On religion and culture…

…two subjects I have no authority to write about, but will do so anyway. Today we had a guest speaker in our Arab Women’s Literature class. Hiba is a senior at JU, and our professor invited her to speak on the topic of women in Islam. She spoke a lot about the most important female figures in Islam, mainly Khadija and Aisha, the first and second wives of the Prophet, and Fatimeh, his daughter. She noted some things I had learned in my other class here, that compared to pre-Islamic times, the Prophet’s message about women was downright progressive because it actually recognized them as human beings rather than chattel.

I asked her why she thinks Islam’s progressive spirit has sort of been lost in implementation over the years–meaning Islam as it’s practiced in predominantly Muslim countries is far from what it’s “supposed” to be, according to the Qur’an and hadith–and she said something that makes a lot of sense, that people have kept the pre-Islamic culture, and warped Islam to fit it, instead of truly changing their practices. So they cherry-pick a few passages here and there and use it to justify things that are totally against the spirit of Islam.

Rula, our professor, also added that the history of colonialism and Arab degradation has contributed to a “colonization of the mind,” meaning having experienced domination by another, Arab or Muslim men felt the need sometimes to be totally dominant in at least one arena, home. Not that it excuses that sort of behavior but it puts it in perspective. That also sort of explains the utter rejection sometimes of anything from the West–and unfortunately, feminism is often viewed as a tool of the West to dominate Arabs, mainly because it was used in exactly such a way for a time, especially in Egypt (thanks, Cromer!).

I don’t really consider myself very religious, although I do come from a Muslim family, so obviously I have no authority to speak and probably no place. But it’s been really hard for me to figure out where culture ends and religion begins in Jordan, and in general in Arab countries and Iran. I’m starting to think that a lot of the problems I’ve had with religion in the past may just have been a reaction to the culture in which the religion was practiced in, not with the religion itself. I don’t think I’m going to become religious any time soon (sorry Mom), but it’s reassuring at least to know that my Muslim background isn’t at odds with, and indeed completely backs up, my progressive beliefs.

In other news, I’m running around town this week doing interviews for my smoking article. That should be done by early next week and then I don’t think I have anything else to do for the next issue. I’m trying to freelance some travel pieces for some newspapers I worked for back home, partly to get my feet wet in the world of freelancing and partly to raise funds for Lebanon. The kids who visited Beirut this weekend said they lived like paupers because everything was so expensive–they would eat a Nutella sandwich in the morning, and then not eat until dinner. So basically I’m going to be a starving hobo this summer, but I’ll be a starving hobo in Beirut, so it’ll be okay.

–June

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “On religion and culture…

  1. Massoud

    Hi Yeganeh June: I am so proud of you that no matter what your view of religion is, you try to learn and understand it better. Your guest speaker and your professor are absolutely correct. The unfortunate thing is that the cultural shortcomings of us as muslims are wrongly attributed to Islam. There is a saying in Farsi which unfortunately I have forgot the exact wording, but very loosly says the same thing. The ” colonization of mind” is very interesting as well. I have never thought about it in that context.
    On a side note: we are watching Colbert Report: it is hillarious. He is talking about Norooz.

  2. Ammu H.

    I wonder what is more backwards and shortsighted, treating women a certain way just because some of our ancestors have done it that way, or passing judgment on a religion just by looking at what the so called religious ones do, and not reading and studying the Book itself!

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