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Do Not Ignore our Own Double Standards

| September 15, 2014 | 0 Comments

Umpteen instances of ignoring essential human values enshrined
in Islamic texts could be identified within the Muslim society.
Yet we never stop extolling virtues of a faith which have completely bypassed us.

women

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Double standards and hypocrisy are as much—or even more—part of the current Muslim society as could be seen with regard to any other ideological or religious group. But there is some degree of difference. We practice them with reference to religious sources while for communities other than us it may be a matter of being practical. We make grandiose claims of Islam alone being the guarantor of salvation for all the maladies afflicting the human society. The TV channels dedicated for the purpose mouth all kinds of platitudes and go to town extolling the virtues of what we believe in without a trace of them in our ownselves. In the very next breath a faqih (jurist) is found justifying double standards that actually have no basis in Islam, thereby robbing the Islam of all its moral appeal.
I will cite two glaring examples that relate to two sets of laws and appear contrary to the spirit of natural justice which any system of law must support to appear credible. First, it is generally concluded that Muslim men are permitted to marry Ahl e Kitaab (precisely Christian and Jewish) women while ruling out the permission for the vice versa i.e., a Rukhasana or Raziya marrying a Christopher or Venkat. Similarly, the law of apostasy (it is generally deemed that Islam prescribes death for a Muslim renouncing the faith even though no such mention is made in the Quran) is cited in cases where an Abdullah gives up his faith to join the fold of some other religion.
The Quran, of course, makes it permissible for Muslim men to marry Kitabiya women but no verse can be cited in support of the specific proscription of marriage between a Muslim woman and a Christian or Jewish man. Human rights are a two-way traffic and one is supposed to concede to another individual, citizen or groups of them the same set of rights which one would wish to avail of himself. But Muslim attitude has remained vague with regards to these two aspects. Allah being just, would not have prescribed two opposite treatments for people joining or leaving the fold of Islam, more so, when the Quran declares Lakum Deenakum wali ya deen (For you, your religion, for me, mine). Both these positions are not in sync with norms of human rights as practiced in democratic societies. But the dichotomy appears in practice. While Muslim men continue to feel free to marry the Christian and Jewish females, any discussion on extending similar rights to Muslim women is taboo and those violating them are frowned upon. Ironically, the Islamic organizations, who any way are free to operate only in democratic societies (Muslim world having no scope for them) have either kept mum on this aspect or show no embarrassment in mouthing these positions as it is.
It is none of my business to sit in judgement on what the scriptural texts say, or whether it is right or wrong, nor is there intention to plead or promote inter-religious marriages. It remains fairly clear that cultural confusion is bound to afflict families where parents are drawn from two different faiths. But what could be gleaned is that most of us and our theologians have while jubilating over conversions to Islam, fail to react to and condemn barbaric edicts from organizations like Taliban or the Boko Haram against those turning away from Islam. Didn’t the Taliban behead an Afghan who crossed over to Christianity only a few years ago? This certainly makes our position indefensible in democratic societies like India, Western Europe or the United States where Muslim communities carry the promise of integrating with the mainstream societies and are relatively more educated, mature, civilised and benefit hugely from blessings of democracy, prevalence of human rights and freedom of religion and expression.
Equality before law being so seminal to natural justice, it is imperative that Muslims and Muslim societies exhibit and are seen to be practicing evenhandedness in dealing with interreligious marriages and conversions across the faith, irrespective of who converts to which faith and who marries whom. Islam would have a greater appeal if it is seen to be upholding equality and justice rather than seeking to imprison people within their faith.

Monopolising the name of Allah
Our unconcern pertaining to maltreatment of non-Muslim minorities in the Muslim countries too is often galling. Let alone the absence of condemnation of atrocities against Hindus in Pakistan or Christians in Iraq, no thought has been spared to improve the accessibility to normal rights of a citizen to individuals from Christian or Hindu minorities in the Muslim world. There are instances galore of non-Muslim minorities being denied human rights, blatant violation of their civil liberties taking place or simply two sets of rules being in place in matters of accessibility to these rights. Malaysian court’s verdict proscribing use of word ‘Allah’ could be a case in point. One could ask how could there be objection to a Christian using ‘Allah’ for God in a Muslim society. We need to ask as to how else a Lebanese Christian would refer to God in an Arab society? Can there be a monopoly over a name of the God which is so universal?
It was the same psyche that led to uproar and protest over appointment of a Brahmin woman Arabic teacher in a Government school in Kerala. There were few who could question the irrationality of the protest. Could there be Muslim monopoly over Arabic teaching and should this be demanded of a Government? Could the same be demanded in a religiously diverse Lebanon where Maronite Christian comprise half of the population, sharing the single language Arabic?
Maltreatment of Hindus in Pakistan
Not alone this. Our indifference towards and silence over treatment of Hindus or Sikhs in neighbouring Pakistan is a sore point in inter-community relations. It is disconcerting also because it betrays our lack of concern towards its spillover impact against minorities across the borders. There have been a spate of cases where Hindu women in rural Sindh (Umarkot is a Hindu majority district in Sindh province of Pakistan) being abducted and forcibly married with Muslim males by gangs meant exclusively for this purpose. The cases are generally registered as ‘elopement’. But a reverse relationship is all likely to draw violent reprisals against Hindu populations.
Proceed even further. Egypt is considered a much enlightened society, having received the light of civilization eons ago. But one is surprised to find that rules for marriage between a Muslim woman and Coptic male are not the same as applying to marriage between a Coptic woman and Muslim male. (Around 8% of Egyptian population consists of Coptic Christians). While the Muslim male is free to choose a bride from among Coptic Christians, the Coptic male would require to convert to Islam prior to marriage to a Muslim female. The anomaly has persisted for decades causing resentment among the Christians. Clearly, patriarchy remains the guiding principle in such matters in Muslim societies.

Exemption or Discrimination?
Whether or not non-Muslims pay jizya in a Muslim country, the threat of a fanatical regime invoking the Jizya provision is always there as it happened in the case of Taliban ruled Afghanistan (between 1996 and 2005). But what is more amazing is the fact that the protagonists of Islamism do not feel any qualms in justifying jizya, which going by their explanation, is in lieu of Zaktah collected from Muslims and exemption of non-Muslims from the military service. It could have some justification in the 7thcentury Arabia when the loyalty to State was predicated on faith of the individual and infidels were still part of those states. No longer now. How could we defend such anachronistic laws which still find an echo in several Muslim societies? ‘Exemption’ from military service is ‘discrimination’ in today’s terminology and it will be utter foolishness to masquerade ‘the denial of a viable avenue for employment’ to non-Muslim as ‘a privilege’ in 21st century. But ask any average cleric about this juristic issue, he is all likely to trot out the same explanation that held some modicum of validity a millennium ago.
Imagined superiority of Islam speaks loudly from all our narratives, and more foolishly from TV channels parading themselves as purveyors of Islam. We are yet to realize that it is one thing to have faith in a particular religion, find spiritual satisfaction in its doctrine and rituals, and quite another to demand privilege over others for it in public domain. We feel no qualms in exhibiting two sets of standards for acceptability of mythological stuff. We take pride in Islamic mythology but hasten to trash others’ dubbing it nothing but fanciful and fantastic. As could be seen, all religions have certain metaphysical element which needs to be confined strictly to the matter of faith and accepted by the faithful without much interrogation and the rule should be applicable across the faiths. But when it comes to social application, the people are required to be guided by the practicalities rather than mythology. Remember we too were urging the protagonists of demolition of Babri Masjid to go by historical facts rather than mythology and sentiments.
But our double standards are no more manifest than in matters of our claims and the reality with regard to gender equality and justice in the Muslim world. The ordinary cleric never tires of waxing eloquent in matters of women’s rights in Islam. Even while he puts the Muslim men and women on equal pedestal, Muslim women approaching the ‘sharia courts’ (a better term would be ‘sharia panchayats’) for khulaa are regularly told that husband’s consent is a prerequisite for khulaa to be effective. {Ref: Abdullah Khalid Mazahari, ‘Khulaa mein bhi Shauhar ki razamandi zuroori hai, Naqeeb Weekly, (mouthpiece of Imarat e Shariia, Bihar) April 21, 2014, vol. 62. No. 52}. Coming as it does from an institution dedicated to the interpretation of sharia, one wonders as to what happens to our claims of women’s right to dissolve a broken-down marriage being akin to the right to divorce by a husband.
Then there is a series of curtailment of women’s rights in today’s society which were normally accessible to them in the early Islamic society. For instance, women used to lead prayers {Sunan Abu Dawood records that Umme Waraqah was appointed an imam by the Holy Prophet. Nafeesah bint al-Hasan led Imam Shafii’s funeral prayer (Ref: Jawaz imamat al-mar’ah al-rijal, Dar al-Fikr al-Islami, Cairo, 2005)}. There were no barriers on women’s education and employment. Women participated in civil and political matters and also served in frontlines during wars which was a huge step forward going by the fact that even today the armies of modern Western nations restrict women’s participation in combat. Women teachers taught males. Renowned scholar Ibne Asakir is reported to have learned Hadith from some 80 women {Ref. Ahmed al-Souaiaia quotes from Tabaqat al Shafiyyah (Beirut 1407 AH) in his book Contesting Justice, State University of New York Press, 2008}. Contrary to women not being allowed to pray inside the mosques today, women during the early periods not merely prayed but even raised their voice questioning the caliphs. Women were appointed market inspectors by Hazrat Umar, (may Allah be pleased with him) in Makkah and Madinah.

Circumstantial
Suggestion for women not to travel alone and to remain under the guardianship (tawalliyat) of some male (husband, father or son as the case may be) also seem to be merely circumstantial. It seems unwise to expand their ambit over the entire life of women today when mode of travel has changed from individual (horseback, or camelback) in medieval times to social (trains, buses and planes) today and adult and educated women are mature enough to conduct their own affairs without a guardian. There was no bar on women heading the state. Otherwise, the very mention in positive terms of Prophet Sulaiman welcoming Queen Sheba of Yemen in his palace in the Quran would not have been possible. If women were to be barred from heading the State, welcoming Women heads of State too would not have found favour.
Ironically, the women’s entitlements are being curtailed under the excuse of insecurity lurking everywhere against the weaker sex. The vital question that needs to be raised is: “Are women more vulnerable and less secure in today’s street, schools and trains than were they in wars in the medieval ages? The objective here is not to plead for introduction of women into all spheres of life and development but to examine the criteria by which their freedoms and choices as equal individuals are determined and debated. Answer to the question would perhaps introduce more rationality in the discourse today. A freer debate will take the issue out of the ambit of Halaal and Haraam and permissible and impermissible. An average educated woman perhaps will exercise more discretion in her travel, employment, education, participation in civil and administrative forums than being circumscribed by religious edicts. An ordinary cleric limitlessly expands the restrictions over women’s lives today with reference to a single Hadith suggesting prayers inside homes being preferable to one offered in the mosques. In doing this he is totally mindless of hundreds of references to their role in market, consultation, teaching, work outside homes, affairs of the State and even wars and conflict.
Anomalies Galore
Anomaly can also be seen in matters of treatment of non-Muslims in the Muslim nations. Several Gulf nations do not allow Hindus to cremate their dead, thereby compelling the families to fly out the bodies to their native lands at huge cost. This seems atrocious. One should have liberty of practicing religious rituals particular to one’s faith, however detestable it might look from the standpoint of another. Similarly, a dominant body of clerics advise against zakath amount being spent on non-Muslims regardless of their need and poverty. It contravenes the very spirit of Islam which asks Muslims to be compassionate and not to discriminate the poor and the needy on the basis of religion. Some communities among Muslims have legitimized charging interest on borrowings by non-Muslims. If interest is indeed riba, Islam would in no case allow differentiating among borrowers on the basis of faith.
There are countless such issues that smudge the copybook of Muslim societies today. It is time for the Islamic scholars to reexamine the issues in the light of values of liberty, human dignity, fairness and justice which form the very basis of their doctrine. But what is seen in practice is that little educated and little exposed clerics, totally ignorant of the essence of Islam, opine over issues on the basis of inherited traditions and also by the specific school of fiqh they are affiliated to. To end this essay, let me quote Ahmed M. Souaiaia: “Humanity stops making progress in creating a better world for everyone when a civilization arrogantly believes that it has discovered absolute truths. These cases show the need to examine and rethink classical Islamic law and ethics as a whole”.

Category: Essay