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Matriarchal: Pre-Islam Arab cultures?

In a previous article I stated that:

First,  Arabic tribes are as ancient as antiquity; it appears that the first time the word “Arab” was discovered in manuscripts was in 853 BC as a coalition of Arab tribes, associated with Syria and a few Israelite tribes in northern Palestine to counter an Assyrian incursion in the Levant (Near East region of current Syria, Lebanon and Palestine).

Second, many “Arabic” stories and myths were altered and recounted by bordering Empires to fit their environment and culture.

Third, Arabic tribes extended to the desert region between the Euphrates and Tiger Rivers, to the vast stretch of land bordering the Red Sea, to Southern Palestine and Jordan, to the Sinai Peninsula, and to the lands bordering the Persian Gulf.

Fourth, the Arabic tribes languages and cultures were influenced by the urban civilization in Yemen, the various Persian Empires and India, and the various Western Empires of Greek, Roman, and Byzantium Empires before the advent of Islam. I am inclined to believe that India civilization was the most influential, particularly in the separation of genders at home and in public, and the “hareem” tradition…

Fifth, the dominant Empires at every period paid tributes to coalition of Arabic tribes in return of keeping the peace on demarcation borders, facilitating trade caravans, and for gathering intelligence on the enemy as advance signs of changing policies, and for joining in battles.

In the origin, ancient Arabic tribes had matriarchal social structures.

A tribe had higher standing compared to others when its matriarch owned more husbands, particularly, captured enemy men.  It was women who took the initiative of selecting their men.  More often than than not, disputation for acquiring men resulted in tribal wars.

The Command of a tribe was in the hand of the woman who had the most of husbands.

Thus, it was common for the victor tribe to mutilate the husbands of vanquished tribes. It is no enigma why the three most venerated idols were women warriors such as Manat, Uzzat, and Lat.  It is no enigma why the Prophet Mohammad was ready to strike a compromise with the tribes of Mecca, before being chased out of the city, to considering the three goddesses as valid supporters to the all-encompassing God Allah.

Fact is, there was an idol called Allah who was considered to be above all idols, but he had no particular talents for business and didn’t generate donations to the clan that owned it.  It is no surprise that most love poems alluded to female camels and horses that had names .

With time, women realized that it was not a good policy to mutilate “enemy” men, but that sexual attraction skills were more beneficial in wooing husbands.  Thus, the development of garment, aromatic, and jewelry industries.  Textile art witnessed great expansion; mainly in veils to guard against sun rays and desert dust.

Public duels within a tribe were among women who danced best and seduced most men.

Belly dancing (raksa) were restricted to women who knew the language of the message to send.  The raksa was based on fast paced rhythm of monochord percussion instruments.  For example, choreographic dances were selected according to the alphabetic string of characters forming a word or a sentence.

This dance language was known by women.  Men were totally ignorant of what was being said or discussed in the dances.

Most probably, patriarchal structures supplanted the previous structure due to influences of Jewish tribes and the tribes that settled in Syria and Iraq. Thus, more male idols were imported to strengthen patriarchal societies within Arabic tribes.

Thus, as you read about pre-Islam cultures of Arabic tribes you should keep in mind thousand of years of traditions and customs.  Pre-Islam Arabic cultures are lumped by the new emerging Islam as “Period of Ignorance (Jahilyya)” meaning ignorance of the One and Unique God Allah.

Fact is, many Arabic tribes were already Christians or what is labelled “heretic” Christians, because they had dogmas different from the Byzantine Orthodox dogma.  Fact is, many Arabic tribes were Jewish;

Fact is,  many more believed in Mazda (the dominant religion in Persia.)

Fact is, most of the idols that Arabic tribes venerated were imported from Syria, Persia, and India.  Islam became the common denominator religion among Arabic tribes during the Prophet Muhammad life.

I might describe a few of the pre-Islam poets and cultures in a third articles.  What follows are a few pre-Islam saying extracted mostly from “The enigma of Qaf” by Alberto Mussa:

“When I tell a lie, am I not restoring an ancient truth?”  (The Arabic Scheherazade)

Two write:  The one with a lousy memory and the other who lacks verbal expression skills”

“I love women who, when naked, are never totally nude” (Poet Imru2 al Qayss)

“Honor is but another form of fear” (Poet Shanfara)

“Is there any greater glory than being ignored by hyenas?” (Poet Amru ben Kulthum)

Three are stupid:  the one who does not know that he doesn’t; the one who knows that he doesn’t; and the one who doesn’t know that he knows.”  (Poet Labid or Lubad)

“Having respect for your enemies is celebrating a cult to the dead.” (Poet Antara)

“O beauty! O Women! O desert!” (Anonymous)

Three possess faith: The Persian in his horoscope, the Jew in his laws, and the Arab in his camel.”

Two are innocents:  A beautiful girl and an armed man.”

“What you don’t own, steal it” (Ali Baba)

Why ask of God what I can buy on the market?” (Mundhir)

“The greatest merit of an atheist is that he does not believe in demons.”

Four are pleasures: laughing, eating, loving, and knowing.”

I love the concept of woman, and only that concept. This one woman, the other one: Who can tell me the difference?” (Poet Imru el Qayss)

“True wise men can never be happy.”

Even talking about a single evident fact requires that you have read a thousand book.” (Malika)

“Ask the dead if they really want peace!” (Poet Tarafa)

“Realising your desires is the work of an imbecile.” (Aladin)

“I have never forgiven: I have not the pretension of possessing a virtue attributed to God.”

Nothing is that grand to merit being taken seriously.” (Poet Al Aasha the dim sighted)

“We don’t kill a pork without soiling the knife.”

“I love the tribe of bats:  Every female is beautiful.”

“The best in life are those that we have no use of them.” (Poet Zuheir)

I am immortal: I will never know when I died.” (Harith bi Hilliza)

“I don’t like everything that I possess, but I possess everything that I love.” (Poet Nabigha al Zubyani)

“The best of blind people are those who want to see.”

I demand freedom to pay tribute to my Idol

People are more inclined to be loyal to a saint, a shrine, or an honored Imam, or apostle.

People have need to use their senses to get connected to a spiritual entity: you cannot expect human to think exclusively on abstract notion without the intermediary of their senses of seeing a representative picture, of smelling incense, of touching a bust, or of listening to a hymn.

One God who created man and the universe is fine, but is not sufficient for man.  Several Gods doing the job is more convincing and pragmatic: specialization is highly valued.

Monotheism is a totally abstract concept that no human was yet able to feel physically loyal to a one, all encompassing God.

Ever since man descended from his tree, his prime concern was struggling for his freedom to pay tribute to his favorite Idol God.

Fear of the many dangers threatening his survival forced man to seeking a much more powerful ally to protect him and come to the rescue.  Depending on his wide spectrum of phobia, man wanted the total freedom to worship and be loyal to his “loyal” companions in times of imminent dangers.

Man would not take for granted Idols imposed upon him; he wanted his personal choices that most satisfied his psychological world.  Freedom of belief is not a modern concept; man fought all his life and for millennia for this natural right and is continuing the struggle.

I noticed lately that my dad, at each pass in front of the Virgin Mary or Mar Charbel (a Lebanese National Saint), has to touch these pictures in the house with his index, kiss his index, and then sign the cross.

Dad is 85 years old and has refrained attending mass for years.  Mother is also devoted to the Virgin and all the national female saints such as Rafqa; she never misses an occasion to get in the car or a bus going to pay tributes to shrines; she pay money, that she has not, for the Saint so that the church make “good” use of it.

Obviously, Mar Charbel is in her pantheon too, along with the newly beatified Hardini.  Interestingly, miracles have a way of occurring at election times.

In all ages, whether a religion claim to be monotheist or polytheist people end up selecting a particular idol to pay allegiance to and write ex-votos to Him in order to be cured, enjoy prosperity, safety to the family, and safe travels.

Indeed, people are loyal idolater to whom they perceive to be pretty much handy, accessible, and an excellent intermediary to the One God.

For example, in Latin America people are loyal to the Virgin Mary and cannot think of any other Saint to turn to in time of distress; thus, St. Mary of (name a city or a village), or the Virgin of (name a city or a town) and you have hundreds of Virgin Maries, tailored made to a specific locality, ready to come to the rescue.

The Greek Orthodox Church cannot think of more than three female saints to name girls at baptismal ceremonies: it must be either Mary, Ann, or Elisabeth; as for male kids you have an assortment of complicated and long Greek saints with plenty of X and Ch.

In predominantly Moslem Egypt, and generally in North Africa, you have St. Fatima, Aicha, Ali, Hussein, the Imam of the regional legal sect, or the shrine of the veneered Sheikh of a locality is paid more attention and visits to any other worshiping figures.

Pictures of Moslem saints are prohibited in public places or in mosques but that do not prevent homes to hang pictures of their preferred saint as relevant to current standards of beauty for both genders.

There is this myth that the Jewish religion is the first to adopting monotheism; it is just a myth. 

Ancient civilizations were never monotheists; they all had an overall God, nominally superior to the other demi-gods but that nobody paid much attention to or prayed to Him or even remembered asking his help in ex-votos.

God El was the all encompassing God in the Middle East as was Allah in the Arab Peninsula or Zeus for the Greeks, but He never generated a dime to tribes that had exclusive rights to his worship.

People converged to more palpable and understandable demy-gods; cities and towns adopted one of them as symbol and recognition of their trades or power.  In general, more weight was given to the “messengers of a God” (they were written in plural) than to a specific God.

Yahweh (God of thunder) was one of the Gods to the Jews after Moses introduced Him during the long crossing of Sinai and the worship of the “golden cow”: the Jews had, before and after Moses, many regional demy-Gods who did exist even if at periods they were forbidden to be worship.

Jews might have converged to a unique God in Judea in the second century BC.  Many of Canaan demy-Gods were far more beneficial and interesting than this newly created Yahweh that came into the picture during war periods. In war time, Jewish mercenaries were asked to support Baal under the banner of the dusted off Temple and bust of Yahweh.

Salomon worshiped Ashtarout (the Goddess of Sidon in Lebanon), and idol Baal had many Temples in Jerusalem while Yahweh had only one.

One common denominator to all salafist or extremist religious sects (Christian, Jewish, Moslems, or cults) is being totally peeved and obfuscated that the One True God is being sidetracked for substitutes.

Joshua offered the Jews choices of keeping Yahweh as sole God or accepting other demy-Gods.  When the Jews decided to keep exclusively a “tribal” God then Joshua ordered all strangers’ Gods destroyed. In ancient time, destroying the bust of a God didn’t mean that he no longer existed, but that the local God was to be more efficient to the survival of the tribe or community.

When Prophet Mohammad entered Mecca without a fight, after 9 years of taking Yathreb as his headquarter for his companions, he ordered all the 160 idols destroyed or effaced (pictures) save two: Allah and the Virgin Mary.

Mary was not bestowed virginity at all but she was veneered as the mother of the latest great prophet Jesus (Issa).  In Islam, idols were no longer Gods and never existed as was the case in ancient cultures.

The early Protestants erased pictures and destroyed busts of all Saints except crucified Jesus.  For the Protestants, erasing pictures of Saints didn’t mean that Saints didn’t exist but they were not that worthy to be worshiped and supplant God through the interceding process.

The most honest monotheists were the “heretic” Christian sects that the Orthodox Christian Church during the Byzantium Empire persecuted relentlessly.  Most of these sects would not even bestow a divine nature to Jesus, and Marie was not virgin by any means; no pictures or drawings were permitted for any Saints.

The farthest that these sects could indulge in is to veneer the apostle whom they claimed to have written the “true” Testament they adopted and read in.  The Nestorian sect proselytized in China and translated its Bible in Chinese in around the year 600; it built churches all along the “silk road”.  Thus, you don’t need to create saints along with pictures and busts to have the faith that travels to China.

I have noticed that:

1. centralized churches promote many saints with pictures and busts; it is a tactic to please the people so that it may enjoy total control over their temporal existence;

2. that these centralized churches inherited pagan religions aided a lot to the widespread propagation of multiple idols for each locality.

Decentralized religions have no urge to promote idols and pictures such as in Islam: it is the temporal power at every state that appoints clergies, Imams, and sheikhs.

I don’t see why all that fuss for monotheism.

If a few tribes still refuse to believe that it is earth rotating around the sun or that earth is flat, why then submerge them with an extra abstract notion?

Killing and committing suicide attacks in the name of a God is not an abstract act; this does not mean that human mind cannot reach a level of distortion that far surpasses the mere abstraction of a One God, creator of man and the universe.

Note 1:  This is a revised version of my post “Mono-idolatry (monolatry) or monotheism? (Nov. 6, 2009)

Note 2: The Christian Greek Orthodox is the church of Byzantium that persecuted the “heretic” Maronites in the year 1,000 and forced them to settle in the northern mountain chains of Lebanon. Decades later, the Maronite allied to the Church of Rome  and has been a steady ally to France since then.

These persecutions took place at a period the Moslem Arabic empire was disintegrating into small fiefdoms and Byzantium re-conquered the coastal portion in Turkey and Syria. The second crusade campaign burned Constantinople and occupied the lands of Byzantium in Turkey, Syria, all the way to Jerusalem.

Note 3: The various Protestant sects have similarity with the Wahhabi Moslem sect by discarding icons and pictures of saints in their place of worship.  The Wahhabi makes it a trend to demolish any worshiping place that is decorated with pictures, icon, and shrines, whether they are Christians or Moslems…

Women  IN ISLAM: Divorce (Part 7)

 

Note: The political applications and practices by the various Moslem sects do not necessarily correspond to the intention of the original message of the Prophet Muhammad.

 

Prophet Muhammad said: “Divorce is the most hateful of all lawful things in the sight of Allah”.

Divorce is allowed as a last resort.  If divorce were forbidden, animosity and adultery may become rampant.

To save individuals and society from the greater evils, divorce has been permitted. However, it is not a step to be taken lightly or hastily. Sincere attempts at reconciliation are to be made first and – as in the case of marriage – the rights and welfare of women are to be upheld.

 

Imam al Ghazzali (1058 CE), who is honored with the title of Hujjat al Islam, wrote in ‘The Proof of Islam‘: “the greatest care should be taken to avoid divorce, for, though divorce is permitted, yet Allah disapproves of it. If divorce becomes essential then the woman should be divorced kindly, not through anger or contempt, and not without a valid reason. After the divorce, a man should give his former wife a present and not announce to others any of her shortcomings.”

 

The Koran advises a couple who are facing difficulties in their marriage to appoint arbiters.  In sourat al Nissaa it is read:” If you fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation…But if they disagree (and must part), Allah will provide abundance for all from His All-Reaching bounty.”

 

In order to dissolve a marriage, it is essential to pronounce a declaration of “talaq”. There are three types of talaq (divorce) that are practiced among Muslims:

First, talaq ahssan – (the preferable type of divorce): After issuing one pronouncement of divorce, the couple wait for the ‘iddah (waiting period, which consists of three menstrual cycles of the wife, usually three months). During this time, all possible attempts at reconciliation should be made. The husband may take his wife back at any time during the ‘iddah period. During the period of iddah the man must oblige to either keep the woman in the same home or at least furnish her with a comfortable apartment, which is easily accessible to him. Further, the man must provide for her as if no divorce has taken place.

At the end of the iddah or waiting period if reconciliation has failed then the marriage is broken. In sourat al-Talaq it is read: “And fear Allah, your Lord: and turn them not out of their houses, nor shall they (themselves) leave, except in case they are guilty of some open lewdness, those are limits set by Allah: and any who transgress the limits of Allah, does verily wrong his (own) soul: you know not if perchance Allah will bring about thereafter some new situation.”

Second, talaq hassan – is a divorce where a man pronounces talaq to his wife in three consecutive state of purity.

Third, talaq bid’i where the husband issues three pronouncements of divorce at one time. According to the majority of jurists, this talaq is valid but it is against the spirit of the Shari’ah and so the man is an offender in the eyes of the law.  The last Talaq bid’i is considered a serious act against the Islamic teachings. The second Caliphate Umar, a close companion of the Prophet, used to whip the husband who pronounced divorce thrice at once and in the same sitting.

 

The sourat al-Baqarah (virginity) it is read: ” When you divorce women, and they fulfill the term of their (‘Iddah), either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; but do not take them back to injure them, (or) to take undue advantage; if any one does that, he wrongs his own soul.

Do not treat Allah’s Signs as a jest, but solemnly rehearse Allah’s favors on you, and the fact that He sent down to you the Book and Wisdom, for your instruction. And fear Allah, and know that Allah is well-acquainted with all things.”

Islam treads the middle ground in the divorce concept, and safeguards the rights of women. It neither prohibits divorce, thereby imprisoning women, nor does it regard divorce as an insignificant decision.

The right to divorce is not restricted to the husband. The woman may also seek a dissolution of the marriage by means of a process known as faskh, whereby she applies to the Qadi (Judge) for an annulment of the marriage.

The wife may seek faskh  (annulment) in several cases, including: apostasy (renunciation of Islam) by the husband; lack of equality of status (kafi’ah); lack of compatibility; spoiling of marriage (fasad); incurable impotence on the part of the husband and if the husband ill treats the woman (nushuz). The above cases present valid grounds for a woman to seek divorce from her husband. If the couple come to a mutual agreement for separation and get divorced then this is called khul.

 

In sourat al Nissaa it is read: “If the wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best…”

 

Islam has decreed justice for both sexes in the case of divorce. Although the act of divorce is disliked, it is permitted for the sake of weak human souls who cannot always find comfort and solace in the marriage relationship. This is mainly due to lower tolerance levels, high expectations in others and needless desires.

WOMEN IN ISLAM: Marriage (Part 5, April 22, 2009)

 

Note: The political applications and practises by the various Moslem sects do not necessarily correspond to the intention of the original Prophet Muhammad’s message.

 

        Mariage is encouraged in Islam at an early age.  This tradition is widespread in underdeveloped countries regardless of religions.  Islam considers sexuality to be a natural part of life, which is to be channeled into a healthy marriage life to avoid exploitation of women through prostitution, pornography, and rape.

 

        The Prophet Muhammad advised Muslims: “Whoever is able to marry should marry; that institution will help the Moslem lower his gaze and guard his modesty”. Islam regards marriage as necessary and has raised it to the level of being a positive virtue and described it as being half the faith.

 

        Marriage is a consented contract between two equal parties; neither male nor female should be forced into a marriage. Islam clearly states that a marriage contracted without the free consent of the woman is null and void. The Prophet said: “No widow should be married without consulting her, and no virgin should be married without her consent.” Allah said: “When one of you seeks to marry a woman, if he is able to have a look at the one he desires to marry, let him do so”.

 

        As an equal partner, the Muslim woman may stipulate conditions in the marriage. The woman may stipulate, prior to marriage, the transfer of divorce power to herself, restricting the husband to one wife only, and clearly defining the conditions of maintenance. Muslim wives have always been allowed and expected to keep their maiden names after marriage.

 

        The wife is a spiritual and moral being who is brought into union with a man on the basis of a solemn pledge which Allah is called upon to witness. The Prophet said: “You have seen nothing like marriage for increasing the love of two people”. In sourat Al-Rum (Byzantium) it is read: “And among His Signs is this; that He created mates from among yourselves; that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.”  In sourat al-Aaraf (customs) it is read: “It is He Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love).

 

        In Islam, there is no notion of woman being responsible for the “Fall” or of being the first sinner and therefore responsible for all of mankind’s woes. There is no idea of man being created out of superior material and woman out of base matter. Woman is made equal, both men and women are the progeny of Adam, so both have similar souls. In sourat al Shura (counsel) it is read: “(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves”.  In sourat al Nissaa (women) it is read: “Mankind! Reverence your Guardian – Lord Who created you from a single Person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women – fear Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights).”

 

     Islam does not view woman as the instrument of the devil or evil creature. The Koran describes woman as muhsanah (charitable), a fortress against evil, because a good woman helps her husband maintain the path of righteousness.  Muslim men are continually admonished to treat their wives kindly. To those men who oppress their wives then the sourat al Nissaa said: “O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dower you have given them – except when they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary, live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.”

 

      

        Men are commanded by Allah to consort with women amicably and honourably. They should refrain from harshness in speaking to and dealing with them. Behaviour that goes against standards of morality and common courtesy is prohibited. Such wicked and brutal conduct is the sign of ignorance (jahidyyah) which Islam came to abolish.

 

        The Prophet Muhammad attended to his own personal needs; he helped his wives in the house, he stitched and mended his own clothes, and kept a cheerful climate when he entered the house.  He demonstrated that a man is never too great to clean and look after himself, and he imparted the following advice:  “The best among you is the one who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to his family”.  “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and the best of you are those who are best to their wives. By assisting your wives in their household duties, you will receive the reward of sadaqah (charity)”   In his famous speech given during his Farewell Pilgrimage, the Prophet reminded the Muslims of the importance of treating women equitably: “O people, fear Allah with regard to women..”

 

        Islam regards men and women as equal partners who should cooperate in making the home, be loyal, considerate and dependent upon one another. They should work together to overcome any problems and obstacles, work together to overcome the shortcomings of each partner, and present a united front to the outside world. They should also provide companionship and comfort to one another.  Islam clearly recognises the equal potential and ability of the sexes, but Allah has created human beings in a manner whereby men and women are better suited for complementary tasks.


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