Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Slavery & Polygamy

About a week ago I went to a lecture by Margot Badran, a prominent Islamic scholar who teaches at Georgetown.  The lecture was about the future of Islamic feminism, and she brought up a really interesting point.  She pointed out that before, scholars would try and tackle polygamy in the Qur'an using linguistic tools to prove that the Qur'an was saying polygamy is not allowed. Now there has been a shift, with many scholars instead arguing that yes, the Qur'an does permit polygamy - but does that mean we should practice it?

Fazlur Rahman points out that slavery is also permitted in the Qur'an, yet most Muslims today do not accept slavery and wouldn't dream of allowing it again. He says we should be applying this same logic to polygamy: yes, it existed then, and yes, the Qur'an permitted it (after severely limiting it), but it is an outdated practice that needs to be abolished, like slavery.

Now I know many Muslims will make the argument that in certain situations polygamy benefits society: but is that the case for the majority of Muslims today? No. And what about the countless women who get abused through this system? Some men have good intentions when they take another wife - for example, if the woman is destitute. But many have bad intentions.  Should we allow a system like this to continue if so many women are getting negatively affected, even if it does benefit some?

So far Tunisia is the only country to ban polygamy.  Whenever the prospect of banning it is brought up in Islamic countries/communities, there is always an outcry - usually from the men. The argument is that you can't ban something that God has allowed. But then what about slavery?

What do you think of this argument? Is it convincing?
And what do you think about Tunisia banning it?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dress Codes

Do you think there is ever a legitimate reason for a man to harass a woman? Here in Cairo where women often get sexually harassed, the first question they are asked afterwards is usually "what were you wearing?" I can't tell you how much this annoys me. Why does it matter what she was wearing? Why isn't the first question "what has happened to our men for them to harass women like that?" or "did you report him" or even "are you okay"?

In my opinion, even a woman wearing a bikini or walking naked should not be blamed for getting harassed. We all have to wear long, shapeless clothing now apparently, and if we don't then we are "asking for it".  I remember a cab driver in Cairo once saying that any girl who is not veiled deserves to get raped. When we have opinions like that, we're in trouble.

Why is it always the woman who gets blamed? It's always about what she was wearing or how she was walking. It's never about how so many Muslim men now think it's okay to harass women. I should think THAT would be a bigger issue.  I completely agree with Asma Barlas when she writes,

"By defining women's morality and safety in terms of their own dress codes, conservatives are legitimizing the kind of pathologies that are leading men to murder unveiled women in the name of Islam. How can Muslim men, if they are living by the Qur'an's injunctions, feel free to kill or assault women; and how can we reconcile religious vigilantism with the irreducibly voluntary nature of faith and of moral responsibility in Islam?"

This is such an important question: how do Muslim men legitimize sexual harassment? By blaming the woman. But still, does that really convince them? It seems like an absurd argument to me. Also, does that give women the right to harass men who don't cover? I mean, the Qur'an enjoins modesty on BOTH genders. But I'm pretty sure if woman started killing men who didn't dress modestly we would hear a huge outcry.

A few years ago this poster came out:

It translates as "you can't stop them, but you can protect yourself." I don't even know where to start with this ridiculous message. It reminds me of that Australian sheikh who said that unveiled women are like raw meat that will inevitably attract flies.

As Muslims we should focus less on what the woman is wearing and more on the lack of morals and decency found among a growing number of Muslim men.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Asma Barlas & Believing Women in Islam

Asma Barlas is one of the most prominent "Islamic feminists" today. I just began reading her book "Believing Women in Islam" and so far it is amazing! I wanted to quote the following:

"I read the Qur'an as a "believing woman", to borrow the term from the Qur'an itself.  This means that I do not question its ontological status as Divine Speech or the claim that God speaks, both of which Muslims hold to be true.

"I do, however, question the legitimacy of its patriarchal readings, and I do this on the basis of a distinction in Muslim theology between what God says and what we understand God to be saying. In the latter context, I am especially interested in querying the claim, implicit in confusing the Qur'an with its patriarchal exegesis, that only males, and conservative males at that, know what God really means. It is this claim that I believe underwrites sexual oppression in Muslim societies and therefore needs to be contested."

Do you think that a general belief exists among Muslims that only men can know what God means? Do you believe this?

If not, then why have so few women interpreters existed?

Do you think people often confuse the Qur'an itself with it's tafsir/interpretation?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Moderates Vs. Puritans

I recently read "The Great Theft" by Khaled Abou El-Fadl, and I have to say it is the best book I have ever read. He is amazing. Fabulous. Revolutionary. I can't believe I didn't read him before.

His main argument in the book is that puritans have stolen Islam and that moderates are losing the battle. He gives various arguments for this, all of which I agree with. The book is depressing on the one hand because it shows how Islam is slowly becoming more and more puritanical, and that less and less Muslims are thinking about inner spirituality. It's uplifting on the other hand, because there are so few moderate sheikhs out there that it's always inspirational to find one.

"It is believed by moderates that God rewards those who search for the Divine Will, even if they ultimately reach the wrong conclusions. It would make little sense for God to reward the effort if all God expects of us on most matters is blind obedience."

What do you guys think of this?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Back Home!

So last week I got back to Cairo for a holiday. I was looking forward to it so much that I was sure I would be disappointed. But I've been having the time of my life! It was so nice seeing family, friends, and my cats. I missed my house, my room, my Starbucks, and my gym. All I can think about right now is that I don't want to go back to Holland.

When I left Cairo 6 months ago, I was 100% sure I would love Holland and never come back to Egypt. Egypt was frustrating to the point of it being unbearable. But once I left, I realized that there are so many good things about Egypt too. The people are warm, friendly, talkative. The adaan. The weather. The fact that I had a really nice life here. Holland is nice, but more in terms of material things. The people are very polite but not warm. It takes a while to make friends, and even then, there are strong walls between people.

I know I have to go back, but I'm dreading that day :(

I spent the last 3 days in Dahab, a small city in Sinai by the sea, with some friends. It was very relaxing and I loved it! We saw St. Katherine's, the monastery with the burning bush that is one of Egypt's main tourist attractions.  Some pics:



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Female Circumcision & Islam (Part 2)

I started out the last post by asking whether female circumcision is Islamic. The responses I got leaned mostly towards "no". However, there were some interesting points that were brought up.

1. There are different types of FC, and some people believe that "Islamic" FC is not harmful and can actually be beneficial, whereas the types of FC practiced today are harmful.

2. The hadith seem to contradict each other and contradict reports from the time of the Prophet. What to do in a case like this, when it is not mentioned in the Qur'an?

3. The Prophet did not circumcise his daughters.

4. Where is the line between judging other cultures from our own ethnocentric point of view, and condemning human rights violations? What constitute human rights violations?

5. If something potentially harmful is advocated by the hadith and was practiced by the companions (but not mentioned in the Qur'an) should we accept it without any reservations?

Thanks to everyone that commented, I loved reading your thoughts!