Khuswant Singh, whom I have admired growing up, and have religiously read his Illustrated weekly, has now written a column "Why Muslims Lag behind". I am challenging his take on four issues he contends with. i) Polygamy - ii) Burqa, iii) Alcohol iv) Pork
Dr. Singh got that right; marry up to four wives if you can be just. Obviously, one cannot be just to all in the real sense, one woman or the other would feel saddened, taken advantage of, or feel used due to her dependency.
The provision is not a free ticket to marry four women; it was made with a social purpose to keep the society in a balance. Rather than be at the mercy of lustful men who want to keep a woman as their concubine, the woman may feel a sense of dignity even if she is playing the 2nd, 3rd or 4th fiddle by marrying to the man. However, the first wife has to see it as a social need, rather than a man-woman relationship, she may not feel the un-justness in it and may actually wilfully authorize to save a woman from being on the street. It takes a lot of genorisity on the part of the first wife to do that.
What will you do with 300,000 + women left alone in the savage war in Iraq by the death of their husband, son, brother or father? What are the choices to rehabilitate them? Let them become carriers of Aids? Find sustenance through the only thing they can trade, given the job market, their flesh? It is a tough question and answers are not easy, the provision was made for dire situations like that. However, some people will always abuse the system, no matter what system they follow.
Personally I am against polygamy, but the provision must be guarded from being abused. Dr. Naik's example that more Hindu's are polygamist is not a good reason or logic to support one's case. Even if men keep several women as their secret girl friends, it won't justify one to marry more than one woman.
Dr. Naik could have simply said, that the form of Burqa that is currently in practice was not the prescription of Qur'aan, rather it was the modesty clause interpreted to mean Burqa. The current form of Burqa has become a cultural symbol in the guise of religious identity, and the culture sits deeply in one's psyche than religion, and it is not easy to drop it at one's command.
Dr. Singh’s scope is narrow for him to call Burqa as a sign of backwardness, wearing a Shalwar Kameez or Saree seems backward to the westerners. I don't believe most Indian women (except the college going girls and a few westernized ones) would give up the Saree or Shalwar Kameez for a Skirt on husband or brothers call, she just won't do it, and why should she, what is the need?
Being civilized is being able to understand free choices and let people have the freedom to wear what is comfortable to them? Who sets the standards that a woman should wear bikini, mini-skirt, Saree, Abaya, or Shalwar Kameez? Why should it bother me what a woman wears, how is it coming in my way? How would it affect her ability to do the work in an office? Let it be a free choice what the woman wants to wear, what she is comfortable with. Each society has its own threshold and it lives with its own equilibrium. Each system works where it is in vogue.
Dr. Singh is a Sikh. Is keeping the hair on his face and head uncivilized, jahilya or backwardness? Absolutely not, it is a religious requirement and there is nothing wrong adhering to one’s belief and practices, it is not hurting any one nor is it hurting the keeper.
Dr. Naik is again trying to justify what the western societies do, he imagines them to be failures, they are not, indeed, they are as much a failure as any society is. Wearing Burqa was not in response to what they do, neither is it the 100% prescription of Qur’aan, he could have done well saying that the format is rather cultural than religious. Muslim women have been wearing it for centuries, has any one lost anything with that?
Oppression of women is bad, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any religion, it is the insecure men, who seek their security by oppressing women and unjustly using their religion, culture or some other excuse.
In terms of percentage, as a standard to equalize the different sizes of populations, I believe a similar percent of American women are victims of domestic violence as Indian, Muslim or Hindu women. Abuse is a man thing and not the religion. Indeed religion continues to civilize the beast and succeeds with many but fails with some.
Pork & Alcohol
It is adhering to one’s belief. I don’t see how anyone becomes backward by not drinking or forward by drinking. I don’t see how eating or not eating pork determines the economic progress or lag of a community.
Dr. Naik should just stay with the rules of the religion, all people follow the rules of their religion whether it makes sense or not. The Hindus don’t eat beef, Muslims don’t eat the pork and oops, also prohibit alcohol, Sikhs do not cut their hair, Buddhist don’t eat meat on certain days, and same goes to catholic. It is all traditions and nothing is lost following it. It gives them a sense of belonging, which in turn gives them a sense of being complete.
One should constantly search for the wisdom of why we do things? We will always find ourselves justifying it.
Dr. Naik will lose out his argument on Pork, if he bases it on health issues alone, as that is not the issue with the western societies, Pigs are farm raised, corn raised and are usually as clean as any other animal. Kids pet them too.
There is nothing wrong subscribing to certain rituals; social or religious, following which does not make one backward or forward.
It is always the freedom of choice, live and let live that is the hall mark of civil societies. Muslims do not lag behind because of Burqa, Pork, Alcohol or polygamy. They lag behind because of the education and denied opportunties.
Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is president of the http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/ and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding president of the http://www.worldmuslimcongress.com/ with a simple theme: "Good for Muslims and good for the world." His personal Website is http://www.mikeghouse.net/ and his articles can be found on the Websites mentioned above and in his Blogs: http://mikeghouseforamerica.blogspot.com/ and http://mikeghouse.sulekha.com/ Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com For a full bio: http://www.mikeghouse.net/ProfileMikeGhouse.asp
Why Muslims lag behind
By Khushwant Singh
At the recent Book Fair in Delhi there was a stall selling Islamic literature. Friends who went round the stalls told me that among the hottest sellers was Answer to Non-Muslim Common Questions About Islam by Dr Zakir Naik (Madhur Sandesh Sangam).
The learned doctor, who has a phenomenal memory when it comes to quoting chapters, verses and lines of the scriptures, has chosen 20 questions, most often asked by non-believers: they include polygamy, burqa, drinking, eating pigmeat, afterlife, and kafirs. I have heard Zakir Naik hold forth on these and other subjects several times on television before large receptive audiences, who hear him spellbound. I disagree with almost everything he has to say about misconceptions about Islam. Though by definition (a kafir), I don’t believe in God, satan, angels, devils, heaven or hell, I feel hurt and angry because I am emotionally and rationally bothered by the sorry plight of Muslims today. I find Naik’s pronouncements somewhat juvenile.
They seldom rise above the level of undergraduate college debates, where contestants vie with each other to score brownie points. I will deal with only four of the twenty topics he deals with — two of minor and two of major importance. Why is eating pigmeat forbidden in Islam? Dr Naik tells us that the "pig is one of the filthiest animals on earth."
Agreed, it eats garbage, including human and animal excreta. He further adds, “The pig is the most shameless animal on the face of the earth. It is the only animal that invites its friends to have sex with its mate" I admit I was not aware of this swinish aberration. He goes on to list 70 different types of diseases caused by eating pigmeat. He does not tell us why the vast majority of non-Muslims, non-vegetarians of the world relish pigmeat in different forms: ham, bacon, pork, sausages, salami etc.
Many Pacific island economies depend on breeding pigs. I for one have not heard of great epidemics caused by consumption of pig meat. Why is alcohol forbidden to Muslims? Actually, what is forbidden by the Quran is drunkenness, not drinking. However, Dr Naik construes it to be a sin.
He says, “Alcohol has been the scourge of human society, since time immemorial. It costs enormous human lives and terrible misery to millions throughout the world."
He lists 19 diseases, including eczema, caused by intake of liquor. One does not have to quote the scriptures to prove that excessive drinking ruins one’s health, impoverishes families, leads to bad behaviour and crime. It is plain common sense. People all over the world overdo it and suffer. Those who drink within limits enjoy it. I have been drinking for 70 years. I have not been drunk even once in my life, never fallen ill nor offended anyone.
I am 94 and still drink everyday. My role model is Asadullah Khan Ghalib. He drank every evening and alone. I look forward to my sundowners. For me and for millions of others, drinking has nothing to do with religion. Let us see what Dr Naik has to say about two more serious subjects: polygamy and hijab (veil).
“The Quran is the only religious book on the face of this earth that contains the phrase "marry only one," he asserts. And explains the verse on the subject "marry women of your choice, two, three or four; but only fear that ye shall not be able to do justice (with them), then only one". And since "ye are never able to be fair and just as between women. Therefore, the verdict is in favour of one wife at a time. "Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims," writes Dr Naik.
There are more women than men in the world; so what are women who can’t find unmarried men do except become co-wives of married men? Or become “public property?” So goes the learned doctor’s argument.
He does not deign to deal with the situation as it exists today. Every other religion other than Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism now forbids men from having more than one wife at a time.
Muslims are the sole exception though only a miniscule minority, mainly Arabs, have multiple wives. Apply for a visa to some country like Indonesia and Malaysia and you will have to fill a column naming up to four wives accompanying you. The answer to the problem of women out-numbering men is not polygamy, it is freedom to engage in extra-marital relation or have them staying single. It is better than having a harem.
Dr Naik is in favour of women wearing burqas from head to foot, girls not going to mixed schools or colleges, nor going into professional institutions in which they have to expose their faces etc. This amounts to denying them, equal rights with men. In my view, shared by all my Muslim friends, burqa is the single most reprehensible cause for keeping Muslims backward (it is synonymous to jehalat — ignorance and backwardness). The sooner it is abolished, the better. He castigates the western society in no uncertain terms: “Western talk of women’s liberalisation is nothing but a disguised form of exploitation of her body, degradation of her soul and deprivation of her honour.
“Western society claims to have uplifted women. On the contrary, it has actually degraded them to the status of concubines, mistresses, and society butterflies who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketers….” All I can say in reply is “Dr. Naik, you know next to nothing about the Western society and are talking through your skull cap. People like you are making the Muslims lag behind other communities.”