Giving away faithlessness
... by putting forth grand questions about religion
December 4, 2001
Darya Allen-Attar has put forward some interesting questions, inviting
all to respond ["Questions
of faith and freedom"]. While I do not believe that I have all
the answers, or the right answers, I would like to hazard the risk and throw
in my two cents worth, hoping that others may hurl their pearl.
The questions Darya is asking have to do with Islam. Why is the expression
of a deep and abiding faith in God, and the commitment to living a moral
life tantamount to living a life full of restrictions for women in so many
Islamic countries? What do restrictions on women really have to do with
living a life in accordance with the will of Allah? Can women ever live
a faithful life in Islam with rights and restrictions, equal to those imposed
on men? Will Moslem men ever be able to organize societies that are free
of oppression for all? Etc...
Big questions, all, but haven't we heard them countless times at dinner
parties and lecture halls or read them in books and articles? The underlying
theory, or at least the impression that I get on hearing these questions,
seems to be that there is one Islam, one brand of Islamic culture and one
kind of Moslem man.
This assumption is so simplistic that leaves me no option but to construct
one of my own, namely that people who put these questions forth, especially
women, aren't really after an answer but would like to provoke their audience
to enter a dialogue or brain-storming session at the end of which everyone
reaches the conclusion that yes, Islam that has been practiced so far is
bad and that construction of a new brand, or a new reading of it is in order.
Which is fine, as long as one realizes the scope of the inquiry, and doesn't
come to the table with overblown expectations.
Ironic is that by putting forth these grand questions people accomplish
little more than giving away their own faithlessness, because these types
of questions are always asked by people who either don't believe in God
or do not believe in the religion that Mohammad brought. Or if they believe
in Islam, theirs is an ineffective use of Islam, something that should be
kept to oneself and not preached about. You never hear a devout Moslem wondering
"Why do Islamic societies prescribe restrictions on women, and why
do these women abide by them?"
A brief overview of the varied customs of the "Islamic World"
(and nothing like female circumcision in Africa can crystallize the point)
reveals the rather mundane truth that many misogynistic practices have indeed
a solid footing in the sexual politics of those societies, and have nothing
to do with Islam.
From the Central African "Islamic" cultures practicing the
horrific ritual of female circumcision to Islamic cultures in Asia where
women have reached the highest positions of government service and industry,
Islam has always been a tool in the hands of politicians to condemn or endorse
concepts that promote their status. Those who seek to keep women down in
Central Africa would have the world understand that circumcision is the
tradition of Mohammad himself and what they are doing to little girls is
nothing short of what Allah ordained.
But the irony becomes apparent in those African countries such as Egypt
where the official religion is the kind of Islam that prohibits female circumcision,
yet in the southern areas of the country the ceremony is performed with
zeal. And in those Central African nations that have long converted to Christianity,
yet practice female circumcision with the same fervor as their Moslem neighbors.
The only resolution I can think of is that in the final analysis, female
circumcision and mutilation seems to be the preferred way of female oppression
in some societies, just as, say, women not having the voting rights has
in countries such as Kuwait. Or can anyone be sure that women in China have
it better just because Islam is not practiced in their society?
Following the same logic, as little benefit as I see in adopting Islamic
codes and laws or trying to adapt them to the modern world, I hesitate to
pronounce Islam the culprit in the same way that I would hesitate to pronounce
any religion as responsible for holding women back. The condition that women
are in is the result of thousands of years of oppression and although they
have made gains in the past century or so, a long and treacherous road is
ahead of them in the third world.
I recognize two factors helping women in this struggle, namely their
own resolve and commitment and, secondly, camaraderie and cooperation of
far-sighted and enlightened men.