Friday, January 21, 2011

Women's Fatwas?

I just found this while looking for something on women's authority and Islam. I was shocked by the answer that Soad Saleh, "one of the world's leading female scholars of Islam," gave to the woman who told her about her situation with her husband. Take a look. Why do you think she insists what she insists? Do you find it upsetting? Do you think it's still good that women are at least allowed to speak on public TV and issue such fatwas, even if they don't necessarily support women's empowerment?
Soad Saleh, one of the world’s leading female scholars of Islam, fields requests for religious advice each week from callers across the Arab world. Seated at a gilded table on the set of her Egyptian satellite TV show, Women’s Fatwa, Saleh provides religious rulings on a wide range of subjects. How many months can a man be away from his wife if he is working in another country? Under what conditions is polygamy acceptable? How can a financial dispute between sisters be settled? 

During one episode in late March, a young Egyptian woman named May called in. Six months ago, when she married her husband, he promised she could continue working as an engineer. Now he is insisting she stay at home. He has even locked her in the house while he is at work to prevent her from leaving. She doesn’t want a divorce, because she fears people will blame her. What should she do?
Saleh paused briefly, looking traditional but stylish in her periwinkle hijab, or headscarf, and simple rimless eyeglasses. “You probably agreed to marry this man because he is committed to his house and responsibilities,” she said.
“Yes,” May said.
“Being committed, according to Islam, does not mean you pray in the mosque and then oppress your wife at home. Being committed means that you follow Allah’s rules in managing your relations with people,” Saleh said. But she does not urge May to leave her husband, instead urging her to be patient. “You have to wait until you deliver your children,” she said, “and then, God willing, you will get busy raising your babies.”
Click here to read more.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Quran on Marriage: Can Muslim Women Marry Christians and Jews?

 Pre-post: the post below is a "lay person's" view with Qur'anic references to repudiate the claim that Muslim women are not allowed to marry men from the People of the Book (Christians and Jews). However, for those interested in reading about this from the perspective of a respected Imam, someone with an authoritative position, please check out the book Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. In Chapter 4, titled "The Modern American Muslim Woman," he discusses the issue of the marriage of Muslim women to men of the People of the Book and offers a very rational viewpoint.
So, I'm sure we're always reminded that as Muslim women, we are not allowed to marry non-Muslim (non-Muslim here means Christian and Jewish) men because the Quran says so. I won't talk about non-Christians and non-Jews in here because that's an entirely different topic because the Quran tells both men and women that they may not marry the mushrikeen (polytheists or those who join partners with God. I know, I know what's going through your mind right now: "Oh, but Christians have the Trinity! That's polytheism right there!" k, patience, please).

So, when I realized that I was actually allowed to think, I started thinking about this and couldn't stop asking why this is so. Yes, everyone knows that the Quran makes it very clear that men may marry women from the People of the Book (Christians and Jews), and our male scholars, with all due respect to them, have decided that because God didn't specify whether or not women can marry men from the People of the Book, God actually meant that women can't. 'Course, this is the same case with polygamy: While men are specifically allowed to have more than one wife if they can treat them equally, even though another verse tells them that they cannot treat women equally even if they so wish to, women are never Quranically prohibited from marrying more than one man. But polygamy another time. For now, let's stick to marriage to Jews and Christians.
The main verses in question are 2:221 and 5:5. I'll give the Arabic first, then Yusuf Ali's full translation.

وَلَا تَنكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكَاتِ حَتَّىٰ يُؤْمِنَّ ۚ وَلَأَمَةٌ مُّؤْمِنَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن مُّشْرِكَةٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ ۗ وَلَا تُنكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَتَّىٰ يُؤْمِنُوا ۚ وَلَعَبْدٌ مُّؤْمِنٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن مُّشْرِكٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكُمْ ۗ أُولَٰئِكَ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ ۖ وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَالْمَغْفِرَةِ بِإِذْنِهِ ۖ وَيُبَيِّنُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ

Yusuf Ali: Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise. 

Maybe it's just me, who knows, but the verse above says the exact same thing to both men and women: Do not marry the mushrikeen until they believe. Yet, whenever we ask why Muslim women can't marry non-Muslim men, it never crosses the answerers' minds that we might mean the Jews or Christians, and they give us, mind you, the second part of the verse above! They completely -- and I mean completely! -- ignore the first part of the verse. Why? Oh, because then that'd prove their point wrong, and they don't want to believe that men could possibly ever be denied what they've been taught women are denied. does this, too. This ever most-authentic source on everything Islam-related uses this to say why women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, including Jews and Christians because apparently they, too, are mushrikeen -- but only when it comes to Muslim women marrying their men, not Muslim men marrying their women!

“And give not (your daughters) in marriage to Al Mushrikun (atheists) till they believe (in Allah Alone)” (Al-Baqarah: 221)  

Why do they so conveniently ignore the part where God says the exact same thing to men? Could it also be because no one ever asks, "Why can't a Muslim man marry non-Muslim women?"

This site compares the translations of verse 2:221.

As for verse 5:5, it reads:

الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ ۖ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَّهُمْ ۖ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلَا مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ ۗ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالْإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

Yusuf Ali: This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time,- when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues if any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).

Feel free to compare this translation to a plethora of others at this site.

So, the above verse, talking clearly to men, tells men that they can marry chaste women from the People of the Book--without saying anything to women or whether women can marry chaste men from the people of the book. Well, neglecting to permit something is not equivalent to denying or prohibiting it. So, just because the Quran doesn't say women can do it doens't mean they can't. We can't expect to find a clear "NO" to everything in life. If something's not clearly forbidden, we shouldn't be saying, "Hmmm... it doesn't say we can do it, so that means we can't."  

Those who insist that Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims (all non-Muslims) say that Christians count as polytheists because the Quran has explicitly stated that those who say Jesus (pbuh) is God's son are disbelievers (verses 5:73 and 9:30); the Quran also says that the Jews imitate the disbelievers by saying that Uzair (Ezra) is the son of God (verse 9:30). 

If we're going to say that Christians and Jews are disbelievers, then how do we explain the Quran's permission to men to marry Christian/Jewish women while at the same time telling both women and men that they may not marry disbelievers?  Is this a contradiction, or does one verse abrogate the other? If one is abrogated by the other, which one is it, and how does one conclude that?

In a society and in an era in history in which marriage is overall seen as a kingdom where the husband is dominant, it'd make sense to disallow women to marry men from other religions because then women (wives) are the subjects and men (husbands) are the king. No, its making sense doesn't make it fair or right. But if the marriage is seen more as something that needs hard work to be kept intact and hard work required by both partners, not just the wife, then it makes no sense. Neither does it make sense if the woman is seen as a full human with full rights in marriage, as her husband's full partner and not as his subject. If they're supposed to be garments of each other like the Quran says they are, then they'd work together and decide together what values the kids will hold, what they'll call themselves, how they'll identify themselves, and so on. If we Muslims are going to continue maintaining that the Quran forbids women from marrying all non-Muslim men (when it actually doens't), then we should stop denying that men and women are garments of each other and that women are full humans. What's the point of such beliefs when our practices and actions are the opposite?

Now, obviously, the hadiths would be the one to say that Muslim women simply cannot marry ANY non-Muslim man. In that case, Muslim sources should just stop citing Quranic verse 2:221-- and incomplete, at that -- because that verse forbids women the exact same thing it forbids men.

Conclusion: Either all Muslims--whether men or women--are forbidden from marrying all non-Muslims (whether Jews/Christians or not), or then women are allowed what men are because the Quran never denies women what it explicitly permits men. The only reason Muslim women are taught that they may not marry non-Muslim men (Christians/Jews) is so that they are kept restrained. For God's sake, wake up, women, and study the Quran yourself and ask questions! For how much longer are you going to let others tell you what GOD said when you have equal access to the exact same God today that your rulers do?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Forbidden" - a poem

I have dug inside me,
A well – a deep, infinite well.
In it lives with me My God
The God of both women and men,
The God of the oppressed and the liberated,
The God of the cursed and the blessed

There with me, my feelings dwell,
Far from the fondness of human thought,
Unwelcome elsewhere
The feelings I’m forbidden to relish,
The secrets I’m forbidden to reveal,
The questions I’m forbidden to raise,
The mistakes I’m commanded to regret,
But I don’t. For I have no regrets.
Only mistakes to learn from.

There, I speak the unspeakable
I quarrel with My God,
And My God allows me this –
And there, I think the forbidden
And My God hears me, too,
There, I demand answers,
And My God answers me, too,
My God hears the shattering of my voices
And pacifies my frustrated nerves
There, I heave sighs suppressed elsewhere,
And screams ignored elsewhere,
But I must scream,
For the forbiddance of speaking has boiled my brain,
And the ludicrousness of the ulama, the “learned,” vexes me,
And the labels of heresy and blasphemy grieve my soul
But I must tell my stories.

And I tell my God,
Why have you forbidden me these natural thoughts?
Why am I nothing but a dangerously seductive being, who
Incites sordid feelings in men?
You must forgive me, Dear God, for I mean no harm,
But you must permit me to ask –
Why do you objectify me when You created me Yourself?
They tell me You’re all-powerful;
But then why did you make me the reason men behave so despicably
When they see my face, or my hair,
Or my ankles,
Or my eyes?

And My God smiles at me
And tells me
“Don’t confuse My guidelines with the orders of men.”
Just as the well starts to flood, and I
Develop confidence and valor
And my spirit ascends the seventh heaven,
And my heart glows with peace
And my mind enfolds the universe

I have become a woman.
A woman at last.
And I’m going to tell my stories.

~ Me
~ March 1, 2010

Also available on my blog.
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