11 May 2015

Islamic Dress Code, Alcohol and Blasphemy in Islam

I have just asked the burning question about why Saudi Arabia spent hundreds of billions of dollars to reduce Islam to three precepts.

A young and devout Muslim friend of mine told me that what I wrote was nonsense because these three precepts are the sine qua non of being Muslim: they have always been part of Muslim identity as they were inscribed in the Koran.

I promised her that I would make this the subject of my next post.

This is what makes this social engineering project so fascinating to me, as neither point made by my pious Muslim friend were true. These precepts were never an integral part of Muslim identity and they are not inscribed in the Koran.

Let's take each precept separately.

Islamic Dress Code

If you Google Muslim women in 1960s and 70s here is a sample of what you will see.

This was Kabul in the 1960s







 A graduation ceremony in Egypt in 1959





The same ceremony in 1978




And in 2004




How about Pakistan? Well, this picture is from 1969



swimming competition in Karachi in 1970



I could go on but you get the picture.

I am not suggesting that all Muslim women were in swimming pools at the time but what is called Hijab today, which is this headgear,
Image result for muslims


was non-existent.






It is claimed that Hijab was invented in the 70s by Musa Sadr, a Shia cleric in Lebanon and it became a symbol of political Islam because of its universal adoption by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I cannot tell you if the Musa Sadr story is true but I can tell you that in the 1960s and early 70s, the great majority of Muslim women who wore a headscarf used something like these.



So the part about Islamic dress code being there for time immemorial is rubbish.

As for men in shalwar kameezes with bushy beards, in the 60s, in places like Egypt, North Africa, Turkey, only those men who consider themselves part of some religious order wore beards. The rest, including imams, rarely sported facial hair (mustaches are not considered facial hair in the Middle East, men believe they were born with them).

When imams wore a beard, it was always neatly trimmed.

Next question: does the Koran tell women to cover themselves up in public?

Actually, I already answered that:
Hijab, burqa, niqab are not mentioned in the Holy Book. Typically, verses 30-31 of An-Nisa (24) surah is quoted by people who want women to be covered. 
But these verses actually talk about beauty that can be revealed in public and beauty that should remain private and the latter does not include face, hair, hands, feet, etc: 
Such a striking of feet or walk could only reveal a limited number of parts of the body, e.g. the private parts, buttocks, thighs, breasts, hips, thus any part not revealed by such an action should not be considered part of hidden beauty and therefore part of apparent beauty. Of course, this means such things as face, hair, hands, feet etc would not clearly fall into the category of beauty that is meant to be hidden.
This understanding would also fit with The Quran's instruction on the body parts that are to be cleansed during daily ablution (hands, arms, face, head and feet), see 5:6, 4:43
Forcing women to cover their heads and faces is as old as humanity and it is common to most religions. It is in the Bible. It is part of Orthodox Judaism.

Which means that it is more likely the result of your basic patriarchy than an unusual preoccupation of a Deity.

Alcohol

What about alcohol?

Contrary to what you might believe, alcohol has always been part of Muslim societies.
Historians believe alcohol originated in the Middle East. Indeed, the word may come from the Arabic al-kohl, eyeliner made by mixing distilled ethanol and antimony salts. Similar substances without the powder soon became popular drinks
Khamariyat, or ode to wine, continued under Islam and there are very famous poets like Abu Nuwas or Omar Khayyam who excelled in that art form. Among early Caliphs you have Haroun al Rashid (he of the One thousand and One Nights) the Commander of the Faithful, notorious for his drinking and his parties.

Many Ottoman Sultans, who doubled as Caliphs, drank wine and ingested opium.

A 19th century orientalist Edward William Lane reported wide spread consumption of alcohol in Egypt.

In more recent times, in the 20th century, alcohol was a daily reality in most Muslim countries. There is a booming alcoholic beverages sector in Egypt and Turkey,  Alcohol consumption is very high in Tunisia.  Alcohol is available in most retail outlets and restaurants in Morocco even though it is supposed to be illegal to sell it to the Muslims.

Even in Pakistan, alcohol was freely sold and consumed until the Prohibition in 1977.
I remember thinking what all the fuss was about because as a child I’d seen nightclubs, bars and roadside cafes in Karachi (that served alcohol) operating like any entertainment business would.
Even today, alcohol is fully banned only in Saudi Arabia and Libya (by Qaddafi). It is banned in Pakistan and Iran with exceptions (allowed for non-Muslims). In Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and North Africa it is widely and legally available.
Nobody knows exactly when Islamic scholars decided that booze was sinful. In the 1970s political Islam led some countries such as Iran and Pakistan to ban alcohol, although many do not and exceptions are made for non-Muslims.
Doesn't the Holy Book ban alcohol explicitly?

No.

The Koran discourages the consumption of alcohol but does not explicitly ban it like it does, say eating pork or charging interest.
The characteristics of haram or prohibitions found in the Koran usually begin with the expression "forbidden for you."

"Forbidden unto you are carrion and blood and swine-flesh.... (5. Al Ma' idah: 3).
In the five verses dealing with alcohol you have none of that unequivocal stance.

In fact, the Koran makes room for the consumption of alcohol and this is what it says:
"O you who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when you are drunken, till you know that which you utter,. ...." (4. An-Nisa: 43).
In the most often cited Surah on alcohol, this is what the Koran says:
"They question you about strong drink and games of chance. Say: In both is great abuse and usefulness for mankind; but the abusive side of them is greater than their usefulness." (2. Al-Baqarah :219).
The "abuse" has often been translated as "sin" to make it into a stronger rule. But this is a forced and illogical reading.
It is worth mentioning here that the word "abuse" has been replaced as "sin" by the early promoters of Islam. It is really a mind-boggling issue whether the word "sin" is an appropriate opposite of "usefulness"?
Feel free to look it up.

Blasphemy

I covered this in some detail in my post on Charlie Hebdo. Let me remind you of the relevant points:
There are two passages in the Koran that specifically mention the reaction you are supposed to have if you, as a Muslim, see someone making fun of Islam and the verses of the Koran. 
The first one is in the Al-An'am sura (68)
And when you see those who engage in [offensive] discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversion. And if Satan should cause you to forget, then do not remain after the reminder with the wrongdoing people. 
This was revealed when the Prophet was in Mecca and the context was the mushrikun making fun of Islam. If you have any notion of Islam you must know what a seriously offensive situation this was. Yet Allah simply tells him and all Muslims to move away and to not come back until these people stopped making fun of Islam. 
That is it. 
And this is not all. Later when the Prophet is in Medina, Christians and Jews make fun of him and his teachings, Allah intervenes again. This is what he says in An Nisa sura (140)
And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. Indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed Allah will gather the hypocrites and disbelievers in Hell all together.
Let me ask my good and devoutly Muslim friends: if you, as a Muslim, are offended by someone's comment about Islam, shouldn't you abide by the word of Allah?

More importantly, shouldn't your government?

Yet most Muslim countries have laws against blasphemy in their books.

Moreover, after all this ink spilled on the Mohammed cartoons and the Charlie Hebdo murders, how come no media outlet ever mentioned that the notion of Islamic blasphemy has no theological foundation?

Why am I the only person stating it?

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