Tribalism and Islam
I was over at Archiearchive‘s this morning when I ran accross this interesting article, please read it as it is quite an interesting example of the lack of women’s rights within a Christian framework in the not so distant past. However, what Archiearchive did bring up was this interesting point:
“With my kangaroo mind, jumping from one subject to another, I wonder if the perceived subjugation of women within Muslim society through the use of Koranic authority is of a similar nature. FGM being justified in some parts of the world and not others through the pronouncements of the Imams, the Saudi experience where women are required to wear the totally black burka in a climate where white would be much more comfortable, the Afghanistan Mujahadeen rulings that women were not permitted to leave their abode even to get food. The list goes on.
Will the move away from their tribal origins lead to the Islamic Authorities to relax their differing interpretations of a woman’s place in society?”
Archie’s question is quite interesting in many aspects, but I’d just like to make one thing clear first and that is that FGM is a tribal ritual that has passed into some Islamic cultures, but it is not something that has come into culture or religion through Quranic interpretation. As far as I know (and I am going by memory here) things which are not discussed in the Quran but were/are cultural traditions could be allowed as a practice as long as it is/was not harmful.
In the case of FGM, there is one hadith (saying of the prophet Muhamed) from which fatwas and indulgence of the practice stem. That hadith is:
“woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. [Muhammad] said to her, ‘Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.'”
Let me just recap what wiki will tell you – the majority of scholars agree that this hadith does not require anyone to perform or undergo circumcision. Additionally, some scholars go even further to state that it is prohibited as that in the “game of chance” (gambling/risk is not allowed in Islam) as there is an inherent risk of the cut beeing to deep. Only one school out of the four schools of jurisprudence/law order a “slight trimming of the hood”, the clitoris which is intended to enhance sexual pleasure. In regards to that school of thought, I believe with all of the research being done on the practice that even that school would have to reevaluate its position.
Regardless, in 2005 Al-Azhar Universitie’s Ahmend Talib, the Dean of the Faculty of Sharia stated:
“All practices of female circumcision and mutilation are crimes and have no relationship with Islam. Whether it involves the removal of the skin or the cutting of the flesh of the female genital organs…it is not an obligation in Islam.”
Many Muslim scholars believe FGC is practiced as a result of ignorance and misconceived religious fervor rather than for reasons of true religious doctrine. A recent conference at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo (December, 2006) attempted to bring prominent Muslim clergy to denounce the practice as not being necessary under the umbrella of Islam. Although there was some reluctance amongst some of the clergy, who preferred to handball the issue to doctors, making the FGC a medical decision, rather than a religious one, the Grand Mufti Ali Jumaa of Egypt, signed a resolution denouncing the practice.
That being said, yes, FGM still exists within the Muslim community even though it is not, nor was it ever practiced by the majority of Muslims. FGM is a practice that is still practiced today by Muslims, Christians and Jews (yes, even Israel turns a blind eye to the bedouin and Jewish Ethiopian custom of FGM). No blind eye should be turned to this mutilation and I hope to see more outrage in regards to this tradition from the Muslim community.
All that said and done, Archie asks one simple question which I think we need to elaborate, more to the point we need to clarify a misconception. Archie asks:
“Will the move away from their tribal origins lead to the Islamic Authorities to relax their differing interpretations of a woman’s place in society?”
Unfortunately, Archie, it was the unfortunate events of replacing many tribes and their schools for one tribal way that lead to the demise of the equal status that Islam afforded its women. Unfortunately, Archie, it was the rise of Al-Wahab and the demise of all of the other groups within this region and their various schools of thought that led to the demise of the quite complicated and rather sophisticated method of Islamic jurisprudence.
I highly recomend reading Khaled Abou El Fadl’s The Great Theft, Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. I’m in the middle of it now, it is an easy read rich in historical facts in how politics and power have shaped today’s Islam.