Thursday, 21 July 2011

Curious Reading: Answers to Non-Muslims' Common Questions about Islam, Part 1

I have recently bought myself some booklets off eBay about Islam, produced by the Islamic Dawah Centre International (I.D.C.I), thinking they should be an interesting read.  And interesting they are.  The first one I opened up is titled Answers to Non-Muslims' Common Questions about Islam, written by Dr Zakir Naik.  I did a little background research on him, and let's just say he's not very well liked in Muslim circles either.  So, this already picqued my curiosity on what he has to say...

Chapter 1.  Polygamy

And we hurtle headlong into one of my favourite topics in Islam.  And wow, does it get the blood boiling.  Here, Dr Naik attempts to justify polygyny (a man taking on multiple wives), firstly by pointing out that the Qur'an is the only holy text that encourages men to "marry only one", quoting this verse
"Marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one." (Al-Qur'an an 4:3)
 The clause there is that you should deal justly with all of them, but how many men can say they can?  Ah, there's a verse for that as well.
"You are never able to be fair and just as between women..." (Al- Qur'an an 4:129)
He goes on to say therefore that polygyny isn't a rule, but an exception.  It's permissible in Islam, but not compulsory.  But then why is is even mentioned in the first place?  Well, Dr Naik says that it isn't PRACTICAL for a man to only have one wife.  The ratio of men to women in the world leans too greatly to the women, therefore, there's not enough potential husbands out there for these women.  And the alternative for these women, living as unmarried spinsters, isn't even an option for him.
"Suppose my sister happens to be one of the unmarried women living in the USA, or suppose your sister happens to be one of the unmarried women living in the USA.  The only two options remaining for her are that she either marries a man who already has a wife or becomes 'public property'.  There is no other option.  All those who are modest will opt for the first."  (Emphasis mine)
 "Most women would not like to share their husband with other women.  But in Islam when the situation deems it necessary Muslim women endued with faith could bear a small personal loss to prevent a greater loss of letting other Muslim sisters becoming 'public properties'."
 Public property!?  Women are not objects to be shared around the community and yet unless she's married, she's fair game?  And I love the cheek of the second paragraph.  It's down to the already married woman to show grace and allow her husband to take a second wife so that her 'sister' doesn't end up living the shameful life of being public property.  So by not allowing her husband to commit polygamy, it's the wife who's at fault.  Nice one.  After all, it's the lesser of two evils, isn't it?

Chapter 2. Polyandry

And what of the other side of the coin?  Why is polygyny allowed, but not polyandry (woman taking on multiple husbands)?  Here's what he says
"Let me first state emphatically, that the foundation of an Islamic society is justice and equality.  Allah has created men and women as equal, but with different capabilities and different responsibilities.  Men and women are different, physiologically and psychologically.  Their roles and responsibilities are different.  Men and women are equal in Islam, but not identical."
Here we go, straight into the roundabout nature of gender roles.  So, what reasons does he give?
1. If a man has more than one wife, the parents of the children born of such marriages can easily be identified.  In case of a woman marrying more than one husband, only the mother of the children born of such marriages will be identified and not the father.
This was his longest reason, going on to say how psychologically damaging it is for a child to not know their parents and that if a woman with more than one husband had to enrol her child into school, she would have to endure the shame of submitting two names for the child.  He does admit DNA tests nowadays can remove that confusion, citing "this point was applicable for the past may not be applocable for the present".  No shit.  Besides, there are plenty of children in the world who don't know their parents.  It's not nice, but they don't all instantly become psychologically damaged - it's down to how they are raised with the guardians they do have.  Hell, my youngest niece barely knows what her father looks like and she's the brightest, smartest and most well adjusted child I know.  And that's because she has a wonderful mother to raise her.
2. Man is more polygamous by nature as compared to a woman.
What?  Wow, so by nature, a man wants more sex than a woman?  That's why he's allowed more than one wife?  So, what of the women out there who do have multiple partners?  I suppose they're the exception to the rule, or are they 'public property'?
3. Biologically, it is easier for a man to perform his duties as a husband despite having several wives.  A woman, in a similar position, having several husbands, will not find it possible to perform her duties as a wife.  A woman undergoes several psychological and behavioural changes due to different phases of the menstural cycle.
And he tries delving into science for this one.  So, a man is completely capable of sleeping with more women, but a woman can't possibly sleep with more than one man?  Because she's biologically incapable to do so?  Oh, and lastly...
4. A woman who has more than one husband will have several sexual partners at the same time and has a high chance of acquiring venereal or sexually transmitted diseases which can also be transmitted back to her husband even if all of them have no extra-marital sex.  This is not the case in a man having more than one wife, and none of them having extra-marital sex.
I don't know how to break it to you, "Doctor" Naik, but STIs don't work like that.  All it takes is for one of either gender to have an infection for all of them to catch it through sex.  It doesn't matter if it's one wife between a couple of husbands or one husband between a couple of wives and none of them sleep with someone outside of the marriage.

And just in case those reasons don't leave you scratching your head, this chapter's closing statement is this.
The above reasons are those that one can easily identify.  There are probably many more reasons why Allah, in His Infinite Wisdom, has prohibited polyandry.
These reasons all scream extreme bullshit to me.  Although he tries to paint polygamy as inherrently good for women, he has done nothing but insult both women AND men in his reasonings.  Men are promiscuous, so having multiple partners is a good thing for him.  It's like saying men are inherrently violent, so we should allow them to beat the crap out of other people.  And women are not honourable unless they marry, even if it mean marrying a man who is already married, or else she becomes 'public property' and lives an unprotected and undignified life.  Well, excuse me Dr Naik, but I am my own woman.  I am not public property and by implying I am such is incredibly insulting and frankly, false.

There are many problems associated with polygamy, whichever gender follows it.  I find it very difficult to understand why someone would attempt to defend it, especially when they argue on behalf of one gender and not the other.  It just screams of entitlement and in this case, male supremacy.  Which, to be honest, Zakir Naik is a massive fan of. 

I'll stop the post here for now.  There're more chapters of this booklet which I will tear through in a later blog post, just so I don't overload this one.


  1. I'm looking forward to those posts.

  2. "2. Man is more polygamous by nature as compared to a woman."

    Wow, this guy would have a fit if he ever met me and Ben wouldn't he :D

    All this truly boils down to is the clash between religion and the argument about the necessity of the headscarf and severity thereof, many Islamic nations have a very long standing culture of wearing a headscarf whether for practical reasons or because the culture (as opposed to, strictly speaking, "God" and religion) dictates it to be correct and modest. But people comb through the texts to find reasons to make it religious, one can only assume because it's a tighter control than "you're not going out dressed like THAT, young lady!"

    I presume the polygamy question comes from a similar place. Polygamy was practised in pre-Islamic Arabia as a facet of the culture, and has just been brought forward as a religious precept; In a world dominated by the monogamous west, where polygamy is generally seen as a highly unfair way to treat women (though don't get me wrong, if a woman should actually choose the lifestyle then good for them) religion offering a "get out of jail free" card is the old fall back, saying "well, my people have done it for hundreds of years" certainly doesn't cut it, but religious belief as always hold more weight.

    Pretty much every religion has such clashes between what is strictly religious as dictated by holy scripture and prophetic teaching and what has merely been absorbed as a precept of the religion from the culture in which it was born. However, it is often the old cultural practices which are cause for tension and bigotry. The major world religions all preach a message of peace, love and tolerance, but it is cultural practice absorbed into the religion that fan the flames of hatred, and yet for some reason...probably the very fact that it is part of a cultural identity...these facets are always the pieces that people fight tooth and nail to protect.

    It's actually quite sad because it demonstrates that many human beings would rather persecute each other, and will find any reason to do so, than actively pursue peace, love, and harmonious existence.

  3. Indeed he would, Bex. ;)

    Culture and religion often do have a long, tangled history with each other that unravelling them woul be exceedingly difficult. But culture itself has room to evolve and change with the times. Religion in itself is a way to get people to conform to one way of thinking by pointing to an unknown higher being and a great reward when this life is over. However, that backfires with a lot of people who don't subscribe to that way of thinking, or who don't follow that particular scripture.

    Polygamy has been around since before religion, but with a lot of cultures that had practiced it, it died out. There are instances where non-religious people have entered into polygamous relationships, but in the case of religious polygamy, it is more to do with the subjugation of women, especially when younger women are forced to marry much older men. Being a single woman is often seen as a disgrace to the family and as mentioned, it is considered the "lesser of two evils" if a woman marries a man who is already married to someone else.

    What has to be remembered is that holy texts aren't so much holy as they are man-made. Thus, whatever is written in them as religion are really the opinions of the men who write them at the time. If you do boil down the basic message of scriptures to the basic "love and peace for all" tenets, then there would be no difference between religions at all - yes, that is the argument for religion vs culture, but religion and some of its practitioners don't want their practices to change. Those extremists want to use the pieces of their scriptures to control the masses. And I say pieces because they will focus on the parts that suit them, saying that they don't count as part of their practice, or that God would forgive their transgressions.

    And I agree with your last point. There are a lot of people out there who would want to practice peace and harmony, but as people with free will and thought, there will always be differences in opinion. It's how we handle those differences that sets the example and unfortunately, it's easier for some groups to utilise violence than compromise and peace.

  4. Moar of this. It's hilarious, in a laughing-poodle-with-hands sort of way.