The Hadith they use goes as;
Jabir reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) saw a woman, and so he came to his wife, Zainab, as she was tanning a leather and had sexual intercourse with her. He then went to his Companions and told them: The woman advances and retires in the shape of a devil, so when one of you sees a woman, he should come to his wife, for that will repel what he feels in his heart. (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 2491)
By context here I mean the overall background of such injunctions.
1- Islam restricts a person to his/her spouse only. Any way of seeking pleasure otherwise is condemned and for the same reason Islam orders both man and woman to be modest even in their gaze so as to avoid any trouble.
2- Islam asks both husband and wife to be faithful to each other and be a protection and concealment for each other’s natural weaknesses. Qur’an is quite clear on this issue when it says;
Qur’an here uses the word لِبَاسٌ (garment) for spouses. Classical Muslim scholar Al-Isfahani says;
“Everything that prevents a person from acting viciously is called ‘garment’. (Mufradaat 1/447)
And obviously to nourish a thought about someone else’s wife or any stranger woman is an evil. In this regard a wife is a garment for her husband that she helps him getting away with some such thoughts that may creep into his heart.
The Use of Word ‘Devil’:
Naturally many people will question as to why the word devil is used to describe the thing. I say the question is natural but it does not really cause any consternation if one is aware of its usage in the Arabic language. Consider the following points;
1- Al-Isfahani says: “Shaytan (devil) is used for everyone who shows perverseness from amongst the jinn, mankind or animals.” (Al-Mufradaat 1/261)
2- In the Hadith in question it is used for a woman who comes out of her home in an unchaste manner seeing whom can cause stir of emotions in men.
3- The fact that it is used only for a woman who comes out in an unchaste fashion is clear from the narration that follows the one in question in Muslim’s collection. The wording therein is;
This fascination thing is possible only when a woman comes out in a manner not befitting of a chaste woman by showing complete disregard to Islamic injunctions about dressing.
4- Al-Nawawi in his monumental exegesis of Sahih Muslim comments;
“It is a reference to the temptation and attraction towards her for the natural inclination that men have towards women or for the fascination of their sight and what relates to them. And there is a likeness of devil in it for it invites evil thoughts and adoration [of a strange woman].” (Sharah Al-Nawawi 5/75)
The gist is that by virtue of her coming out in an unchaste manner a woman facilitates evil so such a woman is metaphorically called a devil.
5- Infact in the same sense the word Shaytan (i.e. devil) is used in some other Ahadith as well. This will help understanding the metaphorical nature of the usage. One Hadith goes as;
This Hadith provides a key in understanding the use of word Shaytan (devil). One and two riders are termed as devils because they are inciting evil by travelling like that. Consider this in the backdrop of the scenario 1400 years back in the wilderness of Arabia. One or two riders were certainly more exposed to any evil (i.e. loss of life and/or property). Infact a Hadith clarifies this;
Anything can happen to any number of people but if one or two people travel in a place like what Arabia was 1400 years ago then they are obviously inviting and facilitating evil and for this reason only they are metaphorically called devils.
The Hadith in question calls women, who come out in a way that can fascinate men, a devil in that sense only!
Does the Hadith degrade women?
I think the explanation above is quite clear that Hadith by no means degrades women; it only condemns a certain kind of behavior.
About the solution in the Hadith:
As to the solution given in Hadith about the issue of having seen a woman in way that fascinates and stirs some peculiar kind of emotions; what could have been better than the proposed remedy?
If in a situation when man gives-in to some natural weakness why should he not make recourse to his wife, his own garment that protects him and conceals his weaknesses?
The other ‘solution’ will only be havoc not only for the institution of family but also for the society at large. What happens in predominantly Christian West and the societies giving in to Western culture only testifies to the beauty of what is prescribed in Islam.
Islam honors woman like no other religion or system does:
There are loads of references from Qur’an and Hadith that can be cited to kill the notion that God forbid Islam degrades women. In Islam women are just equal to men.The Prophet (PBUH) said;
At another point the Prophet (PBUH) said;
Such references leave not doubt about the status of women in Islam.
If all the above detail does not help our Christian fellows let’s show them something ‘interesting’ from their own Book, the Bible.
Jesus (PBUH) calls Peter a Satan:
We read about Jesus (PBUH);
“But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
Why Peter was called a Satan by Jesus (PBUH)? The question can be answered in two ways;
1- Jesus (PBUH) actually considered Peter a devil.
2- It merely conveys that for suggesting against the idea of going to Jerusalem which, according to the New Testament , was imperative in the sight of Jesus (PBUH) and was according to the plan of God he has been metaphorically called so.
Only if the Christians think that first of the above two was actually the case then only should they have the audacity to question the Hadith under consideration. To my knowledge none of the Christians agrees to this so they have no moral standing to question others on similar grounds.
If Christians take the other interpretation then what’s the impediment in taking the Hadith on those lines as well? Is it double standards or what?
Once again I will end with a quotation from the Bible. Jesus (PBUH) is reported to have said:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
INDEED ALLAH KNOWS THE BEST!