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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

In the Absence of Light ... Darkness Prevails

It was St. Valentine’s Day in 2000 when I first heard “Losing my Religion”. I was happily dancing to the beat until the lyrics hit me. My feet lost the rhythm and I came to a complete stop. How could anyone sing along, or dance to, such a song; “That’s me in the corner … That’s me in the spotlight … Losing my religion … Trying to keep up with you … I thought that I heard you laughing … I thought that I heard you sing … I think I thought I saw you try …”? It was the first of many more things to challenge my deeply rooted conviction that religion is neither open for questioning nor subject to doubt. I was brought up, like many other Egyptians, to take religion for granted. Asking “why?” is transgression and wondering is the first step of atheism.

Last month, my aunt invited me, along with all my siblings, for dinner to welcome our American-born cousin and his wife who were in town. I was happy to meet up with my cousin. There was a time when we talked about everything from cultural differences and social pretences to physics and astronomy. Seven years ago Ahmed got very religious but he was still fun to be around; his soul and essence were untouched. Two years ago he got married to the daughter of a Sheikh. I met her briefly after the wedding; I only saw her eyes. That night we did not shake hands, let alone talk. His wife launched an attack on me for taking off the veil ten years ago saying that I looked prettier before and that I had the light of God on my face instead of make-up! When we all took our seats on the big dining table, Ahmed’s wife sat alone in the living room. Our kind hostess left her food and joined her.

One thought haunted my drive home; this utter humiliation cannot come from God. God loves us! He did not create us to doubt us! He has faith in us just as much as we have faith in Him! He does not think of us as pieces of meat governed by lust! Instead of going to bed, I went on a treasure hunt; I was looking for material on the relationship between men and women. On IslamToday.com, Sheikh Sami Al Majid compiled all the verses and quotes I needed. I loved his opening statement; kind of defies the purpose! “We cannot find direct references in the Qur’ân and Sunnah that say that free mixing between men and women is unlawful.” The Sheikh continued saying that Islam “has defined the limits of interaction between men and women. Moreover, Islam has closed all doors that lead to temptation and promiscuity.”

He quoted scholars saying that a judge should try women separately from men, women are not obligated to attend the Friday prayers, a party invitation may be refused if there will be any clear wrong doing at the party because “under these circumstances, desires are kindled and temptations are greater and regrettable things happen, as is seen time and again in co-ed schools and mixed social events.” said the Sheikh as he listed the evidence:

1. Allah says: “And when you ask the ladies for anything, ask them from before a screen. That makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs.” [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 53]

2. The Prophet said: “Never is a man alone with a woman except that Satan is the third party with them.

3. The Prophet also said: “Do not enter into the company of women.” A man then asked him: “What about her male in-laws?” The Prophet replied: “The in-law is the most dangerous”.

4. The Prophet also said: “It is better for one of you to be pierced by a steel pin in his head than to touch the hand of a strange woman.”

5. The Qur’ân clearly forbids women from being soft of speech while talking to men. Allah says: “Be not too complaisant of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak with a speech (that is) proper.” [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 32].

6. The Prophet said: “Any woman who puts on perfume then goes and passes by some men to let them find her scent is a type of adulteress.”

7. Allah says: “Nor come nigh to adultery”. In this verse, Allah does not say “Do not commit adultery” but tells us not even to come close to it.

8. Allah 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 says: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty.” [Sûrah al-Nûr: 30-31] This shows us how men and women are to conduct themselves.

As if that was not enough research for me, I had to take my confusion into the chat room; I told Sherif that the devil was in our head and that temptation came from within. He was shocked and asked me if I am a believer. I told him that I am a believer in a great God and in a merciful religion but people who came between us and God’s book did all the damage; I was not talking about prophets, I was talking about sheikhs who try to interpret God. He told me that the Qur’an mentioned the devil clearly. I told him that the Qur’an also mentioned Heaven and Hell clearly, but the words and visuals used were metaphorical; a palace is not a palace, a river is not a river, and a devil is not a devil. I asked Sherif to try to let go of the interpretations that we were fed growing up, but he insisted that Satan was an outside force; he is the source of temptation. I asked him about the Holy month of Ramadan; God promised us that the demons would be chained, so where did temptation come from? At this point I mentally signed out.

From Sherif I moved to Ehab. I told him that I was writing an article about questioning religion. He told me that this was a place where angels feared to tread. I shared with him a link to an article titled Wondrous Treatment of Women in Islam. He said that it must have been written by some “ignorant worm”. He declared his disliking of the article from the start. I asked him to leave the tone of the article aside and to focus on the facts. He refused, saying: “I am one of those people who believe that our religion is without reproach … if we choose to go astray here or there then we do it at our own peril… we should not try and fault our religion to find excuse for our own behaviors. I am no saint but I know where not to cross the line … no matter how much of a drone I may seem to be, there is no heroism in challenging God.” I asked him if he believed that if a man and a woman were left unattended to, the third party would be the devil. He jokingly said that he did; not because he knew the devil but because he knew guys.

My chat with Ehab ended when he said that in the absence of light, dark prevails, referring to me, I guess. I replied telling him that one man’s poison is another man’s bread; it is all a matter of perception. In this case light and dark are very relative and are subject to our interpretations. Islam promotes the principles of trust, integrity, honesty, wisdom, and freedom of choice. Why did this sheikh, and others, turn a loving forgiving God into a tyrant? Why did they interpret the verses to favor one gender over the other, when God created us as equal? Darkness is in the head of someone who says that for women to go about uncovered in the company of men is inarguably a gross violation of Gods’ commands. It is pitch black in a world that believes that everything that may seduce a person to fall into adultery is unlawful. Depraved of light are those who fear getting turned on by shaking hands with a woman or by smelling her perfume. Blind are those who lock their God-given brains in their stubborn skulls, and let others think on their behalf!


Rafik said...

Marwa; what a courage, you are right religions have no problem they are absolute however when other men come in the middle and put forward their interpretation and try to give it immunity that religious belief (not religion) becomes distorted. No way on earth the good lord sent his prophets to mankind to make it more hard, the message is clear good behavior that is no different from one religion to another.
What is amasing that people have laid their mind to rest when it comes to understanding religion, and accepts whatever clerics say as the ultimate saying. They are human like us they have their own biases and perception, their efforts to explain religion is practiced within these context and we face a form of personalised religion

DailyAntics said...

Interesting post, I agree with a lot of what you're saying, and do believe our religion has become distorted by too much human intervention. Although I am still coming to terms with this in my head :)

ISIS said...

Amazing post, I really do agree with You. God never intended for us to live in bondage. It was the people between us and God that ruined everything. You are right - god is not a tyrant. But speaking of Tyrants, did you know that when the quran was first written in the time of Othman ibn Affan there was no dots on letters or even tashkeel on the words? Do you know who was the first to get the letters dotted and the tahkeel inserted on the words? guess. It was El Haggag ُُEbn Yousef Al Thaqafi - one of the biggest tyrants that held the Caliphate in the Umayad dynasty over Iraq and the Levant. Its actually very interesting.

The Islam we have today is not what God wanted us to have... God lives inside us... and anything imposed from outside you is not Him

Eyad Harfoush said...

Dear Marwa,
You are coming to my favorite area of interest and research.

There is a stream in Islam perception, that is the direct oponnent of Wahabbi Salafy stream dominating in the "dark era" we live now. This stream started with "Imam Ali bin Abi Talib", extended by the thoughts and writings of "Mo3tazala" philosophers from 2nd to 10th Hejri century, then by "Ibn Roshd" -I do not like using his latin name- and finally by Imam "Mohamed Abdo" in 19th n early 20th century. Then interrupted for a diversity of reasons. You triggered me - as usuall- to write an article about Gender Phobiac Dougmas in Islam, i will mail it once finished, u will be surprized knowing that covering your hair was a controversial subject one day in Islam "era of Lights"

eyad harfoush said...

Dear Isis,
Your comment dragged me to follow the thread to your blog, then follow the thread further to your magnificent poetry, what I can say for now, you are right about what you wrote in your profile. The more we have people like you in our land, the better we will be. Regards and appreciation, from the Last Arabian Knight

Tamer G said...

Very interesting post Marwa, I have always questioned certain matters in our religion throughout the past years, like the devil being trapped in ramadan, or how God is going to judge people who were naturally born Muslims, Christians, Jews, or Atheists, and thank God, I was able through reading, watching certain tv programs, to find most of the answers that can convince my modest brain. One of the things that i realized is that the devil is not our most viscious enemy, surprisingly it comes from inside us, our own Souls, we are our own enemies.

ShimaaGamal said...

The thing is we, Egyptians, tend to impose religion into our discussions in a way to imply that our opinions are divine and as Egyptian we were raised on a fact that divine facts are not debatable. Though God created us with brains to use and these religion people impose into discussions are based on reason.

I personally believe that when common sense and religion contradicts, the error isn’t necessarily in the religion it might be in the way we perceive things and sometimes the things contradicting with our common sense aren’t divine in the first place.

As for the relation between men and women in Islam, as a Muslim female, I believe that women are prisoners of males’ interpretations of Quran and Sunnah. We are prisoners of old heritage of traditions that are mixed of misinterpreted religion.
We live in a male dominated society that uses God to validate what they want. God created us equal and those who believe in God knows that believing requires questioning, if you didn’t question so you didn’t believe. We all inherit religion only few acquire it.

eyad harfoush said...

Dear All,

I started gathering some old researches I have about the woman status and Islamic Dogmas, as I find several mindful ladies here, it will be great if I can get your insight as females, what bothers you most in the Islamic literature and theologies? You can state it here or to my mail if too long at eyadharfoush@yahoo.com, whoever will support should get the complete work in his/her male once completed with all referrences. Regards

Anonymous said...

dear marwa,
as i read ur post, it made me very sad, as well as worried about u
sad because in a way i related, worried because i feel u have a lot of intense pain that u can't relieve

someone like u , with all what u have as a person, and a career woman , someone ur age , shouldn't carry all this pain around
i am not so wise or even beyond those scares to give advice, but for someone who knows u and really see the beauty within u, and cares, i just feel that there should be a way for u to stop carrying around all that pain and embrace those scares , trust me they do not show deformation , but they contribute to ur beauty, and human nature, at least that the way i see them on u , had u not been through all this pain and hurt , u wouldn't have been so sensitive, haden't u been hurt , u wouldn't have been able to feel other people's pain .

another point, i guess for one thing if men in ur life dont see that , they can go to hell, second maybe this is because of all the agony u carry around, and u pin point those scares ur self , i guess if u don't , no one will notice, its only because we notice our scares and we are so conscious about them , we make them obvious to others and that makes us very vulnerable

our scares marwa are really deep from the inside maybe , because they are scars of the hearts and souls in a way , and these are soft spots, but only from the inside, they are not that visible from the outside , its us who see them this way because we see them as we feel them not as they really show on the outside, do u get me:
and we tend to pin point them that way, they really look ugly , by human nature its easier to hear and feel the ugly wounds then see them, u know like for instense when u see a car crash in the street and u see people covered with blood and thier flesh torn , u automatically turn ur face around, but when someone comes and tell u he saw so and so, u tend to sympathise and thank god that u didnt see it, its very similar to that.
and by time as one of the comments on ur post said , after a while they don't hurt , and they shouldn't hurt, they are just a mark , and a memory as well as a wisdom mark , just as they say about aging lines on the face.

if we don't see them ugly we won't feel them ugly and people will see them just the same way we do, but if we saw them as a diformation , people will do too, its how we feel about ourselfs that transforms to others how we want them to see us is how they do, so please see ur self as how you really are , and throw that burden away dont carry it around any longer.

freeSoul said...

Marwa, First I must say that i like your way of thinking and the different look to religion as i do have the same look

Yet I want you to regard the devil thing from a different view, let's not ask "what proves the devil is there", and ask "what is your proof that there is no devil out there"?> or let's say "why can't it be?"

there is no reason to deny it, some statements are there saying it is there, we can't know for sure that it was an "example" to represent evil or that it is a real creature, yet on both conditions , it won't make a big difference with us so i regard this point a useless point to be discussed

freeSoul said...

Also wanted to tell you that i have been in a million discussion of that type and it rarely lead to a positive reaction, only from "partially" free minds where they can accept new ideas

see that here :
article link here

amr said...

a great post and one of the best blogs i have ever seen . by the way u need to watch ( ard el khof) by dawood abd el saied i think that its some how related to the idea of people between us and god