2010年7月28日 星期三

Headscarf ; Islam ; Women

I was shouted at only once the whole time I was in Iran for impropriety of headscarf, which kept slipping off until Mmeisami, our beautiful tourguide
from Shiraz, a place famous for being both the birthplace of Shiraz wine and pretty girls , taught me how to secure it properly with an array of pins .
If this had happened during the Khomeini era, for failing the dress code ( the hejab ) in a public place , I would have been flogged for up to 76 lashes , and on top of a monetary fine, put in jail for one year. I was surprised how easily I adapted to the headscarf, which could be a saviour on a bad hair day ! The pervasive power of indoctrination worked fast, after a few days I even felt uneasy if seen with my head uncovered by a man , e.g. the bell boy in our hotel room , but it could equally well be out of consideration for his discomfiture .

Yet the headscarf or veil did not come from Islam . In ancient Rome and ancient Persia, women from noble families were secluded and had to be covered when they came into public places . The veil is also very much a Judaeo-Christian tradition . According to Rabbi Dr Menachem M. Brayer, it was the ancient custom of Jewish women to go out in public with head covered, sometimes even the whole face leaving one eye free . During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman's failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. The veil symbolized a state of distinction and superiority of the noble women , it also represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband . Interestingly prostitutes were not allowed to cover their hair in the old Jewish society. Today most pious Jewish women still cover their hair in the synagogue .
Catholic nuns have been covering their heads for centuries . St Paul in the New Testament stated :"...... Everyman who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, and every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head ......." ( 1 Corinthians 11: 3 - 10 ) Among the Canon laws of the Catholic church, there's a law that requires women to cover their heads in church ; and some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites, keep their women veiled to this day .

Therefore Islam did not invent the head cover but endorsed it, although the headcover is extended in Islam to cover the women's neck and bosom , allegedly to protect them from molestation . The controversy with the veil today is that it has become part of an instrument of repression by States which also claim to be Islam . The veil is being used as an ideological ploy to gain control over a population, and absurd though it is, a woman's dress has become central to the image the Islamic Regime in Iran has created of itself , so much so if a woman walks down the streets of Tehran with the veil off, it means the Regime has changed . It is now the most public image of repression .

The shackle of the muslim women has long been a point of contention between the Human Rights groups and Islamic religion . But how had women fared in other religions through the ages in the West ?

Men's alleged superiority to women in the West actually originates in the Jewish and Christian religion , and is based on 3 theological assumptions :
1) God's primary creation is man, not woman
2) Woman's the primary agent of " man's fall " ( Genesis 3 )
3 ) Woman's created not only from man but also for man , which makes her existence merely instrumental and not fundamental (Genesis 2: 18-24 )

In the Judaeo-Christian religion , Eve's legacy bequeaths all women both her guilt and guile. The sin of the Biblical Eve has been pivotal to the whole Christian faith , the sole mission of Jesus Christ on earth is to purify human beings from their original sin which was of Eve's doing , therefore Eve's responsible for the death of the Son of God .The Bible states :" No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman ...... Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die " ( Ecclesiasticus25: 19, 24 ). Jewish Rabbis listed nine curses inflicted on women as a result of the Fall : "To the woman He gave the burden of the blood of menstruation and the blood of virginity; the burden of pregnancy; the burden of childbirth; the burden of bringing up the children; her head is covered as one in mourning; she pierces her ear like a permanent slave who serves her master; she is not to be believed as a witness; and after everything---death " . To this day the orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite : " Blessed be the God King of the Universe that Thou has not made me a woman "

The denigration of "shameful daughters" starts as soon as a female is born . The Bible states explicitly : "The birth of a daughter is a loss" ( Ecclesiasticus 22:3 ). The Jewish Rabbis have similar sayings : " It is well for those whose children are male but ill for those whose are female " , " At the birth of a boy, all are joyful.... at the birth of a girl all are sorrowful ", and " When a boy comes into the world , peace comes into the world..... When a girl comes, nothing comes . " The Christian understanding of a woman's role on earth is appalling . St Augustine wrote : " .....I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children . " The reformer Martin Luther went even further :" If they become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are here . "

On female education, the Jewish Talmud states : " Women are exempt from the study of the Torah ( law of Judaism ) " and the Rabbis firmly declared
: "Let the words of Torah rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to women " St Paul in the New Testament wrote : " As in all the congregation of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church . " ( 1 Corinthians 14 : 34-35 )
How can a woman grow intellectually if she's not allowed to speak ? How can she broaden her horizons if her one and only source of information is her husband at home ?

The Old Testament considers any menstruating woman as unclean : " Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will
be unclean ...........Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on , when anyone touches it, he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and
he will be unclean till evening. " ( Lev. 15 : 19-23 ) The Talmud considers a menstruating woman " fatal " even without physical contact : "........if a menstruant woman passes between two men, if it is at the beginning of her menses she will slay one of them, and if it is at the end of her menses she will cause strife between them " Furthermore, the husband of a menstruous woman was forbidden to enter the synagogue if he had been made unclean even by the dust under her feet . A priest whose wife, daughter or mother was menstruating could not recite priestly blessing in the synagogue .

Women were not allowed to testify in court in early Jewish society and even in today's Israel women are not allowed to give evidence in Rabbinical courts . In the Christian West, both ecclesiastical and civil law debarred women from giving testimony until the late 1800's . This is justified by citing Genesis 18 : 9-16 , where it is stated that Sara, Abraham's wife had lied, so all women are incapable of telling the truth .

Adultery is considered a sin in all religions . But there is a dual moral standard in how the Bible defines adultery : only the extramarital affair of a married woman is considered as adultery , so if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, this is not considered adultery , the man is an adulterer only if he sleeps with a married woman . ( Leviticus 20 : 10, Deuteronomy 22 : 22. Proverbs 6 : 20-7 : 27 ) The reason according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica is that the wife was the husband's possession and adultery constituted a violation of the husband's exclusive right to her ; the wife as the husband's possession had no such right to him . That is, if a man had sexual intercourse with a married woman , he should be punished only because he would be violating the property of another man . To the present day in Israel, the children of an adulterous affair of a married man and an unmarried woman are considered legitimate , but the children of a married woman with another man, whether married or not, are not only illegitimate, but are forbidden to marry any other Jews . This ban is handed down to the children's descendants for 10 generations until the taint of adultery is weakened .

This notion of ownership of the husband of his wife in the Jewish tradition empowers the husband to annul any contract, bargain or deals the wife had
made ( no act of hers was of legal value ) , and for denying her any control over her property or her earnings . Both religious and civil authorities in the Christian Roman Empire ( after Constantine ) followed the same tradition . Women's rights under English law compiled in 1632 stated : " That which
the husband hath is his own. That which the wife hath is the husband's " Therefore upon marriage a woman loses her property, her legal personality and her family name .

While the Christian Church abhors divorce, Judaism ( Hellenistic ) allows a husband to divorce his wife even if he just dislikes her , or if he simply finds another woman more beautiful . The wife , on the other hand cannot initiate divorce under Jewish law . She could claim the right to a divorce but only the husband can dissolve the marriage by giving his wife a bill of divorce . So a man can desert his wife without granting her a divorce , leaving her in limbo . While he can marry another woman and have children, she cannot do either as she is still legally married , and any liaison with another man would be adultery . A woman in such a position is called an agunah ( chained woman ) . Husbands could extort thousands of dollars from their trapped wives in exchange for a Jewish divorce .

The Biblical rules of inheritance are outlined in Numbers 27 : 1-11 : female members of the household had no right of succession to the family estate , except in the event of no male issue remained , but the wife was denied inheritance even in such conditions . Because of this rule, widows had to live on the mercy of others . Moreover a childless widow must marry her husband's brother ( Genesis 38 :8 ) regardless whether she was willing , because as part of her deceased husband's property her main function was to ensure her husband's posterity . Widowhood was considered a great degradation ( Isaiah 54:4 ) . In the Jewish legislation today , a woman who has been widowed 3 times with all husbands dying of natural causes is considered " fatal " and is forbidden to marry again .

In contrast to the Bible , Quran ( God's word transmitted through Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad ) considers the birth of a female a gift and a blessing from God , the same as the birth of a male . Quran describes creation of humanity from a single source and does not differentiate gender or order of emergence . The Quaran states : "For Muslim men and women are both God's creatures ...... Be you a male or female , you are members and protectors one of another .........For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward " .

In the framework of the Quranic theology, the fall is no moral depravity, but man's transition from simple consciousness to self-consciousness, the realisation of a free self which is capable of making moral choices when confronted by the alternatives presented by God and Ash-Shaitan ( good and evil ). Man's first act of disobedience was thus also his first act of free will . Moreover the Quaran , contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistakes . God, according to the Quran, punishes no one for another's faults , relieving women from Eve's Legacy. The Quran never accuses woman as the devil's gateway or that she's a deceiver by nature .

A woman's role on earth is not limited only to childbirth; she is required to do as many good deeds and to actualize the human potential same as man .
A woman in the Islamic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself . No one has the right to instruct her to be
silent. She is not confined to her husband as the one and only reference in matters of law and religion . Islam does not consider a menstruating woman " unclean ", "untouchable" or " cursed " . She practises a normal life with only one restriction : she's not allowed sexual intercourse during the period of menstruation , but she is exempted from some rituals such as daily prayers and fasting .

The Quaranic defination of adultery is the involvement of a married man or a married woman in an extramarital affair, and Islam punishes equally the
adulterer and adulteress . Islam agrees on the leadership of the husband in the family, but since the seventh century has granted married women independent means . Dowry is not mandatory, and if a dowry is given , it is considered the woman's property and she retains it even if she is later divorced . No matter how rich the wife might be, she is not obliged to be a co-provider for the family unless she voluntarily chooses to do so, as she and the children's maintenance is her husband's responsibility . Islam recognizes divorce but discourages it . If the husband divorces his wife ( Talaq ) he cannot take back his marital gifts no matter how valuable they might be ; in the case of the wife who chooses to dissolve the marriage ( Khula ) she must return the marriage gifts to her husband , which is a fair compensation for supporting her during the time of marriage .

In matters of bearing witness, generally the testimony of a woman is equal to that of a man except in financial transactions , whereby two women's witness equals one man's . The general rule for inheritance is that the female share is half the male's , as the financial obligations of men in Islam far exceed those of women .The wife has the same inheritance rights as the husband , so widows are provided for .

Why is it then with all the provisions in the Quaran to safeguard the rights of women and ensure equality between the sexes that the Islamic countries are among the most strongly patriarchal , and the Muslim women the most deprived and repressed in the world ?

The simplistic answer is the Quaran have been interpreted only by Muslim men who , confusing culture with religion , lay down laws according to the customs and traditions of their pagan Arab ancestors through the Hadith literature ( the oral traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad ) , and in the process deprived women of many rights granted to them by Islam . The inferior status of women in Islam began with the crooked rib story, which appeared in the Hadith during the early centuries of Islam . The "Ahadith" as cited in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim read : " Treat women nicely, for a woman is created from a rib, and the most curved portion of the rib is its upper portion, so if you would try to straighten it, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain crooked . So if you want to get benefit from her, do so while she still has some crookedness . " The story propagates the belief that not only women are derivative and secondary in the context of human creation , they are also fundamentally lacking in righteousness .

The myth of feminine evil in Muslim teaching took root when sex is regarded to be the weak spot Satan attacks the most . Popular Hadith states : "Whenever a man and a woman are alone Ash-Shaitan is bound to be there " and from the Prophet : " After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women " This fear is conceivably the reason behind the gender apartheid and the imposition of modesty ; however, the Hadith interpretation of the Quran is probably the most misogynist in the context of marriage . One of the distinctive characteristic of Muslim sexuality is its territoriality, which sets ranks, tasks and authority patterns. Spacially confined, the woman is taken care of materially by the man, in return for her total obedience, her sexual and reproductive services . The whole system is organized to make up a society of male citizens who possess among other things the female half of the population , including the right to kill them .

Almost all Muslim societies have deviated from the Islamic precepts in practice . Over the centuries this ever widening gap has had disastrous
consequences on the Fundamentalist Muslim world in almost all aspects of life : political tyranny , economic backwardness, social injustice , scientific bankruptcy , intellectual stagnation ......... the sorry plight of the Muslim women is merely a symptom of a much deeper malady . The importance of reform is thus to liberate not only Muslim women , but also Muslim men from unjust social structures and systems of thought , so all might live fruitful productive lives according to the Islamic ideals of equality and righteousness .

The headscarf would then be just a fashion choice or traditional wear people choose to adopt - neither need implementation by guns.