The full text of the email is below. Up here, I will pick out quotes to comment on that are the most fascinating, fallacious, or failful.
First let me clarify some things – when I said you’re taking a Eurocentric perspective, I wasn’t referring to your “whiteness” so to speak (lol I’m demographically categorized as ‘Caucasian’ too but that’s a different conversation). Rather, I’m referring to a historical lineage of thought. Here in the US we inherited a particular discourse towards Muslims (and Muslim women in particular) who’s origin we can trace back to Europe and the time of the Crusades.
This is called the Genetic Fallacy. It’s the specious argument that a claim can be judged by its origins and not by its content.
What in the world is a lineage of thought? Worldviews are transmitted socially. They are not inherited! To suggest that merely because I am American, I have some ideological stain of the original sin of European crusaders, is treading extremely close to an archetypal Ad Hominem attack. You draw a distinction between dismissing my ideas by calling me white and by calling me American, but it appears to be a distinction without difference.
You assume based on my skin color that I have inherited a European ‘lineage of thought,’ as though no other ‘lineages of thought’ were ever developed on this continent or transmitted here, and you insult me further by implying that unlike Muslim women, I am a hapless heir of another person’s ideas, incapable of thinking for myself. How ironic that this is exactly what you accuse me of doing vis-a-vis Muslim women! Who is constructing whom as the other?
Even as Christian fervor died down and the context of the Crusades faded, these depictions of Muslim women remained fastened to the European (and thereafter – the American) conscience. <strong
How do you fasten a depiction to a conscience? Citation needed. Please produce your fMRI study of my conscience.
Claims about the oppression of Muslim women have been used throughout history in the justification of war, colonization, and the pursuit of empire, and in general, we need to be weary of where our claims are coming from.
Why? No, really, WHY? Poisoning the Well is a logical fallacy, not a compelling argument. Tying me to the mindset of European crusaders based SOLELY on my skin color and country of birth is not only heinously racist, it has nothing to do with the veracity of my claims.
We may find, upon closer examination, that our claims are being used to perpetuate (rather than mitigate) the oppression of women at home and abroad.
A claim cannot be used to oppress someone. At best it is used to justify oppression. You seem to be suggesting that if my claim is used to justify oppression, then I should stop making those claims. I hope you don’t believe this is an argument against the accuracy of my claims. Appeal to Consequences is a logical fallacy.
Note that some of the websites you have cited are happily endorsed by members of the Tea Party in their Islamophobic political campaign.
Note that Guilt by Association is yet another logical fallacy. I don’t form my worldview by playing opposites day with the Tea Party.
To be continued…
Assalaamu Alaikum Yakamoz (In Islam, we greet each other with a greeting of peace and blessings),
So this is really long in the coming. But allow me to be human by plainly stating that I really dreaded opening this email, so it perpetually remained on the bottom on my to do list. Additionally there’s just a lot to address in this email, and in talking about the truth, you always want to tread with humility and nuance. Although no one likes to have their most intimate beliefs challenged, but ultimately it makes you stronger, and for that, I thank you for taking the time to write this up. I too apologize if I got a little hot under the head scarf that day which seems really long ago at this point 😉
First let me clarify some things – when I said you’re taking a Eurocentric perspective, I wasn’t referring to your “whiteness” so to speak (lol I’m demographically categorized as ‘Caucasian’ too but that’s a different conversation). Rather, I’m referring to a historical lineage of thought. Here in the US we inherited a particular discourse towards Muslims (and Muslim women in particular) who’s origin we can trace back to Europe and the time of the Crusades. If you know anything about Orientalism, you’ll know that Western identity largely hinged on the depictions of ‘the Other’ – over time, Muslim women came to be defined as everything that Western women are not, and vice versa. Their perceived role in society as subordinate and oppressed was touted as indicating the overall inferiority of Muslim civilizations. Even as Christian fervor died down and the context of the Crusades faded, these depictions of Muslim women remained fastened to the European (and thereafter – the American) conscience. Claims about the oppression of Muslim women have been used throughout history in the justification of war, colonization, and the pursuit of empire, and in general, we need to be weary of where our claims are coming from. I don’t remember who said that the “the history of colonialism is the history of white men trying to liberate brown women from brown men.” We may find, upon closer examination, that our claims are being used to perpetuate (rather than mitigate) the oppression of women at home and abroad. Note that some of the websites you have cited are happily endorsed by members of the Tea Party in their Islamophobic political campaign. Knowledge and power – an interesting relationship to think about…
As for the three verses you’ve brought up… Please know that when we talk about Islamic jurisprudence we’re talking about a comprehensive legal system, and to take one law in isolation without considering others or the larger paradigm of gender in Islam would be an unfair assessment.
So for example, in Islamic jurisprudence, men are legally obligated to financially provide for their families whereas women can do whatever they want with the income that they earn. Thus a man is legally expected to use that income in providing for his family (including the women of his family) and his failure to do so can be brought against him in an Islamic court of law. The issue of unequal inheritance is based in a the fact that there are different responsibilities for men and women in Islam.
The issues of polygamy and concubines have always been very sensitive issues from the get go. But the way in which Islamic law deals with them is testament to the realism of Islam and its social relevance. In my Islamic law class, our teacher taught us that in sharia, the aim is not to offer set a false and unattainable moral pretense or to overhaul every social institution in a society. Rather the point is to give each party of the social transaction a set of rights. To take the fight out of the wilderness in a sense, and to put the two parties into a boxing ring, to give them each a pair of gloves, to provide rules and a referee (that referee being an Islamic judge or court of law). Nowadays, if a man is dissatisfied with his sex life at home, he’ll either watch porn or go to the office and start having an affair (I believe the statistics for this sort of behavior among men is kind of apalling nowadays). Under Islamic law, if a man really wanted to have sex or a relationship with another woman (and monogamy is encouraged in Islam, even if there are accommodations for polygamy), he’d do so under another marriage in which all parties have a set of rights which are protected under the law. Additionally, women can write the terms of their marriage contracts, and if they want a strictly monogamous relationship they can make this explicit in their contract.This article raises a number of good points about polygamy (take from it what you will): http://www.islamfortoday.com/polygamy5.htm
Perhaps Sh. Alaa’, one of our local scholars, whom I’ve CCed here, can better explain how Islamic law regulated the relations between slaves and their slave owners, such that slavery was gradually abolished in the region (long before it was eradicated in the West). Another great resource to consult on this is Dr. Hatem Bazian who teaches a class about Islamic law on the Berkeley campus. He’s most easily accessible in his office hours but here’s his email address if you’d like to meet and/or talk to him: “Hatem Bazian” ,
As for the Prophet and companions raping sex slaves and plundering, I’m quite sure that’s simply untrue and if you give me the exact source I’m sure we can examine it critically together. Again, war and the wealth which is amassed from war have very rigorous guidelines in Islamic jurisprudence. Again, if Sh. Alaa’ can shed some light on this issue that would be much appreciated. You are welcome to ask him questions to your heart’s content and he will probably give you better answers.
If you’re really genuinely in search of truth I highly recommend that you critically evaluate your own ‘critical sources.’ As a practicing Muslim with some small inkling of religious knowledge, I found them a little bit insulting to my intellect. Note that the “Religion of Peace” website deliberately cuts off sayings of the prophet and then continues the quotation in the citation at the bottom. Most of the commentary in all these websites no way reflected the actual meanings of the verses and sayings, but picked out the grammatically and linguistically worst translation of the verse or quote and then expounded on its vagueness in the most irrelevant way possible. If you want real, serious scholarship (or if you’d like to speak to an Islamic scholar in the flesh and ask them your questions), then let me know and I can hook it up.
But you know what Yakamoz, none of this really matters. At the end of the day, I believe in God and I believe that my religion is divine guidance from a being that knows what’s best for me – better than I know what’s best for me. Many Westerners have an aversion to the idea of ‘submission’ to anything (including God). We place high value on the ‘free and autonomous individual.’ Secularism and atheism stem from the desire to live one’s life in opposition to ‘group think’ (which is silly of course because everyone is engaged in ‘group think’ – even “anti-‘group think'” is a form of ‘group think’). Interestingly, you will find that there is no mention or concept of atheism in Islam. In most of the Quran’s verses about the disbelievers you will encounter the concept of ‘shirk’ – associating false partners with God. This comes from the Islamic world view that everyone in existence is a believer and worshiper of something – everyone is in a state of submission. You can believe and submit to a false sense of intellectual superiority and self sufficiency; you can worship money and the temporal enjoyments of this life; you can worship fame, status, and the regard of others; you can worship the LA Lakers, your job, people, things, ideas, etc. Islam, in its essence, is the notion that the only thing worthy of your submission is the one and true God – Most Gracious and Most Merciful, Judge of the afterlife, Creator of the heavens and the earth. It’s the belief that all of your aspirations and motives can and should be unified under a singular and propelling impetus in your life – and that is to gain the mercy of God. To serve God by serving creation.
Our moral understanding in contemporary American society is based on humanism and hedonism: enjoy life but ‘be a good person.’ It’s kind of a vague GPS for life. Reflecting on this conversation I laugh a little bit on the inside to think that just 100 years ago in this country, no ‘respectable’ woman walked out of the house without her bonnet and a scarf. I wonder if we would even be having this conversation at that time, or if you, Yakamoz would be the same person with the same unshakable values in your contentions with organized religion and your admirable feminist indignation. The rules are always changing. And this is not the conversation that people will be having 20 years from now either.
But fitrah (a God-given or natural understanding of right and wrong) tempered by the belief in an explicit revelation affords you the gift of moral constancy, and that is something that I would never trade for any trend in the conceptualization of women’s rights or women’s liberation. What’s right should be right, through and through, across time and space. What’s wrong should always be wrong. That is the inherent value of religion as a whole, and Islam is among the only religions which has remained true to its core on that principal. Note that this does not mean that Islamic traditions are stagnant – there are always new issues to address, new sociopolitical contexts, and even with a core set of beliefs, principals and methodology which are consistent, there is still disagreement and debate among religious scholars and growth.
You ask why I make an exception for God about the issue of Hell? God is my creator and yours – He owns us. He’s the reason that I’m breathing and sitting here typing up this email. His right over us is the right that any owner has over His possessions, so if He’s gonna throw some of His possessions into the fire, then perhaps I should worry less about how such a thing is conceivable and more about how to avoid a similar fate.
But also, I trust God more than I trust anyone and anything, including myself. People are not more Merciful than God. People are not more Loving than God. People are not more Just than God. People are not more Wise than God. I make an exception for God because God is in every way exceptional. I won’t say and can’t say you’re going to hell because I genuinely do not know how God will judge you (or me, for that matter). In our narrations there are those who go to Hell for only a short span of time to atone for their sins and those who sinned all their lives, but who’s one good deed lead to their salvation. God knew something about them that we didn’t. He has intimate knowledge of your circumstances and what lies inside your heart. I have none. All I know is that I would rather that He preside over me as Judge than my own self.
I apologize for the length and for the very long delay in my response. I hope this was beneficial, and I’m happy to continue this conversation.
God bless you,