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OPINION

Abuse Influenced Persons Judging Muslims 

From TI_Muslims Yahoo Group Thursday June 18, 2009

By Todd Wise, Bemidji, MN

There is quite an as yet untold story to be told on sexual immorality as a whole.  People in the West are always critical that things are "under reported" and believe that that human beings in Islamic country settings are the same as other human beings around the world....which of course they are.  But what happens is you have this democratic leveler that makes us all at the same standard as what people find in places like America.  Check for yourself on the number of STD's in Arabic settings compared to nearly every setting in the US.... it is exponentially less.  Also, adultery is surely far less, although studies like that can always be disputed, but there are ways to show that.

If you actually have a pedophile case in some Arabic countries, the guy (usually a guy, but female as well) would likely be publicly killed.  It is such a heinous thing.  And, you really have to look at the "honest" Muslims within those settings.  If you go to a conservative Muslim group (of which there are many) there is a "clean" blood line.  People know the entire family of individuals and if there was a person that had sex outside of marriage or did something as unspeakable as sex with a child, the entire family is at risk for all kinds of bad things.  People don't want people like that around them.

So, you have to see the marriage at a younger age in different Muslim contexts as for what it is.  It is not the women in chains and oppressed by a male privileged system, at least not always or not even most of the time.  There are families and young women that seek these arrangements for various reasons., Yeah, it can be and is abused, but not near as much as what spins in the minds of Westerners.  You are talking about a different cultural ethos. 

Yeah, but it is clear that in those days people married very young, even promised prior to the first period of a young girl.  Even today, in Bedouin communities in the Middle East many practice as they  have for thousands of years.  My wife is a Bedouin and has aunts and uncles who married first cousins (a practice that has gone on for thousands of years) and they were married at 13 and 14 years of age. 

We are shocked by it and live in a society where "freedom" and "equality" has become indoctrinated in us and has us read into religious texts with these lens.  We are all affected by the European Enlightenment, every person is, whether native or not.  You also have these practices in native communities.  No one had any laws about waiting till 18.  The ritual of education in our society and the laws that are in place represent values.  Many of these values are directly related to "progress" away from tribal societies, replacement of the state with tribal kinship laws, etc.

It is highly varied, but what you are wrestling with is purely cultural.  A pedophile wouldn't have been defined by the age or the young women that is married in those days and in different cultural settings today, it would have been related to sex out of marriage in particular and with children from ones own family or another's.   Because of laws in our own time, a pedophile could be someone that has sexual relations with someone under 18 in some places and under 16 in others.  Even in these settings, as far as I know, if the parents allow a marriage for an under aged person, there can be a marriage (check that one though).

You always have to be careful about colonialism of the mind on things like this.  Western feminism (which springs right out of Enlightenment ideas) is not something indigenous to other settings, so you have to see what is the norms in that setting.  Islam has all the rules and ethics for these situations.  It is kind of a question of where you live in the end. What do you think...

I can speak from the stand point of culture.  Sexual abuse is a crime and sin by definition.  But the age of a person when they get married does not equal sexual abuse.  I mean this is not a one to one comparison, even though in certain settings the law defines sexual contact before a certain age as "abuse."   There is also the social science research that supports strongly the effects of the interpretation of a sexual encounter as abusive can also be a self fulfilling prophecy for it being experienced as abusive.

What I mean to say is that there is the issue of harm and abuse, which is not necessarily related to age.

As I mentioned, my wife is a Bedouin. In her tribal setting her uncle, for example, married his wife at age 13.  He is around 70 years old, and his wife (who is named Aeysha by coincidence) is around 60.  He was like 27 when she was 13 when they were married. They have 17 children!  They now have over 35 grandchildren.  All of their kids graduated from the university and have kids etc.

This is very typical Bedouin lifestyle (for traditional settings).  No one even thinks of the term "abuse."  When my wife came to America she could not believe how much this word is used for everything.  It is actually related to our post-enlightenment valorization of "equality" "freedom" independence, etc.  Abuse can be a kind of door that people "discover" who they are and become separate and on the road to selfhood etc. There is this whole individualism that weaves into a lot of this.... Any way, the use of the term abuse is rampant everywhere in Western/American society.  This should not in any way excuse harm of any kind, especially sexual abuse, it is just that there is a clouding of this topic because of the different cultural contexts.

Just to say, my wife's uncle and here entire family would never think anything abusive whatsoever about a marriage for a girl of 13 to an older man.  There are even cases of girls having kids in Egypt at nine years old!  As I understand Islamic teaching, the main concern is related to marriage. Sexual conduct of any kind belongs in a marriage.  I don't think (again talk to the experts on the Hadith) the main issue is to examine menstruation, but the critical issue is a marriage.

This whole topic of marriage at younger ages like this is widely recognized as abhorrent in Western society.  It is imperative that Muslims obey the laws of the places they live, so it would seem a closed topic for people who live in places where underage marriages are against the law.  I don't know all the places, but some younger aged marriages are allowed with the permission of a parent. 

But.....and this goes back to imposing Western cultural values on other people, you have to be able to see that the term "abuse" can be a cultural application.  For people that do not give a privileged status to the main tumblers of Western individualism, they also will not give much weight to marriages at younger ages, especially when both families of the couple are for it, the young girl wants it and the husband also.  You have to reverse the perspective in a different culture, because it could be abusive not to allow such a marriage to take place.

Again...I am writing fast and do not want in any way to be thought of as an expert on how to interpret the Hadith.  It sounds like you have already looked into it quite well.

The cultural point on this issue (old enough to marry) is a bit hard to get to if it is just approached by books and movies.   I will give an example.   I am a psychologist by trade and found it remarkable the very few examples of children in Bedouin families (this was in Jordan) who could be labeled "attention deficit/hyperactive."  The kids of Bedouins play hard and are like children everywhere in most respects, but there is a big difference with them culturally.  Behaviorally they can become calm and focused, they are respectful of authority, and can become undistracted.  American kids their same ages can have great difficulty doing this, and a high percentage get put on medication just to stay in school or be able to function adequately in their homes.

The kids in traditional Bedouin homes are also as near reliable as adults in many ways. They are kids, yes, but they can cook, work, and do many responsibilities that adults do. I remember seeing a seven year old boy taking his three year old brother on a bus trip from Amman (north) to the south, changing busses (old worn out busses filled with people), and then going to a desert community.   No one would even think of bothering that kid. 

For example, much of Jordanian society (especially away from the rich Western influenced areas) is tribal, as tribal as any traditional American Indian setting.  Blood kinships is just a part of the scene.  Americans may have trouble remembering the name of their grandparents, they may have been adopted and never knew their parents, or just have very poor family connections.  Not so in these settings.   The very name of any Arab Muslim goes back seven generations.  People know instantly your entire family.  This is protections because everyone knows each other, and quite likely can figure out how they might be related to each other.  

Our Western heritage went through a lot of steps to get where it is at (and believe me...it is in sickness).  You have law courts that have already decided the "age of accountability" and our culture simply assumes a normal phase of life where one goes through a trial "to find themselves," find out what they want to be "when they grow up."  This is all a part of a larger cultural ethos.  I taught a course that compared Erik Erikson's stages of human development and compared them culturally, for example with American Independence. The Western enlightenment clearly values the need to "break from authority."  There is a "traditions of breaking tradition."  This is very much what the adolescent phase is supposed to be, rebellious and independent.  

But other cultures don't see much in this.  It is just toned down, not the same and certainly not enshrined in their educational and legal systems.

It is in the West were we introduce the dualism of mind/body.  For example, the body of a female can have children at a very young age, but the Western culture introduces a "mental age."  Well, what is that?  That is a cultural construct. I would say that I have never seen a young female in America (as yet) that at age 13 could be fit to raise a family (maybe I never tried much but can't think of anyone).  But, did I see that in the Bedouin context?  Absolutely.    Much of the behaviors that are done by women of 40 are already started at age 10 in some of these settings (just my small perception which would need to be verified by many others).  So the phrase "children raising children" fits well in certain cultural settings, but doesn't fit at all in others.  

Finally, the women in Islam always has the right to say No.  I can't quote the place, but I know that a No three times means no.  People can speak of entrapment and coercion and point out the few options that make people decide a certain way, but there is also a sense that you have to ask what right you have to introduce choice options that are themselves not present to anyone in a particular setting.  Moreover, they may not even want the choice options that you are concerned about

Picture having a Western feminist from Southern California arrive off a plane in Saudi Arabia.  Have her live a few months in the middle of a typical, traditional Arab Muslim community.  She sees that a 12 year old is about to marry a 30 year old man.  She is very upset by this and attempts to "raise the consciousness" of the people, and even the young girl.  What do you think would happen?  She would likely be shipped back to the airport for fear of her safety.  In most cases, neither the parents, the husband nor the young girl would even entertain what she is suggesting, nor even want it.  In my wife's aunt's case, she thought she won a million dollars and married the king for marrying the man she did at 13, and has had a very fruitful life as a respected family.

I agree with the points made on this list serve about finding the truth. It is very threatening for many people to acknowledge cultural difference and to respect it

Again, do not take me in any way as an interpreter for the Koran or Hadith.  I am still learning Arabic, so really don't do that.  I speak from the standpoint of culture. I respond to this point about the life of the Prophet and the difference of our reactions today.

One point to consider.  

Few people address this, but romantic love and the age of chivalry owe a lot to Islam!  The Crusades of Europe left a huge scar on European society.  The pope was offering forgiveness of sins (entire family sins) for taking up the sword, go to the Holy Lands and slay the Muslim.  Everyone is still reeling from it even today.   The Great Saladin Ayoubi soundly defeated the European invaders in Jerusalem.  The story goes that one of the Crusaders raped a relative of Saladin's, as did other so called Christian Crusaders do the same.  There was a point where Saladin decided they had to go. 

When he defeated them, he did not kill all of the soldiers, but did make an example of the offending soldier who was known for the rape. He removed the head of this person and then let all the soldiers go back to Europe (second Crusade) and only asked them to report how they were treated.  He then took the "keys" to Jerusalem from the Western Christian (brutes) and gave the "keys" to the Eastern Christians who had had it before the Christians arrived.  He reasoned that this is how Allah had set this up and he wanted it to stay that way.

 What happened after the Crusades is in the history books.  Poetic stories rose up about chivalry and the love of a lady.  There is also King Arthur's tales of the knights.  These stories have strong themes of individualism and romantic love. Each knight of the round table has his own idiosyncratic challenge.  He "finds" himself through a greater cause, but in very specific detailed events related to him.  This was a different kind of literature.  Also, romantic love. The honor of a women.   In short, as time goes on, you have a "birth" of the quest to find oneself through individual effort and the honor of a women. The "BELOVED."   My point is that Saladin taught the Crusaders a huge lesson about the honor of a women, which was central to what led to the defeat of the second Crusades.  Those Crusaders went back to Europe seeing that women have a special role.  Now they perverted it and made it into something else, but they did see and learn something that was out of their orbit when they were defeated (by the way the second Crusade was the back breaker...the one the led to all the subsequent defeats).

 None of this (Romantic love/Chivalry) was in Europe before the Crusades.  The disillusionment of finding truth through the sword, led to another quest related to romantic love (these are broad strokes I am giving here).  Marriages in Europe were arranged very similar to how they were at the time of the Prophet and even today in many/most Arabic Islamic settings (minus the stress on "honor" in the Islamic context).  Bedouins marry their first cousins, for example, even today...so you don't have the reliance on romantic love even in our own time. Marriages were all arranged, with some degrees of variance.  The women can say No, but rarely does in these situations.  

The point to this is that romantic love is a Western cultural construct.  It is a mix of erotic attraction, religion, and a belief in individualism/individuation.    It is a total package.  But, look at the deplorable state of marriage in the Western society.   As a social construct that drives masses of people, it hasn't proved to be a very good basis for marriage.  Yeah, the inspiration of a good women can cause a man (and women) to do all sorts of things, but when it comes to raising a family and raising them in a responsible way. Well, you see a lot of problems.

 It goes to what a marriage and family is.  Yes, there is sexuality in place to be married and to have children.  You do have to have sexual love and/or relations in a marriage. But in the context of a marriage is something quite different than romantic love.  As our society knows very well, romantic love is rarely "pure."  All the perverted sexual abuse of America and the West (hardly expressed anywhere in Muslim societies) is proof that romantic love (and the self actualization that goes with it) is no foundation for a society.  

 Finally, we recently heard a certain ex-Senator (from South Dakota) and his wife, who is of Syrian background, claim that having more than one wife is "not really" allowed in the Koran.  She quoted the Sura that states that males may have more than one wife if they can treat them "equally."   She reasoned that since it is impossible to love each women "equally" then it is not allowed to have more than one wife.  This is a typical way of misreading and changing something to fit into our own Western cultural setting.  The Sura is related to justice, not love.  No one can love equally, as if you can measure love on some scale.  But justice is everywhere an Islamic concern and especially in the family, and justice with wives is clearly defined in the Koran.  A man's wives must be treated with justice and according to the rules laid forth in the Koran.  The issue of "loving" them equally is a Western projection back into the text of the Sura related to the widespread belief in romantic love in the West. 

 It isn't that men and women can't share romantic love, which they can.  I think in the end the Prophet laid forth an example just as this one to instruct people beyond the limitations of cultural setting and time period.  Yes it really is true the Prophet (Salallahu Aleyhi wa Sallam) as a man in his fifties married a women that was somewhere between the ages of 9-14.  There has to be some kind of message about how confused we are today (reverse the judgment), rather than there being something wrong with it back then.  What do you think?

Nine years old...!  Yes.  To my mind this is kind of an instruction.  If we reverse this and say that the Prophet (Salallahu Aleyhi wa Sallam) has laid forth an exemplary example, then there is a possible message for those places where abuse and discrimination completely close doors on a different way of life.   I think the on going story of colonialisms would require us to consider such examples as a message against a dominant culture and the "colonialisms of the mind" that people have to contend with who are raised in the education and cultural ethos of the West/America.

Todd Wise

Bemidji, MN

"The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare
mothers, immigrants, and aliens, the more you can control
all the people." Noam Chomsky

 

 

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