Saturday, April 05, 2008

War of the Worlds

A downfall fascinates

Whoever reads history has wondered at some point about the fall of Roman Empire, or the disintegration of the Chinese Empire. Many great books have been written about the underlying causes and mechanisms, but the debate remains unsettled.

Small Stuff

This may well because the underlying cause remains to be found.

Or, more likely, there is no underlying cause; a downfall is made up of small stuff.

So there are no small battles for the survival of civilization; here and there, some odd things chip away at the common values who hold together a society. The stories are odd enough to be reported, but few people did any deeper, and the facts remain hidden among the little oddities of life…

But the facts are not odd. This latest tidbit in the British media was interesting; it seems a polygamist can be allowed exceptions in order to honour his multiple wives, all in the name of “respect” of his customs.

His lawyer told a Scottish court the Muslim restaurant owner has one wife in Motherwell and another in Glasgow - he is allowed up to four under his religion - and sleeps with them on alternate nights.

On the face of it, driving above the speed limit is illegal; even considering that man’s laudable aim to get lucky twice in a day we’re far from a medical emergency there. Normally, such an excuse would have landed the guy in jail, with a roommate named Ben…

This is because polygamy is far from being an acceptable practice. Aside from the fact that few average men who can convince different women to “share” him, it is frowned upon in both the religious and secular realm.

Polygamy in Islam

To be sure, there is a confusion among many circles about polygamy. Yes, Islam does not provide an explicit prohibition of polygamy. But neither do Judaism nor Christianity. The prohibition "evolved" over time.

Crucially, Islam was innovative in this respect, maybe because it had to address the societal ills of the "Jahiliya". Rather than avoiding the issue, it addressed it head on. It does not regard polygamy as a substitute for monogamy.

Islam talks about polygamy only where it concerns "oppressed or the orphans among women". And yes, it is allowed by (Al-Nisa-4:3):

If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one.

Then, much like all religions, Islam quickly provides a cautionary note (Al-Nisa-4:3):

You are never able to be fair and just between women even if that were your ardent desire.

As you can see, the issue is therefore more delicate than reported, and it remains far from settled. In this context, the practice of polygamy that endures is not rooted in the Koran, but owes far more to a still dynamic "Jahiliya" societal practice. Much of is based on a biased interpretation of the texts, and an excessive focus on “hadith” and tradition, often at the expense of logic.

In Secular Societies

In secular societies, the equality of rights means that polygamy is illegal. But the case of England is interesting.

While polygamy was originally prohibited in Britain because of arguments grounded on the Christian view of marriage in that country, those arguments have now "metamorphosed into the unacceptability of the custom on grounds of ‘community relations' or the norms of gender equality and human rights."

So now equality is a “Christian mental construct”? What kind of ignorant racists came up with that? And worse, what kind of arrogant racists (are set to) accept that?

We’re far from Ibn-Rushd here. The ancient Andalousian had understood that the Prophet Mohammad had not only to preach a religion, but also to reform with a brutal “Jahiliya” society. In the Arab society of the time, women were not merely treated as second-class citizens, but as property, with few rights. Capitalism can be a hard opponent, and its “Jahiliya” form no less than any other.

His ideas were extrapolated to Christianity, and when adapted by Saint Thomas Aquinas, they strongly influenced the Renaissance in the West, which brought about our modern, secular-universal values. Modern Islamic scholars, however, are reverted back to earlier interpretations of the “Jahiliya”, when women were treated as real estate…

Interestingly, the few Islamic Feminists who dare opposing them find little support in the West, into which the “Jahiliya” ideals are now trickling back.

Maybe Rome just got tired...

Waste of Oxygen

I guess that such “eating the air” were “guarbajized” during the days of the “last breath” of Rome.

It is possible that, before Atilla came along, some guy had argued to the Roman courts for the right to carry out some odd “practice” sanctioned by his religion. It would be interesting to see if some historian carried out some sleuthing among archives of Roman courts, and looked at the pattern of cases and judgments…

Whatever archives did not get destroyed during the fall of Rome, that is. So welcome to the dark ages. In a sense, Western extremists are (w)right;

One's downfall is of one's making


Anonymous said...

Hazbani again.
Interesting enough this is one of the issues separating Jewish communities. It is known that only during medieval times some Jewish communities in Europe accepted monogamy as a law. Now most Jewish religious authors all over the world will allow a man to marry only one wife. Israel like some other ME countries knows only relgious marriage and legally and generally Jewish males are allowed to marry only one female. Things get complicated with other non Jewish groups which are allowed more than one female per male, according to their religion. How ever some Jewish communities will secretly [much like some mormones ] allow bigamy.

Jeha said...


This is interesting; I though the issue had been settled ever since the European Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon. I had no idea that some Jews could still fall back on ancient interpretations of Biblical texts, like some Mormon sects do. They may well be referring to different "founding texts" when they do so, since Christians and Jews compile slightly different Bibles and translations.

In that sense, Islam has the advantage of clarity; while it clearly describes conditions for polygamy, it also provides an "out". So it still leaves open the possibility for later generations to outlaw polygamy. Maybe this current generation will start some "ijtihad" about issues like that; the pressures are already mounting from within...

Nobody said...

Some Yemenite Jews when they came to Israel were found to have two wifes. But I don't think anybody is practicing bigamy these days, secretly or not.

Anonymous said...

but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one.

So if you don't have a conscience, or you blank it out on this issue, you are in the clear. Nothing new here in my opinion - a lot of Muslims seem to have this very selective "OFF" switch when it comes to empathy and clear thinking. They employ it lest they think ill of themselves - something that isn't permitted, is it?

Jeha said...

Anonymous 22:51,

I am afraid you are taking my post out of context. The secularism that is today flourishing in the West, was once prevalent in Islamic societies of the Andalous. No religion has an "Off Switch"; it is a common feature of far too many humans groups. For example, consider Jewish settlers in Hebron; no angels of mercy, to say the least. Some Christians can also find justification to turn off that switch; recall Tim McVeigh's lack of remorse? So let's not fall into a trap of whose book is better.

My objective in this post is to show how polygamy is incompatible with a modern, secular world. It is not an easy thing to fix, since it has always been a "feature" of many civilizations; whenever an "Alpha Male" rises to the top, he builds himself a harem. When Islam addressed the issue, the interpretation that was made then may have been appropriate for the times and the society. But the text keeps enough ambiguity to allow for reinterpretation for the modern age. This is by no means an easy task, and some may argue that Christians/Jewish texts leave less leeway for interpretation, as evidenced by the resilience of polygamous Christian sects.