Jul 30, 2011

Posted by in Articles | 331 Comments

Muslims, we aren’t Monolithic!

Salim Sachedina

May 24, 2010


The other day, a friend of ours sent us an e-mail purported to be written by Sandra Cusack, Ph.D., Educational Gerontologist from Surrey, BC and asked me, a Muslim, as to what I thought about it before she passed it on.

“By passing this on,” asserts Ms. Cusack, “enlightened Canadian and American women may avoid becoming a slave under Shariah Law.”

Ms. Cusack wrote a little blurb on a book entitled Joy of a Muslim Woman, written by one Nonie Darwis, an Egyptian born Arab.

“In the Western World”, Ms. Cusack writes, “Muslim men are starting to demand Shariah Law so the wife can not obtain a divorce and he can have full and complete control of her.  It is amazing and alarming how many of our sisters and daughters attending American Universities are now marrying Muslim men and submitting themselves and their children unsuspectingly to the Shariah law.

“Husbands can beat their wives ‘at will’ and he does not have to say why he has beaten her. In her latest book, Darwish warns about creeping sharia law – what it is, what it means, and how it is manifested in Islamic countries. For the West, she says radical Islamists are working to impose sharia on the world. If that happens, Western civilization will be destroyed.

In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in CANADA to elect the PRIME MINISTER!  I think everyone should be required to read this, but with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

“This is your chance to make a difference!”, goes Ms. Cusack’s final battle-cry.

I am in fact quite amazed that Sandra Cusack, a reputable gerontologist, would rush to join the band wagon and urge all her listeners to do the same in this campaign of Islamophobia.

On the other hand, the author of Joys of Muslim Woman, Nonie Darwis, who has her own axes to grind, is well received by the American media with several interviews as seen on You Tube. Anyone who can criticize Islam is good enough to be heard, is the modus operandi of the American media.

Now there is some truth to what Ms. Darwis is talking about and that’s the problem in itself. I would, however, like to separate the Arab culture (Ms. Darwis is an Arab) from Islamic culture. In fact I don’t know if an Islamic culture, by itself, exists. Islam, as it spread globally, went through the natural process of enculturation which fact renders us Muslims not monolithic.

Not all Muslims have the same cultural hang-ups as the Arabs have about women. Statements such as “In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 1-year-old and have sexual intimacy with this child.  Consummating the marriage by 9.” are totally wrong and do not reflect the general Muslim attitude towards women. This may be an Arab practice, but in all my 71 years, I have never heard a more bombastic statement (or read about it).

Ms. Darwis’ claims about dowry, divorce, male control over a female, have no basis in religion. These are all cultural issues appropriate only to Arabs. (In fact, so is female circumcision, in the Arab world, which she has not mentioned). I don’t know about the requirement of 4 male witnesses to prove a rape. Honour killing is an Arab tradition.

As for the Shariah law, Ms. Darwis is quite correct in stating that it is biased towards men. It is pegged to a time period (more than a thousand years ago) when social rights and values as relating to women were lacking or non-existent.

Islam started with giving women rights that did not exist under any other (including the Christian West) society. A woman, until the19th century inEngland, could not own a property under her name. She had to do so under the name of her husband (if she was married) or under her father or other male guardian. The 1870 Married Women’s Property Act allowed women to keep their property, married, divorced, single or widowed. The Constitution of Medina, in the Year 622, on the other hand, outlines many of Muhammad’s early reforms under Islam, including an improved legal status for women in Islam, giving them greater rights than their sisters in pre-Islamic Arabia and medievalEurope.

Islam gave woman a right to own assets in her own name. At the time, woman under Christian Europe had no legal status. She could not vote or bear witness. Women in Islam were given legal status and right to bear witness (albeit half the right granted to men).

The problem with the Shariah Law (like any other religious laws that claim authorship of theProvidence) is that it is static (addressing the social issues and values from time immemorial). In his most interesting opinion, in the banning of life sentence without parole for juvenile criminals who do not commit murder, theUSASupreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:” Society changes. Knowledge accumulates. We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes. Punishments that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time may, in the light of reason and experience, be found cruel and unusual at a later time.”

The Shariah Law had the capacity to evolve with the third element of its makeup, the “Ummah” (the community). This means that the community had a great say in its application and evolution so that the social issues of the time may be addressed. The theologians nullified that element and thus made the laws static, rendering them not applicable to changed circumstances and times.

So when a chest thumping Muslim, for example, says that he has an Islamic will, based on Shariah Law, you can rest assured that his women folk have been short changed.

As a practicing modern Muslim, I am against the application of Shariah law in our secular lives and was happy when the Ontario government back tracked on its intended application in our laws – however, limited.

Frankly, Shariah Law (and for that matter any other static religious laws) have no place in the modern secular world that we live in.

All those social assertions by Ms. Darwis, and promoted so ardently by Ms. Cusack, are fear mongering and promote stereo typing and encourage Islamophobia. Both these ladies should glance into the history books and they will realize that these Muslims ruledSouthern Europefor 711 years. Under their rule, the Jews and Christians, overall, flourished. They contributed a great deal during the Renaissance and helpedEuropeout of the Dark Ages. Even today, one omnibet can see what they contributed by witnessing the structures they left behind inSpain,Gibraltar,Portugal, and southernItaly.  Avicenna and Averroes were the foremost Muslim thinkers who re-explained the great classical Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, hitherto considered heretics by the Christian Europe.

Islam is going through tremendous inner struggle as to how to deal with modernity.Europe(and Christians) went through the same about 400 years ago.

I have been a Muslim from my childhood. I have a good memory of my father (and how he treated my mother). My father had one wife, by the way. I look back with great fondness about my grandparents (and how they treated each other). They were all monogamist.

What Ms. Darwis is talking about is strange not only to me living in North America but also to me inEast Africawhere I grew up watching my parents and grandparents deal with each other with love and respect.

That’s why, I feel that Ms. Darwis has a problem with her own Arab heritage and she is dumping it all on the Muslims in an era where Muslim bashing is fashionable.




  1. Dear Salim Ji,

    I was not so aware of these facts as I am now after reading your piece. It’s good that your thought provoking articles are now in the public domain.

    Let me add that in India which is the Land of ‘Shakti’ the female deity of Energy or Power is still despaired of internationally because of its unequal status of its women. Indians still practice both polyandry and polygamy, I think in both cases its the women who suffers.

    You so rightly say that the cause of all this is – Static Religious Laws – not Shariah Law.

    • The problem is that many people cannot handle change. To accept change is to accept the process of adopting some new notions at the expense of discarding the old ones. That is a difficult undertaking by most. Thus people tend to hide behind the static religious laws (whether they came from God or designed by well-meaning individuals and attributed to God)which did serve their purpose when first established but are no longer pertinent to our modern times.

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