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Tribalism and Islam

February 9, 2007
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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.'”[19]

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.”

In addition:

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.[26] 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.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Leibniz permalink
    February 9, 2007 11:14 pm

    Its just the case that most people, regardless of their religion take few negative examples of other people, groups, religions or cultures and then generalize without realizing that the same flaws exist in their ‘own’ people.

  2. February 9, 2007 11:27 pm

    You should read Archie’s whole article – he actually came to reflect upon this issue through realization of the status of woman not 300 years ago in Christianity. It’s quite an interesting read.

  3. February 10, 2007 2:26 am

    Thank you, samaha, I will look for that book. Also, thank you for your thoughtful discussion. I shall have to think on it for a day or two before I continue our discussion (opens wikipedia to wahhabism). I keep thinking we have similar problems within Christianity and in Judaism. It is just that I know enough about Christianity not to ask silly questions about it. One day I hope to be able to remove my silly questions about Islam.

    Oh – I have another blog post – this one about a speech by the Queen of Jordan.

  4. February 10, 2007 7:53 am

    Thanks Samaha. Good research!

  5. February 10, 2007 3:20 pm

    Thanks everyone – looking forward to that discussion archie – and I’ve got to steal that Queen Jordan post! Check out eteraz.org

  6. February 10, 2007 4:51 pm

    What seemed apparent to me is that the hadith:

    “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.’”[19]

    could apply to women circumsizing male babies. Women were the first doctors and healers in most societies.

    Ya Haqq!

  7. February 10, 2007 11:44 pm

    To me, it’s not a bit surprising that the we are doing today what the Christians were doing 100 years ago or the Jews were doing much before. Isn’t there a hadith somewhere that we will follow those before us (the jews and Christians), even down a rabbit hole… or something to that effect?

  8. Leibniz permalink
    February 11, 2007 1:02 am

    Just to clarify my comment was meant to be directed towards people in general and not towards archie.🙂

  9. February 11, 2007 1:29 am

    samaha, if I may take a moment to reply to Leibniz; Hiya, even if it was not directed at me, I often deserve the rebuke you offered and so it was a reminder to me to double check my attitudes and writings. Although I am an atheist, I have an interest in all things human and am striving to learn something of Islam, a subject from which I am culturally distant. Samaha has been most patient with me and overlooks most of the errors I make.

  10. February 12, 2007 5:01 pm

    Irving – I never thought of that – good point.

    Haleem – part of that is because Islam did not forbid customs and traditions as long as they were not harmful. Many things that are traditional become associated with Islam.

    Liebniz – k – glad to know you were not pouncing on Archie🙂

    Archie – we are all human and you have always been more of an inquisitive soul rather than someone who either has no desire in learning otherwise or intentionally likes to mislead. I have always been able to appreciate healthy debate with rational individuals.

  11. February 21, 2008 5:28 pm

    very good post, u really digged in subject

  12. February 22, 2008 6:06 pm

    thank you Amina!

  13. March 7, 2008 1:52 am

    “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.’”

    Note the use of the imperfect tense. The statement that circumcision “use to” be practiced indicates that it was no longer practiced at the time the hadith was recorded. This means that either circumcision is not mandatory or that the hadith is so far removed from the Prophet that people have started to forget things, in which case it can hardly be considered reliable.

  14. March 7, 2008 2:17 am

    Sergei,

    some of the hadith are reported in this way as it is a repetition of something that had happened in the past.

    but – to be clear – this particular hadith is considered “weak” so most scholars would not accept it. additionally, the hadith doesn’t make this practice sunnah.

  15. March 7, 2008 2:40 pm

    Note the use of the imperfect tense. The statement that circumcision “use to” be practiced indicates that it was no longer practiced at the time the hadith was recorded.

    Nonsense, Sergei. Read it again:

    “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.’”[19]

    That first phrase is inconsequential, the words of the prophet are what count, and here is the pertinent phrase: Do not cut severely

    So, according to this hadith, Mo acknowledged the practice of FGM, and, rather than forbid this monstrous act, he merely suggested that the woman not be “cut severely.”

  16. March 7, 2008 7:59 pm

    Konservo – the hadith is considered Da’if. Let me elaborate a little in terms of hadith:

    Sahih = sound ie – Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim those are compilations of hadith whose chain has been researched and hold up as sound, authentic.

    Hasan = good – 2 rules apply:

    1. one with an isnad containing a reporter who is mastur (“screened”, i.e. no prominent person reported from him) but is not totally careless in his reporting, provided that a similar text is reported through another isnad as well;

    2. one with an isnad containing a reporter who is known to be truthful and reliable, but is a degree less in his preservation/memory of hadith in comparison to the reporters of Sahih ahadith.

    Da’if = weak – A hadith which fails to reach the status of Hasan is Da`if. Usually, the weakness is one of discontinuity in the isnad, in which case the hadith could be Mursal, Mu`allaq, Mudallas, Munqati` or Mu`dal, according to the precise nature of the discontinuity, or one of a reporter having a disparaged character, such as due to his telling lies, excessive mistakes, opposition to the narration of more reliable sources, involvement in innovation, or ambiguity surrounding his person.

    Maudu = forged – nuff said

    As I’ve stated in the post FGM has been denounced by Muslim authorities allready. If the majority of Muslim scholars believe that this practice is not “Islamic” and that this hadith is weak it’s more than just a little off for you to be blaming Muhammed for this practice.

  17. March 7, 2008 11:54 pm

    If the majority of Muslim scholars believe that this practice is not “Islamic” and that this hadith is weak it’s more than just a little off for you to be blaming Muhammed for this practice.

    Well, even if it was accepted by the majority of contemporary Muslim scholars as ‘Islamic,’ I would still not blame Muhammad for the practice. I was commenting on the hadith that is cited above, and pointing out that the tense of the verb really doesn’t matter, given the next line of the text.

    Also, I hope to God that Muslims will realize that not everything Muhammad did should be considered acceptable in a 21st century world. It matters not whether Muslim scholars believe it to be “Islamic.”

  18. March 10, 2008 4:54 pm

    Konservo – okay, I got the wrong idea when you went on to point out “Mo’s” reaction.

    Since scholars influence Muslims thoughts – it does matter what they believe to be Islamic. Scholars do look at what was going on during the time and is this acceptable in today’s society. You’ll see quite a bit of discussion in regards to this – visit some of the other Muslim bloggers.

  19. March 6, 2010 12:50 am

    Great Blog!……There’s always something here to make me laugh…Keep doing what ya do🙂

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