt, VIII, 39-54.

38 Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt, VIII: ʿᾹʾisha is jealous (ghayrā) of Umm Salama when she sees her beauty (66). She is jealous of Māriya the Copt, because of her husband’s attraction to her and her beauty (153). She dislikes Zaynab bt. Jaḥsh and Juwayriya, whom she fears to be rivals due to their standing (72-73) and beauty (83). She also dislikes Ṣafiyya (90-91). She successfully plots to prevent Muḥammad from marrying Mulayka bt. Kaʿb (106), and perhaps Asmā bt. al-Nuʿmān as well (103).

39 Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt, VIII 59, 79, 122-123; the narratives additionally give Ibn Saʿd the opportunity to emphasize the Prophet’s tolerance for his wives’ flaws.

40 Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, VII, 2004.

41 Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt, VIII, 63 (a variant of the story on p. 62). Umm Salama becomes jealous (ghārat) when Muḥammad (unintentionally) talks to Ṣafiyya on Umm Salama’s day. She accuses her husband for this, slandering Ṣafiyya, but asks him later for forgiveness because she was driven by ghayra (ibid., 67).

42 Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 277; the expression is also found in Kulaynī, Kāfī, 505.

43 The word ḥasad is used a few times in the Qurʾan with negative connotations; see Khan, Envy.

44 Kulaynī, Kāfī, 505. Al-Nasāʾī (Suyūṭī, Sharḥ sunan al-Nasāʾī, 69) claims that the Prophet advised the Muslims not to marry jealous women (i.e. from the Anṣār).

45 Gharaozlou and Negahban, Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī; Rowson, al-Tawḥīdī, 760-761.

46 Gharaozlou and Negahban, Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī; see also Emami and Umar, Abū ʿAlī Miskawayh.

47 Gharaozlou and Negahban, Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī.

48 Ibid.

49 Emami and Umar, Abū ʿAlī.

50 Arkoun, Miskawayh, 143.

51 Tawḥīdī, Hawāmil, 235.

52 Ibid., 237.

53 That is, woman’s sexual and reproductive capacity which is the man’s possession in marriage (mulk al-nikāḥ) and concubinage (mulk al-yamīn) needs to be protected; see Lane, Lexicon, ḥ-w-z. The property is the woman’s vulva ( farj), “which is the property of her husband by the marriage-contract,” cf. al-Azharī (d. 380/980), Tahdhīb al-lugha.

54 Tawḥīdī, Hawāmil, 236.

55 Ibid., 237.

56 Ibn Naṣr, Aya Sofya 127a, Fatih 195b.

57 Ibn Naṣr, Aya Sofya 127a. In Fatih: “their jealousy equals their love,” 195b.

58 For ʿilm al-bāh ( the science of coitus), see Franke, Before Scientia Sexualis in Islamic Culture. Franke gives an apt description of the medical bāḥ-tradition, even though I do not agree with his conclusions.

59 Ibn Naṣr, Aya Sofya 127b. These two words are missing in Fatih 196a.

60 I am not able to evaluate the authenticity of this text. The Arabic rendering of Aretaeus’ name is Arṭiyās al-Rūmī; I am most grateful to Professor Lena Ambjörn for helping me and suggesting this name. Aretaeus/Aretaȋos was a Greek Hippocratic physician (see Nutton, Aretaeus); according to Ullmann (Islamic Medicine, 15), Aretaeus’ main work, De causis et signis morborum acutorum et chronicorum, was not translated into Arabic and not well-known at the time.

61 Ibn Naṣr, as 3837 129a, Fatih 196b. In a previous chapter, Ibn Naṣr cites a book, attributed to “Arṭiyās al-Rūmī” on female and male ejaculation, among other things; Fatih 191a; in as 3837 116b: Arsṭās (?).

62 The word used for “greedy” is ḍann, stinginess. The caliph al-Maʾmūn is said to have expressed something similar: “Jealousy is brutishness (bahīmiyya) . . . [and] a type of greed(bukhl); Ibn Qutayba, ʿUyūn, IV, 78.

63 Omitted in Fatih.

64 Fatih: takthur; AS 3837: taḥduth.

65 Omitted in Fatih.

66 Ibn Naṣr, as 3837 129a-129b, Fatih 196b-197a.

67 Ibn Naṣr, as 3837, 130a-131a. For khawaṣṣ, see Ullmann, Khāṣṣa. Ibn Naṣr’s formulas are not exactly erotic spells, although they sometimes come very close. Erotic spells in Greek magic often targeted women; see Faraone, Love Magic, 43, n. 9. Faraone counted up to 69 spells targeting women out of 81 published erotic spells, while nine targeting men, one of these homoerotic.

68 For odd ingredients in magical remedies, see LiDonnici, Beans, 362f.

69 Ẓarf, refinement and elegance, was highly esteemed in literary Abbasid culture. For an excellent and concise overview of the concept zarīf, the person endowed with ẓarf, see Montgomery, Ẓarīf, and the literature recommended there. For Ibn Naṣr, sexual refinement is important for the ẓarīf — he promises in the introduction to Jawāmiʿ al-ladhdha that it will provide the ẓarīf with what he needs to know about sex; AS 3836 2a.

70 Ibn Naṣr, as 3836 fol. 58bff.


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  • 9

    Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, 287. I am most grateful to Everett Rowson for sharing his knowledge about this book. He concludes that it was written not later than the middle of the fifth/eleventh century. See his excellent overview in Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature: Arabic: Middle Ages to Nineteenth Century. For the chapter on ghayra, I rely on two mss; Aya Sofya 3837 (634 ah) and Fatih 3729 (582 ah).

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  • 12

    Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 306. There are a few variants to this ḥadīth, e.g., lā tarudd instead of lā tamnaʿ, and “enjoy her”, instead of “keep her”; cf. Suyūṭī, Sharḥ Sunan al-Nisāʾī, 67-68. The ḥadīth is found in Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, 545; Shāfiʿī, Umm, 37. The different versions, opinions and arguments around its interpretation are summarized by Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, who argues that yad lāmis must indicate zināʾ, and that the husband suspects that his wife would be able to commit an adulterous act, but that he has no evidence. I found al-ʿAsqalānī’s text, where the ḥadīth is debated, online in a transcript of a short Azhar MS entitled Risāla fī ḥadīth lā tarudd yad lāmis li-bn Ḥajar,

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  • 14

    Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 306.

  • 16

    Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 312; also Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 275.

  • 17

    Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 312.

  • 18

    Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 310-311.

  • 24

    Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 310. According to Kulaynī, Kāfī, V, 537, it could “make the healthy among them sick.” See also Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 276.

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  • 28

    Ibid.; Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 275.

  • 29

    Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf, 54; also in Ibn Qutayba, Uyūn, IV, 77, where ʿUmar advises: “Do not let your women stay in the upper rooms and do not teach them the Scripture. Take help from nakedness against them. Say ‘no’ to them frequently, as a ‘yes’ would urge them to continue asking.” This khabar is elaborated in ps.-Jāḥiz, Maḥāsin, 274-275. Ibn Qutayba and ps. Jāḥiẓ also provide a variant attributed to ʿAqīl b. ʿUllafa; Uyūn, IV, 77; Maḥāsin, 273.

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  • 34

    Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 311; Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, VII, 2003. The wives of the Prophet were given the honorific title ummahāt al-muʾminīn, “Mothers of the believers,” in Q 33:6; see Stowasser, Women in the Qurʾan.

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  • 35

    Kharāʾiṭī, Iʿtilāl, 311.

  • 42

    Ibn Ḥabīb, Adab al-nisāʾ, 277; the expression is also found in Kulaynī, Kāfī, 505.

  • 44

    Kulaynī, Kāfī, 505. Al-Nasāʾī (Suyūṭī, Sharḥ sunan al-Nasāʾī, 69) claims that the Prophet advised the Muslims not to marry jealous women (i.e. from the Anṣār).

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  • 51

    Tawḥīdī, Hawāmil, 235.

  • 52

    Ibid., 237.

  • 54

    Tawḥīdī, Hawāmil, 236.

  • 55

    Ibid., 237.

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