Friday, October 03, 2008

i do, i do, i do, i do, i doooooooooooooooooo

What woman in her right mind would agree to be number 86?


thelonelytrader said...

A woman who had no prospects of surviving on her own, unless she wanted to be a landless serf or worse...

...or perhaps her family sold her to the man?

That part of the world has a logic (and politics) that is very different from the West.

Hereward said...

There actually isn't anything in the Koran to prevent one from having 86 wives. The usual limit of 4 stems from the Prophet having four wives.

KT said...

There's also nothing in the Koran that says it's ok to have 4 wives, I believe.

KT said...

Anyway, the more I think about it, the more this custom simply reminds me how women have been subjugated throughout history. I could go on a rant, but I'm not going to.

thelonelytrader said...

Yes my former life, when I was working in "international development" industry, instead of the "international destruction" industry of which I'm now a part, I had several gender and development programs in my portfolio and I empathize.

Hereward is right about the Qur'an (and the Hadith). But this is a legal point -- there isn't anything in the Koran that allows one to have more than one wife, either. A man's choice in the Muslim world is made before consulting the Qur'an in almost all cases -- only after making the choice is there any effort to justify on religious-legal grounds. At least this has been my observation after living in that part of the world off and on for the last fifteen years. It really is no different than how we make choices in the "Judeo-Christian" or "secular" worlds...such as they are. And I suspect it is no different for any person, anywhere on the planet.

The custom of marriage in the Muslim world is not uniform, nor does it start with the Qur'an. It is more of a socioeconomic choice than a religious or cultural choice -- and there is wide variance even in local spaces. In Nigeria, as in many countries in Africa and on the Asian subcontinent, marriage is a double-edged sword. (Forgive the metaphor -- I don't mean to belittle Islamic symbology here.)

Yes, women are subjugated. In all cultures. But one can just as easily find women who are empowered in those same parts of the world. I think poverty and illiteracy are the culprits for most poor women. There are cultural issues and these differ depending on economic strata. The way women are treated in some wealthy Muslim families in Saudi Arabia -- wives as well as domestic helpers (read: slaves) -- is horrifying. The honor killings that are so prevalent in the Levant, Iraq and other parts of the Muslim world, have not been adequately addressed in the slightest. Clitorectomies across the Muslim world still occur -- and some even in Canada! These are but a few of the stereotypical images burned into our cortexes here in the "decadent" West (as Saudi sheikhs and Egyptian tycoons and Salafi and Shia scholars -- among other Muslim elite classes -- are sometimes so fond of descrbing us). These are cultural matters, not religious, although these acts are perpetrated in the name of Islam.

If we are going to equivocate, we get lost in relativism. If we stand firm in a universal idealism, we get lost in absolutes. Neither approach will actually help the status of women in any part of the world. (In absolute terms, the US is not much better -- measured by the price women pay for a society that merely slouches toward equality, rather than one that embraces it.)

Muslim women themselves are engaging in increased debate about how to improve their status. And they are making progress, on their terms. You might be surprised to learn that they rarely welcome ideas from Western women. Nor do they welcome sympathy easily from Western women. And they aren't always so fond of working together -- Sunni or Shia, Arab or Persian, rich or many different identities, politics, and approaches.

It's a very interesting puzzle, really. Frustrating as hell. But interesting.

KT said...

LT, thanks once again for your intelligent comments. I would like to have a real conversation with you about this subject. Agreed on most points. You have far more experience living in the Muslim world than I do.

I will say only this: If the logic behind the system is to socially and economically protect women, how about educating them, allowing them to choose when and whom and if to marry, providing opportunity for economic advancement in society as in the microloans made famous by Mohammad Yunus so they might contribute economically to society instead of having children so one man will appear more of a MacDaddy in the eyes of his peers, to name a few examples. There's a limit in which people should be allowed to push the law. In this case, this man deserves to be arrested for pushing the law beyond its logical and just limits.

And of course, I'm not just talking about Muslim culture when I write about women's history, but all faiths, which is why I wrote "subjugation throughout history" and should have also added "throughout the world."

I'm still bitter about women not being able to become priests in the Catholic religion. And I won't rant about Mary Magdalene here, but I think you understand to what I'm referring.

thelonelytrader said...

I certainly do understand what you refer to...although as a man I could never fully understand what it means to be a woman today -- or any other day. We'll have our chance to talk over a few beers this month -- prolly next weekend. I'm riding through SF on Sunday.

I call ya later, okay?