Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The longer the gap, the harder the restart

When you stop writing for a while, it gets easy to keep on not writing. It gets harder every day to come back by this web address and put thoughts into pixels.

I got an e-mail forward from someone recently that I took apart and debunked. I thought I'd put it up here because I found lots of reposts of the text and very few ripostes. And frankly, anything in the giant multi-colored Comic Sans font that this e-mail was in deserves a vicious riposte.

Well, here's the deal. Nonie Darwish apparently had a really bad experience with Islam. I'm not sure if she wrote this piece, or if this piece was written by someone else as their personal summary of the more outrageous things they learned from her books/speeches. But either way, I'll address the facts first, and then get to Nonie Darwish later. (Post-research edit: this appears to have been lifted from a review of her book that was posted to Amazon and has spread liberally from there.)

Also, it is VERY important to note that, unlike in Christianity where a council met a few thousand years ago to codify what was in and what was out of the Bible, there are MANY MANY books that can be considered source materials for Islam. These have, in some Muslim circles, all the credibility that Catholics give to writings like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas, or that Protestants give to the extra seven books of the Catholic Bible. In other circles, they are quoted as absolute fact. As far as I know, these books (sometimes called Hadiths) are stories told by the people who personally knew the prophet Muhammad to the other people they knew after he had passed on. They were passed on for a few generations until someone (or many someones) decided they ought to be in writing. So, if you find someone listing the Hadiths as source materials, you need to be EXTREMELY suspicious. They usually have an axe to grind if they're trying to justify their positions with quotes from books widely acknowledged to be collections of legends and hearsay.

1) In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 1 year old and have sexual intimacy with this child. Consummating the marriage by 9.

The Qur'an requires that a woman have attained puberty before her marriage can be consummated. The "age 9" thing probably comes from the story that Muhammad once did marry a child, however the rest of the story says that he did so because she was an orphan and simply needed a place to live, and they did not consummate that marriage until she had achieved puberty. Most of the countries in the world have a minimum legal age for marriage by which everyone must abide, Muslims included.

2) The dowry is given to the family in exchange for the woman (who becomes his slave) and for the purchase of the private parts of the woman, to use her as a toy.

This is about as accurate as American feminists in the 70's who claimed that all intercourse is necessarily rape. It's one way of looking at the situation, but far from the reality of it as experienced by the people involved. Dowries are nothing new, though in some cultures the bride's family pays it to the husband and in others the husband pays it to the bride or to her family. The Qur'an specifies that the dowry be brought into the wedding as a gift, a nest egg to see the couple through hard times, or to ensure that the woman can provide for herself should her husband die or should they divorce. It is no more a payment for the private parts than a diamond engagement ring is. You could look at it that way, if you were extremely cynical about diamond engagement rings, but most people would disagree with you. Also, Islam distinguishes between free women and slaves, just as the Bible does. They did have rules about slavery and established how people should treat their slaves and what the rights of the slaves were (there were many, actually) and who they could marry, etc. So marriage is not equal to slavery in Islam.

3) Even though a woman is abused she can not obtain a divorce

False. Divorce is allowed in Islam, and the law provides for alimony, child support, etc. (I can't remember whether it is Sharia law or the Qur'an which provides for them) There is a specific command in the Qur'an to treat your wife kindly, so any Muslim abusing his wife is sinning against his religion. It is an unfortunate thing that in some countries with very strict tribal law overlaying the teachings of Islam, women are forbidden from working in public roles or getting an education. However, there are many heavily Muslim countries in which women have very full public lives and are well educated. It is extremely difficult for unemployed women to support themselves without a husband. Some of these women will put up with abuse in exchange for a roof and food and a place to raise their children. I daresay it happens in nominally Christian homes, as well. Poverty and lack of options put people of all stripes into unfortunate positions, but again this is the work of certain cultures, not of Islam as a whole.

4) To prove rape, the woman must have (4) male witnesses.

False. This one probably arises from a poor translation of the Arabic word for "extramarital sex" and the cultural tendency to use that same word interchangeably for "rape" and "adultery." In the West, we make a strong distinction between them, but in Arabic, less so. I think the word is a pretty close parallel to fornication, but even that word in English carries a strong sense of the willing participation of the people involved. The other explanation I've heard for this one is that the Qur'an suggests that one cannot be convicted of adultery without absolute proof, SUCH AS that provided by four men of impeccable character whose accounts agree. Sometimes, the adultery laws are used to deal with cases of rape, so this could also be the source of that statement.

5) Often after a woman has been raped she is returned to her family and the family must return the dowry. The family has the right to execute her (an honor killing) to restore the honor of the family.

False. According to Sharia law and the Qur'an, rape is a sin and a crime and the victim is to be compensated for it. Murder is a sin and is not condoned and cannot restore honor, not that any is lost when someone is victimized. In practice, there are some tribal societies who do this. It's such a shocking concept that it gets a lot of press. But it's not part of Islamic life any more than "menstruation huts" are part of modern Jewish life or seppuku is part of modern Japanese life.

6) Husbands can beat their wives 'at will' and he does not have to say why he has beaten her.

False. There is one very ambiguous verse that sometimes gets translated to say that husbands can "beat" their wives. Huge tracts of the Qur'an and sharia are dedicated to setting up a system of equal power and balanced rights and obligations for husband and wife. The verb that is translated sometimes as "to beat" is akin to our verbs "to make" or "to go" and literally has hundreds of possible meanings, depending on the context (think: to make off, to make good, to make books, to go crazy, to go out, to go fast). Other possible translations include "to leave" and "to go away from." The verse in question says that if a woman is being unrighteous and is refusing to listen to logical argument and witholding sex from her does not bring her around to righteous behaviour, that the husband may as a last resort "ambiguous verb" her. That's a very far cry from saying a man can beat his wife 'at will' or without explanation. Also, the test used in western law for differentiating between "assault" and "battery" is that battery leaves a mark, while assault is merely the threat of touching or touching. Apparently, that's the same test used in Islam between "acceptable" correction and abuse. Also, they follow the same rule my sisters and I always had, which is that you cannot hit the face.

7) The husband is permitted to have (4 wives) and a temporary wife for an hour (prostitute) at his discretion.

Extramarital sex is prohibited in Islam. Polygamy is officially discouraged and accounts for 1-3% of all Muslim marriages, but because people are people and wanted to know EXACTLY HOW DISCOURAGED, rules were drawn up to address it. Of course, Hebrew culture allowed polygamy, but Greco-Roman culture did not, and because Europe ended up with Greco-Roman culture, modern western society does not have it. In Islam, a man is allowed up to 4 wives, as a maximum. He is not allowed to take on a new wife unless he believes he can care for her and his other wives equally, both emotionally and financially. Certainly, I can imagine cases where men might abuse this privilege, but again, they would be in violation of the teachings of their religion. Temporary wives: Just as Protestant and Catholic Christians have different views on divorce, the two main branches of Islam have different teachings on the "temporary wife" idea. Sunnis all forbid the practice, but one Shi'a sect permits it. Again, saying this is "permitted by Sharia law" is kinda like saying all Christians forbid all dancing because you know that Baptists disapprove of men and women dancing together. So, yeah, it's out there, but it's rare. Wikipedia explains some good reasons why people do it other than the obvious, and that it's often a long-term contract, though not as long as permanent marriage.

8) The Shariah Muslim law controls the private as well as the public life of the woman.

Well, to an extent, I guess. But no more so than with any other religion, and no more so than the lives of men are controlled. Culture has a lot more to do with what women are allowed and forbidden (work, cars, showing their faces, education, etc.) than the Qur'an or Sharia, though. Women are permitted all of the above under the Qur'an and Sharia.

9) In the West World (America) Muslim men are starting to demand Shariah Law so the wife can not obtain a divorce and he can have full and complete control of her. It is amazing and alarming how many of our sisters and daughters attending American Universities are now marrying Muslim men and submitting themselves and their children unsuspectingly to the Shariah law.

This is just fear-mongering at its best. Divorce is permissible in Sharia law. Husbands are never given "full and complete control" of their wives. The wife is given utter free rein over the home and how things work in it, and is permitted to work outside the home if she wishes or it is needed. If American women marry Muslims and then move with them to countries where local custom is not so liberal, then that's another thing entirely. But I would find it darned difficult to believe that an American (or Canadian, or British, or French, etc.) woman who found herself in a marriage she didn't want would somehow be prevented from obtaining that divorce if she contacted one of the many divorce lawyers around. In some Western countries, people are permitted to submit themselves to the authority of religious courts in civil matters. However, if satisfaction is not obtained there, nothing prevents those people from seeking help from the civil court system. It's there, and converting to Islam or marrying a Muslim is no bar to using it.

10) By passing this on, enlightened American women may avoid becoming a slave under Shariah law.

More fear-mongering, with the call to evangelize and share your enlightenment with your friends, neighbors, and loved ones. :( And if you don't, much worse than 7 years bad luck or 10 years of ugliness or a lifetime of toe lint is at stake!

Okay... now about Nonie Darwish. I do not doubt that she had a bad experience with Islam and found her father's death traumatic and ultimately meaningless. I also do not doubt that she's met some women who had bad lives under Islam. It happens. Just as some Christians have interpreted the verses from Paul about how women should not be teachers over men to justify sexism of all varieties, some Muslims have taken similar writings from their traditions and done the same thing. Darwish herself gets basically an "eye-roll" from the moderate Muslims I've checked in with because they know that her bio gives her some insider credibility with critics of Islam, and they regret that someone who opposes their faith so much is frequently asked to speak publicly about it. Extreme Muslims regard her as an embarrassment and enemy of the faith, much in the way that Jesse Jackson is regarded by some Christians. Some people take that to extremes, of course. I think she should be regarded as a suspect source of information about Islam. She has a drum to beat, but as long as you know that you need to look at her claims with a skeptical eye, it's okay. She's certainly entitled to her opinions and she came by many of them on a very hard road. She sees Islam as a threat to women, but many Islamic feminists see Islam as a place of safety for themselves. For every person who claims a veil is used to keep women hidden and subservient, there is a woman who believes the veil allows her to express her ideas without the audience judging the merit of her thoughts by the beauty of her face. Mostly, what it seems Nonie Darwish does, though, is to take her little bit of experience with Islam in a couple of corners of the Arab world and a few really sensationalized news stories and try to claim that it is a worldwide hegemonic phenomenon. I think whenever she has a specific story to tell of an individual person, I'm happy to do what I can to speak up for the rights of that individual, but I don't think that collection of stories she tells is a representative picture of all of Islamic society, or the trends or goals of Islam as a whole. I think she's looking at one tusk of the elephant and describing the whole thing as a giant fang, if that makes sense to you.

The last little throwaway comment about how "the ACLU" will not allow this e-mail to be widely published is just pure wingnut Haterade. If the ACLU were in the business of filing suit against people for exercising freedom of the press, I might be able to take that one seriously enough to try to debunk it.

I do NOT think there is a Muslim uprising of which we need to be very, very afraid. There are some countries with this growing fundamentalist Islamic movement, but local tribal culture is the threat to human rights here, not Islam in general.

And that, sir, is my response to the homework assignment. I heartily encourage further discussion, dialog, questions, refutations, etc. I love you!


the Mom said...

Interesting reading, with one minor correction (cause I love you too much to let you be wrong): Catholics do not have seven extra books, Protestants have seven fewer since they took them out. Shame on you, did you learn nothing at St Gertrude's? It's silly, but words matter, so it does make a difference especially in the heart of Prot. country where your favorite Papist finds herself.

Thalassa said...

Very good point! :) The Protestant version came along afterward, so it has 7 fewer books. I even went to the trouble of looking up exactly HOW MANY books had been removed so I'd be factually accurate, but I got the order of operations wrong.

Jill/Twipply Skwood said...

This is too complicated for me to delve into with a mere comment, but just wanted to let you know I read & enjoyed the information!