The choice within Islam of Hagar, the independent seer of God, over the docile housewife Sarah, provides the first hint of the insufficiency of the standard notion of Islam, that of an extreme masculine monotheism, a collective of brothers from which women are excluded and have to be veiled, since their "monstration" is as such excessive, disturbing or provocative to men, diverting them from their service to God. Recall the ridiculous Taliban prohibition of metal heels for women -- as if, even when entirely covered with cloth, the clicking sound of their heels would still provoke men... There is, however, a whole series of features which disturb this standard notion,- Slavoj Zizek, "God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse"
First, the need to keep women veiled implies an extremely sexualized universe in which the very encounter with a woman is a provocation that no man will be able to resist. Repression has to be so strong because sex itself is so strong -- what kind of a society is this in which the click of metal heels can make men explode with lust? According to a newspaper report a couple of years ago, an unrelated young woman and man were trapped for a couple of hours in a wire-gondola when the machine broke down. Although nothing happened, the woman killed herself afterward: the very fact of being alone with a foreign man for hours rendered the idea that "nothing happened" unthinkable.6 No wonder that, in the course of analyzing the famous "Signorelli" dream in his "Psychopathology of Everyday Life," Freud reports that it was an old Muslim from Bosnia and Herzegovina who imparted to him the "wisdom" of the notion that sex is the only thing that makes life worth living: "Once a man is no longer able to have sex, the only thing that remains is to die."6 - What seems to characterize the Muslim symbolic space is an immediate conflation of possibility with actuality: what is merely possible is treated (reacted against) as if it actually took place. At the level of sexual interaction, when a man finds himself alone with a woman, it is assumed that the opportunity was taken, that the sexual act took place. At the level of writing, this is why Muslims are prohibited to use toilet paper: it may have been that verses of Qur'an were written or printed on it...
Back to the role of women in the pre-history of Islam and, one should add, the story of Muhammad's own conception, where we stumble again upon the mysterious "between-the-two-women." After working the clay on his land, Abdallah, the father-to-be, went to the house of another woman and made advances to her; she was willing but put him off on account of the clay that was on him. After leaving her and washing himself, he went to his own wife Amina and had intercourse with her -- thus Amina conceived Muhammad. Abdallah then went back to the other woman and asked her if she was still willing; she replied: "No. When you passed by me there was a white light between your eyes. I called to you and you rejected me. You went to Amina and she has taken away the light." The official wife gets the child, the other knows -- she sees in Abdallah more than Abdallah himself, the "light", something he has without knowing it, something that is in him more than himself (the sperm that would beget the Prophet), and it is this objet a that generates her desire. Abdallah's position is like the hero in a detective novel who all of a sudden finds himself persecuted, even threatened with death because he knows something that can put a big criminal in danger, even though he himself (or she -- it is more often a woman) doesn't know what this is. Abdallah, in his narcissism, confuses this objet a in himself with himself (he confuses the 'object' with the 'cause' of the woman's desire), which is why he returns to her afterward, wrongly assuming that she will still desire him.