Muslim for a Month

I teach Social Studies in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area at a very diverse high school. In an attempt to better understand a significant portion of the student population, I have undertaken the idea to become "Muslim for a Month"; hence the title for this blog.

Name:
Location: Fairfax County, VA, United States

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Original Sin and Equality among the Sexes?

I continue to read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam by Yahiya Emerick, and have not finished it. Some of the ideas in today’s post I have discussed with a resource-friend, others I have not but plan to, in order to clarify my understanding of the issue.

There are things in Islam that make a lot of sense to me, and in some ways appeal more than the concepts in Christianity (the religion of my upbringing). For example, Islam does not have a belief in original sin, but instead believes that “we are all born pure” (Emerick, 43). I like this idea better, and, in fact, it gels with my questioning of the concept of original sin in Christianity. How can someone who has never had the chance to do wrong or offend or have the wrong intentions be sinful at birth? Additionally, the idea that the original sin was passed down from Adam and Eve is incongruous with my personal notion of individual responsibility and accountability. I do not believe that sins are passed on to the child from the parents, so how can sin be passed from someone generations ago to someone born today?

And while I have, at times, questioned the idea of Jesus as the literal “Son of God” I do believe that he was killed on a cross, which (as I have read) the Qur’an denies (Emerick, 43). I understand that Muslims consider Jesus to be a very important prophet, along with Abraham and others, but they do not consider Jesus any more unique than the others. I can live with that notion, but do believe that the martyrdom did occur, and believe that he could have risen from the dead (since all things are possible with God’s assistance).

Additionally, I like the concept of no clergy. I believe that I have the ability and the right to talk directly to God (again, back to my recent Reformation unit, way to go Martin Luther!) and do not need an intermediary or middleman to communicate on my behalf, or to go to seek forgiveness for my sins. As well, I have always disagreed with the Catholic Church on the issue of women as priests. I believe that gender does not make anyone more or less worthy or capable of serving God. The sexism that I believe this engenders within the entire Church hierarchy bothers me. But then, I see some of that in Islam. I have read, in several different sources, that men and women are equal before Allah, which is a concept I can support wholeheartedly. However, there are specifics that I feel contradict that notion. In order to obtain a divorce, men only need to proclaim that intention three times. Women can instigate a divorce, but need to file papers with an Islamic court or with a recognized scholar asking to divorce her husband. “Although she doesn’t need the permission of her husband, she does need a compelling reason” (Emerick, 262). How is this equal? If men and women were equal before Allah, then the requirements would be the same for both of them – either just making the statement to start the process or filing papers. Are women more prone to flights of fancy, or more likely to get irritated at their husband “during that time of the month” and divorce him for no good reason? It sounds like men are potentially more likely to make that statement in a fit of pique, since they need not have a compelling reason. There was an interesting story in the news earlier this year (http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=1776288) about a man who divorced his wife in his sleep. If that is a viable (maybe only in the village that decided that sleep talking was enforceable intent) divorce, with no or so little concrete intention from the husband, how, if women have to have a “compelling reason” is this equal?

While I live in the United States, which does not allow polygyny, I take exception to the notion that men can have multiple wives, but women cannot have multiple husbands. Ideally, I feel that marriage is a commitment between two people (one man and one woman, two men, or two women) and only two people, but feel the issue should be balanced – what is good for the goose is good for the gander? I understand that the role of women and men in Islam is different and defined. Men are responsible for taking care of women (wife, mother, sister, etc.), and women need not return the favor by contributing monetarily to the maintenance of the household. However, I take umbrage with the idea that if men have a propensity for sleeping around, it is better to have multiple wives rather than one wife and a mistress or two. As someone going through a divorce because of infidelity on my husband’s part, I have a personal stake (and potentially biased opinion) regarding this aspect of this issue, and have no interest in staying in a marriage with someone who cannot be faithful to the marriage vows we exchanged. I also understand that polygyny is not that commonly practiced anymore, however it is the idea that bothers me, I guess. Another reason given for polygyny being acceptable is if a woman is barren and unable to have children; therefore it is better for her husband to marry a second women rather than subjecting the first wife to being “divorced and cast aside in favor of a fertile wife” (Emerick, 261). What if a man is impotent and unable to sire children? Is this an acceptable reason for a wife to initiate divorce proceedings with her husband? What about her ability to marry a second man in order to have children, while not abandoning or casting aside her first husband?

As I stated at the top of this post, I am continuing to learn about the faith and practices of Islam, through reading and talking to people who know much more than I. If someone wishes to clarify, or disagree with, something I have said here please feel free to comment.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if a man is impotent and unable to sire children? Is this an acceptable reason for a wife to initiate divorce proceedings with her husband? What about her ability to marry a second man in order to have children, while not abandoning or casting aside her first husband?

To the first question, yes this is an acceptable reason for a woman to seek a divorce.
for the second question the answer would be no. one of the general reasons for the prohibition of women having more than one husband is to protect lineage. If a woman had more than one husband the child would not really no who there father was. There are other factors as well but that is one of the primary reasons I was taught.

Muhammad-Nur

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salaamalikom Sister,

Your venture to be a Muslim for a month is most intriguing. Your tolerance for the faith of Islam and dedication to LEARN its fundamentals is refreshing. Perhaps we can all learn from it?

Sister I am not a scholar of the religion or its law (and be careful entertaining opinions and rulings of those who are not), but I found your questions engaging and wanted to offer my own humble thoughts to not DEFEND or JUSTIFY the religion (firstly because you are not being offensive and secondly because faith and religion are what they are, and require no justification in essence if practiced of free volition).

Regarding the classical issue that separates the Church and Masjid (eg Jesus, his divinity, his martyrdom), since your question revolves around his death, please note that even as a Muslim I have been confused at the Quranic version of events because they require further study.

The actual sura (Allah knows the correct translation):

They slew him not, nor did they crucify him but it was made dubious to them.
(Holy Qur'an, Surah Nisaa, Verse 157)

I asked a Sheikh what does this mean, this "dubious to them"... it obviously implies that it appeared full of doubt, with no certainty.

The layman's explanations vary, and essentially run this course: Jesus was the spirit of God, the word of God. According to Islamic belief, a messenger and prophet CAN NOT be subjected to the kind of torture and humiliation which Christians feel he suffered.

What I find interesting is that people ignore 2 important points:

1) the context of the event as per what Jesus's future status in Islam would be

2) in a worldly sense, "But they killed him not, Nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts?" (4:156)

So in my opinion, yes in a WORLDLY sense for those alive at that time, witnessing what they did, they witnessed a real live martyrdom. The Quran dispels this belief, and rectifies it by saying, Jesus was already taken to Allah (where inshallah, he will RETURN).

Secondly, you asked "Can a woman not divorce her husband if he cannot sire children" etc. Believe it or not, and you may check with scholars on this issue, women do have the right to a sexually fit man. I would go as far as to say that impotence is a valid grounds for divorce (I even recount instances in Jewish/Islamic law whereby women approaced Prophets and wanted to leave their husbands for bad breath and weren't chastised!).

However I won't play blind to what may obviously appear as a pro-male bias in Islam. But as I get older and realize that Allah knows, and I know not, I am sure his law can only be beneficial for me and all his creation.

May Allah reward your open mindedness, your kind heart. May Allah bless you with a righteous husband and a beautiful family. May Allah guide you, every step of the way.

Walikomsalaam,
A Muslim

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding your "not being muslim enough" because you want to look pretty in your hijab...I don't feel any contradiction with looking pretty and modest in my hijab. I wear hijab because that is what Allah has prescribed as modesty for women. I don't read anything in Qu'ran that leads me to believe that women are supposed to be unattractive. As an American, I feel it is our western culture that equates modesty with unattractiveness.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Ikhlas said...

Hello Rebbeca,

I’m Atifa a friend of Omaira Alam. I really enjoyed reading your blog and wish you the best of luck with the rest of this month. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see someone who is both religious and open minded. Unfortunately it seems that most people become more exclusive as they become more religious.

I wanted to comment on the equality of the sexes in Islam. I prefer the relationship between men and women in Islam to be defined as ‘just’; not as ‘equal’. Equal implies that men and women are the same. Now even though we’re different sexes with in the same species, no one can deny that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. So how can they be equal? Actually Sh. Hamza Yusuf has an excellent lecture titled, “Men and Women”. It’s only about an hour and easy to listen to on your commute to work. With your permission, I can send you a copy or send a copy to Omaira to give to you.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Ikhlas said...

Hello Rebbeca,

I’m Atifa a friend of Omaira Alam. I really enjoyed reading your blog and wish you the best of luck with the rest of this month. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see someone who is both religious and open minded. Unfortunately it seems that most people become more exclusive as they become more religious.

I wanted to comment on the equality of the sexes in Islam. I prefer the relationship between men and women in Islam to be defined as ‘just’; not as ‘equal’. Equal implies that men and women are the same. Now even though we’re different sexes with in the same species, no one can deny that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. So how can they be equal? Actually Sh. Hamza Yusuf has an excellent lecture titled, “Men and Women”. It’s only about an hour and easy to listen to on your commute to work. With your permission, I can send you a copy or send a copy to Omaira to give to you.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Ahmed Husain said...

Assalamu'alaikum sister,
I have been following your posts regarding your journey through Islam in an effort to better understand the religion, and I for one have never been more proud of anyone in my life. It takes great courage to be so open minded as to set aside the foundations on which you were raised and explore the inner workings of your surrounding niches.

I don't consider myself to be a scholar of Islam by any means but I have asked some of the same questions which you present today and have received answers, which I pray will bring you the same degree of peace that they once brought me. Three arguments caught my eye as I was reading and I was compelled to share my knowledge with you regarding these topics. First of which dealt with Prophet Isa (Jesus), and how, (as your reading relayed) he was not killed on the cross. Some Mazhab (school of thought) believe that Prophet Isa (Jesus) was called up to heaven by Allah (swt) at the time of the crucifixion and replaced by a man bearing similar looks. This provides support to the belief of how Prophet Isa will once again descend (as one of the signs of Judgment Day) to slay the Dajjal (The Dark Messiah) who will wander the land making false claims to be a prophet of God.

The second point dealt with women and how they are not allowed to divorce men as easily as men are allowed to divorce them. The wisdom’s behind this, as explained to me upon inquiry, are essentially the same reasons you mentioned in your post. The Prophet (saw) said that the worst of those women in Hell will be the ones who did not appreciate the work of their husbands. This can be best illustrated through the ever-present phrase; “What do you ever do for me?” Please don’t mistake this however as a claim that ungrateful women will be punished and ungrateful men spared, for ungrateful men will have their own place in Allah’s (swt’s) inferno. Specifically looking at women though, this belief discourages women from speaking or acting irrationally “during that time of the month” because it provokes the Muslim woman to think consciously about what she says before she speaks, hence safeguarding her from accidentally saying something which Allah (swt) might find distasteful. In regards to the Muslim man who wants to divorce his wife, Islam takes into consideration the fact that men in general have high tempers and are also likely to state divorce in a rash manner. For this reason Islam establishes that a man who wishes to divorce his wife must make a statement of divorce 3 times, and in 3 different sittings. The wisdom behind this is that the man may be hot-headed when he makes the first statement but due to his clouded judgment and unstable state of mind, any other statements he makes regarding the divorce at that time are voided. Also, I read the article about the man who stated divorce 3 times in his sleep when it was initially introduced, and as humorous as it was at the time, it changed not the facts that due to his impaired state of mind (i.e. unconsciously sleeping), and him saying it all in one sitting, the divorce was not valid. The 3 different sittings concept is an inbuilt fail-safe mechanism if you may. The equality issue of men and women has been a long and hard fought battle through the times but Allah (swt) has made men and women strong in certain areas as he has made us weak in others. Allah (swt) says in the Quran that he has placed Jannah (Heaven) below the mothers’ foot, is it not safe to say that the dearest creation in his eyes then is the female? Just as he has gifted women with the power to birth and nurture new life into this world, he has also established shortcomings such as the always-lovable mood-swings =) and if there were no shortcomings in people in general, what strive would we have for survival? If everyone was created perfect, why would we even exist? I’m sorry for pointing out women in what I said but it’s only because men’s shortcomings are something which need not be discussed. The list starts here and wraps around the globe. Twice. =/

The final point which I thought I might shed light on, as I realize that this is becoming exceedingly lengthy, is that of how women are not allowed to marry more than one man and how a man is allowed to marry more than one woman. This is a common misconception as I also used to be ignorant on the matter but before the Islamic era, it was a time of Jahilia (time of ignorance). Men in those days used to marry many women and “inherit” women as one might inherit monetary wealth today. Due to this oppression towards women, Islam liberated them by placing a restriction of a maximum of 4 wives for each man and not the otherwise wrongly conceived “allowance” of multiple women. Looking at this issue more closely, a woman who wishes to obtain a second husband for her first husband “being impotent and unable to sire children,” always has the option of divorcing the first husband in order to obtain a new marriage and start a family. Islam recognizes the value and honor of women, and therefore does not allow women to marry multiple men. The scenario which you put forth had grounds to it and was a very good question, as opposed to the commonly asked; “Well, if men can marry so many women, why can’t women marry just as many men?” The answer to which is very simple; there was no DNA testing in those times so it simply would not be feasible for a woman to marry more than one man, as each child would bear doubt as to whom the true father of the child is. Looking at this through much softer eyes though, one can clearly see that there exists 4 women to every 1 man in today’s world. There aren’t enough men for the women as it is let alone extras! =P

I’m sorry for going on for so long when I don’t possess the scholarly knowledge to give you exact quotes from the Quran and Hadith to support my arguments. I hope that the wisdoms put forth are enough to help put some of your questions to rest, as they did help me a great deal. I apologize if I was hasty or aggressive in my words or if I talked about points which you never addressed, as I have a nasty habit of going off into wild tangents. As always, it should be remembered that faith starts with the oneness of Allah (swt) and his Prophet (saw). The wisdoms which are presented to us should not establish the foundations to our faith but merely strengthen it when it falters. I pray this reaches you in the best of health and Insha’Allah, Allah (swt) will help you with the answers to which you seek.

Assalamu'alaikum; May peace and blessings be upon you

1:48 AM  
Anonymous Imran said...

Kudos for taking on this endeavor. Respecting each other stems from understanding each other.

A few comments if I may,
1) Islam promotes gender equity, not strict equality. It recognizes that we are different and therefor places some different requirements on us in our Earthly life, yet we are judged equally in terms of the afterlife.
2) In Islam there is this concept of messenger vs. prophet. Every messenger is a prophet but not all prophet's are messengers. The difference is that messenger's brought books, for example the Torah of Moses, the Gospel of Jesus, and the Qur'an of Mohammad (peace be upon them all). So in this sense, Jesus does have an unique rank amongst the prophets. Moreover, it may be interesting to note many prophets have been given honorary titles in Islam, for Abraham 'Khalilullah' (Close Friend of Allah) and for Jesus 'Ruhullah' (Spirt of Allah). Now, this is a figurative title highlighting an important characteristic of the certain messenger. Jesus was given the title Ruhullah because of all the prophets he was the greatest example of "un-worldliness" - that is, he shunned materialism to a higher extent than any other prophet. It is related that Muhammad said Islam is the middle way, the way between Moses (strict outward practice) and Jesus (strict inward practice).
3) I hope i'm not being long winded here but one more point. As Muslims we believe that Jesus has not served his earthly death - and therefore will be sent down again during end times. It is related that when they were coming to get Jesus for crusification, the ceiling opened and he was taken up to heaven, while one of the hypocrites (Judus, I believe) was given Jesus's appearance.
4) Lastly, you may find this website a good read. It relates the classical Islamic perspective on many issues.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God has allowed divorce but is the worst thing He allows, and for obvious reasons. It's a very hard procedure to endure and I believe people make seem easier than it is. Men can divorce by saying words but he needs the intention behind it as all of our actions are based upon our intentions. The woman has a right to divorce also which is not found in Christianity or Judaism, the procedure is different because of the protection of women and our reputation/dignity etc. As for polygyny, this has always been around and is still rare in occurance. A man must provide equally for each wife (meaning one house, one car, one vacation, equal amounts in furniture, gifts, etc.) and must be just with them. If he cannot (as most men cannot do) then he limits himself to one and that is better for him. The marriage contract is between one man and one woman. If a man has more than one wife, the contract is still between him and his wives individually, not collectively. A woman is allowed to divorce her husband if he can't produce, but who is to say that they won't have children later in life?

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me again! I'm just commenting along as I go - the issue of polygamy is a strange one for women who are born and bred in the West. As a Muslim woman who has lived all my life in the West, the notion of having a one true love, a soulmate etc etc were things that were propogated from a young age. Statistically, as you have mentioned, not many men actually have more than one wife - Allah, may He be exalted says in the Qur'an:

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. (4:3)

And you have it not in your power to do justice between wives, even though you may wish (it), but be not disinclined (from one) with total disinclination, so that you leave her as it were in suspense; and if you effect a reconciliation and guard (against evil), then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (4:129)

In the time of the Prophet (pbuh), polygamy was a common thing due to the fact that wars were frequent, and as a result, many of the women were left widows. If you have read about the marriages of the Prophet (pbuh) you will see that the majority of the blessed women he (pbuh) married, were widows...Islam places much emphasis on looking after and protecting women, especially when they have lost their husbands, and it is encouraged for men to marry again if he is able to look after their wellbeing.

That being said..the majority of women, me included, have a lot of jealousy when it comes to their husbands! Which is natural of course...if we go back to statistics though, the ratio of men to women is becoming broader each day - the Prophet (pbuh) prophesised that the gap would widen to such an extent that it would be 50 women to 1 man! I think currently in the states alone, the ratio is something like 8 to 1 already. That's taking into account, men who don't want to marry, those who are otherwise inclined, those who are imprisoned etc...we would rather our sisters marry and become second wives, than be public property...

8:21 PM  
Blogger vena said...

Where did you go? This is a cliffhanger for me!!!

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you finish the 30 days? like vena said I'm waitting for the next blog com'on I wanna know

12:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home