Posts Tagged abusing religious authority
A recent commenter made the claim that scholars give a number of different interpretations of Q 4:34—that while some translate wadribuhunna as “and beat them”, others say that it means “leave them alone.” I said I’d discuss this issue in the next post. Well, here we are… several weeks later. Yes, I’ve been putting it off. Not just because things are crazy busy at work and with family stuff, but because this is such a difficult issue to write about.
As far as replying to that particular comment is concerned, frankly, I am torn. Torn between being honest, and being… I don’t know, realistic? As well as by the haunting feeling that I should probably leave well enough alone.
If some people want to believe that wadribuhunna means “leave them alone”, why should this bother me? Surely this is a significant improvement on the nonsense we used to be subjected to (and let’s face it, that we also used to try to force ourselves and sometimes others to believe)? Speakers (usually male, though not always) used to unashamedly stand up in public at talks with titles such as “Islam the Misunderstood Religion” and claim that “beat them” supposedly “only means” giving a “disobedient” wife a single tap with a miswak, and that this has nothing to do with “wife abuse” or domestic violence. Surely I should rejoice at any evidence that less horrendous interpretations are gradually becoming popularized? If the vague idea that “some scholars” think it doesn’t mean “beat them” is gradually percolating down to the grass roots, it might stand the chance of reaching some woman who is being hit and thinks that “Islamically” she can’t resist.
But… a couple of things.
Several months ago, I ran across a short film on youtube about twospirit people. The thing about it that particularly grabbed me was Joey Criddle’s description of traditional Native teachings on people who are different:
“You know, there’s a saying we say—We don’t throw our people away. So, people who are born differently, whether mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever, were considered sacred or holy people. There was a reason why the Creator made them different. So historically, traditionally, twospirit people were viewed as very special people. That all changed with the coming of the Europeans. When the Europeans came, they attacked that….”
Wow, I thought. That’s just such a really, really different attitude to human variety than what I am used to.
I can’t even begin to imagine any of the Muslim communities I have been involved with looking at queer people—or at anyone who didn’t fit the mold, really—in such a positive way. Especially not if the person who didn’t fit in for some reason was female-bodied. This was just not how we were taught to think about difference.
More recently, I heard a Catholic priest say that God created every single person, individually and deliberately. Which again struck me as just a very different way of looking at human variety than what I am used to
And then, I was rather taken aback. Sure, the idea that God created human beings is a very familiar one, and we certainly believed it. We even believed that God creates and recreates the world continuously—“yas’aluhu man fi’s-samawati wa’l-ard, kulla yaumin huwa fi sha’n.” That nasheed by Dawud Wharnsby is still stuck in my head, about how even an autumn leaf “only breaks away and sails on the breeze / when Allah commands it to do so.”
And yet. Somehow, I hadn’t connected the dots. I hadn’t really regarded myself as having been created individually and purposefully by God, much less thought about what that would mean.
(continued from the October 5th post on the “White Widow”)
In her article on Samantha Lewthwaite, Khadija Magardie begins by stating that it isn’t regarded as polite in the Muslim community to refer to converts as “converts”—instead, they are called “reverts,” because it is believed that everyone is born a Muslim, but many people regard themselves as belonging to other religions because their parents made them into something else. And, that Muslims see this notion that everyone is actually born Muslim as a positive thing, as proof that the community is open to everyone and anyone who wants to join it. And also, that a number of prominent people in the twentieth century converted to Islam, and in some cases, helped directly or indirectly to promote the myth of an open, embracing world-wide Muslim community that welcomes everyone, regardless of race, class or gender.
But. All too often, converts soon discover that this pretty picture bears, well…. little if any relationship to reality.
And what do converts do when they begin to realize that in fact, they will never really “fit in” to the Muslim communities that they are trying to join?
To my kids (and my convert friends’ kids…):
We failed you in so many ways.
Far too many ways to count.
And for that, I am so very sorry.
Two posts ago, I received the following comment, which brought to mind a key way that we failed you:
“…I did wonder, aside from forced marital sex, have you ever discussed, or even experienced the effect of pornography in muslim marriages? I have grown up witness to the horrific effects a husband’s addiction to pornography can have on a marriage, and I feel it links closely to the idea you touch upon in this post about how women are expected to “keep beautiful” and “not let themselves go”, while men are to pursue and enjoy them… This is one excuse I have heard for the husband watching pornography (i.e. he feels the wife has let herself go so no longer is able to please him). It sickens me. I am sure it happens in non-religious marriages too, but the reason I raise it here is because another excuse the husband has given for it is that “it is more halal than outright sleeping with other women”. In my mind, though, I can’t help but think it is almost more haram than actually taking a mistress… At least with a mistress, there is something tangible to deal with.
I know the scripted answer to this question, of course—at least in North America, especially as found in popular dawah literature and online stuff:
Yes, of course! Islam is the religion of logic, thinking, science, and seeking knowledge! Sister, haven’t you heard about all the scientific miracles in the Qur’an?? And look at this white convert brother’s youtube video where he explains why he left Christianity and embraced Islam, because his pastor used to always tell him to “have faith” when he had questions, but Muslims could answer all the questions that he had!!….
But that’s NOT what I’m talking about. That’s apologetics. It allows thinking and questioning, but only as long as your questions remain within the predictable, and the answers don’t undermine “mainstream” conservative Muslim ideas of “what Islam teaches.” It is meant to support faith, and as soon as the questioning threatens to not do that, it is shut down immediately with pat answers and dismissive claims.
Or another scripted answer:
Yes, of course! Muslim scholars of the past discussed everything, from God’s attributes to prophethood and revelation, as well as the relationship of faith to deeds, fate (qadr)… and many other theological questions. Have you read al-Ghazali’s Deliverance from Error? Read kalaam. With a teacher who is qualified with an ijaza, of course. You start out reading basic aqida, and then students with the aptitude may progress to more advanced texts. And for very advanced students, there is Sufi metaphysics, again, with a properly qualified teacher….
Again, not what I mean by thinking and questioning. Those sorts of texts are complex, and thinking through them is certainly a very cerebral process… but in the end, the thinking and questioning must remain within strict limits. There are certain questions that cannot be asked, really, and the results of the questions you are allowed to ask are essentially predetermined.
The entire exercise reminds me of shooting fish in a barrel. Or, of Forugh Farrokhzad‘s lines in her poem, “Wind-up Doll”: “whether adding, subtracting, or multiplying / like zero, one can obtain a constant result.”
A recent comment I received from Shereen concluded with her stating that “5% of me is just really bothered with how your posts reflect poorly on Islam, without noting that you still choose to be Muslimah even though you are not fond of the Muslim community.”
An interesting attitude—and one that I certainly recognize. We were taught to always avoid saying or doing anything that might make Islam or Muslims “look bad.”
This was a multi-layered issue. First, we were taught that we needed to be extremely careful of saying things that might possibly imply that we had doubts about the truth or wisdom of anything to do with “Islam,” because that could very easily nullify our faith and any good deeds that we might have, and we would end up in hell. It was a sort of “slippery slope” kind of thing. So, objecting to the ways that certain practices were carried out was strongly discouraged, because such objections might suggest some weakness in our faith in the divine wisdom—even if our objections were clearly aimed at the ways that such practices were implemented by certain overly zealous people without regard for context or common sense. Even suggesting that certain practices might have been intended for seventh century Arabia but were not practical in twentieth century North America was branded as kufr in the communities I was involved with.
Libby Anne has posted disturbing quotations from a Bible study addressed to women, that tells women in unhappy or even abusive marriages that even if their husbands don’t change, they (the wives) can take comfort in the knowledge that for their patient endurance, they will be crowned in heaven. Reading her post took me back to some “advice” that I received years ago, from a (convert) male community leader who I had approached asking for advice on how to deal with my awful and highly dysfunctional marriage, “Islamically.”
In retrospect, it was advice that should have sent me running for the hills. But it didn’t.
- So much for sisterhood: conversion, appropriation… and is there a difference? (II)
- So much for sisterhood: Conversion, appropriation… and is there a difference? (I)
- Losing creativity… and towards reclaiming it
- Setting men up to lose
- Guest post: Reflections on slavery, hijab, male authority, and convert neo-traditionalist apologetic bafflegab
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