Monday, January 21, 2008

REFLECTION/INDONESIA: Supplication without hijab ...

My mother never taught us (my siblings and I) much about the Prophet Muhammad when we were young. We learned that he was sent to teach people how to behave properly with each other. We also learned that he was a very humble man. But we rarely heard of his actual words.

Except for one thing he said. The Messenger of God is reported to have said:

Beware the supplication (du'a) of the wronged or oppressed person, because their prayers pierce through the various hijabs (veils or curtains) that separate God from God's creation.
Or something like that.

The basic message I got from this is that an excellent way of guaranteeing you have a miserable life is to kick someone when they are down or to take advantage of someone when they are in a state of weakness and vulnerability. And that you shouldn't cause harm to the weak and oppressed. Because God always looks after those who have no one on this planet to look after them.

With that in mind, I'd like to propose a theory. Many people ask why Muslims are in such a bad state. I have a simple explanation. And it revolves around this saying of the Messenger of God.

Basically we as a set of communities, societies and nationsare oppressing a group from among us. They are generally a vulnerable group. Many are weak. Quite a few are dependent on others, whether emotionally and/or financially and/or in other ways.

The wierd thing is that they actually make up a majority from among us.

Yes, I've heard all the rhetoric about how Islam liberated women, about how the Prophet stopped the practice of female infanticide etc. And I believe it all. But what are we doing to our women?

Why are Muslim societies among the most oppressive, mysogynistic and sexist societies on earth? And why is it that we only ever seem to judge religiosity of a community by the extent to which it regulates its women? Why is sharia only sharia in the way it legislates about women?

I urge my Muslim readers not to become defensive. There is no doubt that women in non-Muslim societies also suffer immensely. I know that rates of domestic violence in New South Wales (the most populous state in Australia) have risen by at least 50% in the past 7 years.

But how can we sit back when one of the few genuinely democratic and progressive Muslim societies, and the largest Muslim country on earth, tolerates the kinds of allegedly religious activity that is described in the January 20 edition of the New York Times Magazine?

Here are some excerpts ...

When a girl is taken — usually by her mother — to a free circumcision event held each spring in Bandung, Indonesia, she is handed over to a small group of women who, swiftly and yet with apparent affection, cut off a small piece of her genitals. Sponsored by the Assalaam Foundation, an Islamic educational and social-services organization, circumcisions take place in a prayer center or an emptied-out elementary-school classroom where desks are pushed together and covered with sheets and a pillow to serve as makeshift beds. The procedure takes several minutes. There is little blood involved. Afterward, the girl’s genital area is swabbed with the antiseptic Betadine. She is then helped back into her underwear and returned to a waiting area, where she’s given a small, celebratory gift — some fruit or a donated piece of clothing — and offered a cup of milk for refreshment. She has now joined a quiet majority in Indonesia, where, according to a 2003 study by the Population Council, an international research group, 96 percent of families surveyed reported that their daughters had undergone some form of circumcision by the time they reached 14.

Ninety six percent! How do my Indonesian brothers sleep at night, knowing that their wives and sisters and mothers and daughters go through this?

So what benefits do our sisters get from this procedure?

According to Lukman Hakim, the foundation’s chairman of social services, there are three “benefits” to circumcising girls.

“One, it will stabilize her libido,” he said through an interpreter. “Two, it will make a woman look more beautiful in the eyes of her husband. And three, it will balance her psychology.”
Is he for real? Where did he get this stuff from? How does this add to a woman's beauty? Why does the libido of a Muslim woman (or indeed any woman) need to be surgically stabilised?

Did the Prophet Muhammad have his daughters stabilised? Did Uthman make sure that Ruqaiyya and Umm Kulthum went through this procedure before marrying them? Did Ali insist Fatima go through this procedure? Did any of the wives of the Prophet, the Mothers of the Believers, go through this procedure? Or any other women in Madina?

In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, a debate over whether to ban female circumcision is in its early stages. The Ministry of Health has issued a decree forbidding medical personnel to practice it, but the decree which has yet to be backed by legislation does not affect traditional circumcisers and birth attendants, who are thought to do most female circumcisions. Many agree that a full ban is unlikely without strong support from the country’s religious leaders.
Perhaps our Islamic religious leaders in Australia can explain to their Indonesian peers why this practice is abhorrent and disgraceful. Perhaps our imams can remind Indonesian imams that not all vestiges of Indonesia's indigenous pre-Islamic customs are worth holding onto.

I love Indonesia, its people and its many cultures. Insh'Allah (God-willing) I hope to visit this beautiful country again. Indonesians impressed me as enlightened, progressive people who genuinely treasure their culture and their democracy. Indonesia is a shining light among the darkness of police states and dictatorships governing most Muslim-majority countries.

We must hope, pray and encourage our Indonesian brothers and sisters to discard these kinds of practises that have no medical or spiritual benefit. And we must root out this evil practice from other societies, Muslim and non-Muslim.

How can we exprect to progress when our women-folk are secretly, in their heart of hearts, supplicating to God against us?

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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