Sunday, May 19, 2013

Women in Islam: Polygamy and Hijab


The religion of Islam is often covered in a negative manner in the media within western capitalist nation-states.  These consolidated Zionist owned networks in the west continuously spread negative influences and slanted reports which contain many various criticisms and accusations which paint the religion as negative.  Two heavily covered areas of criticism are based on accusations of gender inequality and the repression of women.  As Americans, we should ensure that when weighing the topic of Muslim women and the early history of women in Islam, it is very important to understand, and respect, cultural relativity during the consideration process.  Two of the most popular areas for western criticism toward Islam are Islamic polygamy and the Hijab.  It is important to remember that these cultural norms are not exclusive to Islam, and have been shaped by geographic norms and values that pre-date Islam altogether.

Islamic Polygamy

                The majority of citizens in the West view Islamic polygamy as based merely on the assumption that women do not have equal rights in Islamic societies and that this polygamy is based merely on physical desire, harems and gender slavery.  In reality, the original concept of Islamic Polygamy was a result from war and conflict, and the death of many Muslim men, during the early origins of Islam as “Muslims experienced many battles against the pagans of Arabia, Jews, Christians and other tribes. As a result, Muslims had a major loss in number of men, which left behind it a number of widows, mothers and orphan females in need” [1].  With this being understood as collective welfare, the instruction contained in Quran verse 4:3 becomes much clearer: “And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course”[2].  Many Muslim women, depending on geographic cultural differences do not question the norm of polygamy, nor do they see it as cultural or social repression.  This is a solid example of cultural relativity.  In addition, Polygamy is not exclusive to the religion of Islam as it can be traced back and found in the Torah and Old Testament, along with several pagan religions that pre-date Abrahamic monotheism.

                The Quran Surah entitled “the Women” is an amazing piece of scripture dealing with legislation considering marriage contracts and male-female relations in early Islamic society.  Legislative topics covered in this Surah range from divorce and property ownership to death inheritances and marriage dowries.  While origins of Islamic polygamy are easily identified due to early conflict and a depopulation of Muslim providers, Quran passages on the topic of desertion such as “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them” make it very difficult to call the Quran a beacon of gender equality[3].  At the same time, passages of similar repressive nature towards women can be found in the scriptures of all three Abrahamic religions.

The Hijab

                One element that gets an excessive amount of negative press and criticism in western societies is the hijab and the requirement for Islamic women to cover their heads and bodies.  This protective practice appears in the Quran as revealed to Muhammad: “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful”[4].  Looking closely at the revelation itself, it appears that the reference about the covered female ‘being known’ is a reference to her appreciation as a human being instead of a beautiful physical object.  A second reference on the evolution of Hijab is found within the Hadith of Sahih Bukhari: “The wives of the Prophet used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place (near Baqi` at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night. `Umar used to say to the Prophet "Let your wives be veiled," but Allah's Apostle did not do so. One night Sauda bint Zam`a the wife of the Prophet went out at `Isha' time and she was a tall lady. `Umar addressed her and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda." He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab (the observing of veils by the Muslim women) may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of "Al-Hijab"[5].       

Here, once again, cultural relativity must be applied.  Take a moment to consider how Muslim women living in the east, and also Muslims in the west, might view western teenage girls, especially in the United States, who run around in public places with their bodies barely covered.  Again, when considering the Islamic hijab, the covering of a female is not exclusive to Islam and “has a long history in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Catholic nuns engage in the practice, of course, and there are several references to the practice in both the Old and New Testaments”[6].  As we noted in the Quran, Surah 33:59, the basic ideology behind females covering their heads and bodies is to provide them protection from the eyes and actions of the predator and to prevent physical desires that could disrupt collective society, prayer and individual morals, and overall submission to God.  The same motive is not the case in the early Christian scripture of Corinthians 11:3-9 where gender inequality is openly present: “[3] But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.  [4] Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.  [5] But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.  [6] For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.  [7] For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.  [8] For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.  [9] Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man”[7]. 

 

Notes

1. Nouchkioui, Fatima, The History of Head Covering and Polygamy Practice In Islam, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, Accessed on May 19, 2013 from http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/2011/2/11.02.03.x.html

2. Quran 4:3

3. Quran 4:34

4. Quran 33:59

5. Hadith Sahih Bukari 1.148

6. Emory University, Department of Post-Colonial Studies, accessed on May 19, 2013 from http://postcolonialstudies.emory.edu/women-islam-and-hijab/

7. Corinthians 11:3-9

SUPPLEMENTAL

The First Four Caliphates


As seems to be the case with all man-made religions or reform movements throughout history, when a mass reform has occurred in history under the name of religion it has only been a matter of time before the original concepts and efforts of reform are reversed into regulated power and transformed into a political machine that often resembles the organization, influences or institutions that the original movement once strived to change.  This was the case with the religion of Judaism and the religion of Christianity, and was also the situation surrounding Islam.  Students of history can easily see the political regulation of the religion of Islam, as it expanded and became transformed into an Islamic state, beginning shortly after Muhammad’s death.  The first four caliphates were short lived, the Islamic empire greatly expanded, and an increasing political splintering and enhancement of regulated policies can be noted during this period early Caliphate period.

Abu Bakr: 632-634 CE

The political split in Islam which would emerge in 656 CE, especially regarding Muslims under the emerging Islamic state structure, was evident from the beginning between the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.  This split among early Muslims, which is still evident today, can be seen after the death of Muhammad as “the majority accepted Abu Bakr as the first caliph, but a small group believed that Muhammad wanted his son-in-law, Ali, to lead the Muslims”[1].  From the beginning, a political man-made conflict was in place to poison any future collective empire: The Shi’ites believed that Muhammad had named his son-in-law, Ali, to become his successor, while Sunni Muslims supported Abu Bakr. 

Abu Bakr only held the title of Caliph, or deputy of God, for two years and his largest challenges came in the form of the Bedouins and further Islamic expansion past Mecca and Medina.  The Bedouins had adopted Islam under Muhammad, but quickly renounced the religion after Muhammad’s death and led a troublesome revolt entitled in the history books as the Ridda, which was crushed in 633 CE.  With the Ridda broken and the vast majority of Arabia under Islamic rule, Bakr turned focuses on the further expansion of Islamic rule.

Umar: 634-644 CE

Before his death, Abu Bakr appointed Umar, another of the prophet’s father-in-laws, as his successor as caliph.  The appointment was not physically challenged by Sunni Muslims, but at the same time the appointment further deepened internal Sunni-Shi’ite divide.  Umar certainly carried on the Islamic offensive for territorial gains for the expanding Islamic state with conquests “in Syria, which he took from the Byzantines in 635. Damascus, an important city in Syria, fell to the Muslim forces that year, and Jerusalem - considered by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike to be a holy city - followed in 637”[2].  Under Umar’s decade-long rule and the Islamic expansion of territory, which now spanned from Persia to Egypt, new tax systems, the Kharaj and Jizya, were introduced throughout the early empire.  While the Kharaj was a tax on agricultural lands, the Jizya was a tax aimed towards all non-Muslim subjects, subjects who enjoyed rights in exchange for taxation under the early Islamic empire, in order to fund the expanding empire.  Under Umar’s caliphate, Islamic expansion met fierce resistance in Persia.  In 644 CE, Umar was assassinated by a Persian Christian.  It would be a preview of future resistance.

Uthman: 644-656 CE

With the unforeseen murder of Umar, the third Caliph, Uthman, was selected by a council of elders.  As early forms of political imperialism can be seen in the Islamic expansion under Umar, the increase of political elements within the Islamic state continued under Uthman.  The expansion of the empire continued under Uthman, but not without internal strife and discontent.  Uthman was heavily criticized for the shrinking treasury of the empire, and also for attempting to consolidate the various scriptures of Quran lessons into one official state sanctioned Quran, which created strong suspicions of tampering with original passages in those scriptures.  In 656 CE, in similar fashion to Umar’s fate, Uthman was assassinated in his home by Egyptian rebels.   With the event of his murder, the caliphate passed to Ali, whom Shi’ite Muslims had believed was the rightful successor of Muhammad from the beginning, and instantly the Islamic world was ripped into internal strife.

Ali: 656-661 CE

The self-proclaimed caliphate of Ali was challenged from the beginning by Uthman’s cousin Mu'awiya, along with other candidates, which resulted in bloody civil battles being fought during the years 656 CE and 658 CE.   Mu'awiya proclaimed a separate caliphate from Jerusalem and received support from Egyptian and Syrian forces.  When Ali was murdered in 661 CE, Mu'awiya succeeded in establishing the first Islamic dynasty under the name of his family: the Umayyad Dynasty.

Conclusion

The short history of the first four caliphates was not lengthy in years, but the gradual political expansion and the constant human desire for more and more power are quite evident in this history.  The many basic lessons of reform that the prophet Muhammad once taught had been conveniently used and twisted into an organized religion woven into an expanding state empire resembling the same issues that Muhammad spoke against.  The same political evolutions can be seen with the history of the Hebrew tribes after the establishment and success of the Kingdom of Judah, and with the early Christian church after it was adopted by the Roman Empire, and even more so during the middle ages with the emergence of the Holy Roman Empire.   This is obviously the nature of man.

 

Notes

1. University of Calgary.  The Islamic World to 1600, The Caliphate and the First Islamic Dynasty, Abu Bakr, Sunni vs Shi’a, 1998.  Accessed on May 26, 2013 from http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/islam/caliphate/

2. University of Calgary.  The Islamic World to 1600, The Caliphate and the First Islamic Dynasty, Umar, 1998.  Accessed on May 26, 2013 from http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/islam/caliphate/