If it is it doesn't matter

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Question - transition between 3 and 4

Many times when certain barbaric practises that occur only or principally in Muslim societies are brought up (honor killing, forced marriage, etc.) the response is that these are 'cultural survivals' in primitive societies. Yet these societies have been Muslim for centuries. Why has Islam not been able to extirpate this type of primitivism? And why, when civil authorities attempt to move against them, are they so frequently criticized by religious authorities? If Islam is an example of higher values, why does it not fight fiercely to change the ideas of believers in societies which accept such things? Instead, it appears to me too often that, if the society is Muslim, any 'local custom' is accepted.

(Does this have anything to do with the Qur'anic insistence on belief rather than on conduct? Both are mentioned -- as they are by other religions -- but it is the statement that 'Unbelievers go to hell' which is repeated hundreds of time in the Qur'an. Some Christians accept this as well, but the stress there is on 'sinners going to hell.')

Even though I have mentioned other religions in these questions, I am specifically asking about Islam, and hope that the responses will be restricted to that, and that i don't get a chorus of 'well, Christians -- or Jews, or Hindus -- do bad things too.' I am an atheist myself, and could criticize other religions strongly, but it is Islam I am trying to understand, not trying to prosecute.


Anonymous Ali said...

No civil have authorities have ever moved against them. There is actually a strong plurality and little to no centralization of authority in actual islam or in islamic sates prior to the modern era which reflects local people adopting Islam within their social structures. Usually such associations have then selectively borrowed from islam for self justification.

Why has no civil authority moved agaisnt them? In actual fact there are few places in the Islamic domain where the authority is strong enough or morally motivated enough to pursue change. Just look at the Northwest Frontier province of Pakistan toay. It is only nominally under civil control, and as such regions are usually governed by tribal and traditional laws than any law of the nation.

The fact is that it is not necessarily true that a islamic laws existence leads to its adoption if it cannot be enforced, which leaves power over both enforcement and interpretation open to the vagaries of the political power. The modern state with its all powerful and intrusive control is a new phenomenon in the islamic world. Which is why you have women in Syria hiding in jails to escape honor killings. Knowing that something is anti-islamic also does little to dampen the local populace feeling compelled to act upon tradition. Peer pressure if you may or selective social inertia if you may.

The other less well known truth is ignorance, both of the people and of some of the Imams of their own religion who cannot differentiate between tradition specific to them from Islam, but at the end of the day it comes down to power, who wields it and how does he want to wield it.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous ali said...

Islam does not focus on conduct. Though conduct is emphasised to set a social habit, and Islamic thought has focused on the greater good and social responsibility to a higher degree than the indivual. Islamic philosophy has derived an extensively list of rights, ranging from animals, to the earth, to slaves, wives, kings the ruled etc. The true focus of Islam is on intention, "niyah" more than deeds, "amal" for that is what is eventually judged.

However knowledge of intentions is only the province of Allah, and society is limited to judgment by actions. Sinners do go to hell, however that is upto Allah to decide who will receive the mercy of forgiveness on the day of judgement and be absolved. The Koran illustrates his criterion and tradition holds that while he will call you to task for your transgressions of limits he has set upon you to obey. He is stingy in crediting evil deeds to your account and bountiful in crediting the good. You can also always repent.

As for unbeleivers aka non-muslims going to hell there are differeing opinions in islam both for and against that POV so I cannot answer it either way.

Sorry for using he for Allah but english does not allow a gender neutral other than it. God is Islam is not like humans and so cannot be classified in any such manner. His form or nature is beyond our ken to comprehend though there are some attributes that we can identify with even.

10:17 AM  
Blogger LouLou said...

"Instead, it appears to me too often that, if the society is Muslim, any 'local custom' is accepted."

That is very true. The reason for this is the nature of Islamic rule historically - specifically the relationship between the Islamic Caliphate(the state) & local entities like tribes, sects, families etc....

For many centuries sucessive Caliphs & Sultans were more concerned with the spread of their own imperial political/economic influence than with the spread of the faith. So they introduced a system by which local leaders who agreed to recognize the authority of the Caliph, pay their zakat & refrain from cooperation with other empires against the Caliphate were guaranteed that the state & the religious establishment would not interfere with their local customs. In some cases all they did was give their local saints Arabic names & continue as before. The 'official' religious establishment was encouraged not to antagonize them by condemning their local cultural/religious practices for fear of causing them to revolt against the Caliph or demand independance.

The Caliphs were not prepared to lose the allegiance of a powerful local king or tribe over female circumcision or widow-burning.

This system of rule by autonomous communities or virtual nations was called the millet

The theory was that left to their own devices, the millets would eventually learn from exposure to the rest of the Islamic Community & would come to abandon pre-Islamic practices voluntarily. In some cases that worked to a great extent - in societies that were geographically & strategically placed to be open to interaction with the rest of the Umma. In other cases however it was only partial success. And there were peoples like the Pashtuns of Pakistan & Afghanistan who were always fiercely independant & only ever submitted nominally to any outside authority.

In such societies it was the local religious establishment that was forced to bow down to local cultural practices & endorse them to insure its own power & survival.

Over time, the nature of religious theory & practice would evolve as more powerful millets were able to influence less powerful ones. Just like Wahabis today were able to spread the influence of their 'millet' to so many parts of the Muslim world because it has the power of petrodollars behind it.

Of course if you tell this to the average Muslim today he will be outraged. All he knows is what his local Imam tells him is Islam. He has no knowledge of where it came from or how it developed but he would defend it to the death out of tribal loyalty against any outside interference - no matter if this outside interference comes from another Muslim sect, the government, a colonial authority, Amnesty International etc.......

It's also the reason why he would be confused & shocked if you ask him to explain some so-called Islamic practice from some other corner of the Muslim world. His first reaction would be to disbelieve you, accuse you of plotting etc....It's because the reality of what Islam is differs so much from place to place.

It's always amazing to me how Muslims manage to feel this loyalty to anyone else carrying the label 'Muslim' when infact they know so little about other Muslims, what they believe in or how they practice.

12:02 AM  

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