May 20, 2010 at 11:02 pm (gender issues, is religion good or bad for you?, moral issues, society)

A gay couple in Malawi were arrested after holding an engagement ceremony, and now sentenced to 14 years in prison. It strikes me that the couple must have known this could happen to them, and it is very brave to live out your values in this way without fearing what people will do. Reminds me of the Sudanese lady who insisted on wearing trousers not fearing the punishment. I have a lot of admiration for that.

Handing down sentence in the commercial capital, Blantyre, Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa told the pair: “I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example.”

Interesting to note that “the laws under which the pair were convicted were introduced during British colonial rule.”

Obviously Britain has come a long way in tolerance since then, but it is not only modern, developed, western countries that are open-minded and rational about these things – I read this beautiful post this week, mentioning a remote and traditional part of Mexico that is very accepting of transsexuals. According to the article linked to in the post, “Anthropologists trace the acceptance of people of mixed gender to pre-Colombian Mexico, pointing to accounts of cross-dressing Aztec priests and Mayan gods who were male and female at the same time. Spanish colonizers wiped out most of those attitudes in the 1500s by forcing conversion to Catholicism. But mixed-gender identities managed to survive in the area around Juchitán, a place so traditional that many people speak ancient Zapotec instead of Spanish.”

Is it just me or is there a correlation between Abrahamic religions and intolerance?


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Belief is not a choice

April 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm (gender issues, Islam, moral issues, personal, religious experiences)

I was sorting through our possessions and I came across a few photos that reminded me, in a very immediate, emotional way, of wanting to be a Muslim. Here is one of them; one which doesn’t identify the people. It is of one of my husband’s lifelong friends, with his Scottish convert wife and their newborn first child in a pushchair.

I don’t know if I can even explain what it makes me feel. It just looks like a family I would want to be in.

It’s probably partly the traditional gender roles that her dress implies. The idea of being protected and provided for, materially and/or in other ways. Also, it seems to invoke a mental picture of a secure family based on moral commitment and not selfish whim; maybe it is also a feeling of a shared spirituality and a common purpose. Much the same feeling that drew me to Christianity. It feels healthy and wholesome. Maybe it’s partly that I just fell in love with Islam because it is a part of my husband. All of this is totally subjective, of course, and may not reflect reality, but I so rarely write about how I feel or even remember the subjective emotional factors that led me into my journey, and it hit me when I looked at the photos.

Sometimes you have conflicting wants. I wanted religiosity but I also wanted freedom of thought. I wanted peace of mind but I didn’t want simplistic answers. I wanted belonging but I also wanted personal integrity and an honest search for truth. In the end I had to realise that – at least for me – these wants are not compatible, and by the time you realise that, there is no longer any honest choice to be made. I hope the clarity and the relief of dropping the need for certainty will be worth the consequences, but even if it isn’t, it couldn’t have been any other way. You can’t choose to believe something you don’t believe.

I turn on the TV and I see a 13-year-old girl in A&E (or the ER) with severe alcohol poisoning, constantly throwing up. And for a moment, I wonder if I could happily raise Muslim children after all. But then I think of how I couldn’t even perform the pillars without cognitive dissonance over rules that didn’t make sense, how I could never honestly tell my family to hide the ham because we’re coming over or to hold the presents until Christmas is well over, how I could never feel any shame if a man saw my hair, and how frightened I would be that my children might learn to hate those who are not like them.

You can’t choose to believe in something you don’t believe in.

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Polygamy, prophets and moral norms

January 10, 2010 at 1:09 pm (gender issues, moral issues, why I didn't convert to Islam)

I am pretty open-minded and I try not to write off other lifestyles as bad just because I am not culturally conditioned to accept them.

I think polygamy is one of those things that can work for some people. An example of a happy polygamous family is Megan’s. She chose to join a polygamous family. The first wife and the husband decided together to go poly, and they all live in one big house. The “sister-wives” – at this point there are 4 of them – all love and support each other. It actually sounds pretty nice. There clearly must be something in it for these women who’ve chosen to live like that.

But I think there is nothing worse than a man going behind his wife’s back to take another wife, or point blank going against her wishes… and saying to everyone “it’s legal/permissible so I feel no guilt”.

Now, in the history of religions, the norms were different and men wouldn’t have thought there was an obligation to consult their wives about a decision like that. In fact I’m not sure the concept of “consent” even really existed. Sometimes girls were married off young, so young it was not possible for them to give genuine consent. And as for war captives, let’s not even go there.

So would all the prophets of the past have consulted their existing wives before adding a new one? I don’t think it would have been possible for them to think that way. Does that make them bad? I think they have to be judged according to the standard of their time. They weren’t perfect, they were human and it is unreasonable to expect that they could have measured up to our more progressed standards (although in other aspects of life I suspect our standards have slipped since their time). This only poses a problem when we think they were an example for all mankind and that they knew all there was to know about morality. Then we have to either accept their norms as our norms, or find a way of attributing our moral norms to them even though history tells another story.

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Mahrams and hijab

October 12, 2009 at 12:00 am (gender issues, Islam, religious practices, why I didn't convert to Islam)

I was reading Sura 24 when I came across a list of mahrams – categories of men which are forbidden for a woman to marry (or vice versa) and in front of whom she may remove her outer garment. Of course this includes the usual close blood relatives, but I was surprised to notice it also includes father-in-law and step-son.

Such men are only forbidden to marry the woman by virtue of her current marriage, i.e. once she has got married, she cannot marry her father-in-law even if she becomes single again. If she had never married her current husband, that father-in-law would never have been mahram to her.

And obviously, therefore, it is possible for the father-in-law to be attracted to her. Unlike her blood mahrams who would not be attracted to her. So I was surprised that she is allowed to discard her outer garment in front of him. What does this tell us?

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