Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Feminine at the birthplace of Islam

Fethi Benslama's book "Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam" does due diligence to the role of Woman in Islam. Benslama is a psychoanalyst who, although a secular thinker, identifies himself as a person of Muslim culture who rejects ready-made explanations of Islamic fundamentalism. Benslama teaches at the University of Paris VII and is the editor of the psychoanalytic journal Intersignes. Can we really have any doubt from this analysis of Khadija's role in the confirmation of the Prophetic vision that she was a full partner in birthing Allah's final revelation? The book is translated from the French by Robert Bononno:

"The Nights' Word

The first test of truth for Islam took place on a woman's lap. Although this statement seems unthinkable today within the Islamic order of discourse, there was a time when there was nothing shocking about it, for the scene of demonstration was transmitted and repeated by several generations of chroniclers, a chain that can be followed back to the seventh century. No doubt this is one of the symptoms of the torment I referred to earlier, which made origin unavailable in a fictional mode. Research efforts in the humanities on Islam and "Islamic thought," as we have been accustomed to calling it for some time, have contributed more than a little to making the fiction of origin inaccessible. In conventional research such scenes of demonstration are considered to belong on the scrap heap of history and are "barely good enough for literature." According to this research, we should look for reason in the machinery of concepts, in the major theological constructs; that is where the system's gold is hidden, its pure originary truth.

From the Angel's Greeting to Disrepute

Nonetheless, isn't the scene of the first, or initial, faith an important representation of a form of reason that refuses to hide its metaphysical side and accepts its power to affect us by presenting us with a scene of sharing and healing? Here, the founder, the man of the word of law, hallucinating, terrorized, repeatedly visited by an invisible being, wonders if he is possessed by a demon. Like someone comforting a child who suffers pain, a woman holds him on her lap to prove to him that the angel is an angel and to free him of his fear of madness. The scene clearly reveals that the representation of the origin of the Law in Islam needed the body of a woman to remove any doubt concerning man's reason and to help the angel place him on the path of the word. It is in this sense that we understand the angel's greeting to Khadija.

But what happened between this moment, when the woman mediates between man and the angel - in other words, when she assumes a posture of mediation between two mediators - and the moment when she becomes an auxiliary of the demon "whose wiles are great"; between the moment when she, through her unveiling, verifies the truth of the vision and the moment she must be veiled to protect the faithful from the sight of her charms; between the moment when she appears to possess a knowledge that predates the prophetic knowledge of the founder and the time when she will become the woman who "lacks reason and religion" (hadith); between the moment when she frees the Prophet from the suspicion of possession and the moment when she becomes the troubling creature who must be possessed, appropriated, and monitored, and whose submission will be stringently organized; in short, between the angel's greeting and woman's disrepute in Islam? It is with this question in mind that we must scrutinize the future of women in Islam. This is necessary if we are to have any chance of understanding what transpired over a brief period of time (roughly twenty years) that determined women's destiny until today, perpetuating a position that can only be described as extreme. This excess, its origin and its many justifications, indeed the entire network of humiliating attitudes and assertions concerning women, must be analyzed without indulgence, with the greatest precision, for the mechanisms of alienation are far more complex than they appear.

This scene seems to accredit the notion that there was a time when woman was the witness of truth, in the twofold sense that she acknowledged what took place and was the proof and the test of the truth of vision. Then there was another time when woman became deceitful, a trap and a ruse, an artifice (this is the meaning of the word kayd in Koran 12:28) that had to be masked, unmasked and controlled."
2009, pp. 143-145)

~ Excerpted from "Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam" by Fathi Benslama

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