Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sura 1:7 in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Reading Azar Nafisi's book "Reading Lolita in Tehran," I was disturbed to find that the superiority/inferiority complex of the guardians of the revolution representing the Shia faith in Iran extends to its Armenian population, at least as late as the late 1980s:

"Another urgent meeting was set up, for late afternoon in a favorite coffee shop. It was a tiny place, a bar in its pre-revolution days, now reincarnated as a cafe. It belonged to an Armenian, and forever shall I see on the glass door next to the name of the restaurant, which was in small letters, the compulsory sign in large black letters: RELIGIOUS MINORITY. All restaurants run by non-Muslims had to carry this sign on their doors so that good Muslims, who considered all non-Muslims dirty and did not eat from the same dishes, were forewarned." (2004, p. 180).

~ Excerpted from "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Professor Azar Nafisi of John Hopkins University.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Feminine in Islam - Arkoun

Mohammed Arkoun's book "The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought" challenges Muslims to think about many aspects of our faith. His comment on the feminine is poignant:

"Women represent a particularly disadvantaged social body; it is they who have to suffer the oppression of regimes that instrumentalize religion to compensate for their own lack of political legitimacy; the resistance of the popular mentality to any questioning of the status of women as fixed by God Himself in the Qur'an; and the weight of beliefs and customs they have themselves internalized through the rearing process handed down by their mothers and grandmothers in the lineage of an ancient feminine memory. I was able to verify all these mechanisms recently in a broad debate taking place in Morocco around the 'Plan for the integration of women in the development process' launched by the present government (April 2000). The fault line dividing society on the plan is not easy to trace; the simplistic terminology of opposition between progressives and conservatives, left and right, modernists and traditionalists, secular and religious, etc., is unsatisfactory. The use of these trivial, obsolete categorizations in political sociology is both an unavoidable ideological necessity and a backward conceptualisation damaging to proper critical thought: in politics, one has to be effective manipulating the social imagination with words and slogans that elicit immediate adhesion or rejection, while this manipulation avoids the intellectual need to introduce a more relevant emancipating critical discourse." (2002, pp. 22-23).

~ Excerpted from "The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought" by Mohammed Arkoun, the renowned scholar of Islam in France of Algerian descent.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Religious sanction for female circumcision in Islam?

As part of my doctoral research on the place of the feminine in the psychology of Islam, I was shocked to find a religious sanction for female circumcision in "Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam:"

"The fact that, on the imams' authority, Fatimid Law defined sex as the 'meeting of two circumcised parts', where by 'two circumcised' the early imams meant the penis and vulva, makes us infer that, by Fatimid law, women were expected to be circumcised. On the matter of female circumcision, al-Qadi al-Nu'man thus reported a tradition ascribed to 'Ali b. Abi Talib:

'O women, when you circumcise your daughters, leave part (of the labia or clitoris). For this will be chaster for their character, and it will make them more beloved by their husbands.' Finally, not unlike Islamic law in general, Fatimid Law permitted love play with a ritually impure or menstruating woman, provided that she wore an undergarment below the navel down to the knee.'" (2006, p. 222).

~ Excerpted from "Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam" by Delia Cortese (Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Middlesex University, London) and Simonetta Calderini (Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Roehampton University, London).

Friday, January 1, 2010

The First Ayatollah!

Since Iran is consistently in the news, I thought it would be useful to understand a little about the origins of the Ayatollahs. Heinz Halm, from the University of Tubingen, provides a sound historical background to the development of "Shia Islam - From Religion to Revolution:"

"His true name was al-Hasan ibn Yusuf ibn Ali ibn al-Mutahhar, though even many Shi'ites do not know him by this name. He is known to all Shi'ites by his honorific epithet al-Allama al-Hilli - "the most learned one of al-Hilla." He was also the first scholar to bear the title Ayatullah (sign of God). At that time it was merely an honorary name; only later was it introduced to denote a certain status within a hierarchy.

The Allama was born in 1250, shortly before the Mongol invasion. He studied in al-Hilla under his father and uncle and later went to Tabriz in Azerbaijan to the court of the Mongol Khan...Oljeitu. He even succeeded in winning the trust of the khan and converting him to shi'ism....Oljeitu had the names of the twelve imams embossed onto the coins, but this remained an isolated episode; succeeding Mongol rulers of Iran converted back to Sunnism. The Allama died in 1325 and was buried near the grave of the eighth imam in Mashad, where he is honored today as a saint.

The most significant theoretical accomplishment of Allama al-Hilli was the development of the principle of ijtihad legal ruling based on rational considerations. The foundation of the rule of mullahs in present day Iran lies in this principle.

The starting point of all theoretical considerations is how to answer questions of a religious, juridical nature if they are not definitively clarified by the Quranic revelation or a saying of an imam (a modern example discussed below is that of birth control). We recall that in Shi'ism, only fourteen persons are considered infallible: the Prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima and the twelve imams. Thirteen of them are dead; one is hidden and thus inaccessible. All other people are subject to error. No one can claim infallibility. What procedure must be taken if a problem cannot be solved by referring to the transmitted statements - which are limited? This is where human reason comes in: God gave human beings reason to be used to discover His will. If no answer is offered by tradition (naql) then one must gain help from the intellect (aql). A solution so reached, however, like all human decisions, is fallible and therefore subject to revision any time.

This rational effort to solve problems is expressed through the Arabic word ijtihad, a verbal noun denoting "making of an effort." The word is related to the familiar term jihad (effort, action), used to denote the struggle for the attainment of God's purpose on earth. The participle of ijtihad is mujtahid, translating approximately as "the effort-making one." This is a central term; the influence of present-day ayatolllahs lies in the fact that they are mujtahids." (1999, pp. 102-103).

~ Excerpted from "Shi'a Islam: From Religion to Revolution" By Heinz Halm.