Saturday, March 26, 2011

A word to the veiled and bearded

Eat what you want and dress up as you desire, as long as extravagance and pride do not mislead you.

- Hadith The Prophet Muhammad (SAW), as reported by AbdAllah ibn Abbas

This seems to state very clearly that rules of diet and dress are means to an end, not an end in themselves. It also implies that if you follow any religious dietary and dress codes out of extravagance and pride, you are hurting yourself spiritually. I have known Muslim women who refuse to wear hijab in the west, because it calls attention to one's self unnecessarily. It seems to me that this hadith backs up that judgment.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lost in Translation

There's a great Article on Salafi Cleric Yasir Qadhi. in the New York times. We need to make distinctions between acceptance, respect, and tolerance. I could never accept Salafi views about lifestyle and values, especially in the light of recent developments in Western Feminism. Ultimately I think feminism will make its way into the Islamic world slowly, as it did in the Western World. (Women couldn't vote in France until the 1940s). But in the meantime I can tolerate, and to some degree even respect this man, as long as he continues to actively campaign against Islamoid terrorism.

A poster on the New York times comment page for this article, aptly named Rambo, writes: "Do you know the first line of Islamic prayer - La ilaha illallah! means "There is no God but Allah". Simply right, well not if you consider that it is as much a denial of other faiths as the confession of their own."

This illustrates perfectly the problems of relying on translations. The most accurate translation of this passage is "there is no God but God". The word "Allah" is used to refer to God by both Christian and Muslim Arabs. In other words, this passage is just saying there is only one God. This is the most common interpretation of the phrase I have heard Muslims give. This is what happens when someone superimposes their prejudices on a text and assume that this is the only possible interpretation.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Muhammad and Aisha

A beliefnet interview with Deepak Chopra quotes him as saying "some of the {facts of Muhammad's life} are not very palatable. There's the beheading of the Jews, there's the marriage to Aisha, a girl of 6 -- we are told all this from history, confirmed by scholars."

I've already written about the beheading of the Jews, but I suppose this is as good a time as any to discuss his relationship with Aisha. For many people,this story is a deal breaker that completely devalues everything else Muhammad ever did. For that reason, it is important to paraphrase the two most common responses to this issue by modern Muslims.

1) Some Muslims say it was a different time and that this sort of thing was acceptable back then. Some have pointed out that in the 19th century USA, the age of consent was 10 in almost every state. According to the only Hadith that deals with this issue, Aisha was 6 when she married Muhammad, and consummated the marriage at 9. Are we really going to label Muhammad a monster over a one year difference? Ignoring Muhammad's alleged behavior on this issue does not require us to approve of it. Muhammad was often ahead of his time, but perhaps on this particular issue he wasn't. Like George Washington and Abraham, he also kept slaves. No one claims that Washington's numerous other accomplishments and virtues should be completely ignored because he was a slave holder. Why not give Muhammad similar allowances for the customs of his time?

2) There are also many Muslim scholars who are highly critical of the single hadith that supports this claim. It was from a highly questionable source-a male friend of Muhammad's who obviously wasn't there at the time- and is not confirmed by any other source. This source claims that he heard the details from Aisha, but Aisha herself was one of the greatest contributors of hadiths, and makes no mention of it. There are also other historical sources which seem to contradict it. For example, Aisha was reported to have been present at a battle which was only a few years after her wedding, and she would have been too young to be permitted on the battlefield if she had gotten married at six. Scholars who use these alternative sources usually date Aisha's wedding age as around fourteen or fifteen.

So how about focusing on Muhammad's teachings, and ignoring thousand year old gossip? Chopra's claim that this incident is "confirmed by scholars" is an overstatement at best, and the incident is not that important even if it occurred.