Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Western Gender Discourse: Social Engineering & Modern Biology?

"Walaysa al-dhakaru ka’l-untha, says the Qur’an: the male is not like the female.  This is why we say, respectfully ignoring the protests of old-fashioned feminists, that men and women, in a God-fearing society, will tend towards different concerns and spheres of activity. Our aim, after all, is human happiness, not political correctness."By Abdal-Hakim Murad.

...Let me begin, then, by trying to capture in a few words the current crisis in Western gender discourse. As good a place as any to do this is Germaine Greer’s book The Whole Woman, released in 1999 to an interesting mix of befuddled anger and encomia from the press.

This is an important book, not least because it casts itself as a dialogue with the author’s earlier, more notorious volume The Female Eunuch, published thirty years previously. Throughout, Greer, who is one of the most conscientious and compassionate of feminist writers, reflects on the ways in which the social and also scientific context of Western gender discourse has shifted over this period. In 1969, liberation seemed imminent, or at least cogently achievable. In 1999, with states and national institutions largely converted to the cause which once seemed so radical, it seems to have receded somewhere over the horizon. Hence Greer’s anger descends upon not one, but two lightning-rods: the old enemy of male gynophobia is still excoriated, but there is also a more diffuse frustration with what Greer now acknowledges is the hard-wiring of the human species itself. Most feminism in the 1960s and 1970s was ‘equality feminism’, committed to the breakdown of gender disparities as social constructs amenable to changes in education and media generalisation; feminism in the 1990s, however, was increasingly a ‘difference feminism’, rooted in the growing conviction that nature is at least as important as nurture in shaping the behavioural traits of men and women. Most politicians, educators and media barons and baronesses are still committed to the old feminist idea; however, as Greer’s book shows, the new feminism is growing and promises to take the world through another social shakedown, whose consequences for Muslim communities will be considerable.

Several factors have been at work in securing this sea-change. Perhaps the most obvious has been the sheer stubbornness of traditional patterns, which most men and women continue to find strangely satisfying. Radical feminist revolution of the old Greer school has not found a demographically significant constituency. Most women have not properly signed up to the sisterhood.

Moreover, the world which has been increasingly shaped by secular egalitarian gender discourse has not proved to be the promised land than the younger Greer had prophesied. As she now writes:
‘When the Female Eunuch was written our daughters were not cutting or starving themselves. On every side speechless women endure endless hardship, grief and pain, in a world system that creates billions of losers for every handful of winners.’ (p.3)

She goes on to suggest that the sexual liberation that accompanied the gender revolution has in most cases harmed women more than men. ‘The sexuality that has been freed’, she writes, ‘is male sexuality.’ Promiscuity harms women more than men: women continue to experience the momentous consequences of pregnancy, while the male body is unaffected. When the USS Acadia returned from the Gulf War, a tenth of her female crewmembers had already been returned to America because of pregnancy aboard what became known as the Love Boat. The number of men returned was zero.

Another consequence of the sexual revolution has been an increase in infidelity, and a consequent rise in divorce and single parenthood. Again, it is women who have shouldered most of the burden. ‘In 1971, one in twelve British families was headed by a single parent, in 1986 one in seven, and by 1992 one in five’ (p.202). Another consequence has been the pain of solitude. ‘By the year 2020 a third of all British households will be occupied by a single individual, and the majority of those individuals will be female’ (p.250). One of the most persistent legends of the sexual revolution, that ‘testing the waters’ before marriage helps to determine compatibility, seems to have been definitively refuted. ‘Some of the briefest marriages are those that follow a long period of cohabitation’ (p.255).

A further area in which women seem to have found themselves degraded rather than liberated by the new cultural climate is that of pornography. This institution, opposed by most feminists as a dehumanisation and objectification of women (Otto Preminger once called Marilyn Monroe a ‘vacuum with nipples’), has not been chastened into decline by the feminist revolution; it has swollen into a thirty billion pound a year industry, populated by armies of faceless Internet whores and robo-bimbos. As Greer remarks, ‘after thirty years of feminism there is vastly more pornography, disseminated more widely than ever before.’ Pornography blends into the fashion industry, which claims to exist for the gratification of women, but is in fact, as she records, largely controlled by men who seek to persuade women to denude or adorn themselves to add to a public spectacle created largely for men. (Many fashion designers, moreover, are homosexual, Versace only the most conspicuous example, and these men create a boylike fashion norm which forces women into patterns of diet and exercise which constitute a new form of oppression.) Cellulite, once admired in the West and in almost all traditional societies, has now become a sin. To be saved, one ‘works out’. Demi Moore pumps iron for four hours a day; but even this ordeal was not enough to save her marriage.

Greer and other feminists identify the fashion industry as a major contributor to the contemporary enslavement of women. Its leading co-conspirator is the pharmaceuticals business, which, as she says, deliberately creates a culture of obsession with physical flaws: the so called Body Dysmorphic Disorder which is currently plumping out the business accounts of doctors, psychiatrists, and, of course, the cosmetic surgeons. As Dolly Parton says, ‘It costs a lot of money to look as cheap as I do.’ The world’s resources are gobbled up to service this artificially-induced obsession with looks, fed by the culture of denudation. And perhaps the most repellent dimension is the new phenomenon of hormone replacement therapy, billed as an anti-aging panacea. The hormone involved, estrogen, is obtained from mares: in America alone 80,000 pregnant female horses are held in battery farms, confined in crates, and tied to hoses to enable their urine to be collected. The foals that are delivered are routinely slaughtered.

The consequences of the new pressures on women are already generally known, although no solutions are seriously proposed. Women, we are told by the old school of feminists, today lead richer lives. However, it is also acknowledged that these lives often seem to be sadder. ‘Since 1955 there has been a five-fold increase in depressive illness in the US. For reasons that are anything but clear women are more likely to suffer than men,’ (p.171) while ‘17 percent of British women will try to kill themselves before their twenty-fifth birthday.’ This wave of sadness that afflicts modern women, which is entirely out of keeping with the expectations of the early feminists, again has brought joy to the pharmaceuticals barons. Prozac is overwhelmingly prescribed to women. (This is the same anti-depressant drug that is routinely given to zoo animals to help them overcome their sense of futility and entrapment.)

Greer concludes her angry book with few notes of hopefulness. The strategies she demanded in the 1960s have been extensively tried and applied; but the results have been ambiguous, and sometimes catastrophic. What is clear is that there has not been a liberation of women, so much as a throwing-off of one pattern of dependence in exchange for another. The husband has become dispensable; the pharmaceutical industry, and the ever-growing army of psychiatrists and counsellors, have taken his place. Happiness seems as remote as ever.

The most obvious area in which science has reverberations among feminists is in the differentials of physical strength which divide the sexes. In areas of life demanding physical power and agility, men continue to possess an advantage. Attempts have, of course, been made to overcome this proof of Mother Nature’s sexism through legislation. The most notorious attempt in the United Kingdom was the 1997 Ministry of Defence directive that female recruits would not be subject to the same physical tests as men. This excursion into political correctness foundered when it was discovered that the women being admitted to the army were not strong enough to perform some of the tasks required of them on completion of their training. As a result, the 1998 rules applied what were called ‘gender-free’ selection procedures to ensure that women and men faced identical tasks. The result was a massive rise in female injuries when compared with the men. Medical discharges due to overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, were calculated at 1.5% for male recruits, and at anything between 4.6% and 11.1% for females. Lt Col Ian Gemmell, an army occupational physician who compiled a report on the situation, noted that differences in women’s bone size and muscle mass lead to 33%-39% more stress on the female skeleton when compared to that of the male. The result is that although social changes have eroded the traditional moral reasons for barring women from active combat roles, the medical evidence alone compels the British army to bar women from the infantry and the Royal Armoured Corps.

The army is an unusual case, and the great majority of professions to which women seek access require no great physical ability. But the differences between the sexes are at their most profound where they are least visible. The gender revolutionaries of the 1960s, popularising and also radicalising the earlier, gentler calls for equality led by the likes of Virginia Woolf, were working with a science which was still largely unequipped to assess the subtler aspects of gender difference. Modern techniques of genetic examination, the reconstruction of genome maps, and the larger implications of the DNA discoveries made by Crick and Watson, were unimaginable when Greer first wrote. Since Marx and Weber, and also Freud, it had been assumed that gender roles were principally, perhaps even entirely, the product of social conditioning. Re-engineer that conditioning, it was thought, and in due season fifty percent of those doing all jobs, composing symphonies, and winning Nobel Prizes, would turn out to be women.

In retrospect this seems an odd assurance. The intellectual climate was, after all, thoroughly secular. There was no metaphysical or moral imperative that obliged the Western mind to conclude that the sexes were different only trivially, or, as one trendy bishop put it, simply ‘the same thing but with different fittings’. And yet so overwhelming were the egalitarian assumptions that had shaped Europe and America since at least Thomas Paine and David Hume, that everyone assumed that the sexes must be equal, in the way that the classes must be equal, or the races, or the nations.

One of the first large-scale social experiments based on the new theory of gender equality was the kibbutz scheme in Jewish-settled Palestine. This was founded in 1910 on the assumption, still eccentric in that time, that the emancipation of women can only be achieved when socialised gender roles are eliminated from the earliest stage of childhood.

The kibbutzim were collective farms in which maternal care was entirely eliminated. Instead of living with parents, children lived in special dormitories. To spare women the usual rounds of domestic drudgery, communal laundries and kitchens were provided. Both men and women were hence freed up to choose any activity or work they wished, and it was expected that both would participate equally in positions of power. To ensure the neutral socialisation of children, toys were kept in large baskets, so that boys and girls could choose their own toys, rather than have gender-stereotyped toys and games pressed upon them.

The results, after ninety years of consistent and conscientious social engineering, have been disconcerting. The children, to the anger of their supervisors, unerringly choose gender-specific toys. Three year-old boys pull guns and cars out of the baskets; the girls prefer dolls and tea-sets. Games organised by the children are competitive - among boys - and cooperative – among the girls.

In the kibbutz administration, quotas imposed to enforce female participation in leadership positions are rarely met. Dress codes which attempt to create uniformity are consistently flouted. In Israel today, the kibbutzim harbour sex-distinctions which are famous for being sharper than those observable in Israeli society at large. The experiment has not only failed, it seems to have backfired.

Most scientists and anthropologists who have documented the failure of such projects of social engineering today locate the gravitation of males and females to differing patterns of behaviour in the context of evolutionary biology. Darwinism and neo-Darwinism are of course under attack now, particularly by philosophers and physicists, rather more seriously than at any other time over the past hundred years. And as Shaykh Nuh Keller has shown, a thoroughgoing commitment to the theory of evolution is incompatible with the Koranic account of the origins of humanity. We believe in a common ancestry for our kind; the neo-Darwinists insist in multiple and interactive development of hominids from simian ancestors.

This does not mean, however, that all the insights of modern biology are unacceptable. Keller notes that micro-evolution, that is to say, the perpetuation and reinforcement over time of genetically successful strategies for survival, is undeniable, and is affirmed also in the hadith. The breeding of horses, for instance, presupposes principles of natural selection in which human beings can intervene. Heredity is true, as a hadith affirms. Categories such as the ‘Israelites’, or the ahl al-bayt, have real significance.

What do the biologists say? The view is that biological success amounts to one factor alone: the maximal propagation of an organism’s genetic material. A powerful predator which dominates its habitat is, however outwardly imposing, a biological failure if it fails to reproduce itself at least in sufficient numbers to ensure its own perpetuation.

Biologists point out that males and females have different reproductive strategies. The burden of what biologist Robert Trivers calls ‘parental investment’ is massively higher in the case of females than of males. This has nothing to do with social conditioning: it is a genetic and biological given. The human female, for instance, makes a vast investment in a child: beginning with nine months of metabolic commitment, followed by a further period before weaning. The male’s ‘parental investment’ is enormously less.

Trivers shows that ‘the sex providing the greater parental investment will become the limiting resource.’ The sex which contributes less will then necessarily be in a social position involving competition, ‘because they can improve their reproductive success through having numerous partners in a way that members of the other sex cannot.’ Hence, for modern biologists, the genetic and hormonal basis of male competition and aggression. Competition and aggression are traits which may be found in females, but typically to a greatly reduced degree, simply because they are not traits vital to those females’ reproductive success. The aggression which is vital to male biological survival is directed primarily against other males (the vast, physiologically-demanding racks of antlers on stags, for instance); but aggression also serves to make the male more equipped for hunting. Male parental investment is hence physiological only indirectly, insofar as it is directed to providing food or defence for the young.

Biology also helps us understand why the female hormonal pattern, dominated by estrogen and oxytocin, generates strong nurturing instincts which are far less evident in the male androgens and in adrenaline, which is useful for huntsmen and warriors, but of considerably less value in the rearing of children. Simply put, mothers have a far greater investment to lose if they neglect their children. A child that dies, through lack of care resulting from insufficient hormonal guidance, represents a greater potential failure for the mother than for the father. During gestation and lactation, the mother is infertile or nearly so; whereas during the same period the father may become a father again many times over. Hence, again, the genetic programming which generates nurturing and convivial instincts in women far more than it does in men. Men have less of the ‘nurturing’ neurotransmitter oxytocin than do women. Androgens ensure that men choose mates for their youth and their apparent childbearing abilities, estrogens impel women to choose mates who are assertive and powerful, as more likely to provide the food and protection that their offspring will need.

Hence also the prevalence of polygyny in traditional societies, and the extreme rarity of polyandry. To have many wives is a genetically sensible strategy, to have many husbands is not.

A further aspect of inherited gender difference is presented in the issue of risk-taking. Primordial humanity allocated willingness to take risks differently among the sexes, not for constructed ‘social’ reasons, but for reasons of biological survival. To achieve the power and status requisite for transmitting his genetic material, the male had to take risks. In the historically very few years that have elapsed since such times, this norm does not appear to have changed. Consistently the figures show that risky activities and sports attract more men than women. Gambling, motor racing and bungee-jumping continue to be overwhelmingly male activities. Men are statistically more likely to ignore seat-belt laws. Despite the popular stereotypes of women as dangerous drivers, the great majority of lethal road accidents are the fault of men, because they indulge in hazardous and aggressive styles of driving. More than twice as many boys as girls die through playing dangerous games, and this statistic is remarkably consistent throughout the world.

The precise mechanisms in the brain which generate this behaviour are only now being understood. The mechanisms are called neurotransmitters, hundreds of different varieties of which activate emotions and bodily movements. One of the most important is serotonin, which has as one of its functions the task of informing the body to stop certain activities. 

When the body is tired, it generates the desire to sleep; when we have eaten enough it tells the body to stop eating; and so on. It does this by linking the limbic system (which is the kingdom of the nafs, and which generates primal impulses to attack, be sad, or make sexual advances), with the frontal cortex at the front of the brain, where our ability to assess and plan our actions is thought to be located. Studies indicate that men typically have lower serotonin levels than women, and conclude that the higher risk-taking behaviour characterising successful Formula One drivers, for instance, is likely to make that choice of career an almost entirely male preserve, whatever the amount of social engineering that feminist societies may attempt.

Universities can reduce gender disparities by adopting alternative modes of assessment, but after graduation, the real world is often less amenable. Risk-taking is a necessary ingredient of success in many, perhaps most, high-flying professions. Psychologist Elizabeth Arch has recently shown that the ‘glass ceiling’ in many professions, which supposedly excludes women from further promotion because of prejudice, may in fact have a biological foundation. Conspicuous success in business, for instance, demands the taking of risks that do not always come instinctively to women. As she says, ‘from an early age, females are more averse to social, as well as physical, risk, and tend to behave in a manner that ensures continued social inclusion;’ and this is largely innate, rather than socially constructed.

One expert who has devoted his research to the implications of neurotransmitters for gender behaviour is Marvin Zuckerman. He divides the serotonin-related human quest for sensation into four types. Firstly, there is the quest for adventure and the love of danger, which is associated with the typically low serotonin levels of the male. Secondly, the quest for experiences, whether these be musical, aesthetic or religious. Zuckerman detected no significant difference between male and female enthusiasm for this quest. Thirdly, disinhibition. The neurotransmitters of the typical male allow the comparatively swift loss of moral control over the sex drive, when compared with women. Fourthly, boredom. The male brain is more susceptible to boredom when carrying out routine and repetitive tasks.

What are the religious implications of this? 

Biography Abdul Hakim Murad: 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Modernity: Dormant Longing For A Unity Without Religion and Metaphysics

Omar KN
In modernism it was believed that materiality or phenomena was everything there is and that it is superiour to anything else. This philosophy of science is called positivism - it is a rejection of metaphysics, as it holds that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena that we experience, which we can observe and measure and nothing beyond that. 

In some quarters there was still an underlying, dormant longing for the construction or discovery of the Grand Design, meaning a new unity of being, of what Reality really is, but a unity which had to do without religion and metaphysics. Probing the "Grand Design, in posing the greatest questions: How vast is the Universe, the entirety of existence? Was there a beginning? Will there be an end? What is the origin and fate of the Universe?" 

However, as Charles Upton has shown in postmodernism it is always held (as a conviction or belief ?!) that:

(1) there is no Grand Design,
(2) truth is plural and ultimately subjective,
(3) reality
 is only as it is configured,
(4) there is nothing out there but chaotic potential.

Furthermore, with today's "celebration of diversity", normal logical thinking seems to have evaporated from many a contemporary mind, as modernism and postmodernism even can work together, or so it seems, in the mind of a single individual, confounding it and neutralizing any attempt toward a traditional or metaphysical view of reality!  So much so that by now "modernism has become nothing more than a sub-set, one more disrelated item in the postmodern spectrum of "diversity" ." 


[From English reduce: to resolve or analyze something into its constituent elements.]
1.      (metaphysics) A philosophical approach that attempts to reduce any complex phenomenon into its constituent elements or into a simpler or more fundamental phenomenon. Both physicalism andbehaviorism are examples of reductionism, and reductionism is often closely allied with materialism and determinism. (Sometimes also called reductivism.)


[A term coined by the French critic Jacques Derrida.]
1.      (aesthetics) A late twentieth-century theory of literature that concentrates on finding "ruptures" or inconsistencies which enable the critic to break down or "deconstruct" the text. Such deconstruction consists of asserting a personally or communally relative interpretation (usually focused on power relations or class conflict in society) without claiming that any text or interpretation has objective truth or meaning. Deconstructionism is a specific kind of postmodernism, and leans heavily toward subjectivism or evennihilism.


[From Latin objectum: that which is presented to consciousness.]
1.      (metaphysics) The doctrine that reality exists outside of the mind and that entities retain their identity no matter what human beings think or feel about them (colloquially captured in the phrase 'wishing doesn't make it so'). Historically, a less common word for realism, in opposition to subjectivism.
2.      (ethics) The view that there are naturalistic or non-subjective standards of value and conduct.
3.      (philosophy) The self-described name for Ayn Rand's philosophy; see Randianism.

 Read more: 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gender as Sacred Sign

Abdul Hakim Murad

..Women’s functions vary widely in the Muslim world and in Muslim history. In peasant communities, women work out of doors; in the desert, and among urban elites, womanhood is more frequently celebrated in the home. Recurrently, however, the public space is rigorously desexualised, and this is represented by the quasi-monastic garb of men and women, where frequently the colour white is the colour of the male, while black, significantly the sign of interiority, of the Ka‘ba and hence the celestial Layla, denotes femininity. In the private space of the home these signs are cast aside, and the home becomes as colourful as the public space is austere and polarised. Modernity, refusing to recognise gender as sacred sign, and delighting in random erotic signalling, renders the public space ‘domestic’ by colouring it, and makes war on all remnants of gender separation, crudely construed as judgemental.

For Muslims, a significant development in the new feminism is the renewed desire for apartness. Contemplating the crisis of egalitarian social contracts, where the burden of divorce invariably bears most heavily upon women, Daly and many others advocate an almost insurrectionist refusal of contact with the male, and the creation of ‘women’s spaces’ as citadels for the cultivation of a true sisterhood. This cannot be immediately useful to Muslims. Hermeneutics of suspicion directed against either sex are irreligious from the Qur’anic perspective. God, as a sign, ‘has created spouses for you, from your own kind, that you may find peace in them; and He has set between you love and mercy.’ (30:21) Nonetheless, the feminist demand for apartness should not be cast aside; it may even converge significantly with Islam’s provision of it.

Other aspects of Shari‘a discourse also call for elucidation. It cannot be our task here to review the detailed provisions of Islamic law, and to explain, in each individual instance, the Islamic case that gender equality, even where the concept is meaningful, can be undermined rather than established by enforced parity of role and rights. Such a project would require a separate volume of the type attempted recently by Haifa Jawad; and we must content ourselves with surveying a few representative issues.

Perhaps the most immediately conspicuous feature of Muslim communities is the dress code traditional for women

Perhaps the most immediately conspicuous feature of Muslim communities is the dress code traditional for women. It is often forgotten that the Shari‘a and the Muslim sense of human dignity require a dress code for men as well: in fully traditional Muslim societies, men always cover their hair in public, and wear long flowing garments exposing only the hands and feet. In Muslim law, however, their awra is more loosely defined: men have to cover themselves from the navel to the knees as a minimum. But women, on the basis of a hadith, must cover everything except the face, hands and feet.

Again, the feminine dress code, known as hijab, forms a largely passive text available for a range of readings. For some Western feminist missionaries to Muslim lands, it is a symbol of patriarchy and of woman’s demure submission. For Muslim women, it proclaims their identity: many very secular women who demonstrated against the Shah in the 1970s wore it for this reason, as an almost aggressive flag of defiance. Franz Fanon reflected on a similar phenomenon among Algerian women protesting against French rule in the 1950s. For still other women, however, such as the Egyptian thinker Safinaz Kazim, the hijab is to be reconstrued as a quasi-feminist statement. A woman who exposes her charms in public is vulnerable to what might be described as ‘visual theft’, so that men unknown to her can enjoy her visually without her consent. By covering herself, she regains her ability to present herself as a physical being only to her family and sorority. This view of hijab, as a kind of moral raincoat particularly useful under the inclement climate of modernity, allows a vision of Islamic woman as liberated, not from tradition and meaning, but from ostentation and from subjection to random visual rape by men. The feminist objection to the patriarchal adornment or denuding of women, namely that it reduces them to the status of vulnerable, passive objects of the male regard, makes no headway against the hijab, responsibly understood.

A further controversy in the Shari‘a’s nurturing of gender roles centres around the institution of plural marriage.

A further controversy in the Shari‘a’s nurturing of gender roles centres around the institution of plural marriage. This clearly is a primordial institution whose biological rationale is unanswerable: as Dawkins and others have observed, it is in the genetic interest of males to have a maximal number of females; while the reverse is never the case. Stephen Pinker notes somewhat obviously in his book How the Mind Works: ‘The reproductive success of males depends on how many females they mate with, but the reproductive success of females does not depend on how many males they mate with.’

Islam’s naturalism, its insistence on the fitra and our authentic belongingness to the natural order, has ensured the conservation of this creational norm within the moral context of the Shari‘a. Polygamy, in the Islamic case, appears as a recognisably Semitic institution, traceable back to an Old Testament tribal society frequently at war and unequipped with a social security system that might protect and assimilate widows into society. However it is more universal: classical Hinduism permits a man four wives, and there are many Christian voices, not only Mormons, who are today calling for the restoration of polygamy as part of an authentically Biblical lifestyle. (See, for example,

Islam’s theology of gender thus contends with a maze, a web of connections which demand familiarity with a diverse legal code, regional heterogeneity, and with the metaphysical no less than with the physical. This complexity should warn us against offering facile generalisations about Islam’s attitude to women. Journalists, feminists and cultivated people generally in the West have harboured deeply negative verdicts here. Often these verdicts are arrived at through the observation of actual Muslim societies; and it would be both futile and immoral to suggest that the modern Islamic world is always to be admired for its treatment of women. Women in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where they are not even permitted to drive cars, are objectively the victims of an oppression which is not the product of a divinely-willed sheltering of a sex, but of ego, of the nafs of the male.

Muslim women have for long periods of Islam’s history left their homes to become scholars.

Biology should be destiny, but a destiny that allows for multiple possibilities. Women’s discourse valorizes the home; but Muslim women have for long periods of Islam’s history left their homes to become scholars. A hundred years ago the orientalist Ignaz Goldziher showed that perhaps fifteen percent of medieval hadith scholars were women, teaching in the mosques and universally admired for their integrity. Colleges such as the Saqlatuniya Madrasa in Cairo were funded and staffed entirely by women. The most recent study of Muslim female academicians, by Ruth Roded, charts an extraordinary dilemma for the researcher:

‘If U.S. and European historians feel a need to reconstruct women’s history because women are invisible in the traditional sources, Islamic scholars are faced with a plethora of source material that has only begun to be studied. [ . . . ] In reading the biographies of thousands of Muslim women scholars, one is amazed at the evidence that contradicts the view of Muslim women as marginal, secluded, and restricted.’

Stereotypes come under almost intolerable strain when Roded documents the fact that the proportion of female lecturers in many classical Islamic colleges was higher than in modern Western universities. A’isha, Mother of Believers, who taught hadith in the ur-mosque of Islam, is as always the indispensable paradigm: lively, intelligent, devout, and humbling to all subsequent memory.

Conclusion: Muslim Societies Today

But until past ideals are reclaimed, a polarisation in Muslim societies is likely. The Westernised classes will reject traditional idioms simply because those styles are not Western and fail to satisfy the élite’s self-image. The pseudosalafi literalists will continue to reject Sufism’s high regard for women, and its demand for the destruction of the ego. The same constituency will defy legitimate calls for a due ijtihad-based transformation of aspects of Islamic law, not because of any profound moral understanding of that law, but because of a hamfisted exegesis of usul and because those calls are associated with Western influence and demands.

Whether the conscientious middle ground, inspired by the genius of tradition, can seize the initiative, and allow an ego-free and generous Muslim definition of the Sunna to shape the agenda in our rapidly polarising societies, remains to be seen. No doubt, the Sufi insight that there is no justice or compassion on earth without an emptying of the self will be the final yardstick among the wise. But it is clear that the Islamic tradition offers the possibility of a truly radical solution, offering not only to itself but to the West the transcendence of a debate which continues to perplex many responsible minds, contemplating an emergent society where the absence of roles presides over an increasingly damaging absence of rules.

Read full paper:

'Islam, Irigaray, and the retrieval of gender'
©Abdal Hakim Murad (April 1999)

Brief biography of Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad (Timothy J. Winter):

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"There is No Longer A Journey to Undertake, No Longer A Destination to Reach"

Sultan Bahu

Alif Allah chambe di booti, Murshid man wich laaee hoo
Nafee asbaat da pane milia, Har rage harjae hoo.
Andar booti mushk machaya, Jaan phullan te aae hoo
Jeeve Murshid Kaamil Bahu, Jain eh booti laee hoo
My Master Has Planted in My Heart the Jasmine of Allah’s Name.
Both My Denial That the Creation is Real and My Embracing of God, the Only Reality, Have Nourished the Seedling Down to its Core.
-When the Buds of Mystery Unfolded Into the Blossoms of Revelation, My Entire Being Was Filled with God’s Fragrance.
-May the Perfect Master Who Planted this Jasmine in My Heart Be Ever Blessed, O Bahu!
Allaah parhion hafiz hoion, Na giaa hijabon pardaa hoo
Parhh parhh aalim faazil hoion, Taalib hoion zar daa hoo
Lakh hazar kitabaan parhiaan, Zaalim nafs na mardaa hoo
Baajh Faqeraan kise na mareya, Eho chor andar daa hoo
-You Have Read the Name of God Over and Over, You Have Stored the Holy Qur’an in Your Memory, But this Has Still Not Unveiled the Hidden Mystery.
-Instead, Your Learning and Scholarship Have Sharpened Your Greed for Worldly Things,
-None of the Countless Books You’ve Read in Your Life Has Destroyed Your Brutal Ego.
-Indeed, None But the Saints Can Kill this Inner Thief, for it Ravages the Very House in Which it Lives.
Alif-aihad jad dittee wiskaalee, Az khud hoiaa fane hoo
Qurb, Wisaal, Maqaam na Manzil, Na uth jism na jaanee hoo
Na uth Ishq Muhabbat kaee, Na uth kaun makanee hoo
Aino-ain theeose Bahu, Sirr Wahadat Subhanee hoo
-When the One Lord Revealed Himself to Me, I Lost Myself in Him.
-Now There is Neither Nearness Nor Union. There is No Longer A Journey to Undertake, No Longer A Destination to Reach.
-Love Attachment, My Body and Soul and Even the Very Limits of Time and Space Have All Dropped From My Consciousness.
-My Separate Self Has Merged in the Whole: in That, O Bahu, Lies the Secret of the Unity That is God!
Allaah sahee keetose jis dam, Chamkiaa Ishq agohaan hoo
Raat dihaan de taa tikhere, Kare agohaan soohaan hoo
Andae bhaaheen, Andar baalan, Andar de wch dhoohaan hoo
‘Shaah Rag’ theen Raab nerhe laddhaa, Ishq keetaa jad soohaan hoo
-The Moment I Realized the Oneness of God, the Flame of His Love Shone Within, to Lead Me On.
-Constantly it Burns in My Heart with Intense Heat, Revealing the Mysteries Along My Path.
-This Fire of Love Burns Inside Me with No Smoke, Fuelled by My Intense Longing for the Beloved.
-Following the Royal Vein, I Found the Lord Close By. My Love Has Brought Me Face to Face with Him.
-Alif alast suniaa dil mere, Jind balaa kookendee hoo
Hubb watan dee haalib hoee, Hik pal saun na dendee hoo
Qaihar pave is raazan duneeaa, Haq daa raah marendee hoo
Aashiq mool qabool na Bahu, Zaaro zaar ruvendee hoo
-When, At the Time of Creation, God Separated Me From Himself, I Heard Him Say: “am I Not Your God?” , “indeed You Are,” Cried My Soul, Reassured. Since Then Has My Heart Flowered.
-With the Inner Urge to Return Home, Giving Me Not A Moment of Calm Here on Earth.
-May Doom Strike this World! it Robs Souls on Their Way to God.
-The World Has Never Accepted His Lovers; They Are Persecuted and Left to Cry in Pain.

Hadrat Sultan Bahu is one of the most renowned sufi saints of the later Mughal Period in the history of Indo Pakistan subcontinent. He is often called Sultanul Arifin ( the Sultan of gnostics) in the Sufi circles. His ancestors belonging to the tribe of Alvids called Awan and coming from Arabia via Hirat (Afghanistan ) had settled in the soon Sakesar Valley of Khushab District in Punjab.
His mother taught him the essential sufi exercises of dhikr (invocation of Allah and His Names ) and he probably needed no more guidance after that. He was initiated to walk the path of Sufis intuitively.  He died in 1691 A.D. at Shorkot where he was buried close to the bank of the river. His body had, however, to be transferred twice to other nearby places due to the floods. Now the place he lies buried under a beautiful tomb is called Darbar Hazrat Sultan Bahu ( District Jhang, Punjab).
 He wrote many books in Persian. He also wrote ghazals and poems in Persian as a well as Abyaat in Punjabi. His Punjabi poetry contains spiritual fervour and passionate expression of the exalted state of Divine Love. 
He was the greatest teacher and propagator of Faqr ( spiritual poverty ) which is the shining guiding star in his teachings. He may be considered one of the greatest Revealers in the history of Sufism.
His dargah has always been supervised by the Sajjadah Nashins of his own family.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Confusion in Knowledge creates Loss of Adab (Recognition and Acknowledgement) which implies Loss of Justice

Sayyid Naquib al-Attas

“As to the internal causes of the dilemma in which we find ourselves, the basic problems can – it seems to me – be reduced to a single evident crisis which I would simply call the loss of adab. I am here referring to the loss of discipline – the discipline of body, mind, and soul; the discipline that assures the recognition and acknowledgement of one’s proper place in relation to one’s self, society and Community; the recognition and acknowledgement of one’s proper place in relation to one’s physical, intellectual, and spiritual capacities and potentials; the recognition and acknowledgement of the fact that knowledge and being are ordered hierarchically.

Since adab refers to recognition and acknowledgement of the right and proper place, station, and condition in life and to self discipline in positive and willing participation in enacting one’s role in accordance with that recognition and acknowledgement, its occurrence in one and in society as a whole reflects the condition of justice.

Loss of adab implies loss of justice, which in turn betrays confusion in knowledge. In respect of the society and community, the confusion in knowledge of Islam and the Islamic world view creates the condition which enables false leaders to emerge and to thrive causing the condition of injustice. They emerge and to thrive, causing the condition of injustice. They perpetuate this condition since it ensures the continued emergence of leaders like them to replace them after they are gone perpetuating their domination over the affairs of the Community.

Thus to put it briefly in their proper order, our present general dilemma is caused by:
1.                             1.  Confusion and error in knowledge, creating the condition for:
2.                              2. The loss of adab within the Community. The condition arising out of (1) and (2) is:
3.                              3. The rise of leaders who are not qualified for valid leadership of the Muslim Community, who do not possess the high moral, intellectual and spiritual standards required for Islamic leadership who perpetuate the condition in (1) above and ensure the continued control of the affairs of the Community by leaders like them who dominate in all fields.

All the above roots of our general dilemma are interdependent and operates in a vicious circle. But the chief cause is confusion and error in knowledge, and in order to break this vicious circle and remedy this grave problem, we must first come to grips with the problem of loss of adab, since no true knowledge can be instilled without the precondition of adab in the one who seeks it and to whom it is imparted.”

(p 99-100 “Islam, Secularism and the Philosophy of the Future” by Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas)

Further Reading:
Al-Attas’ Concept of Ta‘dib as True and Comprehensive Education in Islam – Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud

Monday, January 17, 2011

Learning the Maqasid al Shariah!

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Over the long run, the most productive initiative by the still largely silent majority of Muslims in marginalizing Muslim extremists is to fill the intellectual and spiritual void that serves as an ocean in which the extremists can swim. This initiative can provide the favorable environment needed for Muslims to ally with like-minded Christians and Jews in order to show that classical Islam and classical America are similar, even though many people do not understand or live up to the ideals common to both.

This is the only way to convince the extremists that their confrontational approach to the “other” is not necessary; that the threat mentality of those who think only about their own survival and are obsessed with catastrophe and conspiracy can backfire; and that only those can truly prosper over the long run who can transcend their own self-centered interests in order to develop an opportunity mentality together with those who are no longer merely the “other” but now are a single pluralist community.

In order to fill the intellectual void,Muslims need to emphasize the universal Islamic principles, the maqasid al shari’ah, which spell out precisely what Michael Novak says do not exist in Islam. These maqasid, following the methodology instituted by the Prophet Muhammad and perfected in the architectonics pioneered six centuries ago by the master of the art, Al-Shatibi, are considered to consist of seven responsibilities, the practice of which actualize the corresponding human rights.

The first one, known as haqq al din, provides the framework for the next six in the form of respect for a transcendent source of truth to guide human thought and action. God instructs us in the Qur’an, wa tamaat kalimatu Rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “and the word of your Lord is perfected in truth and justice.” Recognition of this absolute source of truth and of the responsibility to apply it in practice are needed to counter the temptations toward relativism and the resulting chaos, injustice, and tyranny that may result from de-sacralization of public life.

Each of these seven universal principles is essential to understand the next and succeeding ones. The first three operational principles, necessary to sustain existence, begin with haqq al nafs or haqq al ruh, which is the duty to respect the human person. The ruh or spirit of every person was created by God before or outside of the creation of the physical universe, is constantly in the presence of God, and, according to the Prophet Muhammad, is made in the image of God. This is the basis of the intimate relationship between God and the human person as expressed in the Qur’anic ayah, “We are closer to him than is his own jugular vein.”
This is also the basis of the prayer offered by the Prophet and by countless generations of Muslims for more than a thousand years:Allahumma, inna asaluka hubbaka wa hubba man yuhibbuka wa hubba kulli ‘amali yuqaribuni ila hubika, “O Allah! I ask You for Your love and for the love of those who love You. Grant that I may love every action that will bring me closer to You.”

At the secondary level of this principle, known as hajjiyat or requirements, lies the duty to respect life, haqq al haya. This provides guidelines in the third-order tahsinniyat for what in modern parlance is called the doctrine of just war.

The next principle, haqq al nasl, is the duty to respect the nuclear family and the community at every level all the way to the community of humankind as an important expression of the person. This principle teaches that the sovereignty of the person, subject to the ultimate sovereignty of God, comes prior to and is superior to any alleged sovereignty of the secular invention known as the State.

This principle teaches also that a community at the level of the nation, which shares a common sense of the past, common values in the present, and common hopes for the future, such as the Palestinians, Kurds, Chechens, Kashmiris, the Uighur in China, and the Anzanians in the Sudan, has legal existence and therefore legal rights in international law. This is the opposite of the Western international law created by past empires, which is based on the simple principle of “might makes right.”

The third principle is haqq al mal, which is the duty to respect the rights of private property in the means of production. This requires respect for institutions that broaden access to capital ownership as a universal human right and as an essential means to sustain respect for the human person and human community. This principle requires the perfection of existing institutions to remove the barriers to universal property ownership so that wealth will be distributed through the production process rather than by stealing from the rich by forced redistribution to the poor. Such redistribution can never have more than a marginal effect in reducing the gap between the inordinately rich and the miserably poor, because the owners in a defective financial system need not and never will give up their economic and political power.

The next three universal principles in Islamic law concern primarily what we might call the quality of life. The first is haqq al hurriya, which requires respect for self-determination of both persons and communities through political freedom, including the concept that economic democracy is a precondition for the political democracy of representative government.

The secondary principles required to give meaning to the parent principle and carry it out in practice are khilafa, the ultimate responsibility of both the ruled and the ruler to God; shura, the responsiveness of the rulers to the ruled, which must be institutionalized in order to be meaningful; ijma, the duty of the opinion leaders to reach consensus on specific policy issues in order to participate in the process of shura; and an independent judiciary.

The second of these last three maqasid is haqq al karama or respect for human dignity. The two most important hajjiyat for individual human dignity are religious freedom and gender equity. In traditional Islamic thought, freedom and equality are not ultimate ends but essential means to pursue the higher purposes inherent in the divine design of the Creator for every person.

The last universal or essential purpose at the root of Islamic jurisprudence, which can be sustained only by observance of the first six principles and also is essential to each of them, is haqq al ‘ilm or respect for knowledge. Its second-order principles are freedom of thought, press, and assembly so that all persons can fulfill their purpose to seek knowledge wherever they can find it.

This framework for human rights is at the very core of Islam as a religion. Fortunately, this paradigm of law in its broadest sense of moral theology is now being revived by what still is a minority of courageous Muslims determined to fill the intellectual gap that has weakened the Muslim umma for more than six hundred years, so that a spiritual renaissance in all faiths can transform the world.

Dr. Robert Dickson Crane is a scholar and a prolific writer and expert on subjects ranging from law to economics to international affairs and Islamic jurisprudence.

He is a co-founding board member and former Chairman of the Center for Understanding Islam, and Director for Global Strategy at The Abraham Federation: A Global Center for Peace through Compassionate Justice. In 1962 he co-founded the Center for Strategic and International Studies, while remaining of Counsel with his law firm until 1965. From 1963 to 1968, he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Richard Nixon who appointed him as Deputy Director of the National Security Council in 1969. From 1982 to the present Dr. Crane has been a full-time Islamic scholar and activist.

Dr. Crane was a Founding Member of The American Muslim Council and from 1992 to 1994 served as Director of its Legal Division. In 1993, he was elected president of the Muslim American Bar Association, which he founded in order to organize Muslim participation in the American Bar Association's work on issues of conscience. From 1994 until the present he has headed his own research organizations [Santa FeNew Mexico] focusing on paradigm management designed to shape the agendas of think tanks, which, in turn, direct public policy.