This news goes straight into the “you can’t make this shit up” category. It appears that Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia have recently issued a fatwa advocating that women should breastfeed milk to their close male colleagues and acquaintances. The reasoning? Islamic law in the kingdom strictly forbids unrelated men and women from mingling. However, a rule states that once a man takes milk from the breast of a woman, he would then be considered a relative and they therefore are allowed to socialize with one another. She wouldn’t even need to be veiled in his presence as his status as a relative means that he is not a potential mate.
The clerics are apparently in disagreement over whether or not it is necessary to feed the man milk directly from the woman’s breast or if just collecting the milk in a glass will do. Understandably, women in the country are upset and advocates of greater rights for women in Saudi Arabia point to this as yet another piece of evidence of how out of touch the Muslim clerics (who are all of course, male) are with how women actually think and feel.
I’ve been intrigued by the practice of what is effectively legalized and religiously sanctioned prostitution in Iran since I heard about it a couple of years ago and this article is the most in-depth look at it that I’ve read. It’s technically called temporary marriage but it’s clearly prostitution. The temporary marriage contract lasts for a predefined duration, from a matter of minutes to 99 years and there is an explicit provision for the woman to be compensated by the male in some way, with the precise terms being negotiated between the two parties.
What’s interesting is that like normal marriages, any children conceived under the temporary marriage contract are considered legitimate and may inherit the father’s property, but the woman is not required to obey the man as traditionally required under Islam, except in sexual matters. These actually sound like reasonable rules to protect the woman and provide for a measure of security for any children that might result.
In fact, the whole thing is refreshingly honest and straightforward. The religious authorities acknowledge that the primary purpose of such contracts is pleasure for the men and money for the women. They even insist that it be proudly branded as Islamic so that critics cannot say that Islam is blind to the physical needs of men. They also see it as a useful way for women, particularly widows, to earn money to support children who might otherwise go uncared for.
At the same time, the authorities remain puritanically strict against liaisons between men and women that are not sanctioned under Islam. Once you have the paper contract, issued and approved by the proper religious officials, everything is okay, but without it, the liaison is sinful and will be zealously prosecuted in Iran. It’s a weird disconnect.
I haven’t posted anything on this because I’ve already vented about it on discussion forums and as comments on the blogs of other people. This means this is mostly just a recap of opinions I’ve written elsewhere. Basically I think that both parties are right. The Roman Catholics should have the right to use the “Allah” name for their deity. On the other hand, I think that the Muslims in the country are justified in fearing that this is a move that’s meant to confuse Muslims and to proselytize Christianity to Malays by stealth.
I realize that while there are non-Malay groups who primarily speak the Malay language, particularly in the more remote parts of Sabah and Sarawak, I think it’s also worth pointing out they represent a tiny minority of the population. By far, the vast majority of those who use the Malay language as their mother tongue are Malays and according to Article 160 of the constitution of Malaysia, Malays are Muslim by definition. Generally speaking, it is impossible in Malaysia for Muslims to convert to another religion. At the same time, deliberately conflating two religions to confuse people is an accepted part of the missionary’s playbook. This is for example how Buddhism spread in China, by taking on the names and characteristics of the existing Confucian and Taoist beliefs and appropriating them into itself.
Naturally the Christians in the country don’t claim to want to spread Christianity to Malays but I don’t see how they can reconcile this with their wish to use “Allah” as the name of their deity and the wish to import and distribute Bibles in a language that Malays can easily understand. 15,000 Bibles in the Indonesian language is a pretty impressive number. This is the 500-pound elephant in the room that everyone involved in the debate is shying about from. Of course it is unfair that non-Muslims can convert to Islam but Muslims can’t convert out of it. I can’t see how you can call it religious freedom while such restrictions exist. But this is the accepted reality and challenging this really would tear the country apart, which is why I think that pushing the issue in such a sly way is a really obnoxious move on the part of the Roman Catholics.
As a libertarian I’m all for true freedom of speech and true freedom of religion but unless the Roman Catholics are willing to come out and really state out what they want without avoiding the main issue, and face the inevitable consequences, all of this is just a distracting sideshow.
As much as I detest militant Islam, I haven’t hesitated to defend the religion itself in the past. Similarly, I have no qualms about condemning the recent blanket ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland. Whatever assurances the government issues, it amounts to religious discrimination plain and simple. What’s even more ridiculous is that as far as I know the existing zoning laws already make it difficult to build tall minarets in urban areas. To me, construction regulations that prohibit the demolition of recognized heritage sites or the construction of overly tall towers that spoil the existing cityscape is reasonable. This is why you can’t build huge skyscrapers in the centre of Paris, for example.
Also reasonable would be moves to restrict the noise generated by places of worship so long as such rules apply equally to all religions. But unsurprisingly, for many Europeans being roused from your sleep on Sunday morning by the tolling of church bells is perfectly okay, but the Muslim call to prayer is deemed as being offensive. To be fair, many Muslim majority countries restrict the activities of other religions as well but this doesn’t give the minaret banning any legitimacy. Framing this as a tit-for-tat bargaining move is not acceptable.
Those who don’t think this is particularly alarming should recall the familiar “First they came…” lines by Martin Niemöller. The far right parties in Europe are targeting Muslims because they’ve realized that this is an unpopular group and they can score easy populist victories off of this cause. But historically the far right parties have no love for many other minority groups as well, including Jews, homosexuals and blacks. As one poster on QT3 put it, they might be only saying, “Let’s get all the Muslims out of Europe now” but they are really thinking, “And the rest of them will follow later.”
The most worrisome thing about this is that the ban came not from a government decision but from a public vote, which makes it an example of one of the limitations of a democracy. The correct response is not that democracy is bad and authoritarian governments are good, but that democracy should be curtailed by a set of inviolable rights for all individuals. Regardless of the source of a government’s legitimacy, no government should have the power to overturn anyone’s basic rights and being able to build whatever places of worship people want is certainly one of those rights.
Like any hot-blooded male, I thought that news reports that female students at Universiti Malaya had attended an event on campus “half-naked” would lead to some racy photos. So I was disappointed when the photos that eventually turned up depicted nothing that you wouldn’t be able to see on any ordinary day in Kuala Lumpur. The accusations were made by an MP for PAS, a Islamic political party, who objected to the students wearing such clothes for a Ladies’ Night event at the university. As any sane person can see, the wonder is that something so insignificant would create such a controversy at all. You can read a detailed chronology of the accusations and public relations mess this has caused in the Malay language here. It’s pretty sad that the deputy minister had to even concede that such attire should not be allowed in the university lecture halls.
As a poster on LYN, where I picked up this news from, commented, this is rather insulting to the female students who attended the event. If anything, they’re the ones who deserve an apology from that PAS MP. As a Malaysian, I’m convinced that PAS is a far better alternative than the ruling National Front but cheap shots like this for the conservative crowd are making the party lose points among moderates. There certainly are PAS politicians who sound intelligent, reasonable and can act as an advocate for Islamic values without coming across as a barbarian. Take this opinion piece by Khalid Samad, PAS MP for Shah Alam for example. He writes:
I remember Datuk Seri Tuan Guru Abdul Hadi Awang’s lecture where he told us of a case in the time of the Prophet. A man came and admitted to the Prophet that he had committed adultery and requested that he be punished. The Holy Prophet remained silent and turned away from him. The man came in front of the Prophet and repeated his admission and request. The Holy Prophet responded in the same manner, turning away from him. The man came in front of the Prophet again and repeated the admission and request for the third time. The Prophet then asked the companions who were there witnessing this incident to take the man away and punish him as he requested.
Later the companions returned and reported to the Prophet that the man, prior to being punished, had a change of heart and ran away. They chased him and meted out the punishment. The Holy Prophet looked at his companions and asked: “Why did you chase him? You should have let him go”.
From the short story it is clear that there is no zealousness in the meting out of punishment. The Prophet only consented when the man showed great remorse for having sinned and wished himself to be cleansed. However, if that was no longer the case, the need was no longer there. Note also how the man was not questioned who his partner was. No thumbscrews. No witch hunt.
Actually it is this kind of zealousness which the non-Muslims fear from Pas and this is where we must emulate the spirit of the Islam more accurately. We should not become zealous moralists who wish to enforce their moral code on others. As I always say, preach, reason and argue with them in the best of ways. Never give them the impression that we wish to impose something on them irrespective of how noble the intentions. That was the way of the Prophet and that too must be our way.
If only all PAS politicians would heed those words.
Remember the post I made a while back about the short film Fitna made by Dutch MP Geert Wilders? In that post, I condemned that film for its amateurish over-simplification of the facts around Islam and pointed out that it’s just as easy to find nasty stuff written for a more barbaric time from the Christian Bible. This time around though, I find myself having to defend him because I do think that this is a free speech issue and hateful as his message is, he has a right to express his views.
As far as I can tell, the British government basically offers two basic justifications for denying Wilders entry into the UK:
- Free speech does not extend to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre and Wilders’ message amounts to that.
- Allowing Wilders to enter the UK and express his views would threaten the public security of the country.
To the first justification, I retort that Wilders’ message in no way resembles shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. One of the defining characteristics of the crowded theatre scenario is that it compels people to take immediate action. There is no such immediacy here and all parties will have plenty of time to reflect upon Wilders’ message before making any decisions or taking any action. Furthermore, freedom of speech is curtailed in the crowded theatre scenario only if the speaker is falsely shouting “fire”. If the theatre actually is on fire, the speaker does have the right to shout “fire”. This means that the authorities must actually prove that Wilders is making a statement that is factually incorrect to deny him freedom of speech.
The second justification basically amounts to caving in to potential terrorist threats. The line of thought seems to be that if the UK allows Wilders in to spread his message, it would make the UK a higher priority target for terrorist attacks than it already is. That’s a pretty sad position for a democracy to take. The responsibility for any attacks made by terrorists lies only on the terrorists. As abhorrent as Wilders’ message is, as far as I know, he has never advocated any violent action against Muslims. All that he has done is to try to change the laws of the Netherlands to better respond to what he sees as a threat to his country.
I happen to disagree with his assessment but from my point of view, he has done nothing that would justify depriving him of his rights. The correct response to someone like Wilders is not to prevent him from speaking. It is to ignore what he says. By making a big fuss of Wilders’ attempts to speak in the UK, the British government has simply played into his hand and given him what he really wanted all along: more publicity than he deserves.
I’ve been following the discussion on QT3 on Israel’s recent campaign of airstrikes against Gaza, and one poster really struck home the essential point in just one line:
To The Israelites In Attendance,
I do not know how you people can live with yourselves, knowing what was done to your grandfathers, and doing everything but the last step to someone else’s.
Ouch to say the least. In many ways, it’s an exaggeration of course and there’s plenty to nitpick at if you’re intent on finding differences between Israel and Nazi Germany, but there are enough similarities that Israel needs to sit up and really think about what it’s doing. Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself, but does it really need to blockade the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza strip and prevent food and medicines from reaching them? Yes, Hamas uses it as a base from which to launch periodic rocket strikes into Israel, but does that justify Israel launching airstrikes that kill hundreds and injure thousands, including civilians, especially when those rockets kill only a handful of Israelis every year?
I’m concerned and exasperated by Israel’s actions, which I think are detrimental to the nation’s own interests, because I’m generally sympathetic with the Israelis’ plight. It’s a nation that I’ve come to admire and one that I like to think of as one of the good guys. But part of being one of the good guys is that you don’t sink to the level of the people you’re fighting against. It means winning the moral high ground and staying there even if it means making sacrifices.
Israel needs to understand that bombing a people into submission will never achieve peace unless they’re willing to commit genocide against the Palestinians. Israel isn’t there yet, but that’s the road that its actions are taking it down unless it musters the political will to make real sacrifices to reach a lasting compromise with the Palestinians. Given the particular history of the Jewish people, it is especially shameful that they’re anywhere near that road at all.