Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I am tired of seeing negative press on Islam. Tired because so much of it is so ill-informed, and tired because the Muslim response to it tends to be equally ill-informed.

This latest surge of irritation comes from reading Premack and Premack's Original Intelligence. They state that a Muslim woman must fear disfigurement or death if she goes against her father's will in her choice of husband, and that this practice stems from the Muslim belief system.

Now the thing is, their description fits many Muslim women, but not Muslim women in general, and more importantly, the belief systems of many Muslims, but not the Muslim belief system in general. Of course what really gets me is the particular choice of words the Premack's make. Women, they say, have a "lowly status" in "the Muslim belief system" (they take great care not to say 'Islam'). Respectfully, I must disagree with them. Traditional Islamic law does give women a subordinate status in many respects, but subordinate is not the same thing as lowly. The vice-president is subordinate to the president, but this does not make his status lowly, and if one is talking about the incumbents in the US government, then the distinction may be merely legal, rather than descriptive of the actual power balance.

Outsider perceptions of Muslim families seem to me to ignore the nuance of give and take that exists in every family. Some families are dysfunctional everywhere, but we don't seem to think that being dysfunctional is the product of a larger belief system as a whole. Why don't we attribute the ignorance of some Muslims (or even many, or most Muslims) to their lack of education, to the appalling repression that they have lived under for centuries, in most cases, or any of another dozen reasons more plausible than this vague "Muslim belief system"?

No comments: