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To Veil or Not to Veil?: Hijab and Muslim Women’s Rights in Afghanistan and France

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Part I. Afghanistan

For decades, the concept of female protectionism in Islam has garnered much attention from the Western media. As a symbol of the “clash of civilizations” phenomenon – the Muslim woman’s dress code has often led to eruptions of emotion from the West and the East, with each party absolutely convinced that it holds Muslim women’s rights in the highest regard. Within the sacred doctrines of Islam – The Quran and the Prophetic teachings (Sunnah) – there are codes of living that serve to protect the female role in society. These codes range from dress criteria to limitations on movement. In the West, these regulations which are found within the divine sources of Islam have been ridiculed by feminist groups as forms of female oppression. Yet, Muslim states have not done much to assuage these fears; on the contrary these states have the worst track records when it comes to women’s rights. As a result, laws that were intended to protect women became instruments to contain their role in society.

It is first critical to ask several questions. Why have protectionist laws in Islam, such as veiling, which were initially intended to protect women in societies such as Afghanistan, been transformed into a symbol of patriarchy? Concurrently, why have headscarves been banned in public French institutions under the pretext of protecting female liberty? It is critical to explore the extent to which the rationale of protection is used as an excuse to provide rights for Muslim women in Afghanistan and France, and how these claims actually end up crippling those rights.  First, an understanding of the origins of veiling and its significance in Islam will help to demystify this conflict. Followed by an examination of veiling in Afghan society. And finally, I’ll conclude with an analysis of the contentious and ongoing debate over the role of the veil in France and its implications for women’s human rights.

Although the veil is commonly ascribed to the Muslim community, the advent of the veil predates the coming of Islam. Originally, the “first reference to veiling is in an Assyrian legal text which dates from the 13 century BC, which restricted the practice to respectable women and forbade prostitutes from veiling” (Hoodfar 1993: 6). Historically, veiling signified status and “was practiced by the elite in the ancient Greco-Roman, pre-Islamic Iranian and Byzantine empires” (6). The hijab (i.e. veil) became a distinct facet of Islamic identity after veiling was revealed as a divine mandate prescribed for Muslim women by God. Several verses in the Quran speak to the command of veiling, one of them (Surah Al-Nur, verses 30-31) stating that women “not display their beauty and adornments “but rather to “draw their head cover over their bosoms and not display their ornament.”  The other verse (Surah Al-Ahzab, 59) states “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over themselves, that is more convenient that they should be known and not molested.” Defining what constitutes hijab is often subject to cultural norms of dress and varies around the world (Hoodfar 1993: 7). But, through the interpretation of the Quran, there have been differences of opinion concerning this commandment.

Regarding these critical Quranic verses, there has been great dispute among scholars – non-Muslim and Muslim alike – about the interpretation of these verses. One example is Fatima Merssini, a prominent Muslim feminist who vigorously challenges the notion that veiling is explicitly commanded in the Quran. According to Merssini, “the veil represents a tradition of ‘mediocrity and servility’ rather than a sacred standard against which to judge Muslim women’s devotion to Allah” (Read & Bartkowski 2000: 401). Anti-veiling Muslim feminists such as Merssini also cite “the historical fact that veiling is a cultural practice that originated from outside of Islamic circles” (401). Feminists also question the scriptural interpretations used by Muslim scholars to justify the veil, “call[ing] attention to the fact that the Qur’an refers cryptically to a “curtain” and never directly instructs women to wear a veil” (401). Obviously, the arguments on both sides go beyond some of the feminist grievances selected here, but this debate is beyond the scope of this present discourse. As a matter of historical perspective though, it is critical to understand that a contentious debate over the very legitimacy of the hijab has existed and this debate offers a backdrop of how the veil is implemented in different societies.

Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, many Americans became increasingly concerned with the plight of the Afghan women under Taliban rule. One instance of this intrigue was demonstrated by Laura Bush who declared that “because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment…the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women” (Abu-Lughod 2002: 784).   In western eyes, the burqa (the enveloping garment worn by many Afghan women) was often portrayed in the media as a symbol of oppression that “women in Afghanistan have had to bear” (Noelle-Karimi 2002: 3). Yet, in light of the theological underpinnings previously discussed in this discourse that serve to protect Muslim women, how is it that the West has come to deplore Islamic covering in Afghanistan? One undeniable answer to that question lies within the Taliban’s wielding of power in that country. In order to understand why the Taliban came to impose the female covering as a hallmark of their rule, it is first important to understand origins of their ideologies.

The Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Islam helps to explain why the group’s imposition of a strict form of Islamic dress has limited the role of Afghan women in society, despite the protectionist intentions of Sharia law. Prior to its consolidation of power in Afghanistan, Ahmed Rashid argues that “since the Taliban were orphans of war, who in their long hard battle against Soviet occupational forces had little or no interaction with women and their company, they retreated into a male brotherhood compared to that of the Crusaders of the Middle Ages” (Misra 2002: 582). A majority of the Taliban followers grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan, where they experienced harsh poverty and as refugees “they were encouraged to espouse the idea of revenge in countless madrassas sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the CIA” (582). Rashid not only argues that the Taliban’s strict actions against women were “designed to reinforce the tribal patriarchal order” (582) but also that Taliban ideology is rooted in the Quran – “which explicitly presents a male-dominated society where women only play a secondary role” (582). But is this the case? As discussed earlier, the orthodox doctrines in Islam codified a set of rules for women that were intended to protect rather than hinder. Laila al-Hibri discusses this matter in depth in the article “Islam, Law and Custom: Redefining Muslim Women’s Rights.” Al-Hibri argues that the egalitarian mandates of Islam, particularly those concerning women’s rights, were executed fully during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammed and the successive generations. Yet al-Hibri claims, these reforms for women were masked by the interpretations of many male religious scholars, as Muslim female scholars were pushed to the background. As evidence of gender equality in the Quran, al-Hibri states that “[the Quran] articulates a basic general principle about proper gender relations; namely, that they are relations between mates created from the same nafs [soul], which are intended to provide these mates with tranquillity, and are to be characterized by affection and mercy. Such relations leave no room for Satanic hierarchies which result only in strife, subordination and oppression” (al-Hibri 1997: 15). In relation to this present issue, it can be concluded that the Taliban strictly interpreted women’s rights in Islam in order to maintain patriarchal dominance over the Afghan women. And there is evidence that documents how the Taliban executed their extremist ideology with regard to female covering.

According to Jurgen Kleiner in the article “The Taliban and Islam,” with the Taliban’s creation of the Department for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue in 1996, “squads from this department tour[ed] Kabul and ensur[ed] that rules for conduct and dress [were] followed” (Kleiner 2000: 27). As evidence of these strict mandates, in December 1996, “225 women who did not observe the dress code were punished” (27). Kleiner goes on to state that “all this [was] done in the name of Islam – stamping out everything which might detract from the ‘right path’” (27). But not only was the Taliban’s reinterpretation of Islam limited to forcefully enforcing women’s dress code, they also adopted measures that excluded women from education and employment. Ironically, it was the very religion that the Taliban claimed to safeguard which endowed women with equal participation in society, since its advent. Although the Taliban insisted that that their enforcement of the burqa “award[ed] women a position of ‘dignity and honor’” (28), they end up reducing women to no more than just clothing. For instance, the Taliban’s ban on education for women was a far cry from the realities that existed in early Muslim generations. The Quran clearly mandates that education is a duty upon both males and females (al-Hibri 1997: 23). Some of the most well-versed individuals in the Quran and the prophetic tradition were women and al-Hibri mentions that “there were also hundreds of women who were among the Companions of the Prophet” and that “the religious education of women in early Islam proceeded hand in hand with that of the men” (22). Even beyond the Taliban, looking broadly to the entire Muslim world, al-Hibri questions the decline in the representation of Muslim women’s scholarship. She attributes this absence to the patriarchal systems which have dominated Muslim lands, and by extension Muslim scholarship in the generations after the Prophet. In the twenty-first century, the most compelling factor that can explain the Taliban’s harsh dealings with women is their strict misinterpretations of the protectionist laws for Afghan women, meant to preserve their male-dominated society. Besides the Taliban, Western democracies are also capable of infringing upon women’s rights to dress freely, and France is a country that has been at the center of this debate in recent years.

Part II will continue with a look at France’s historical struggle with Muslim women’s dress code…

References:

Abu-Lughod, Lila (2002) “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?: Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others,” 104 American Anthropologist 783-790.

Al-Hibri, Aziza (1997) “Islam, Law and Custom: Redefining Muslim Women’s Rights,” 12 The American University Journal of International Law and Policy 1-33.

Hoodfar, Homa (1993) “The Veil in their Minds and on our Heads: The Persistence of ColonialImages of Muslim Women,” 22 Resources for Feminist Research 5-18.

Kleiner, Jurgen (2000) “The Taliban and Islam,” 11 Diplomacy and Statecraft 19-32.

Misra, Amalendu (2002) “The Taliban, Radical Islam and Afghanistan,” 23 Third World Quarterly 577-589.

Noelle-Karimi, Christine (2002) “History Lessons: In Afghanistan’s Decades of Confrontation with Modernity, Women Have Always Been the Focus of Conflict,” 19 The Women’s Review of Books 1-3.

Read, Jen’nan G., & John P. Bartkowski (2000) “To Veil or Not to Veil?: A Case Study of Identity Negotiation among Muslim Women in Austin, Texas,” 14 Gender & Society 395-417.

Safia Farole is a second year PhD student in the department of Political Science at UCLA. She studies in the areas of Comparative Politics and Race, Ethnicity and Politics, focusing specifically on the politics of identity, public opinion, and immigration and integration in Western democracies.

83 Comments

83 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mutumainah

    November 12, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    interesting article sister! Jazak Allah khair

    Whatever we hear about the Taliban seems to just be the biased perception of the reporter/messenger… and I’m curious as to why the Taliban are trying to “contain the role of women in their society” and oppress their own wives and daughters but when non-Muslim journalists are captured, they’re treated properly and given some form of da’wah…

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 12, 2010 at 2:06 PM

      Good observation Mutumainah. I’m also curious as to why that double standard occurs.

      Yvonne Ridley was a reporter (you may know who she is) who visited Afghanistan I think in the 90’s or after the invasion, and she ended up converting as a result of that experience. I don’t think they abused her during her time of captivity, but after being released she eventually embraced Islam.

      I think Muslim women in the west can also relate to this double standard – sometimes some Muslims go out of their way to please non-Muslims, but treat their co-religionists like trash. Lets hope its not too common of a phenomenon.

      • Avatar

        Ruwayda Mustafah

        November 12, 2010 at 2:08 PM

        …It’s actually rather common, Muslims go out of their way trying to come across as super-nice-loving-caring and gentle, but they NEVER go out of their way (to such an extent) to their Muslim friends. (IMH)

        • Avatar

          Safia Farole

          November 12, 2010 at 3:53 PM

          Totally; thank you for expanding on that.

          • Avatar

            Everybody's Dad

            November 15, 2010 at 10:38 PM

            That’s true to an extent. And I say that to avoid falling into the trap of painting everybody with the same brush.

            I once saw a documentary by an Afghan woman (am forgetting her name atm) who was interviewing a group of Afghan villagers. In this case they were all male and she was asking them why they don’t let their sisters get their picture taken, or (in a few cases) even speak to other men while they had no problem performing skits in front of the television (there was some sort of audition taking place) or talking freely to the female film director.

            They replied that it wasn’t a problem for them but if their sisters did such a thing, ‘it would be a stain upon our honour’. So I guess that there’s some sort of tribal values/ patriarchy interaction going on here. And we all know how hard to disentangle those can be.

  2. Avatar

    Ruwayda Mustafah

    November 12, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    As-salamu `alaikum warahmatuAllahi wabarakatuh

    A very interesting and thoughtful article. Looking forward to the second part inshAllah.

    Well done dear sister <3

  3. Avatar

    newboy

    November 12, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    Salam sis,

    Just to let you know, ahmed rashid is someone who is NOT to be trusted. Please look up A.S. Adler’s insightful article on the taliban. If you are curious enough to know more about Taliban and women’s education, I can provide some primary evidence that during the Taliban’s rule, women’s education actually increased! Shocking I know. However, it is understandable why the taliban officially banned women’s education in the beggining stages of their rule; afghanistan was in a horrible condition.

    Keep in mind though, I am not saying that the Taliban did not commit any mistakes.

    • Avatar

      suhail

      November 12, 2010 at 4:26 PM

      Ahmed Rashid is a stooge of the west who hates everything islamic.

      • Avatar

        Hazara

        November 27, 2010 at 5:52 AM

        Anyone who opposes al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stooges of the West now?

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 12, 2010 at 7:21 PM

      I will look into that suggestion about ahmed rashid. Sometimes it can be hard when you are looking for academic sources on a particular subject because you can’t do a fact check on every single author. Thanks for dropping the line though.

    • Avatar

      someone

      November 12, 2010 at 7:23 PM

      when is it ever understandable to ban women from education???

      • Avatar

        Safia Farole

        November 12, 2010 at 10:52 PM

        Yeah, I didn’t get that part of newboy’s response either.

      • Avatar

        A

        November 16, 2010 at 1:28 PM

        When their wellbeing is threatened, similarly men e.g. subcontinental Indian Muslims avoided Raj schools as missionary fronts.

        Salman Rushdie is a classic example of “education” going wrong.

        Education is not merely something neutral, there is context. Looking into the rise of the industrial society & education, some even consider it brainwashing /propaganda. After all, what amount of learning do we actually recall from all those years in the system.

        Apart from basic literacy & numeracy, how much useful knowledge is retained. It is glorified socialization into a producing docile workers for a mass society.

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      November 12, 2010 at 9:05 PM

      Asalam Alikum Sr. Safia,

      Masha Allah and May Allah reward you for the obvious time it took to research this article. I learned quite a bit!

      Just to add my 2 cents. I worked with some Afghani refugees in Houston years back and had the chance to ask them directly about the situation. They by no means represent the whole but they did give me insight.

      One lady said she was a teacher in Afghanistan. I asker her who and where she taught. She said she taught the girls in her home. I then asked her if she was scared that if she was caught by the Taliban she would be punished. She said, surprised, “No! They told me to t each the girls in my home!” I corroborated her story with an interview I read once with a Taliban ambassador who said they absolutely support women’s education, it was in the Quran. But, he said, beacuse of all the endless wars, there was no infrastructure in Afghanistan so the few schools that did exist were used to school boys up to 3 rd grade and the rest of the boys and girls were schooled at home until they had the security and money to build them schools. He also said the harsh dress code and requirements that women have a mahram when they leave the house were needed because of the extreme amount of rapes and kidnapping that were going on. He said once the situation was secure, the plan was to relax the rules. Also, in Greg Mortenson’s book, “Three Cups of Tea” he writes that he was kidnapped in Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold. After several days in captivity, the men released him, told them that they heard about the girl’s schools he was building in Afghanistan, and gave him money they had collected to support his mission.

      I think the Taliban are so much more complex then we ever hear. I think there is a big difference between the actions and beliefs of low level tribal foot soldiers and the leaders. I think there is so much culture mixed with religion, educated mixed with ignorant, sexism mixed with a sense of justice. Its so hard to know what the truth is….

      Allahu ‘Allum….

      • Avatar

        Safia Farole

        November 13, 2010 at 1:08 PM

        Thanks for sharing that Hebah. You’re right that its essential to get the perspective of the indigenous people. Its just hard to find out that information when your dealing with “academic” sources – its like all the papers make broad generalizations about the Taliban, and I think thats a failure on the part of the researchers.

        This same thing occurs with other “indigenous” or grass-roots movements around the world – the group gets labeled something bad and hardly any Western journalist/writers take the time to get to know how these groups provide services for their people. Its almost like the information they gather is based on hearsay! Like you said, at the end of the day its a mixed bag.

      • Avatar

        newboy

        November 13, 2010 at 1:29 PM

        Wow, my thoughts exactly! but much more eloquently stated…

        • Avatar

          Mansoor Ansari

          November 14, 2010 at 2:40 PM

          If one grew up in developing countries in South Asia, Middle east or Africa… then u would know families too place importance of education of girls than boys. Boys have to perform good in school so that they go out and get jobs to provide and take care of their families while girls do go to school, the pressure is less. They have to become professionals or take care of their families monetarily but they do have to learn how to cook & take of the house. The expectations of each gender is different. In most families if they r on limited income and they have to choose between the son & the dighter to go to school, they would choose the son as he would take care of them when they r old while the girl will get married and take care of her ‘new’ family. Even in families where every one can afford to go school & college… the same amt of money is not invested in to them. I will give my personal exam, we r 4 siblings (2 brothers & 2 sisters) all of us have University degrees… my brother & I came to the west to get them while my sisters went to local universities. My family would not allow them to universities in far away land without any mahrams and also due to limited finances… the priority were the sons. From a western perspective. my parents are sexist & God knows what and from both cultural & Islamic perspective they have not done any wrong!

          I think the Taliban scenario was the same except at a macro level than micro.

          • Avatar

            Ummousama

            November 14, 2010 at 11:22 PM

            Assalamu alaikum,

            I totally agree with you. Even, if when kids are small, you treat them the same and boys do help out in the house like girls do, when they become teenagers, boys might still help at home but they help more outside. After all, if you have the choice tbetween your son and your daughter to get something from the market, who would you send. If you need to do this after dark, who would you send?

            Yes, the boy’s secular education is more important than the girl’s one but the importance of religious education is equally important for both. After all, at the time of Rasulullah (sale Allahu alayhi wa sallam), when we speak of education, which kind of education are we speaking of?

    • Avatar

      newboy

      November 13, 2010 at 4:49 AM

      I didn’t mean that it is understandable to ban women education, i was more referring to the environment of that time. Afghanistan had just gone through a very heavy ordeal. The civil war that erupted afterwards directly affected women in afghanistan, often in violent ways. I this context, it sorts of makes sense why the taliban wanted women to stay home. However, I do not think this was the way to proceed.

  4. Avatar

    suhail

    November 12, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    We can discuss this and that about what feminists have written or other authors have written about hijab. The more important point is what do the 4 schools of thought say about these issues. Hijab is not some new issue or a modern predicament. It has been in place among the muslims for almost 1400 years. Our scholars from all the schools of thoughts have given there ruling on this issue.

    For muslims who really care about what Allah and his messanger(SAW) have said about this issue they will look into what these scholars have said not some feminists or other authors who really have no background in fiqh and usul.

    When we discuss this issue among ourselves we need to look into that rather than writing of some new writers or feminists. Also regarding the rulings in Afghanistan about wearing Burka it is quite idiotic to blame Taliban for that. A lot of muslim woman in south asian country wear the whole burka and it has nothing to do specifically with Taliban. And did we see what the Hanafi school says about hijab? Because that is the predominant school in that area.

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 12, 2010 at 11:03 PM

      I realize the points you are making Suhail. But you fail to understand that this article is discussing hijab in contemporary societies and how it is used in dealings towards women. Not every article on a muslim blog has to always cite what Muslims scholars say about a particular issue. We need to know what non-Muslims are saying so we can educate them about our religion.

      BTW, Aziza Al-Hibri (who I quote) is a learned Muslim scholar, and if you read the article you will note that she is making valid points about Islamic history and women’s education. We should not only limit those who can write about Islam to the 4 imams.

      As for the hanafi school, no blog article can every be enough to cover the plurality of thought with regards to hijab in south asia.

      Come back for part II; its about France – I wonder if you will have any objects to the sources I will use in that article because I will quote alot of non-Muslims references as well (due to a lack of Muslim academics to quote).

  5. Avatar

    Si.

    November 12, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    So what is YOUR interpretation of the veil?

    I have read all those “academic” interpretations before but I’m curious to know what your interpretation is.

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 12, 2010 at 7:19 PM

      Thanks for leaving a comment Si. This wasn’t meant to be an opinion piece – it was more research based (i.e. what are academics/ideologues saying about this issue). Its not meant to be slanted one way or the other, although I as a Muslim woman I completely embrace the sharia’s mandate that women should cover (because Allah instructs us to do so, first and foremost). Hope that helps.

  6. Avatar

    Brother

    November 13, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    Several years back, I think even before 9/11, I heard on the radio or someplace that Taliban did not have education for girls because they didn’t have money for it, so they diverted whatever resources they had to educate boys for reasons I forgot. So did the Taliban outright ban education for girls or was it a money issue?

    • Avatar

      Amal

      November 18, 2010 at 9:25 PM

      Why don’t we ask some of the girls whose schools were bombed? Or maybe those who received death threats? Or perhaps the teachers who got acid chucked in their faces?

  7. Avatar

    Ummousama

    November 14, 2010 at 2:24 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Since when will you get a true picture of the Taliban based on Western literature? Isn’t such literature biased? Did you happen to hear any debate in the Muslim community when they were ruling Taliban? No, you are too young with that. You didn’t quote any interview of Afghani women either. You don’t know why the Taliban rose to power, how they were successful and how the society changed during that time. How can you change a whole very poor society in just a few years to the “standard of the West?”

    And what about France? Do you know the French culture? Do you know the history that France has with Islam? Have you spoken to any French Muslim living in France? Just as if you need a fatwa special to the land to where you live, you should ask a scholar of the land, when writing about such issues, it is best done by people living in the land who have experienced the problem. Do you know the French way of thinking? It does play a big role in this.

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 14, 2010 at 11:32 AM

      Wa Alaykum AsSalam Ummousama,
      This is a blog, not a comprehensive anthology on Afghani and French women. Thank you.

    • Avatar

      Amal

      November 18, 2010 at 9:29 PM

      It’s “Afghan,” not “Afghani” (Afghani is the currency). And I think the testimony of Afghans themselves gives a fair portrayal of what’s happened under the rule of the filthy Taliban. It’s not some “Western conspiracy.” Ask any woman who’s lived there when most women doctors were forced out of women’s hospitals so they could either be shut down or converted to men’s hospitals. The Taliban hate and fear women so much, they would rather allow them to die of simple disease and childbirth complications than treat them with humanity.

      • Avatar

        Hazara

        November 27, 2010 at 5:50 AM

        I really want to know is why do so many of the naive commenters on this site have such a rosy picture of the Taliban? We all know how many Muslims react when Islamophobes glorify Serbian war criminals as heroes, yet here we have Sunnis praising genocidal warmongers such as Saddam Hussein and Mullah Umar.

        Amal, they not only feared and hated women, but they also tried to exterminate us from the country. To me, it appears that to many on here, genocide and ethnic cleansing is acceptable as long as Shari’a is established. And justify it based on the claim that for example, us Hazaras opposed the implementation of Islamic law, when the reality is that the Taliban were scum that truly deserved to be wiped out.

        Too many Muslims have a tendency to support oppressive regimes when it suits their worldview, which makes Taliban supporters the biggest hypocrites around.

        • Avatar

          Amal

          November 27, 2010 at 11:21 PM

          I hear you, Hazara, and am glad you’re speaking up. The Muslims who defend the Taliban are *always* those who have not had to live with them. It seems these days anyone can do murder, torture, and genocide, with the full approval of many Muslims, so long as they claim their filthy deeds are in the interest of establishing “shariah.”

  8. Avatar

    Bilal

    November 14, 2010 at 5:27 PM

    Safia, I tool must question your research methodology. As a PhD student myself, I find your entire analysis and narrow selection of sources very biased, despite your claims of impartiality. Firstly, I completely agree with the points raised by Ummousama about the methodology of your research. She is right that you were unfair in your selection of “expert” sources, your lack of interaction with locals to the respective cultures and of cultural / psychological understanding of the peoples there. You dismissed these criticisms offhandedly as “This is a blog, not a comprehensive anthology on Afghani and French women.” I am afraid you will have a hard time defending your thesis at uni if this is the way you answer critique.

    Besides, I would like to point out :

    1) You said “”Regarding these critical Quranic verses, there has been great dispute among scholars – non-Muslim and Muslim alike – about the interpretation of these verses.” You seems to prepare the reader that the dispute is ancient, but then in the next line you bring the personal opinion of a living feminist, Fatima Merssini! ….followed by more modern feminist writers. I am not saying it is wrong to quote feminists, but to show what you called “great dispute among scholars”, you could only produce evidence of the said great dispute from what you called “anti-veiling Muslim feminists “?

    2) You said, “”Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, many Americans became increasingly concerned with the plight of the Afghan women under Taliban rule.” And the next line was “One instance of this intrigue was demonstrated by Laura Bush who declared that “because of our recent military gains in
    much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. ” Perhaps you did not realize that Laura Bush said this *after* the invasion!

    3) You said “…how is it that the West has come to deplore Islamic covering in Afghanistan? One undeniable answer to that question lies within the Taliban’s wielding of power in that country.” And in the next paragraph you actually admitted that covering up was the NORM in the Afghan society even before the Taliban. I believe you have had a hard time in connecting two different streams of thought. The first was probably your own musing, but the second was the decidedly anti-Islamic line of thinking of Ahmed Rashid.

    4) You answered Hiba by saying “You’re right that its essential to get the perspective of the indigenous people. Its just hard to find out that information when your dealing with “academic” sources – its
    like all the papers make broad generalizations about the Taliban, and I think thats a failure on the part of the researchers.” If you deplore the integrity of the “academic” sources, why not add a disclaimer of caution in your thesis? Your article makes the reader understand that you agree with the “facts” they provide.

    5) In response to Suhail, you said “I realize the points you are making Suhail. But you fail to understand
    that this article is discussing hijab in contemporary societies and how it is used in dealings towards women.” I am sorry, but it is you who failed to understand his points. If you are addressing Hijab in contemporary societies, then you need to cite the opinions of *ancient* scholars which form the basis of this *contemporary* issue. I wonder whether you would write a thesis on the *contemporary* phenomenon of evangelical politics in America, by quoting just the people on the Left, and ignoring the sayings of Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers which form the basis of the dispute?

    If this was part of your research in university (looks like a half cooked term paper), I would be interested in knowing what grade you got for it?

    Bilal

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 15, 2010 at 11:33 AM

      Thank you Bilal for taking the time to provide feeback on my post. We can all communicate/critique courteously without being witty – afterall, I’m not presenting this to a dissertation committe:)

      You’re free to submit a post to MM that takes a different perspective on this topic – you seem to have nearly written one already!

      I never said this was about impartiality, I was using the texts at my disposal, while showing a plethora of opinion on this matter (including feminist voices). If we as Muslims refuse to hear the arguments non-Muslim feminists are making, how will we learn what we have to defend our religion against? Just because an author cites these sources to demonstrate Western thought on this issue does not mean he/she embraces these ideas. This was meant to just get the conversation rolling.

      • Avatar

        Bilal

        November 16, 2010 at 6:50 AM

        Thankyou for the reply, Safia. You told me:
        “I never said this was about impartiality”
        But in reply to Si, you had said:
        “This wasn’t meant to be an opinion piece – it was more research based (i.e. what are academics/ideologues saying about this issue). Its not meant to be slanted one way or the other”

        You also told me, “If we as Muslims refuse to hear the arguments non-Muslim feminists are making, how will we learn what we have to defend our religion against? Just because an author cites these sources to demonstrate Western thought on this issue does not mean he/she embraces these ideas.”

        Well, it is the way you presented those arguments, at the same time excluding the other opinions. In response to suhail, you had written, “BTW, Aziza Al-Hibri (who I quote) is a learned Muslim scholar, and if you read the article you will note that she is making valid points about Islamic history and women’s education. We should not only limit those who can write about Islam to the 4 imams.”

        In fact this is what you quoted from Al-Hibri: “Al-Hibri argues that the egalitarian mandates of Islam, particularly those concerning women’s rights, were executed fully during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammed and the successive generations. Yet al-Hibri claims, these reforms for women were masked by the interpretations of many male religious scholars, as Muslim female scholars were pushed to the background.”

        I dont know whether to ubderstand from the foregoing whether

        a) You endorse the views of ” a learned Muslim scholar” (i.e. Al-Hibri) who made “valid points about Islamic history and women’s education”,

        or,

        b) you want to educate us about what you called feminist arguments that” we have to defend our religion against?”

        • Avatar

          Safia Farole

          November 16, 2010 at 8:24 AM

          Eid Mubarak bro.

          • Avatar

            Bilal

            November 16, 2010 at 11:44 AM

            Eid Mubarak to everyone

        • Avatar

          Hebah Ahmed

          November 16, 2010 at 5:17 PM

          Asalam ALikum Br. Bilal,

          Masha Allah I am impressed with your obvious debating skills and knowledge on the issue discussed here. I do want to tell you as a MM writer myself, we are all writing on a volunteer basis and as a side hobby in addition to the million responsibilites we have in our lives. The point of many of our articles is to start a discussion that will help us all come to better understandings. We do not always have the time or resources to write a dissertation on every topic we choose to address, but these are contemporary issues that should be addressed. Many times our articles are a springboard for a much more in depth understanding of the topic based on contributors like yourself..

          I think your points help in that aim but your method is very attacking and makes many of us MM writers hesitate in writing anything more than fluff to avoid the attacks. I ask you sincerely and humbling to continue contributing but in a way that invites dialogue rather than cuts it off at the knees. Avoiding personal attacks on the author and his/her intellect or research abilities is a great start.

          Please forgive me if I offend you with these comments but we really are very sensitive when we write and encouragements work much better than attacks.

          Jazak Allahu Khair.

  9. Avatar

    newboy

    November 14, 2010 at 7:59 PM

    Salam guys, take a look at this link,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_N17hx6aiQ&feature=related

    This is an interview from the Irish Times with James Furgesson. Mr.Fergusson is a reporter who has been back and forth to afghanistan since 1996, and knows that taliban relitively well – from a non-Muslim perspective. Anyway in this interview, oddly enough, he breaks away from the taliban bashing that reporters love.

    Sis Safia, this would be a good resource for you in the future.

    Take a look at his book too – published 2010!

    Course he makes some important mistakes

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 15, 2010 at 11:35 AM

      Great source newboy! I will definetely book mark this.

  10. Avatar

    Megan

    November 15, 2010 at 6:58 PM

    Hi,
    i am curently in my last year of high school and was giving a researsh project on anything of my choice. After reading an article in the paper i had decided to bring up beauty, not only in its up front stage but how it effects our lives. i am curently trying to compare the beauty of the united states and canada to islamic women as well as muslim, i was just wondering if anyone had some suggestions on how i should go arround it, if you had some sites where i could understand the reasons why muslim women dress in the maner that they do, and how it effects them in society!

    Thanks so much, Megan

    (ps sorry if my english is bad, i speak more french then english!)

  11. Avatar

    AfghanMuslimah

    November 15, 2010 at 10:38 PM

    SalaamAlaikum Sis Safia,
    First, I am an Afghan Canadian. So, let’s get some facts straight.
    I was initially curious to read your article as the title implied Western and Eastern (Muslim) perspectives on the Hijab. However, as I continued to read, I became frustrated with the tone, the bias and the incoherence of your writing. This article posed a very basic analysis (from a Western Perspective) of the Taliban rather than a true Islamic perspective on the veil. I think you fail to recognise that the idea “plight of the Afghan women” as portrayed by the West is being used as a political tool to continue with the War of Terror in Afghanistan. Don’t you realise that the “success” of war on terror is being measured by the so called “liberation of Women”. Isn’t it ironic that the idea to Free the Aghan Women translates to them losing the hijab, playing music…etc. It has nothing to do with education or better living conditions for the Afghan women. The hijab as an Islamic custom has been around for 1400 years, yet, this non issue has become the most debated issue of modern history. We need to ask why?

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      November 17, 2010 at 11:50 AM

      I would love to hear your perspective! Please give us the facts of the situation as you see it since you have first hand knowledge.

  12. Avatar

    Lai

    November 15, 2010 at 10:50 PM

    Please check out:

    http://rethinkafghanistan.com/videos.php

    especially, part 5 on “Afghan Women”.

  13. Avatar

    Asif

    November 16, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    I dont know where you received your degrees, but your selective use of sources and subjective-partisan approach will ultimately confine you in the academic realm from attaining any higher pedantic branches, that is if you wish to do so. The cudgel of this piece is in your penchant inclination towards one side, while demonstrating complete lack of depth which is dwarfed by your array of inconsistent congruity. In essence do a bit more research before you write about such a sensitive topic, especially when it is regarding muslims.

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      November 16, 2010 at 5:25 PM

      Asalam Alikum Br. Asif,

      Why don’t you supply more sources and point Sr. Safia in the right direction rather than merely blast her methods. She is very sincere in her attempt to understand and present this topic and needs your help rather than your attacks.

      In the end we all just want to understand the truth of the situation, not merely flex our mental muscles of articulation. :)

      Jazak Allahu Khair.

  14. Avatar

    Asif

    November 16, 2010 at 7:09 PM

    Walikumsalam,

    Well it is the responsibility of the writer to explore and inquire more sources, I mean I never had a professor provide me the sources for my dissertation. Though you may argue that its a simple article for a blog, the fact of the matter is, its an Islamic issue, thus cautious deliberation of sources is exceptionally important.

    In order to understand the “truth of the situation” we must first be exposed to the ample translations of the truth. Unfortunately the writer failed to articulate an objective piece. Sorry if it sounds harsh, but its only constructive criticism.

  15. Avatar

    Mohammed

    November 16, 2010 at 7:35 PM

    AfghanMuslimah says most of whats on my mind actually,
    And it is not for us to discuss whether ‘To veil or Not to veil’. It is not up for discussion! Rather we better discuss how best to save Afghanistan and other countries from foreign occupation who measure their ‘success’ by the amount they can strip women naked.
    And I am not going to say anything about Taliban cox i don’t have any accurate information on them and I believe none of us do have anything but the distorted western concept that anything to do with Islam is backwardness. Do not you remember what God almighty promised us1400 years ago: “Never will they be happy with us until we start following their ways”

  16. Avatar

    abu Rumay-s.a.

    November 17, 2010 at 4:26 AM

    thanks sister Safia for this article in hopes clarifying a complex issue (as sister Heba alluded to). I’d like to draw your attention to one other important factor that many writing such topics are not familiar with and is
    pashtunwali – the pashtrun ethical code.

    There is a fairly decent paper by Palwasha Kakar at Harvard law school which serves a good introduction, you can find here, hopefully you can include some of these concepts/sources in your future papers:

    Tribal Law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority
    http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/ilsp/research/kakar.pdf

    other general links/sources you can find at wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtunwali

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 17, 2010 at 11:32 AM

      Thank you abu-Rumaysa s.a. for pointing this research on pashtunwali out to me. I had no idea such an ethical code existed like that in Afghan culture. Its like when I go to goole scholar to find in-depth articles about a topic, articles like the one you suggest don’t pop up on top of the list (unless you specify, like googling “pashtunwali and women”. These are very helpful souces; I appreciate readers who are constructive in their comments.

      • Avatar

        newboy

        November 17, 2010 at 2:44 PM

        Just to keep in mind, many non-Muslims like to claim that what the Taliban were doing the whole time was according to Pashtunwali, and not Islam. However, the Taliban overrode some of the ugly aspects pashtunwali – like the selling of girls for money.

        Hopefully the harvard paper addresses some of these thorny issues (havent read it yet).

  17. Avatar

    Mantiki

    November 17, 2010 at 5:21 AM

    I’m surprised that no one has commented on the subject matter of whether it is correct for Muslim women to be forced to wear the veil, chador or burqua etc. Education and womens’ rights in general are all worthy subjects, but in respect of this article, will no man or women stand up and support the freedom of women to wear what they want without fear of religious police belting them around or being killed by their male relatives for some warped concept of male “honour”?

    While the article on French policy has yet to be published, I would support banning the veil. I know that this is also imposing a dress rule, but the alternative is that women will be persecuted by some Muslims (including their sisters) for NOT wearing the veil. This sort of regulation is a travesty of what Allah wants for His people. Allah is not a tyrant wanting to burden humanity with rules, regulations and guilt. If He were, He would appear like a pillar of fire or something obvious and clearly set out his rules in Person.

    He is instead merciful and loving and shows Himself through our acts of love and kindness towards others. This does not include demanding that women be dressed in shapeless tents to be ashamed of their bodies. Such a thing inevitably leads to men having unnatural desires to see women unveiled and then feel guilt for doing so and then transferring the guilt to the woman for their “sinful” feelings.

    In my country (Australia) a couple of years ago, a girl was raped by a gang of young Muslims who thought because she was provocatively dressed and therefore was a “slut” who deserved to be raped. At the court, their families were outraged, not by their son’s crimes but that this girl had led the son’s into sin! It is the overblown insistence on tribal concepts of modesty that causes so much suffering amongst frustrated young men and young women who are forced to be imprisoned in their clothing.

    • Avatar

      Mohammed

      November 17, 2010 at 7:08 AM

      Both women and Men should be forced observe modest standards, both should go through compulsory education up to a minimum level, while it is up to the individual to practice whatever religion he or she wishes, neither have the right to insult any religion publicly.

      We should fight against who try to limit the rights given to the woman i.e. those who try say no education, no driving and not allowing them to work. But we should be reasonable and logical; Just because some people do not implement the law correctly does not give us the right to call for ban. The laws are right and clear, just try to implement it without crossing the bounds.

      And I am surprised Mantiki, you do not want to ‘impose’ a dress code and yet you want to ban the veil and ‘impose’ a no veil policy? No offense, but it seems to me that its does not matter to you even if a dress code is imposed. It matters only when an Islamic dress code is imposed.

      Btw I agree the veil is part of the culture and not compulsory to wear for Muslim women. I mean no one should be forced to cover their face. And I heard about that story too, Mantiki. Just stupid, I hope they punished the guys a little extra!

      • Avatar

        Bilal

        November 17, 2010 at 7:46 AM

        “Both women and Men should be forced observe modest standards”

        Just to give an example, the Caliph Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) once cut off the long and beautiful hair of one of the young men, as he feared this would be a temptation for women. See Dr. Ali Sallabi’s biography of the caliph.

        • Avatar

          Mantiki

          November 17, 2010 at 5:40 PM

          Hi Mohammed and Bilal

          you are partly correct in that I AM against Islamic dress codes, but that is simply because Islam seems to be the only religion that incorporates dress codes as rules. Dress codes exist in all sorts of cultures and we may or may not agree with them, but at least they are subject to change as a culture or society evolves. Islam alone seems to dictate that Allah has an interest in what clothes we wear. This makes any questioning of dress codes as being against Allah. Similarly this applies to the multitude of rules that Islamic mullahs come up with. These rules then are accepted as coming from Allah when in fact they are thought up by mere mortals. Mortals who are obsessed with maintaining 7th century patterns of thought that were appropriate for a tribal society assuming a national identity. Those days are past!

          Similarly Caliph Omar cutting the hair of the young man was being very silly. I can get annoyed by silly haircuts as much as the next person, but all this concern, worry and guilt about being attractive and attracted to the opposite sex simply creates guilt and unnatural attitudes towards each other. Often this becomes aggression and putting the blame onto people for “inflaming” lusts and desires which Allah gave us in order that we continue to procreate.

          • Avatar

            Sabour Al-Kandari

            November 17, 2010 at 6:13 PM

            Look Mantiki, if you believe you have a book from Allah and he sent you a Messenger (sual Allahu alayhi salam), then the only thing that makes sense is to follow what the All-Knowing has commanded. This of course is based on correct and academic interpretation (taking into account context etc) which has been laid out already anyway, the way the Messenger sual Allahu alayhi wasalam taught it and the Companions followed it.

            A lot of what you say are straw-man arguments, and it leads me to believe that you’re a little bit new here in the mainstream community and need to learn more for understanding simple mainstream Islam from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Nobody here agrees with the gang rape you cited simply because it is against the Qur’an and Sunnah, and at the same time nobody agrees with your attack on the Islamic dress code because the Islamic dress code is clearly a part of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

            Of course, certain things are up for legitimate disagreement but only in the light of scholarship going back to the Qur’an and Sunnah. For the sake of yourself, I humbly advise you to rethink your conclusions and learn more about the religion, because it makes a person a walking contradiction if one believes they have guidance from Allah but advocate the complete opposite, in an (arrogant) attempt to put their own ideas above what the Lord they prostrate to has commanded.

            Here are some resources:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Mz8nTTS27g

            http://muslimmatters.org/2008/03/03/authority-of-sunnah-hadithrevelation/

            http://muslimmatters.org/2010/04/28/haya-showcasing-the-shyness-of-a-shepherdess/

            http://bayyinah.com/media/

          • Avatar

            Mohammed

            November 17, 2010 at 6:39 PM

            Yes ofcox, Islam has rules for everything. Why? Islam is the only ‘complete’ religion. And yeah, God sent down a book in which there are laws to benefit mankind and Modestly dressing in public is one of those rules. It is not for us to say that God should not be concerned about how we dress. We have no authority to say that.

            God knows very well how the circumstances would change in the world he created. We were not meant to wear the headscarf only until we discover the mini-skirt. God had decreed a crystal clear command to be followed eternally: His servants are to say nothing but “We hear and obey”

            Great blog btw, Safia Farole. One of the best I have come across so far. Best of luck.

            May God give us all the best in this world and the best in the hereafter.

            Edit: Sabour Al-Kandari summarised is the best way possible while i was writing this.heheh And i agree with him completely!

          • Avatar

            Mantiki

            November 17, 2010 at 7:18 PM

            Mohammed and Sabour

            Yes I am new to this web-site. It is obvious that I am not a Muslim. I became a Christian though most Christians would not recognise me as such. To explain, my faith and love of God did in fact come from a personal revelation when I prayed to him in despair using Christian inspired prayers of repentance in Jesus name. The true response I received was to be flooded with a feeling of such powerful love, that my tears of despair were replaced by laughter and tears of gratitude. From my experience I sought fellowship with other Christians in Church but soon discovered that my experience was rare. Most Christians follow Christ out of fear and immerse themselves in rituals and stories from the Bible. My experience tells me that God values only what is in your heart and my joy comes from showing that love to others.

            My blogging experience is largely limited to arguing against atheists would you believe?! I don’t have a problem with those that simply disbelieve in God but many of them hate religion with a vengeance on the basis of the harm that it does. It is obvious that there is merit in their arguments because Christianity has been and is responsible for much suffering. Only up to two hundred or so years ago ago, Protestant and Roman Catholics, were slaughtering and torturing each other by the thousands. But at least Christians are now willing to critically examine their beliefs and holy book. They have become better as a result. My issue with Islam as a religion is that critical discussion and questioning of the Quran and of the Prophet is forbidden. Thus there is no possibility for God to be discovered. Islam becomes entrenched through fear and rules under threats – either physical or (imagined) eternal.

            The obvious fact is that Allah does not care what religion we are. If this were so, He would be clear about which religion He favoured including whether Sunni or Shia etc. Instead we have bombs and guns in Churches and Mosques of all sides. We have deaths through human evil and accidents (such as stampedes) at the Haj where people are looking most earnestly for Allah.

            So I say forget about 7th century rules and worship of old Books. Just love one another and love God and be at peace within yourself, with each other and with Allah.

            May He bless you all!

          • Avatar

            Sabour Al-Kandari

            November 17, 2010 at 8:33 PM

            I hate to take the thread off track from the article, but I simply cannot resist such a discussion!

            It is obvious that I am not a Muslim

            It wasn’t for me lol! I must have been asleep.

            The true response I received

            The problem with mystical experiences is that they are very subjective Mantiki, and those can’t take you away from the inevitable human conflict that ensues. It may happen that someone has a mystical experience with the devil, or pagan idols, or after watching a video of Justin Beiber – and heavily disagree with you – is that really a source of ultimate truth? From the Islamic point of view, we’re given an innate sense of right and wrong (fitrah in Arabic, like your conscience) and we have brains as well to use for proper reasoning to conclude something is truthful. Naturally, it makes sense that Allah would want us to use the tools we’re given at our disposal.

            My issue with Islam as a religion is that critical discussion and questioning of the Quran and of the Prophet is forbidden.

            This couldn’t be further from the truth! I engage in discussions like these on a regular basis, and Muslims thrive off these discussions (we consider it a religious obligation). The issue is that there’s a difference between reasonable academic dialogue and hate speech/fear-mongering, that’s all.

            Follow my reasoning here, if you believe in an All-Powerful, Merciful, Loving and Just Creator, it naturally makes sense to believe in the Day of Judgement, a day when we will all be taken into account for our deeds and have to answer for our choices based on our circumstances/intentions/situations etc – perfect justice. This perfect justice obviously does not exist in this life (which is a common argument against religion, when it is really for Islam). What is the most justice that can be done to a mass murderer, can anything really be “fair”?

            So with this perspective that this life is simply a test and the true existence is in the afterlife, it breaks down the arguments for “accidents,tsunamis,earthquakes,life is unfair, religions are not real”. Also, it clarifies that a person should judge a religion based on the message, and not the failures some of its adherents may have.

            The obvious fact is that Allah does not care what religion we are. If this were so, He would be clear about which religion He favoured including whether Sunni or Shia etc.

            From the Islamic perspective, religion has always been very simple, easy and straightforward, and the differences arise from human-induced tampering. If you do believe in a Day of Judgement, it makes a lot of sense to believe Allah sent us Prophets (Noah, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, peace be upon them) with straightforward guidance. And really, if someone makes an effort to think about it, the common-themes and the foundations for Islamic theology exist clearly in previous scripture and make a lot of sense. Turn your worship/love/submission towards Allah alone, remain righteous in actions/character/behaviour and know that we’ll be taken into account for our deeds. It’s very simple, but it’s compounded in other faiths by addition/deletion from revelation with things like idolatry, ideas like the divinity of Jesus / salvation, and other post-revelation additions. People who divide into sects are themselves responsible for deviating from the straightforward mainstream and introducing new concepts into religion (80% Sunni, btw, and that’s after historical forced conversions).

            Finally, when treating a social illness you have to make sure you don’t amputate the wrong limb. Islamically, problems arise not from adherence to scripture, but from deviating from it (isn’t that something one would expect from Divine guidance?). It’s not the same as with other religions where “reinterpreting” is necessary (isn’t that something one would expect from man-made ideas?), and you can look for yourself at all the common-issues tackled:
            http://www.whyislam.org
            http://www.load-islam.com/artical_det.php?artical_id=414&subsection=Misconceptions

    • Avatar

      Fulan

      December 3, 2010 at 2:18 PM

      You obviously don’t understand the point of Hijab. As for your support for banning the veil, what do you have to say to FREE women who PREFER wearing niqab? Will you deny them that freedom because of other families that demand it from their women? Besides, from my experience, the vast majority of women who do wear the veil in the west do so BY CHOICE and not because of family pressure.

  18. Avatar

    Sabour Al-Kandari

    November 17, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    Salaamualaikum,

    As can be figured out from my kunya, I am an Afghan hailing from Kandahar. I’ve also been to Kandahar in the summer of ’09, so here’s my two-cents:

    This is a start, but writing a paper that completely goes along the status quo is just too easy, you have to push yourself well beyond that . Even in science, the difference between being crazy and a genius is simply being right. So I would have much more appreciated something different from what all the other kids are doing (and adding your own perspectives / refuting others’) but defended well with air-tight logic and evidence.

    I understand there’s a lack of academic sources out there, but this is where the void needs to be filled. The current Afghan-women-taliban-view is simply war-time propaganda, nothing else. Extremely simplistic and aimed at justifying ongoing wars – but is it really a surprise? With war comes propaganda, period. Any research into Hollywood’s role during WW2 and the ridiculous change in portrayal of Stalin is just one source of proof of that.

    It is very possible (if not already the case) that the invasion of Afghanistan set Afghan-women back for a very, very long time. Every Afghan living in the West who starts practicing Islam more knows very well the degree of difference between their paradigm and that of their parents. And it’s not just a conservative vs. liberal thing, that too is over-simplistic. A young Afghan might find themselves challenging their culture for being unIslamically harsh/strict for certain issues and at the same time unIslamically too liberal for others. Muslims of any nationality can testify this, but for the case of Afghan women culture plays a more dominant role than Islam. To put it simply, the majority of problems Afghan women face are due to ideas deeply entrenched in pre-Islamic ignorance and culture (i.e. a woman must marry whoever her father chooses, a woman is the property of the entire family she is married into etc). To simply dump all these things on the Taliban is ridiculous, as religious legitimacy is probably the only thing strong enough to challenge firmly rooted cultural norms.

    Take for example what happened in Saudi Arabia during King Faisal’s time (an eerily similar analogy with the culture). Upon the introduction of television, there was really harsh opposition to the “kafir technology” being presented (just like right now the khutbas in Kandahar are attacking television). But King Faisal convinced his people using the Qur’an and Sunnah that this was not actually the most Islamically correct approach if the programming presented was Islamic, and using the ‘ulema and a broadcast of a child reciting Qur’an, he was able to challenge the status-quo in the culture and change it.

    As for the issue with Afghan girls’ schooling, that too is also war-time propaganda. The other comments provide adequate proof of how that simply wasn’t the case. From first-hand experience, I can tell you quite clearly that Afghans (especially Kandaris) are very polarized in how they view education in general (for girls AND boys). Many of my parents generation are illiterate and were never educated, despite the Taliban having zero influence and the country having a thriving system and Universities (pre-Soviet invasion). My mom herself was educated but she was faced with opposition from cultural norms that my grandfather had to refute using Islam.

    And the situation today? When I was there in ’09, out of the 25+ children (boys and girls) I personally met, about 90% of them didn’t go to school. There was a stigma in the family against the idea of formal education that had nothing to do with gender roles. The one family who’s kids were actually educated included boys and girls (girls up to a certain age for safety reasons), and it was simply because the father saw education as important – and they too were at the mercy of fierce opposition for the rest (they actually sent them to school without telling the others for a while). I have a male cousin who is going to University in India who is being shunned by his uncle simply because he chose to go to University.

    The whole situation isn’t as simple as everyone would like to make themselves believe. Wishful thinking may make a person sleep better at night, but it won’t solve the problems. Now they have a government plagued with the ultimate scum Afghan culture can produce: drug-dealers, criminals, warlords and thugs and the deeply rooted cultural norms are only challenged by what are perceived by the hardcore as “kafir-western-infidel-influence” which will only lead to more polarization.

    • Avatar

      Safia Farole

      November 17, 2010 at 5:38 PM

      Thank you br. Sabour Al-Kandari for educating us (especially myself) deeper on this topic. I wish I had know all of this beforehand – like I wrote, its just hard to find this information when you do an internet search. As you alluded to, I think the academic research on afghanistan and women’s rights is flooded with anti-Taliban, simplistic narratives; thus sincere individuals such as myself (who want to understand these issues better) are fed only from these sources.

      As a Somali American I can relate to what you have mentioned because right now Al-Shabab is in control of almost the entire country. We frequently hear from Western souces (i.e. newspapers) that women are being refused their rights (i.e. are being treated harshly, unequally). But when I hear from Somalis who have been there recently I learn that the situation is not that bad (I’m not trying to downplay any sort of abuse towards women), and it is not as it is made out to be.

      If you want to expand on any of your ideas about Afghan culture and women (or anything else) you are free to submit an article to MM. Thanks for being constructive in your critique.

      • Avatar

        ummousama

        November 18, 2010 at 1:06 AM

        Assalamu alaikum,

        The response from Sabour is the reason why I said that a person writing an article on a certain issue in a certain country should know that country. You cannot have a proper view of an issue without having any source from locals.

        BTW, the hate of French people towards Islam goes back to the time of the Tabi’een and Tabi-Tabi’een when they defeated them at the battle of Tours. Google it. Also, google Sarkozy and his background. That might tell you more of the present President ;)

        These are just two tips though. To understand French culture, you also have to know that “intellectuals” are at the top and this is why they are called “Intellectuals”. In history, they are probably referred as “philosophers”. These people, for the most, shun religion and are all atheists.

        There is much more to say to understand the French culture. You also have to understand the history between France and Algeria, who the harkas are and how French Algerians are viewed.

        May Allah help you.

        • Avatar

          Safia Farole

          November 18, 2010 at 12:08 PM

          So essentially what your saying is I have to have a phd in any subject before writing anything about it. I see where your coming from, but not everyone has accesss to “locals” when they wright about a certain country – myself included. Alot of the commentators seem to have problems with the references I selected – as I mentioned, no one has time to fact-check every single sources. And I reccomend you go back to my “thesis” (i.e. the questions I’m trying to answer); you will find that the answers to those questions can be found through academic sources, not really locals. Writing about what locals think can be another article in and of itself. I invite anyone to submitt such a paper to MM if they pelase – I don’t have access to Afghanis in my community, nor do I have the luxury to travel to the country, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t start a discussion on Afghanistan and France for that matter.

          I invite you to read my article on France; you will find that I have included alot about French colonial excursions in Algeria as an explanation for their ban on hijab in schools.

          • Avatar

            Ummousama

            November 18, 2010 at 12:55 PM

            Assalamu alaikum,

            No, I don’t ask you to have a PhD before writing. What I am expecting from a Muslim blog is to have a Muslim Perspective on things. I expect from an article by Muslims to combat some of the propangada we are subjected to. Your article comes from a point where you accept the propaganda as true and you built your piece on that. I think this is where lots of us have been frustrated.

            As for the French paper, I am just pointing out to you some of the reasons why things are as they are. Yes, I know the French culture very well as it was part of my upbringing. So I am trying to help so that you won’t say: ” I wish I knew that before writing”

        • Avatar

          Amal

          November 18, 2010 at 9:42 PM

          “To understand French culture, you also have to know that “intellectuals” are at the top and this is why they are called “Intellectuals”. In history, they are probably referred as “philosophers”. These people, for the most, shun religion and are all atheists. ”

          Why would you ever say such a thing? Many of the intellectuals and philosophers you sneer at are/were spiritual people who actively cultivated their relationships with God. You’ve made a nasty accusation based on nothing but your personal and misguided impression of France and its people.
          Unfortunately, your reactionary, anti-intellectual, uninformed statement is becoming more and more typical of Muslims; a people who, in our history, once had the greatest respect for intellectuals and philosophers. How very sad.

  19. Avatar

    Mohammed

    November 17, 2010 at 8:08 PM

    Mantiki,

    I actually though you were a Muslim after reading your first post, But I was in doubt after reading the later ones. My Apologies.
    You seems to have a deep love for God and to seek his pleasure. I like it.

    But I disagree that Christians are better now. They have a lot of worldly glitter and no desire to worship God. Dividing and editing the books sent by God as they please and quoting from it the parts they like and leaving aside the parts that does not please them. You would probably say it does not matter what book they say they believe as long as they love each other and live happily and all that. But for us that is not the ultimate success. Success comes in trying to please God, Not living in luxury in this world. And when we obey Gods’ commandments we would definitely find peace and harmony in this world. Look to the past if you doubt. I think I can speak for Muslims when I say;

    1. We will never dispute with nor we would discuss the legitimacy of clear commands from our Lord.
    2. We will try our best to implement his Laws and only by doing it we will succeed in this world and the next.
    3. We will never leave the Islamic laws (call that mockingly 7th century books if you want).

    But then again a Muslim and a not yet Muslim can never come in agreement since we have fundamental differences in our measuring-sticks.

    Dear Mantiki, Read the translation of Qur’an, It contains guidance to us all. Ask a knowledgeable person if you have any doubts. And ask Allah for guidance. Beseech him and only him when you are in a difficult situation and Thank him and Praise him when you are better. While you do so refrain from associating partners to the Al-mighty, He does not share his dominion with any one and he is Allah the One, he is far glorious to be begotten or to beget a son. Finally don’t measure success based on worldly things. Nations with more power and wealth on this land have been destroyed because of their disbelief.
    I pray that God may bless you and shower you with mercy from himself and that you may be be among those few who would enter in to the highest parts of heaven.

    Salaam,

    • Avatar

      Mantiki

      November 17, 2010 at 9:45 PM

      Thank you to both Mohammed and Sabour for your kind and thoughtful responses. Much of what you have said has of course been pointed out to me by other Christians and by atheists. It is quite true that we should not trust subjective experiences. Many a serial killer has said that God told them to commit their terrible acts. Yet the proof of our beliefs is shown by the results of our actions. I would like to add also that if you check on the many articles and web-sites about near death experiences, you will see that people tend to proceed through a judgement at the point of death and many / most meet a Being of Light that seems to align with our concept of a loving God. Many meet a being that seems to them to be Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha or whoever their religion teaches them to expect!

      From all this I conclude that we are accountable for our actions and that we feel the pain and pleasure that we inflict upon others. After death, Heaven and Hell seems to be set up to meet our expectations of what is revealed to us that we deserve, and beyond that we either don’t know, or must choose to believe whatever Prophets WE decide to place or faith in. Certainly, Hell has no appeal but neither would I desire to spend an eternity of singing praises but who knows how we will feel when we have the opportunity to rejoin with our Creator?

      Obviously I have much to learn about Islam, but as with the Bible, which includes instructions of who should be stoned and put painfully to death, I find too much hatred and death dealing instructions for me to believe it is completely inspired by Allah (though parts of it seem to be). Therefore I continue to distrust any instructions that order us to behave this way or dress that way if they result in hurt or anger.

      • Avatar

        Sabour Al-Kandari

        November 19, 2010 at 11:21 PM

        Obviously I have much to learn about Islam, but as with the Bible, which includes instructions of who should be stoned and put painfully to death, I find too much hatred and death dealing instructions for me to believe it is completely inspired by Allah (though parts of it seem to be).

        I’ve given you links to answers of those common talking points (in my previous comment),
        please check them out!

        • Avatar

          Mantiki

          November 20, 2010 at 4:50 PM

          Thanks Sabour

          I checked out your weblinks and one had expired – leading to an advertisement instead, while the other simply listed more rules and regulations for Muslims.

          God / Allah is more than a moral policeman. Atheists are fond of arguing that there is no evidence for God. I don’t consider books like the Bible and Koran which are full of rules, and history of conflict to be persuasive – even though many of the authors may have been inspired by God or even to have “met” Him.

          I’m more convinced by the thousands of people who have had spiritual experiences through meditation or near death. They all speak of a loving presence who shows them the lessons of their life including their sins, and where they all stand at the gate to a loving re-union with deceased relatives and friends. The experience is universal and not linked to a person’s beliefs whether Christian, Muslim or atheist. The message does NOT seem to be, “I love you but unless you believe in me and cover your hair and body with lots of clothes, I will torture you for eternity”. That kind of God would be truly evil.

          • Avatar

            Sabour Al-Kandari

            November 20, 2010 at 8:51 PM

            while the other simply listed more rules and regulations for Muslims.

            Your dismissing judgment on the whyislam website tells me you haven’t actually looked through it properly, there are a TON of explanations there to the issues you’ve brought up, and there’s also a forum where you can take your questions/discussion.

            Obviously, it makes more sense to read and study the Qur’an and Islam in more depth before passing judgment. I can tell you’re unfairly passing pre-conceived notions because your comment is again defined by superficial and straw-man arguments like the ones before, but this one is on things like salvic exclusivity, and who goes to hell and such – which is why you should be thoroughly reading the links I’ve given you and engaging openly for answers to your questions instead looking to confirm your current position.

            If you did read, you’ll see one of the themes in Islam is that it’s not simply a set of arbitrary rules. Turning religion into something heartless and mechanistic is extremism on one side, but at the same time turning religion into something purely emotional without knowledge, order and regulation is extremism on the other. The defining characteristic of Islam is balance and staying on the “middle-path”.

            An excellent example of such a fusion is the prayer of Muslims. It’s socially institutionalized – bringing every Muslim on the planet together, a personal intellectual exercise (reflecting on the Qur’an), yet at the same time extremely heart-felt and spiritual throughout the body and mind, and the beautiful nature of the recitation of the Qur’an magnifies the brilliance.

            “Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” (Surah Ra’d, 28)

            PS: Here’s a new link for the other broken one, and there are more links I’ve given you in previous comments. I’ve given you lots of homework, so get cracking:
            http://www.islamic-life.com/forums/quran-hadith-prophet-muhammad/misconceptions-commonly-misquoted-verses-narrations-712

  20. Pingback: Friday Links | November 19, 2010 » Muslimah Media Watch

  21. Avatar

    Mohammed

    November 20, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    Dear Mantiki, You seem to be a reasonable to talk to unlike most other people on internet. But I still don’t get what exactly you are looking for. Forgive me is I am wrong, but you seem to be looking for a religion that is all loving, caring, peaceful, with no rules, people are to do what they think is best for them; perhaps dress what ever you wish, eat and drink what ever you like. Or are we to take a vote on what is a crime and what is a good deed? And do we punish the criminals in what ever way the elite people think is best or not punish them at all?

    I mean if you don’t accept that it is up to God Al-Mighty to decree laws for his creation then what is your belief based upon? In your mind, did God create us, establish himself on his Throne and wait for us to die only to welcome us into his heaven with open arms no matter how we lived in this world? Perhaps Moses (pbuh) and Hitler received the same welcome in heaven? Is that your idea of a just God?

    If you believe in a just God, He obviously has to judge between the two. If you demand that God should not say what is right and wrong for us then based on what exactly is he supposed to judge between,for example, Jesus (pbuh) and Hitler? And how can a just God judge between them if he had not sent down his laws beforehand and showed them what is right and what is wrong?

    And you would base your belief on mere visions and death experiences? How is THAT a convincing proof when the revealed books are not proof enough for you? Are 6 billion people supposed to believe vision seen by a few which exists on their mind alone? C’mon think about it: which sane person would base his belief on visions?

    If you are looking with an open heart and mind for a logical reasoning, we can help you God willing. Just tell us what exactly is convincing proof to you. And please don’t say the Qur’an or any other book for that matter is not persuasive enough. Thats just silly to say while you haven’t read it whole.

    Hope what I wrote makes somethings clear to you.

    • Avatar

      Mantiki

      November 21, 2010 at 12:04 AM

      Hi Mohammed

      just caught your post as I finished posting mine. I hope it explains where am coming from. I certainly believe in justice and in right and wrong, but I don’t believe God judges people harshly on the basis of social customs. I don’t believe in “infallible” books, priests and imams.

      The Universe is our home and we suffer for our selfish actions sometimes in life and certainly in death. Thus, thieves, murderers, liars all suffer at judgement when they die by feeling the suffering they inflicted on every one of their victims. The same is true of us and our minor acts of evil (and good). But the reward and suffering is not eternal but a lesson to help us evolve as people. This is the consistent lesson brought back from meditation and from those who have come close to dying. I stress that these experiences are brought back by people in their hundreds and match my own experience. To me, this is more reliable than a handful of Prophet / Leaders that frightened their supporters from straying by claiming support from God.

      Sure Hitler and suicide bombers suffer in Hell. They receive the pain they inflict in full. But they are also victims (to an extent) of their circumstances. Their hellish punishment (partially self-inflicted) will end in the appointed time. In the meantime, there is no need to frighten people into believing they must not be attracted to each other, or a host of other normal human emotions and activites.

      • Avatar

        Mohammed

        November 21, 2010 at 1:26 AM

        Salaam,

        We are in agreement then that God punish the wrongdoers and reward the righteous. Sometimes the punishment is temporary while others deserve an eternal punishment. Yes, there are such evil acts that deserved no less than eternal hell. This is the Islamic belief. Your words have a lot of compassion and love in it, But lacks reason, logic and practicality.

        If you had a near death-like experience and want to fit everything in to that vision it will never work. It had never worked. Think about it, do you see any significant group of people living a way of life based on near-death experiences? Thats not the way guidance comes from god. Proper guidance comes from Gods’ prophets and his books, We are to follow those prophets sent to us. Not on those who have near death experiences. Human mind plays a lot of tricks. If you are determined to reject the prophets and the books revealed through them just because they contain things you do not like, then no one can help you.

        When you die and meet your Lord, is it you plan to say “It is not for you, My Lord, to decree what I should and should not do”

        And then again its funny how to argue against those books when you have not read them thoroughly. Why would you pass judgment on something you have not examined fully.

        And how casually you reject the prophets, you prefer to guide yourself based on hundreds of other who had merely the same stories? Do not realize there are hundreds of others who would have conflicting experiences than you? Are those better than many prophets sent with clear proofs and miracles? They claimed to be sent from God and they had a proof unlike you. You merely claim to have had an experience.

        Sorry, but I prefer to stand on something firm and real.

  22. Avatar

    Mantiki

    November 20, 2010 at 11:48 PM

    Hi Sabour

    the questions at your latest link also lead to an advertisement. Possibly a hacker at work. I checked out the earlier link and at least in regard to modesty, I think the instructions are unnatural:

    “However, to Muslim women who practice hijab, it represents an act of obedience to God.”
    More likely obedience to the Imam. As I said, it makes no sense for God to have an interest in humans hiding their “beauty”.

    “It also represents a step towards freedom, i.e. freedom from being judged by their looks rather than their intellect.”
    More like freedom from attending to personal grooming and hygiene. It is true that we judge each other by appearance. In this way humans can tell who is young, old, healthy, ill, available for marriage or friendship, acting suspiciously or dishonestly. The veil prevents all of these normal and socially healthy activities.

    “Modesty – Required of both men and women”.
    Who says!!? If someone is to boastful or trashy, we can judge them accordingly of being shallow or insecure as appropriate. But men and women who are seeking partners need to be able to display their health, vigour and interest in those with whom they wish to form a relationship. False modesty and hiding interest inhibits this natural activity.

    “The Glorious Qur’an says” etc
    I have heard Qur’anic verses sung / chanted. I have to admit that they are hauntingly beautiful as is the written word. Clearly it is a clever manipulation of human emotion on a par with the beauty that some music inspires. My opinion is that there is power in music and art which is fundamental to all intelligent life. I suspect that scientists will one day discover that the harmonies and wave patterns in melodies are somehow linked to higher dimensions in a way that our brains can perceive. This does not mean it is evil in the way that some Muslims believe, but they are certainly correct to recognise its power in a way that most Westerners are blind to. It is simply a link to the hidden and eternal Consciousness of God that we are all part of.

    I think that in many respects, Islam actually inhibits meeting God. Far from being balanced, it considers the world in which we live as a “test” rather than a part of a greater reality. Its adherents live truncated lives by adhering to arbitrary rules designed for a past society. Looking to Allah, and “modestly” diverting their gazes, they hide from beauty and scourge themselves with guilt unnecessarily. Sure – the West is over-consumerised and Godless. It is the mirror image of false piety. That is the reason our teens and older people commit suicide in high numbers – the lack of belief and understanding that there is a God who loves us. Islam (identical to fundamentalist Christians) however says that God only loves us if we live a life in fear of hell and shame at our natural desires.

    We need to understand how to live naturally with a love of God.

    • Avatar

      Mohammed

      November 21, 2010 at 2:09 AM

      Hi again, Let me summarize this the shortest way possible:

      1. More likely obedience to the Imam.
      It is obedience to God, Not the Imam
      “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear therof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty…” [Quran 24:31]


      2. The veil prevents all of these normal and socially healthy activities

      No the veil does not prevent healthy activities. If you say going around dressed, yet naked displaying your body to you family and children is healthy, yeah the veil does prevent that.

      “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” [Quran 33:59]

      3. “Modesty – Required of both men and women”.Who says!!?
      God says.
      Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. [24: 30]

      And men and women seeking partners need not see each other naked before marriage. Its not a product to “try before you buy”.

      4. Clearly it is a clever manipulation of human emotion
      You dismiss Qur’an just by saying its Music? What about its linguistic, infallibility, scientific aspects? If you think the Prophet (pbuh) wrote then you with more resources (than a man who lived 1400 years ago in the desert) could write a book like it?

      “Say: “If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur´an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.” [Quran17: 88]

      If perhaps its too big a task for mankind to write a one book?
      “Or they may say, “He forged it,” Say, “Bring ye then ten suras forged, like unto it, and call (to your aid) whomsoever ye can, other than Allah.- If ye speak the truth!” [Qur’an 11: 13]

      If 10 chapters is too much then surely they can produce one chapter like it?
      “And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true” [Qur’an 2: 23.]

      Do you not wonder why no one in 1400 years could produce the like one chapter of Qur’an? Just mere 3 verse of it. And yet you casually say its like Music. This Qur’an is the Miracle and thats what our belief is based upon. If you have convincing proof bring, We welcome it;
      “…. Say, “Bring your convincing proof: this is the Message of those with me and the Message of those before me.” But most of them know not the Truth, and so turn away.[Qur’an 21: 24]

      Then you make it sound like it an evil thing ‘guard our modesty’ because you prefer women to be naked and stripped.
      The world is a ‘test’ nothing more. What else is it. The greater reality is the hereafter.

  23. Avatar

    Mantiki

    November 21, 2010 at 6:13 AM

    Mohammed

    Our faith is a complex conclusion based on teaching / indoctrination, logic, measurement against observation, and how we relate emotionally to ideas. On balance, I don’t accept that any holy books are wholly God’s word. But since, based on my own experience, I believe we can know God, I don’t deny that people and Prophets may become great teachers of God’s word and that they may write these things down. Even so, they are not infallible (as I am not infallible).

    I judge the Bible harshly in perhaps 90 percent of its words. Likewise, I judge the Koran harshly because I see its adherents terrified of their own sexuality and ignoring the joys and responsibilities of living in this world by focussing on the next. Certainly this world for us as individuals is a tiny fraction of our existence. But it is an important life for us or we would not be born into it. We cannot logically be given the great gift of life and the joy of friendship, music and love and happiness only to fear these things as ‘sinful” temptations. Do the birds fear to sing? Do the fish and animals hide their bodies?

    If one thing of truth comes of the Adam and Eve myth, it is when God found them hiding in the Garden and said, “who told you that you were naked?” Thus Satan transformed their innocence into shame.

    Ultimately we all generate our own faith. I see no good coming from dressing in a tent and peering at the world through a stifling slit.

    • Avatar

      Mohammed

      November 21, 2010 at 9:10 AM

      Salaam Mantiki and thank you for being polite and inoffensive in your replies.

      Please go through the conversation we had and reflect upon it ( I do that too.. and found a lot of grammar mistakes in my posts.. lol). If you still need any help now or in the future regarding Islam or you want to verify something about Islam, please e-mail me through muththalib10@hotmail.com I would try to help.

      We are neither animals nor are we birds. They are merely created only to serve our needs and are a blessing from our Lord. We are to follow the Prophets and not the animals.

      And I lost what exactly is the point of our discussion. I thought you wanted to know more about Islam and I was trying to explain as best as I can.

      If that is not what you are looking for and disregard our faith without giving much though, I must say with all due respect “To you be your Way, and to me mine” [Qur’an 109:6]. Regarding the guidance you seek through vision and meditation:“Are they waiting to see if the angels come to them, or thy Lord (Himself), or certain of the signs of thy Lord!….Say: “Wait ye: we too are waiting.” [Qur’an 6:158]

      So my dear brother, we part our ways here and we will both wait until we meet our Lord and he will judge as to who is on the right path and who is not. We received clear guidance from our Lord and as for me I submit wholly myself un to him. I can assure you if you follow anything, other than complete submission to Allah, his messengers and the books he has sent, it leads no where but the hellfire. As for me and other Muslims, We hope our Lord would forgive our shortcomings and enter us in to his Heaven among the righteous.

      • Avatar

        Mantiki

        November 21, 2010 at 7:48 PM

        Thanks Mohammed

        It is always my great pleasure to communicate with those who wish to serve God as you obviously do. I likewise feel the need to serve and worship God and I honestly believe that I do so in my heart and actions though being human, I fail often.

        I know that you have been patient and that you wish to close off the discussion (noting also your kind offer for direct communication via email). I also would like to conclude with my final thoughts.

        Firstly, I sure that you will meet Allah and your Prophet in a glorious heaven created by Allah with the combined vision of his followers. In my view, it is not the only Heaven. Jesus also said that his Father’s mansion had many rooms – though that is also open to argument.

        Probably the only unnaddressed argument remaining is your statement, “They are merely created only to serve our needs and are a blessing from our Lord. We are to follow the Prophets and not the animals.”
        I think that given we know that life has existed for hundreds of millions of years, while humans have been around for only perhaps 6 million at the most, it is unlikely that they were created for our needs. Further, our observations of their rich lives indicates that although only apes approach us in terms of intelligence, dogs, cats, cetaceans, octopii and certain birds are equal to most 4 to 6 year olds at least. In addition, they certainly feel conscious of their environments and have feelings perhaps as deep as our own. For my part, I have had birds, dogs and cats as pets and they have all run or flown to me to greet me joyfully when I have come home from school or from (for too many years) work. Even small budgerigars have strong emotions. Once I had a friend many years ago who disliked a budgie that I had. On one occasion he shook his fist at it in mock anger and it flew across the room to attack his fist biting a small chunk from his knuckle – lol!

        My point here is that Biblical and Koranic notions that animals exist only for our needs leads only to environmental destruction on a large scale, and cruelty at individual levels. I am a hearty meat eater, and have no illusions that many large predators would eat me for a meal yet they would do so efficiently and out of need. I’ve been sickened by seeing how Egyptian stockhandlers blind cows with a knife into the eyeball to assist handling at the abattoir. I have also seen wanton acts of cruelty to animals in my own Australia – but my point is that in my country, this is out of selfishness or thoughless cruelty – whereas the tribal religion of our forebears sanctions it as our God given right to regard animals as souless automatons provided only for our use. As fully conscious entities, they are also part of God. The less intelligent of them may not inhabit Heaven (I’m sure there are no Heavens populated with the spirits of dinosaurs, flies or insects) but the divine spark of their consciousness returns to God ultimately as do we. Our humanly visions of Heaven may well satisfy us for a time after we die, but we are ultimately re-cycled into completeness with God. There is no joy or growth in an Eternity of choir singing in green fields.

        To end off where I started in this thread covering the veil issue, while I certainly embrace with joy, my appreciation of sexual beauty and youthful vitality, the great shame of hiding women under layers of clothing is not the lack of opportunity for a good “perve”. Rather it is the supposedly God ordered prohibition against warm human contact and equal friendship. Communication is inhibited, no possibility of a friendly public embrace or kiss on the cheek that men and women are permitted with their own sex. Instead there is the fear of wagging tongues at best or in some Islamic countries, imprisonment, public flogging or stoning at worst.

  24. Pingback: (Part II) To Veil or Not to Veil?: Hijab and Muslim Women’s Rights in Afghanistan and France | MuslimMatters.org

  25. Avatar

    CG

    January 16, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    such a complex situation in afghanistan, i hope it doesn’t go back to the 60s, but i really hope it doesn’t stay as oppressive as it currently is.

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#Islam

Reflections on Muslim Approaches to the Abortion Debate: The Problem of Narrow Conceptualization

American Muslims must go beyond simplistic and emotionally-charged approaches to the abortion question.

Shaykh Salman Younas

Published

on

Abortion

“Islam is the golden mean between all ethical extremes’ is what certain Muslims would assert… This moral assumption isn’t far from the truth.”

Shaykh Abdullah Hamid Ali in A Word on Muslim Attitudes Toward Abortion

“The golden mean is kind of a summit, and it is a struggle to get there. The ego does not want balance because you have to think and make sacrifices.”

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad in Paradigms of Leadership (6)

A few months ago, Governor Kay Ivey signed into law House Bill 134, or the Human Life Protection Act, which prohibited all abortion in the state of Alabama except in cases where it was deemed necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the mother. The bill additionally criminalized abortion or any attempt to carry it out in situations deemed non-necessary. A motion to exempt rape and incest victims from this law was defeated in the Alabama state senate, which give the state the (dubious) distinction of possessing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in America. This move by Alabama to place extreme restrictions on abortion followed a spate of similar legislative moves by other states, such as Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

This escalation in anti-abortion legislation occasioned intense debate within the Muslim community.[1] Muslims who self-identify as progressives chanted the familiar mantra of “my body, my choice” to affirm a notion of personal rights and bodily autonomy in defending a woman’s right to choose. The ideological underpinnings of this view are extremely problematic from a theological perspective, and the practical policies arising from it that sanction even late-term abortions contravene the near-consensus position of classical jurists and is rightly seen as an assault on inviolable human life. For this reason, this essay will not pay any particular attention to this view.

Several people pushed back against this permissive attitude by arguing that abortion is essentially prohibited in Islam in all but the direst of situations, such as when the life of the mother is at genuine risk. This opinion has a sound precedent in the legal tradition and is the mainstream view of some of the legal schools, but it has often been presented in a manner that fails to acknowledge the normative pluralism that exists on the matter in the shariah and rather perniciously presents these alternative opinions as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’. Similarly, those who favour the more lenient view found in other legal schools are often seen characterizing the stricter opinion as ‘right-wing’ or reflective of the Christianization of Islamic law. Despite having legal precedent on their side, both groups engaged the abortion question in a manner that was rather superficial and fundamentally problematic.

Abortion

Did Jurists Only Permit Abortion in ‘Dire’ Circumstances?

I will begin this essay by offering a corrective to the mistaken notion that classical jurists only permitted abortions in cases of necessity, an assertion that has become very common in current Muslim discourse on abortion in America. One need not look much further than the Ḥanafī school to realize that this claim is incorrect. Though there are opinions within the school that only permit abortion before 120 days with the existence of a valid excuse, the view of several early leading authorities was that abortion was unconditionally permissible (mubāḥ) before this period and/or prior to the physical form and features of a fetus becoming clearly discernible.[2] In his encyclopaedic work al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, Burhān al-Dīn ibn Māza (d. 616/1219) presents two main opinions on abortion in the school:

(i) It is permitted “as long as some physical human features are not clearly discernible because if these features are not discernible, the fetus is not a child (walad)” as per Fatāwā Ahl al-Samarqand. Some scholars asserted that this occurs at 120 days,[3] while others stated that this assertion, though incorrect, indicated that by discernibility jurists intended ensoulment.[4]

(ii) It is disliked because once conception occurs, the natural prognostication is life and so the fetus is granted this ruling at the moment of conception itself. This was the view of ʿAlī ibn Mūsā al-Qummī (d. 305/917-18).[5]

The first opinion of unconditional permissibility was not a solitary one in the school. It was forwarded by many of the foremost Ḥanafī authorities, such as Ḥussām al-Dīn ibn Māza (d. 536/1141),[6] Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī (d. 575/1175),[7] Jamāl al-Dīn al-Ghaznawī (d. 593/1196),[8] Zayn al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 666/1267),[9] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maḥmūd al-Mawṣilī (d. 683/1284),[10] Fakhr al-Dīn al-Zaylaʿī (d. 743/1343),[11] Qiwām al-Dīn al-Kākī (749/1348),[12] Jalāl al-Dīn al-Khawārizmī (d. 767/1365),[13] Kamāl ibn al-Humām (d. 861/1457),[14] Muḥyī al-Dīn Jawīzāda (d. 954/1547),[15] Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Ḥaṣkafī (d. 1088/1677),[16] and several others.[17] The reasoning underlying this view was that prior to a specific period (whether defined by days or by fetal development), a fetus is not a ‘child’ or ‘person’.[18] Therefore, no ruling is attached to it at this stage.[19]

Another opinion in the school, and one that has gained wide acceptance amongst contemporary Ḥanafī jurists, argued that abortion prior to 120 days was disliked and sinful unless carried out with a valid excuse. This view was most famously expressed by Fakhr al-Dīn Qāḍīkhān (d. 592/1196) in his Fatāwā and subsequently supported by the likes of Ibn Wahbān (d. 768/1367),[20] Ibn Nujaym (d. 970/1563),[21] and Ibn ʿĀbidīn (d. 1252/1836).[22] These sources, however, do not define or fully flesh out what constitutes an excuse, sufficing mainly with a single example as illustrative of a case where abortion would be permitted, namely when a woman ceases to produce milk on account of pregnancy and her husband is unable to provide an alternative source of sustenance for their child and fears his or her perishing. Cases of rape, incest, adultery, and other possible excuses are not discussed by most of these authors, and it is not clear whether they would have deemed these valid excuses or not.[23]

The Ḥanafī school, therefore, had three main opinions on the issue: unconditionally permissible prior to a specific time period; unconditionally disliked; and conditionally permissible prior to a specific time period. Of the three, the first view seems to have been the dominant one in the school and held by multiple authorities in virtually every century. The view of conditional permissibility was also a strong one and notably adopted by several later jurists. It is also the view that has gained currency among modern Ḥanafī scholars who are generally not seen forwarding the view of unconditional permissibility.

Some Contemporary Views on Abortion

A wide range of opinions is also found in the discourse of contemporary jurists. Shaykh Muṣṭafā Zarqā (d. 1999) presented a gradated scheme where abortion prior to 40 days was permitted without a “severe excuse”, which included “undertaking necessary travel where pregnancy and giving birth would prove a hindrance, such as for education or for work that requires a couple to move.”[24] He also considered financial strain arising from a child as a valid excuse during this limited time period. According to him, the threshold for a valid excuse would become higher as the pregnancy proceeded beyond 40 days.

Muftī Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī (d. 1996), one of the foremost scholars of the Deobandī school, permitted abortions when conception occurred out of wedlock (zinā).[25]

Muftī Salmān Manṣurpūrī states emphatically that the basis is that abortion is impermissible unless there is a valid excuse before 120 days, such as the life of the mother being at risk, serious consequences to her general health, an actual inability to bear pregnancy, clear harm or danger to one’s current children, and adultery, but not fear of economic difficulty nor the decision not to have children.[26]

In Fatāwā Dār al-ʿUlūm Zakariyya, Muftī Raḍā’ al-Ḥaqq states that a fetus diagnosed by medical professionals with an incurable and serious disorder that will prove to be an extreme burden on the child and its family is permitted to abort prior to 120 days as per the Islamic Fiqh Academy in Mecca.[27] Elsewhere, he divides pregnancy into three stages. The first stage is when the general form and facial features of the fetus take shape but prior to the formation of its limbs. At this stage, it is permitted to carry out on abortion with a valid and established excuse, such as the fetus suffering from a “dangerous hereditary disease”, “physical abnormality/deformity”, the life of the mother being at risk, or reasonably-established fear of the mother’s “physical and mental health” being impacted. The second stage is when the limbs of the fetus are clearly formed and discernible, and the third stage is after 120 days. In both these stages, the respected Muftī rules that abortion is not permitted except in cases of necessity, such as saving the life of the mother.[28] The permission to abort the fetus is also extended to cases of rape.[29]

Mawlānā Zubayr Aḥmad Qāsmī (d. 2019), a founding member of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, India, argued that the permission to carry out an abortion before ensoulment (even after discernibility) is not simply restricted to cases of necessity (ḍarūra) but includes cases of need (ḥāja), which broadly includes “any situation that entails bodily or psychological harm for the parents or the child and is a cause for continual distress.”[30] Examples of valid excuses include “danger to the general health, mental health, or life of the mother”, pregnancy resulting from rape or fornication (so long as it is not someone who has engaged in the latter habitually), the strong possibility that the child will be born with serious physical abnormalities or defects as determined by a medical professional, and the genuine inability of the parents to raise and maintain/sustain more than one child without it negatively impacting their current children.[31]

Mawlānā Khālid Sayf Allāh Raḥmānī states, “Essentially, abortion is impermissible in Islam, and there is no time period in which it is acceptable to abort a fetus. However, this impermissibly has degrees. In the first scenario (i.e. post-ensoulment) it is a grievous sin and categorically prohibited; in the second scenario (i.e. pre-ensoulment but post-discernment of limbs) it is lesser than this; in the third scenario (i.e. before features/limbs become discernible) it is relatively less severe than the previous two.” He then goes on to rule that abortion is not permitted for the following reasons: not desiring more children; conception out of wedlock; or being physically or mentally unable to care for a child, since others may be able to do so. Excuses that permit abortion before ensoulment include a doctor concluding with reasonable-surety that the child will suffer from a dangerous hereditary disease, physical abnormalities, and deformities, and the life of the mother is at serious risk.[32]

There are stricter views than some of those mentioned above, especially from non-Ḥanafī scholars. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, taking the Mālikī school as his basis,[33] has argued that abortion before 40 days is prohibited “with rare exception.”[34] This view of impermissibility is also held by Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī although he allows for a dispensation to be given to victims of rape.[35]

Shaykh ʿAbd Allāh ibn Bayya also deems abortion at all stages of pregnancy to be sinful to varying degrees except in situations where the life of the mother is at risk.[36]

Shaykh Wahba al-Zuhaylī (d. 2015) ruled that abortion was impermissible from the moment of conception “except in cases of necessity” such as being afflicted with cancer or an incurable disease.[37]

Framing the Problem: Basic Levels of Engaging the Law

The discussion so far makes one point quite evident: there are an array of opinions on the issue of abortion ranging from the extremely restrictive to the more permissive. Though ‘difference of opinion’ (ikhtilāf) has generally been viewed as one of the outstanding and unique features of Islamic legal discourse, it is precisely the range of views that exist in the tradition on abortion that partly plays a role in the problematic approaches to the issue seen amongst certain Muslims. It is not so much the differences themselves that are the issue, but the manner in which particular opinions are selected by individuals who subsequently propagate them to the community as binding doctrine.

To better understand this, one can broadly identify four basic levels of engagement with religious law applicable to Muslim leaders and scholars in the West in the context of the abortion issue,[38] which often overlap with one another: (a) personal, (b) academic, (c) fatwā, public preaching, and irshād, and (d) political.

(a) The Personal

The ‘personal’ level concerns an individual’s own practice where he or she can follow the legal school (or trusted scholar) of their choosing or decide on the rulings that govern their lives when possessing the ability to do so. This level does not directly concern anyone but the individual himself.

(b) The Academic

The ‘academic’ level in the current context refers primarily to a process of study, reflection and deduction, and research to arrive at a personal conclusion regarding some aspect of the law that is undertaken in conversation with a guild of peers and not the general population. Such academic activity is often theoretical, abstract, and conceptual, and even when it addresses more practical concerns, it constitutes a general articulation of an opinion, not an individualized responsa, that others engage with as members of a scholarly class. This scholarly class includes the ʿulamā’ and others whose input is relevant to a particular issue.

(c) Fatwā, Irshād, and Public Preaching

The realm of fatwā is exclusively for a qualified scholar. Here, the scholar enters most directly into the practical implementation of a legal ruling. Fatwā does involve an academic process, and it is often conveyed by a jurist as a universal ruling in accordance with his academic conclusions. However, the practice of fatwā is commonly understood as an answer directed by a qualified jurisconsult (muftī) to an individual (mustaftī) who requires guidance on a particular religious matter. The jurisconsult providing said individual with an answer is now tasked with translating the abstract, theoretical, and academic into a practical solution, which requires taking into account the circumstances of the questioner.[39]

The delicateness of this matter has led some scholars to compare the relationship of a jurisconsult with the questioner to that of a doctor and his patient.[40] Indeed, the answer that a scholar provides a questioner may not be fully in accordance with the theoretical and abstract conclusions the former has reached in an academic setting, it may disregard an opinion that the jurisconsult otherwise deems a valid legal interpretation because its application is not appropriate in the specific case at hand, it may be strict or lenient, in accordance with the legal school of the scholar or a dispensation from another, and it may be inapplicable to anyone but the questioner. Further, a fatwā is non-binding (unlike a judicial court ruling) and does not negate other valid opinions or peoples’ choice to follow them. This is important to note in contexts where a fatwā is issued to communicate a universal rule.

In many cases, the answer that is provided to a person is not presented as a fatwā but merely a form of religious advice or irshād. Though there is presumably a difference between these two concepts, they are sometimes indistinguishable in a Western context. Irshād has a seemingly less formal quality to it, and it can be offered by a non-scholar though the prerequisite of sound knowledge still remains. Like fatwā, the proffering of religious advice and guidance can assume a more public form and have an academic flavour to it. The articles written by non-scholars on the blogosphere, lectures and speeches delivered by speakers, and religious counsel extended to others falls within this general category of irshād. For those in leadership roles, the public nature of their work means that high standards are required even here when it comes to addressing and conveying religious issues of a complex or delicate nature.

(d) The Political

If the issuance of a fatwā and providing religious advice is a delicate matter, the process of forming, advocating for, and/or enacting laws on the political level is far greater in this regard. Such laws are made in the context of human societies and affect large swaths of people who objectively vary in their circumstances – individual, social, religious/ideological, and economic. Unlike a fatwā or irshād, once a law has been settled upon by the state, it becomes binding upon an entire population and any reasonable alternative ceases to hold validity in practice at least until the law is reviewed and amended. Exemptions are only tolerated when affirmed by the law itself. Further, law interacts with and influences society in complex ways. This is true for all forms of law, not just ones that are state-enacted.

A core question in legal philosophy is what the law ought to be or what makes a law good. The ‘good’ is a moral concept and might be described as one that is essentially contested in so far as people differ over its conception and the criteria for its application. Some emphasize the consequences of a rule (consequentialism), while others favour a deontological moral ethic or one that is virtue-centred. Each of these families of theories subsume within them further particular theories that differ with one another. There are also considerations of fairness, equity, distributive justice, enforceability, practicality, and/or efficiency that those evaluating the law might assign significant value to. These notions of morality and the good influence policy-making and legal systems.

How do Muslims approach this issue? Islam is viewed by Muslims as a comprehensive moral and philosophical system where the moral value of an act is determined by the divine will. It is the commands and prohibitions of God that render an action good or evil, and under this divine command theory, revelation is the primary source for moral knowledge.[41] However, this legal notion of moral value is not as straightforward as it sounds since a significant number of legal rulings are probabilistic in nature and differed upon. Consequently, the moral value attached to these rulings lack a decisive character, which engenders a plurality of moral outlooks. This pluralism is an indelible feature of the tradition itself creating a paradox whereby Muslims can affirm that good and evil are known through revelation, while recognizing that differences concerning moral judgments are part of the moral vision of revelation itself.

This raises important questions regarding the political approach a minority Muslim population in the West might take regarding the abortion issue. Should Muslims seek to accommodate a pluralism justified by tradition and avoid commandeering the state to coercively impose laws that negate the right of people to follow an acceptable and mainstream Islamic legal opinion?

Should Muslims simply support restrictions on abortion practices that contravene the consensus position of Islam? Or should Muslims seek to promote an opinion, or some combination of opinions, among those found in the legal schools on the basis of a reasonably defined criteria that assesses the issue holistically from the perspective of the theological, legal, ethical, and the public good?

Indeed, there are many classical opinions whose validity scholars did not accept, others that were prima facie valid but not put into practice, and classical jurists themselves erected systems to keep a check on legal chaos resulting from people being allowed to arbitrarily follow any opinion with a basis in precedent. Yet, Muslim societies always tolerated differences of opinion, and for most of its history, people living in these societies had recourse to various scholars from multiple legal schools. Unlike the centralizing and homogenizing tendencies of the modern nation-state, Islamic law was centrifugal and operated on a grass-roots level to produce self-governing societies. In many periods, this diversity was even found in judicial settings where courts were established for each of the legal schools. This was extended to non-Muslim populations living under Islamic governments as well who were accorded a high degree of autonomy. While this might strike some as a thing of the past, a nostalgic yearning for a bygone era, there are many lessons the community can draw from the attitudes and approaches of past societies.

In a political context, the notion of the ‘public good’ (maṣlaha) is particularly relevant given the scope and consequences of legislative actions, but it is a notoriously complicated one to pin down and, like the ‘good’, might be described as essentially contested. Even the basic question “who will this law or opinion impact, and in what manner” takes one into a complex maze of considerations and perspectives that demand careful attention and thought. It is hard to imagine any informed answer to this question without the input of a variety of experts. While Muslims are not quite in a position to craft legislation, influential religious activists and scholars who advocate for specific legislation and/or discourse on it to the wider community should keep the above points in made for any advocacy that proceeds in the name of religion is one that must be approached with care and seriousness.

Abortion

Identifying the Problem: Beyond Personal Preferences, Emotions, and Selective Madhhab Picking

With this framework in mind, it is now possible to identify a major problem in current American Muslim discourse on abortion, which is that it does not meaningfully engage any of the levels described above save the personal. The distinction between these various engagement contexts is hardly recognized. Most public discourse on abortion promotes one traditional opinion over another based not on a rigorous standard that is grounded in revelation, theology, legal theory, ethics, the public good, and a keen awareness of human nature, the individual, political, social, and ideological currents and factors, historical trends, and the challenges of the contemporary world, but seemingly on personal opinions based on little more than a reaction to a perceived ideological threat, individual proclivities, or pure taqlīd. The mainstream opinions of the legal school simply act as tools of legitimation for one’s personal view.

The Problem of Imposition

On a personal level, this is not a problem per se, and people have their reasons to select certain views as opposed to others and even vociferously promote them in some limited capacity to friends, colleagues, or family over a session of tea or a short-lived social media feud with random individuals. However, for those in positions of leadership and influence, this cannot be the basis for a fatwā, general communal irshād, or public advocacy impacting millions of people. The imposition of the personal onto these areas in this manner is both ill-advised and potentially harmful. Even the conclusions reached by a scholar on the basis of sound academic research may be put aside in these contexts, i.e. fatwā and political activism/legislation, when the scholar feels that competing considerations and interests demand so. Thus, a scholar may believe in a reading of revelation that is extremely restrictive on abortion but recognizing the probabilistic nature of his interpretation and the variety of individual circumstances, the ethical norms of ease and warding off hardship, profound societal and economic changes, complex and strained community and family structures, the advice of other experts, and the general public good chooses not to advocate for this view as a matter of policy to be implemented as law or provided to a specific individual as a legal edict.

The Sunna Imperative for Leniency, The Lack of Depth of the Lenient

It is often forgotten that a peculiar response by some classical jurists to the degenerated state of society was not in toughening up legal prescriptions but relaxing them: “Our time is not one of avoiding the doubtful (shubuhāt), meaning if a person only avoids the impermissible, it is sufficient.”[42] This was an ethical consideration influencing the judgment of the jurist who saw it not as compromising religion nor a dereliction of his duty but part of the guidance of the sunna itself where facilitating the affairs of people was deemed important.[43] As Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad states commenting on the instruction of al-Birgivī (d. 981/1573) not to give the laity the more difficult opinion on an issue validly differed upon:

This, of course, is a Prophetic counsel. The ego doesn’t always like giving people easy options because we assume it is because of our laziness or some kind of liberal Islam. For al-Birgivī it is taqwā to give the ordinary Muslims the easier interpretations… but nowadays, we tend to assume that the narrower you are, the less compromises you make, the more the West will be angry and, therefore, the better the Muslim you must be.[44]

The Prophetic counsel that Shaykh Abdal Hakim refers to is known to many: “Make things easy and do not make them difficult.” This attitude of facilitating matters for people, granting them leniency, and not repulsing them with harshness and difficulty is a part of Islam. As Imām al-Shāṭibī stated, the removal of hardship (rafʿ al-ḥaraj) is a decisively established foundational principle in the shariah.[45] From this foundational principle arises some of the most important legal and ethical principles in the Islamic tradition, such as hardship necessitates ease, there is no harm nor reciprocating harm, harm is lifted, the lesser of two evils, taking into account the consequences of an act, custom as a source of law, and more. In fact, some jurists opined that when the evidence for an issue was contradictory or conflicting, the more lenient opinion was to be given preference due to the generality of revelatory texts affirming ease in the shariah.[46]

But there is a problem. Many of those who promote and relay the lenient Ḥanafī opinion of unconditional permissibility approach it in a manner that lacks substance. On the academic plane, even basic questions regarding this position are not addressed or understood, much less entertained. Take, for example, the difference between the statement of Ḥanafī jurists that abortion is impermissible after the physical features of the fetus become discernible and the statement of others in the school that this impermissibility comes into effect after a 120-day period. Are these the same? Who in the madhhab held these positions? Is there a clear preference for one or the other? How was discernibility understood? What features needed to be discernible? Did discernibility refer to what is normally observable by humans or to what is discernible by modern embryogenesis? How have contemporary jurists addressed this issue? Then there is the matter that one is hard-pressed to find a single contemporary Ḥanafī jurist who favours the view of unconditional permissibility. What does this reveal about this opinion and the possibility of critically evaluating past opinions that fall within the scope of differences of opinion?[47]

These questions largely fall within the parameters of an intra-school discussion and do not even begin to address the broader social and political considerations mentioned earlier.

Here, the sheer fact that there were over six-hundred thousand abortions reported in America in 2015, the latest year for which statistics exist from the CDC, should be alarming to people and cannot be callously dismissed.

Though the overwhelming majority of these occurred well within a 120-day period (≤13 weeks’ gestation, which is measured from the first day of the woman’s last menstruation and not from the day of conception), most of those who obtained these abortions were unmarried women who did so in non-dire circumstances.[48] The culture of sexual freedom out of which the abortion movement emerged and its ideological grounding in notions of bodily autonomy and personal choice cannot be ignored in this discussion.[49] Nor can the devaluing of family and motherhood,[50] the practice of female foeticide, the increasingly materialistic outlook of society, and its mechanistic view of human beings.

Additionally, some Muslims seem largely oblivious to the fact that abortion politics link to many other issues that have little do with abortion itself, such as assisted suicide or end-of-life care. In a famous district court case on assisted suicide, Compassion in Dying vs. Washington, it was Planned Parenthood vs. Casey that was cited as an important precedent to rule that a ban on physician-aided suicide was unconstitutional.[51] Clearly, it is not sufficient to make simplistic appeals to leniency to justify promulgating an opinion that leads to such wider consequences. Abortion, in other words, cannot be treated as a ‘stand-alone’ issue with little or no relation to a broader philosophical outlook that downplays a sanctity of life ethic.[52]

Thou Shalt Make No Exceptions, But Should We?

Many of the issues highlighted in the previous paragraph raise serious theological and ethical concerns for Muslims and should push them to reflect on the type of society they wish to create and sustain in America. Is the abortion movement today in line with the moral vision envisioned for society by God and His Prophet (blessings upon him)? Clearly not. But while the seriousness of this crisis cannot be understated, a core question, at least in the context of this debate, is often missed: if it is misplaced and dangerous to forward the most lenient opinion in this context, in what way does the strictest possible position on abortion where exemptions are not even extended to victims of rape and incest ameliorate the current situation? Or to put it differently, how do these social and ideological problems make the strictest possible opinion on abortion the most appropriate one to adopt for the individual and society?

The answer to this question is not usually satisfactorily provided. Generally, such a view returns to a genuine moral belief one holds regarding a fetus being an inviolable living person. This moral belief may be grounded in a preferred reading of revelation, simple adherence to a specific legal school, a reaction to a perceived ideological battle framed in the language of pro-life vs. pro-choice, personal inclinations, or, as is usually the case, some combination of these factors. But the no-exception view is at least initially a personal view one holds, which is then forwarded as a broad religious and political solution. One may wonder why this is an issue. After all, why shouldn’t a person forward what he or she personally believes to be the Islamic ruling on an issue?

Certainly, this is expected especially when it concerns human life, but as stated earlier, it is problematic when that personal view, which it should be noted in this case lacks a decisive legal/moral character from a religious perspective, moves into the realm of fatwā and public advocacy without taking into account the many considerations required to make an informed decision in these areas. This is in addition to the fact that those who hold this view feel perfectly within their rights to tell others to set aside their personal moral views permitting abortions precisely in view to a broader context.

Here, it is worth sharing the response given by Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī when he was asked about abortions for Bosnian Muslim women who were raped during war. After mentioning that his basic view is that abortions are impermissible “from the moment of conception” and “this is what we give preference to”, he states:

However, in cases of need, there is no harm in taking one of the two alternative views (i.e. permissibility before 40 or 120 days), and whenever the excuse is more severe, the dispensation will be more established and manifest, and whenever it is before the first 40 days, it is closer to dispensation.

We know that there are jurists who are very strict on this matter and do not permit abortion even a day after conception… but what is most preferable is a middle path between those who are expansive in granting permission and those who are excessively strict in prohibition.[53]

This is, of course, how knowledge and fiqh operate. They do not merely float around in the world of the abstract but address a complex world of real people, which in the context of fatwā, irshād, and politics often requires setting aside individual feelings and personal adherences to particular legal opinions: “Know that this ikhtilāf [between scholars] may be a reason to provide facilitation and ease, which is one of the higher aims of the shariah affirmed by the unequivocal text of the Qur’an and sunna.”[54]

Too often, many of those who vociferously promote the strictest view on abortion address the issue on the level of the abstract and then transfer it to the practical realm with little further thought. Take, for example, the argument that Muslims should oppose the legalization of abortion because a majority of abortions are due to economic anxiety or a feeling of unreadiness, which in turn return to the increasingly materialistic outlook of society and crumbling family structures.

This materialistic outlook and erosion of the family must be remedied. However, no justification is ever furnished as to why a no-exception abortion stance is the best method to address this social problem, and there is almost no focus on the individual. It never crosses the mind of the proponents of this view that it is the very fact that society is materialistic to its core and the family lay in ruins that causes economic anxiety and feelings of unreadiness to be felt much more palpably and intensely by young, unmarried, pregnant women.

Web MD

By largely confining their analysis and presentation of the issue to ‘materialism’, ‘decay of family’, ‘feminism’, etc., proponents of the restrictive view (inadvertently) divert attention away from the lived realities of people. This leads to neglecting the more concrete conditions and circumstances people are subject to, such as poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, poor health, psychological issues, sexual abuse, incarceration, social inequality and stratification, and the varying abilities of people to cope with life pressures and struggles. This focus away from the individual produces an unsympathetic, even antagonistic attitude, where the solution favoured is uncompromising and rigid. The ethical is erroneously conflated with strictness even though it might entail leniency in recognition of individual and social conditions.

To take one example where these broader considerations come into play, take the issue of pregnancy resulting from rape. Though statistics regarding rape are inconsistent because the crime is so underreported, it is safe to say that hundreds of thousands of women are victims of rape every year with tens of thousands of these rapes resulting in pregnancy (approximately five percent).[55] A significantly high number of rape victims are under eighteen with many actually being under the age of twelve.[56] Victims of rape spend many weeks simply recovering from physical injuries and managing mental health symptoms, which can remain with them for years. Beyond the physical and psychological symptoms common after rape, if a rape victim decides to carry her child to term, she is forced to go through a lengthy and exhausting process to prosecute her rapist in a criminal court and contest custody in a family or dependency court.

The political and legislative context makes matters even more difficult. Not every state has legislation in place allowing for parental rights to be terminated for a rapist. Most states that do have such legislation in place require a criminal conviction of rape beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of evidence possible, with several also requiring a civil court conviction by clear and convincing evidence that conception resulted from rape.

Some states require the rape to be of the first-degree, which is varyingly defined.[57] Generally, the chances of obtaining a conviction of first-degree rape are slim. Not only do rape crimes go unreported in a majority of cases,[58] there are numerous hurdles in the criminal justice system that disadvantage rape victims at every stage of the process, such as ‘rape myths’ that influence police, investigative officers, jurors, and judges.[59]

In most cases, a rapist will plead guilty to lesser crimes in order to avoid prolonged jail time, which would potentially allow him to gain parental rights in states requiring first or second-degree rape convictions for such rights to be terminated.[60] In view of this, one can state that the suggestion by some Muslims that abortion should not be permitted even in such contexts because a woman can simply put her child up for adoption is seriously misinformed and potentially harmful.[61] Is the correct solution in this context to support the most restrictive view on abortion?

Conclusion: Refining our Conceptualization & The Bigger Picture

American Muslims must go beyond simplistic and emotionally-charged approaches to the abortion question. This issue, like many others, cannot be properly addressed through a narrowly defined law, politics, or clash of ideologies narrative, especially at the level of individual fatwā, communal irshād, or political activism, advocacy, and legislation.

Nor can the wider community be shown direction on this issue, or have a course charted for them, merely on the basis of narrowly-informed personal opinions and proclivities neatly presented in the classical opinions of our choosing. Our approach must address the issue through real fiqh, namely deep understanding, where the question of abortion is tackled with an academic rigor that is cognizant of lived realities and is grounded in the ethics and guidance of revelation.

Today in America, a crisis we face is of an activism not based in, or guided by, real scholarship, and a scholarship that is wanting, uninspiring, and disconnected from those it seeks to guide. The first step scholars must take on this issue is to gain a proper and thorough conceptualization of the issue. No sound and effective conclusion can arise without such a conceptualization. This is true for any issue we find ourselves dealing with.

On the level of addressing the broader community, this is not an issue to be decided by an individual but a collectivity of minds coming together to exchange ideas and opinions. The laity should understand that American Muslims will not reach an agreement on this matter, and nor should we demand that they do. People will continue to forward different opinions and solutions. The progression of time will likely result in a plurality of acceptable views emerging within our context. This should not be met with confusion.

Muslims once lived in an age of ambiguity where opinions were confidently held but differences embraced. Today, we live in an age of anxiety, people with confused identities, threatened by modernity and various ideologies, so much so that “the only form of Islam [we] can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one” as Shaykh Abdal Hakim once remarked. Let us avoid this, allow for different perspectives, but demand higher standards from those who seek to guide us and speak on our behalf especially when the matter veers into a space that impacts people and communities in a very real way.

Finally, and most importantly, Muslims must break out of the mindset that social problems can simply be legislated away or solved through polemical battles waged on the internet against pernicious ideologies. The political and social are intimately intertwined, but it is all too common to see many Muslims neglecting the latter while imagining that the activities they are engaged in to address the political are actually meaningful and impactful. In fact, it is often detached from the real world, a mouthing of clichés and idle moralizing on social media platforms that elicits rage and fails to yield actual solutions on the ground. If television altered the meaning of being informed as Neil Postmann asserted, social media has undoubtedly taken things a step further by altering the meaning of ‘taking action’.

The erosion of family, the decay of morality, the rise of materialistic outlooks, the loss of higher purpose and meaning, and the devaluing of life must be addressed more directly through education, the creation of a real community, the nurturing and training of leaders who embody knowledge and wisdom, and the erection of structures that support peoples’ faith and anchor them in times of crisis. It should not be forgotten that these non-legal institutions play an important role in shaping behaviours and promoting social mores.

Muslims should learn from the many conservative Christian activists who, contrary to popular stereotypes, demonstrate an acute awareness of the struggles and anguish that many women contemplating abortion experience. As the prominent pro-life activist Frederica Mathewes-Green states:

This issue gets presented as if it’s a tug of war between the woman and the baby. We see them as mortal enemies, locked in a fight to the death. But that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? It must be the first time in history when mothers and their own children have been assumed to be at war. We’re supposed to picture the child attacking her, trying to destroy her hopes and plans, and picture the woman grateful for the abortion, since it rescued her from the clutches of her child.

If you were in charge of a nature preserve and you noticed that the pregnant female mammals were trying to miscarry their pregnancies, eating poisonous plants or injuring themselves, what would you do? Would you think of it as a battle between the pregnant female and her unborn and find ways to help those pregnant animals miscarry? No, of course not. You would immediately think, “Something must be really wrong in this environment.” Something is creating intolerable stress, so much so that animals would rather destroy their own offspring than bring them into the world. You would strive to identify and correct whatever factors were causing this stress in the animals.[62]

It is this realization, which arises from a perspective that looks beyond abortion as simply an ideological battle between ‘the feminist’ or ‘the liberal’, that generates a sense of empathy within many conservative Christian activists who are then motivated to assist women in concrete ways.

Take the example of Embrace Grace, a Texas-based non-profit organization, which describes its purpose as “providing emotional, practical and spiritual support for single, young women and their families who find themselves in an unintended pregnancy” and to “empower churches across the nation to be a safe and non-judging place for the girls to run to when they find out they are pregnant, instead of the last place they are welcomed because of shame and guilt.” Christians have set up hundreds of pregnancy care centers across the United States, which, despite issues of concern, provide resources and services to pregnant women. Various churches have set up support groups for single mothers and mothers-to-be, while the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) has set out to confront systemic injustices in society that lead women to seek out abortions, such as poverty.[63]

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad said reaching the golden mean requires that we think and make sacrifices. It is time for leaders, thinkers, and scholars in our community to begin thinking more deeply and contemplatively about the issue of abortion in its various contexts, and it is time for our community to sacrifice their time, wealth, and energies in providing concrete solutions and remedies that demonstrate a true concern for both the unborn and the women who carry them.

God alone is our sufficiency.

[1] References to Muslims in this article should be primarily understood as referring to people in positions of leadership and influence. In this article, I discuss some of the technical aspects surrounding the legal debate over abortion, but my intent is to simply provide a brief overview of this aspect of the debate in order for a general audience to appreciate some of the complexities of the topic.

[2] Though the term fetus technically refers to the unborn after 8 weeks of gestation, many use it to refer to the unborn throughout the period of pregnancy. I will be using the latter convention for the sake of simplicity.

[3] al-Ḥasan ibn Manṣūr al-Farghānī, Fatāwā Qāḍīkhān, on the margins of Fatāwā Hindiyya (Bulāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Amīriyya, 1310 A.H.), 3:410.

[4] Ibn Māza himself framed the ruling in terms of ensoulment. He stated that jurists differed on the permissibility of abortion pre-ensoulment with some permitting it. He then cited the text of Fatāwā Ahl al-Samarqand, which only speaks of discernibility. Qāḍīkhān mentioned how the discernibility of physical features and limbs was “determined” by some as occurring at 120 days. Kamāl ibn al-Humām and others correctly pointed out that observation proves otherwise but proceed to state that the connection made between discernibility and ensoulment shows that scholars intended the latter when expressing the former. Ibn ʿĀbidīn, however, questioned this. I agree for several reasons: firstly, many jurists make no reference to 120 days or ensoulment when presenting this ruling; secondly, discernibility and ensoulment are clearly different stages during the pregnancy, a fact that was known to classical scholars who sometimes applied different terms to these two stages, such as taṣwīr/ṣūra and takhlīq/khalq; and, thirdly, most Ḥanafī rulings premised on determining personhood rely on the discernibility criterion. Given this, there are two possible views in the Ḥanafī school regarding the period before which abortion is permissible: before some of the physical features of the fetus become discernible or prior to ensoulment at 120 days. Additionally, there was discussion in the Ḥanafī school on the features that were to be given consideration when assessing whether a fetus was a ‘person’. These discussions are highly significant in modern debates for if the criterion for personhood is discerning a particular physical form on the basis of observation, this potentially broadens the scope for modern Ḥanafī understandings of the concept of personhood and how/when it is established. I hope to address these issues in a separate paper. See Maḥmūd ibn Aḥmad ibn Māza, al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī fī al-fiqh al-Nuʿmānī, ed. Nuʿaym Ashraf Nūr Aḥmad (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān wa’l-ʿUlūm al-Islāmiyya, 2004), 8:83-84; al-Farghānī, Fatāwā Qāḍīkhān, 3:410; Muḥammad Amīn ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-Muḥtār (Būlāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Kubrā al-Amīriyya, 1323 A.H.), 1:201.

[5] Ibn Māza, al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, 8:83-84. It is worth noting that al-Qummī did not say fetus is a life at conception but that it has begun a process that concludes with life.

[6] Ḥussām al-Dīn ʿUmar ibn Māza, al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā (Istanbul: Rāghib Bāshā #619), ff. 96b.

[7] Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī, al-Wajīz (Istanbul: Koprulu #684), ff. 116a.

[8] Jamāl al-Dīn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad, al-Ḥāwī al-Qudsī, ed. Ṣāliḥ al-ʿAlī (Lebanon: Dār al-Nawādir, 2011), 2:326.

[9] Zayn al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr al-Rāzī, Tuḥfat al-Mulūk, ed. Ṣalāḥ Abū al-Ḥajj (Amman: Dār al-Fārūq, 2006), 290.

[10] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maḥmūd al-Mawṣilī, al-Ikthiyār, ed. Shuʿayb Arna’ūṭ (Damascus: Dār al-Risāla 2009), 4:153.

[11] ʿUthmān ibn ʿAlī al-Zaylaʿī, Tabyīn al-Ḥaqā’iq Sharḥ Kanz al-Daqā’iq (Multan: Maktaba Imdādiyya, n.d.), 2:166.

[12] Amīr Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Kākī, Miʿrāj al-Dirāya (Istanbul: Koprulu #619), ff. 395b.

[13] Jalāl al-Dīn ibn Shams al-Dīn al-Khawārizmī, al-Kifāya Sharḥ al-Hidāya, on the margins of Fatḥ al-Qadīr (Cairo: Maṭbaʻat al-Maymaniyya, 1901; reprint Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, n.d.), 3:373.

[14] Kamāl ibn al-Humām, Fatḥ al-Qadīr (Cairo: Maṭbaʻat al-Maymaniyya, 1901; reprint Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, n.d.), 3:372-73.

[15] Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn Ilyās Jawīzāda, al-Īthār li-Ḥall al-Mukhtār, ed. Ilyās Qablān (Istanbul: Maktabat al-Irshād, 2016), 4:98.

[16] Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Ḥaṣkafī, al-Durr al-Mukhtār (Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2002) 197.

[17] I am usually disinclined to list names of jurists in this manner when relating who held a specific legal opinion. One reason for this is that it creates the mistaken illusion that every one of these jurists came to this conclusion on the basis of their individual ijtihād when it may in fact simply be an exercise in taqlīd. Thus, one finds that most of these authors merely relate verbatim those who preceded them without any additional comments. However, it still indicates that these jurists accepted the ruling in question as the position of the school without qualms.

[18] When does a fetus qualify as a ‘person’ or a ‘human’? What are the necessary and sufficient features for personhood? Does personhood correspond to the beginning of life? If not, when does life begin? How is this connected to ensoulment? When does ensoulment occur? When does a fetus have moral standing? What is the nature of this moral standing over the course of a pregnancy? These are central questions in classical and modern debates on abortion. Sometimes, one finds that ‘person’, ‘human’, ‘life’, and related terms, are not properly defined, which is a problem given that conclusions regarding abortion are often premised on their proper conceptualization. Further, when attempts at proper definition are undertaken, people naturally come to different conclusions. For example, some modern pro-life philosophers argue that ‘persons’ are individuals of a rational nature and a fetus has no capacity for sentience, at least not until mid-gestation. Conception, therefore, cannot mark the beginning of a person. Yet even here, some scholars note that the fetus is a potential person. Therefore, it has some moral value and standing, but others counter with a “person-affecting restriction” that argues that merely potential people possess no moral claims. Some people work under material assumptions regarding the nature of the mind and opine that a moral person must be a ‘self’ and a necessary condition for something to be a self is some form of electrical brain activity. The bioethicist, Baruch Brody (d. 2018), also relied on this criterion of brain waves in his conception of personhood. Jane English presents a range of features or ‘factors’ that she views as being found in typical conceptions of a person: biological, psychological, rationality, social, and legal. There are religious conservative thinkers who define being human on the basis of genetics. John T. Noonan stated, “The positive argument for conception as the decisive moment of humanization is that at conception the new being receives the genetic code. It is this genetic information which determines his characteristics, which is the biological carrier of the possibility of human wisdom, which makes him a self-evolving being. A being with a human genetic code is man.” Many religious conservatives also maintain that there is no moment during pregnancy that can be identified as conferring moral significance on the unborn, i.e. it possesses moral standing before birth and after. Thus, brain waves, sentience, quickening, viability, physical human form, etc., are given no consideration as points at which moral standing is affirmed for the fetus and prior to which it is denied. For important early works on this topic see John T. Noonan, The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970); Jane English, “Abortion and the Concept of a Person,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 5, no. 2 (1975): 233-43; Baruch Brody, Abortion and the Sanctity of Life (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1975); Stephen Buckle, “Arguing From Potential,” Bioethics 2, no. 3 (1988): 226–253; Mary Anne Warren, Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983); Richard Warner, “Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Status of the Unborn,” Social Theory and Practice 3 (1974). The literature on this is vast.

Classical jurists of Islam were guided fundamentally by revelation in their answers to these questions, but they still had substantial disagreements. Some identified a fetus as a person from the moment of conception, others as potentially so, yet others as a person only when its physical features became discernible, while some seemingly assigned no status to it at any fetal stage prior to ensoulment. When it came to ensoulment, the majority said this occurred at 120 days, while others said 40 days. Some equated ensoulment with personhood, while others distinguished between them. There were other conceptual frames utilized in discussions concerning the fetus as well, such as dhimma and ḥuqūq, being ‘animate’ or ‘inanimate’, a constituent part (juz’) of the mother or a separate self (nafs), and so forth. This occasioned a degree of ambiguity regarding the moral standing of the fetus at various stages of pregnancy. For example, Imām al-Ghazālī prohibited abortion at all stages of pregnancy but stated that the sin of doing so is less severe in earlier stages than later ones. Some jurists deemed it permissible to undergo an abortion due to a minor excuse in the first 40 days, requiring a more serious excuse from that point up until 120 days, and impermissible in all but the direst of situations following ensoulment. The fetus, therefore, seems to have a diminished moral standing at the beginning of the pregnancy and full moral standing post-ensoulment even in the eyes of jurists who affirmed personhood from conception. This is also reflected in rulings concerning financial compensation (ghurra) and expiation (kaffāra) owed by someone who causes a woman to miscarry. Meanwhile, many Ḥanafīs seemed to have assigned no moral status to the fetus before it had a discernible human form. The moral standing of the fetus was also influenced by the manner of conception with some jurists suggesting that a fetus conceived out of wedlock was not similar to a fetus that was conceived through a religiously sanctioned relationship. Besides revelation, observation played an important role in these determinations, as did the specific legal traditions jurists operated within. Today, science and embryology have guided the conclusions of many scholars, which has raised questions regarding the epistemological and interpretive value of the former. There is arguably a need to go beyond limited legal conceptions of personhood and life and engage in deeper theological and philosophical discussions on this matter.

[19] This ruling was consistent with several others in the school regarding whether a miscarried fetus is named, shrouded, and washed, whether a miscarriage concludes the waiting-period of a pregnant woman, and even whether a fetus is resurrected in the next-life. These rulings, among others, returned to whether the miscarried or stillborn fetus was actually considered a child/person, which in turn related to the formation and discernibility of its physical features. I believe this strengthens the view that discernibility of physical features was the main criterion for personhood in the Ḥanafī school. For some of these rulings see Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, al-Aṣl, ed. Mehmet Boynūkālin (Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2012), 1:296, 4:415, 481, 5:144. This interconnectedness of legal doctrine, or its organic unity, is expressed in a famous aphorism, “The law is a seamless web.” These discussions are also present in the other three legal schools.

[20] Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Wahhāb ibn Wahbān, ʿIqd al-Qalā’id wa-Qayd al-Sharā’id, ed. ʿAbd al-Jalīl al-ʿAṭā (Damascus: Maktabat al-Fajr, 2000), 195.

[21] Zayn al-Dīn ibn Nujaym, al-Baḥr al-Rā’iq (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-ʿIlmiyya, 1893; reprint by H.M. Saeed, n.d.), 3:215.

[22] Muḥammad Amīn ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-Muḥtār (Būlāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Kubrā al-Amīriyya, 1323 A.H.), 2:388-89.

[23] The Hidāya mentions that a child conceived out of wedlock is still muḥtaram and so cannot be aborted. Imām ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Lakhnawī mentions that this only applies to a fetus that has reached the stage of post-discernibility. He then goes onto state that the fatwā position in his time is that it would be permissible pre-discernibility and post-discernibility. See Burhān al-Dīn al-Marghinānī, al-Hidāya Sharḥ Bidāyat al-Mubtadī maʿa Sharḥ al-ʿAllāma ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Lakhnawī, ed. Naʿīm Ashraf Nūr Aḥmad (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān wa’l-ʿUlūm al-Islāmiyya, 1417 A.H.), 3:25.

[24] Muṣṭafā Zarqā, Fatāwā (Damascus: Dār al-Qalam, 2010), 285.

[25] Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī, Fatāwā Maḥmūdiyya (Karachi: Idārat al-Fārūq, 2009), 18:321.

[26] Sayyid Muḥammad Salmān Manṣurpūrī, Kitāb al-Nawāzil (Muradabad: al-Markaz al-ʿIlmī lil-Nashr wa’l-Taḥqīq, 2016), 16:248-81.

[27] Muftī Raḍā’ al-Ḥaqq, Fatāwā Dār al-ʿUlūm Zakariyya (Karachi: Zam Zam Publishers, 2015), 6:756.

[28] Ibid., 6:755.

[29] Ibid., 6:763.

[30] Zubayr Aḥmad Qāsmī, “Khāndānī Manṣūbabandī,” in Jadīd Fiqhī Mabāḥith (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān, 2009), 1:332.

[31] Ibid., 1:331-32.

[32] Khālid Sayf Allāh Raḥmānī, Kitāb al-Fatāwā (Karachi: Zam Zam Publishers, 2008), 6:218-226

[33] The relied-upon position in the Mālikī school prohibits abortions almost entirely even if done prior to ensoulment, which Mālikī jurists opine as occurring at 40 days.

[34] https://renovatio.zaytuna.edu/article/when-does-a-human-fetus-become-human

[35] Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī, Fatāwa al-Muʿaṣara (Cairo: Dār al-Qalam, 2005), 2:541-50.

[36] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā wa-Fiqh al-Aqaliyyāt (UAE: Masār lil-Tibāʿa wa’l-Nashr, 2018), 577-78.

[37] Wahba al-Zuhaylī, al-Fiqh al-Islāmī wa-Adillatuhu (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 1985), 3:557.

[38] The delineation and explanation I have presented here should not be seen as a comprehensive exposition of the concepts being discussed. Rather, it should be seen as a basic explanatory framework to understand the problem I wish to highlight in the next section. I have intentionally left out many details surrounding fatwā, siyāsa, taqlīd, etc., for the sake of the average reader.

[39] Muḥammad Kamāl al-Dīn al-Rāshidī, al-Miṣbāḥ fī Rasm al-Muftī wa-Manāhij al-Iftā’ (Deoband: Ittiḥād Book Depot, n.d.), 61-62 in the Takmila; Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 28-29, 230.

[40] al-Rāshidī, al-Miṣbāḥ, 28.

[41] ʿ Abd al-Malik ibn Yūsuf al-Juwaynī, Kitāb al-Irshād ilā Qawāṭiʿ al-Adilla fī Uṣūl al-Iʿtiqād, ed. Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Raḥīm (Cairo: Maktabat al-Thaqāfa al-Dīniyya, 2009), 210-11. This is admittedly a simplification of a very complex debate on the role of reason, its meaning and limitations, its relationship to revelation, deontological vs teleological theories of Islamic normative ethics, and more. These were issues of fundamental debate between the great theological schools, namely the Ashʿarīs, Māturīdis, and the Muʿtazila.

[42] Ibrāhīm ibn Ḥusayn Bīrīzāda, ʿUmdat Dhawī al-Baṣā’ir li-Ḥall Muhimmāt al-Ashbāh wa’l-Naẓā’ir, ed. Ilyās Qablān & Ṣafwat Kawsa (Istanbul: Maktabat al-Rushd, 2016), 2:415.

[43] This is also seen in the tradition of rukhas, or dispensations, and ḥiyal, or legal stratagems/loopholes.

[44] From his Paradigms of Leadership (6) lecture series.

[45] Ibrāhīm ibn Mūsā al-Shāṭibī, al-Muwāfaqāt, ed. Mashhūr Ḥasan (Cairo: Dār Ibn ʿ Affān, 1997), 1:520.

[46] For reference to this see Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 273-75.

[47] One might state that these people are simply engaging in a form of taqlid. This is fair, but there is still a level of diligence and rigor expected from anyone who wishes to publicly opine on a matter of such nature.

[48] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6713a1.htm

[49] Take the following statements made by Judith Thomson in her well-known defence of abortion, which continues to be loudly echoed by the pro-choice movement: “My own view is that if a human being has any just, prior claim to anything at all, he has a just, prior claim to his own body” and “No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body.” The violinist analogy she forwards, among others, expresses this point quite clearly. See Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 1, no. 1 (1971): 48, 54.

[50] The sociologist Kristen Luker noted over three decades ago that pro-life and pro-choice activists were mainly divided due to their differing views on the meaning of sexuality, motherhood, and the role of women. See Kristin Luker, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley (California: University of California Press, 1984), especially Ch 7.

[51] Compassion in Dying v. Washington, 850 F. Supp. 1454 (WD Wash. 1994). This was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997.

[52] The phrase ‘sanctity-of-life’ has featured prominently in theological, political, and biomedical ethical discussions related to abortion and end-of-life questions. Some members of congress, for example, have tried repeatedly to introduce a ‘Sanctity-of-Life Act’ to protect the unborn. However, the origins, meaning, and application of the phrase remain unclear and heavily debated. For a basic overview see the edited volume Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity (Boston: Springer Dordrecht, 1996).

[53] al-Qaraḍāwī, Fatāwa al-Muʿaṣara, 2:609-13.

[54] Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 273.

[55] The Federal House Bill 1257 that passed in 2015 as the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act cites between 25,000 and 32,000 pregnancies from rape annually but this is almost certainly an underestimate.

[56] For details on these and other related statistics see https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/2015data-brief508.pdf.

[57] For detailed information regarding state statutes and provisions on the termination of pregnancy in contexts of children born as a result of sexual assault see http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/parental-rights-and-sexual-assault.aspx

[58] For statistics on this see the Department of Justice Criminal Victimization analysis (revised, 2018) at https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv16.pdf. There are several reasons why women choose not to report such crimes, which include fear of retaliation, shame and guilt, and a belief that police will not be able to help them.

[59] For a brief discussion on existing research around rape myths see Olivia Smith & Tina Skinner, “How Rape Myths Are Used and Challenged in Rape and Sexual Assault Trials,” Social & Legal Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 442-45.

[60] Rachael Kessler, “Due Process and Legislation Designed to Restrict the Rights of Rapist Fathers,” Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy, no. 10, vol 1 (2015): 199-229.

[61] There is a sensitive discussion surrounding the definition of rape in Islamic law specifically as it relates to intimate married partners. I have ignored this issue because it would distract from the main purpose of this article.

[62] https://www.nationalreview.com/2016/01/abortion-roe-v-wade-unborn-children-women-feminism-march-life/

[63] There have been initiatives in the Muslim community directed at addressing these pressing issues, such as the work of Dr. Aasim Padela of the University of Chicago and his Initiative on Islam and Medicine, Dr. Rafaqat Rashid and the work of al-Balagh Academy, Dr. Mansur Ali of Cardiff University and his research on bioethics, and several others. This is not to mention the many individuals who have tried to create practical spaces to assist people who may find themselves in difficult life circumstances. While there is much more to do, the efforts of these people should not go unnoticed.

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Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

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How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.

Delegate

You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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#Current Affairs

Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?

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Muslim organizations, Muslim groups

Recently several Muslim groups sent an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court to support LGBTQ rights in employment.  These groups argued“sex” as used in the Civil Rights Act should be defined broadly to include more types of discrimination than Congress wrote into the statue.

A little background. Clayton County, Georgia fired Gerald Lynn Bostock. The County alleged Bostock embezzled money, so he was fired. Bostock argues the real reason is that he is gay. Clayton County denied they would fire someone for that reason. Clayton County successfully had the case dismissed saying that even if Bostock is right about everything, the law Bostock filed the lawsuit under does not vindicate his claim. The case is now at the Supreme Court with other similar cases.

The “Muslim” brief argued the word “sex” should mean lots of things, and under the law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), LGBTQ discrimination is already illegal.  American law has developed to provide some support for this argument, but there have been divisions in the appellate courts. So this is the exact sort of thing the US Supreme Court exists to decide.

The Involvement Of Muslim Groups

In Supreme Court litigation, parties on both sides marshal amicus briefs (written arguments) and coordinate their efforts to improve the effectiveness of their advocacy, there are over 40 such briefs in the Bostock case. Groups represent constituencies with no direct stake in the immediate dispute but care about the precedent the case would set.

The Muslim groups came in purportedly because they know what it’s like to be victims of discrimination (more on that below). The brief answered an objection to the consequences that could come with an expansive definition of the term “sex” to include gay, lesbian, and transgender persons (in lieu of its conventional use as synonymous with gender, i.e., male/female). In particular, the brief responded to the concern that “sex” being defined as any subjective experience may open up more litigation than was intended by making the argument that religion is a personal experience that courts have no trouble sorting out and that, like faith, courts can define “sex” the same way.

While this may be interesting to some, boring to others, it begs the question:  why are Muslim groups involved with this stuff? Muslims are a faith community. If we speak *as Muslims* is it not pertinent to consult with the traditions of the faith tradition known as Islam, like Quran, Hadith and the deep well of scholarly tradition?  Is our mere presence in a pluralistic society enough reason to ignore all this and focus on building allies in our mutual desire to create a world free of discrimination?

Spreading Ignorance

In July of 2017, the main party to the “Muslim” brief, Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), was expelled from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention bazaar.  I was on the Executive Council of the organization at the time but had no role in the decision. The reason: MPV was dedicated to promoting ignorance of Islam among Muslims at the event. The booth had literature claiming haram was good and virtuous. Propaganda distributed at the table either implied haram was not haram or alternately celebrated haram.

For any Muslim organization dedicated to Islam, it is not a difficult decision to expel an organization explicitly dedicated to spreading haram. No Muslim organization, composed of Muslims who fear Allah and dedicate their time to Islam can give space to organizations opposed the faith community’s values and advocates against them in their conferences and events.  Allah, in the Quran, tells us:

immorality

Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows, and you do not know.

It would be charitable to the point of fraud to characterize MPV as a Muslim organization. That MPV has dedicated itself to promoting ignorance of the religion within the Muslim community is not in serious dispute.  The organization’s leader has been all over the anti-Sharia movement.

Discrimination against Muslims is bad, except when it’s good 

The brief framed the various organizations’ participation by claiming as Muslims, we know what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. This implies the parties that signed on to the Amicus petition believe discrimination against Muslims is a bad thing. For at least two of the organizations, this is not entirely true.

MPV is an ally of another co-signer of the Amicus petition, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).  Both have records that show an eagerness to discriminate against Muslims in the national security space. They both applied for CVE grants. Both have supported the claim that Muslims are a national security threat they are somehow equipped to deal with. I have written more extensively about MPAC in the past; mainly, it’s work in Countering Violent Extremism and questionable Zakat practices.

MPAC’s CVE  program, called “Safe Spaces,” singled out Muslims as terrorist threats. It purported to address this Muslim threat. In June of 2019, MPAC’s academic partner released an evaluation Safe Spaces and judged it as “not successful” citing the singling out of Muslims, as well as a lack of trust within the Muslim community because of a lack of transparency as reasons why the program was a failure. Despite its legacy of embarrassment and failure, MPAC continues to promote Safe Spaces on its website.

MPV was a vigorous defender of MPAC’s CVE program, Safe Spaces.  MPV’s leader has claimed the problem of “radicalism” is because of CAIR, ISNA, and ICNA’s “brand of Islam.”

Law Enforcement Approved Islam

In 2011, former LAPD head of Counter-Terrorism, Michael P. Downing testified during a congressional hearing on “Islamist Radicalization” Downing testified in favor of MPV, stating:

I would just offer that, on the other side of the coin, we should create opportunities for the pure, good part of this, to be in the religion, such as the NGOs. There is an NGO by the name of Ani Zonneveld who does the Muslims for Progressive Values. This is what they say, “Values are guided by 10 principles of Islam, rooted in Islam, including social equality, separation of religion and state, freedom of speech, women’s rights, gay rights, and critical analysis and interpretation.” She and her organization have been trying to get into the prison system to give this literature as written by Islamic academic scholars. So I think there can be more efforts on this front as well.

Downing was central to the LAPD’s “Muslim Mapping” program, defending the “undertaking as a way to help Muslim communities avoid the influence of those who would radicalize Islamic residents and advocate ‘violent, ideologically-based extremism.” MPAC was a supporter of the mapping program, which was later rejected by the city because it was an explicit ethnic profiling program mainstream Muslim and secular civil rights groups opposed.  MPAC later claimed it did not support the program, though somehow saw fit to give Downing an award. Downing, since retired, currently serves on MPAC’s Advisory Council.

Ani Zonnevold, the President and Founder of MPV, currently sits on the International Board of Directors for the Raif Badawi Foundation alongside Maajid Nawaz and Zuhdi Jasser.

MPV has also been open about both working for CVE and funding from a non-Muslim source, the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups with agendas to reform the religion of Islam. It’s hard not to see it as an astroturf organization.

Muslim Groups Were Taken for a Ride

Unfortunately, Muslim nonprofit organizations are often unsophisticated when it comes to signing documents other groups write. Some are not even capable of piecing together the fact that an astroturf organization opposed to Islam, the religious tradition, was recruiting them to sign something.

There are many Muslims sympathetic to the LGBTQ community while understanding the limits of halal and haram. Not everyone who signed the brief came to this with the same bad faith as an MPV, which is hostile to the religion of Islam itself. Muslims generally don’t organize out of hostility to Islam. This only appears to be happening because of astroturfing in the Muslim community. Unfortunately, it was way too easy to bamboozle well-meaning Muslim groups.

Muslims are a faith community. MPV told the groups Islam did not matter in their argument when the precise reason they were recruited to weigh in on the case was that they are Muslim. Sadly, it was a successful con. Issues like the definition of sex are not divorced from Islamic concerns. We have Islamic inheritance and rules for family relations where definitions of words are relevant. Indeed, our religious freedoms in ample part rest on our ability to define the meaning of words, like Muslim, fahisha, zakat, daughter, and Sharia. Separate, open-ended definitions with the force of law may have implications for religious freedom for Muslims and others because it goes to defining a word across different statutes, bey0nd the civil rights act. There would be fewer concerns if LGBT rights were simply added as a distinct category under the Civil Rights Act while respecting religious freedom under the constitution.

Do Your Homework

Muslim organizations should do an analysis of religious freedom implications for Muslims and people of other faiths before signing on to statements and briefs. A board member of MPV drafted the “Muslim” Brief, and his law firm recruited Muslim nonprofit organizations to sign on. CAIR Oklahoma, which signed up for this brief, made a mistake (hey, it happens). CAIR Oklahoma’s inclusion is notable. This chapter successfully challenged the anti-Sharia “Save our State” law that would have banned Muslims from drafting Islamic Wills. Ironically, CAIR Oklahoma’s unwitting advocacy at the Supreme Court could work against that critical result. For an anti-Sharia group like MPV, this is fine. It is not fine for a group like CAIR.

CAIR Oklahoma is beefing up their process for signing on to Amicus Briefs in the future. No other CAIR chapter signed on to the brief, which was prudent. CAIR chapters are mostly independent organizations seemingly free to do whatever they want. CAIR, as a national organization needs to make sure all its affiliates are sailing in the same direction. They have been unsuccessful with this in the past several years. CAIR should make sure their local chapters know about astroturf outfits and charlatans trying to get them to sign things. They should protect their “America’s largest Islamic Civil Liberties Group” brand.

Muslim Leaders Should Stand Strong 

American Muslims all have friends, business associates and coworkers, and family members who do things that violate Islamic norms all the time. We live in an inclusive society where we respect each other’s differences. Everyone is entitled to dignity and fair treatment. No national Muslim groups are calling for employment discrimination against anyone, nor should they.

However, part of being Muslim is understanding limits that Allah placed on us. That means we cannot promote haram or help anyone do something haram. Muslim groups do not need to support causes that may be detrimental to our interests.  Our spaces do not need to be areas where we have our religion mocked and derided. Other people have the freedom to do this in their own spaces in their own time.

Some Muslim leaders are afraid of being called names unless they recite certain words or invite particular speakers.  You will never please people who hate Islam unless you believe as they do.  Muslims only matter if Islam matters.

If you are a leader of Muslims, you must know the limits Allah has placed on you. Understand the trust people have placed in you. Don’t allow anyone to bully or con you into violating those limits.

Note: Special thanks to Mobeen Vaid.

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