Islam, and Bridal Dowries – an Auster commentator has it wrong.

At Lawrence Auster’s blog, in his thread Reflections on the Roissyite Revolution a particular commentator, Tim W., made a statement that ill befits anyone of intellect. Typical of many (not all) social conservatives, he seems reflexively critical of Islam, in an amorphous way, without seeming to have a clear understanding of what it is, exactly, about normative Islam that he objects to.

Which is odd. Hang out with enough extreme left wingers and one of their usual complaints about Islam and Muslims is that they are right wing Religiously fundamentalist social conservatives. Ever since Sept. 11th the usual mantra of the Right has been that the Left favors Islamists. Anyone who has spent any time around progressives and socialists know that, frankly, the majority hate many aspects about Islam. In particular feminists. And like many conservatives, many Liberals and Socialists often have not the slightest clue about Islam apart from some stereotypes and gross simplifications.

It seems that you just cannot please everyone, or indeed anyone. This is ok, frankly one should have better things to do that please others.

In any case, to set one record straight, Tim W. remarks: “In the Muslim world, in Africa, and elsewhere, the husband buys the bride. He gives the girl’s father twelve goats or eight cows or something similar to purchase his mate.”

This is actually so wrong it is ludicrous.

In the Sharia – Classical Islamic Law – the groom presents his Bride with the “mahr” that is the dowry.

The Mahr is given to the Bride, herself, and it is hers to keep, not her family’s. In some societies of course, this devolved into a presentation to the Bride’s parents, but the tradition of giving the Mahr to the bride is still alive and well, particularly among more devout Muslims, and I believe it to be the norm.

I can cite actual literature to this effect among normative Sunni theology and jurisprudence. If anyone wants me to. I hate being pedantic, but there are English translations of Umdat al-Salik, the Hedaya, and The Risala of Ibn Abi Zayd, all of which mention such matters. Frankly a cursory glance at the Quran Chapter 4 deals with this fairly clearly.

I’ve heard of a couple of local Senegalese immigrant marriages in which the groom was required to give a dowry to the Bride’s mother, not father. The understanding was that the mother was the safe keeper of it on the bride’s behalf. In both cases the mother ended up embezzling it of course. In one case, the mother used it for roof repairs and advance payments on her mortgage.

Needless to say this is not the norm, and reflects an exception of sorts.

Also the Mahr is typically given in gold or silver, sometimes cloth, I have never heard of cows or goats being given apart from some particularly backwards rural areas of West Africa or Bangladesh.

The fact remains that in normative Islam the wife is given the dowry, it becomes part of her property, though if a divorce is initiated by her she is usually bidden to return it. Folk practices found in the most rustic and isolated parts of the Muslim world are not exactly normative, people. This need not be spelt out to you…

When trying to make social theories to explain the things you think that you see around you, it is best to actually get your facts straight. This prevents embarrassment and since your aim is truth, if I’m not mistaken, you cannot arrive to truth if your deductions are based on flawed or false axioms.

I’m not being snarky, the vast majority of conservative criticism of Islam is incoherent, based on the fact that in most cases the critics do not comprehend what exactly they are criticizing.

This is particularly the case with conservative Jewish and Catholic commentators who fail to note the fact that the very aspects of Islam they typically criticize are normative aspects of their own religions, if they actually understood it. Yes few laypeople read the Sulchan Aruch, but competent Rabbis do. And it is not difficult to find a very competent Rabbi. I have a friend who was a seminary student at a St. Pious X seminary, who remarked to me how astonished he was that some more conservative aspects of Catholic Canon law resonated closely with Islam’s Sharia.

Let’s ignore cases of pots calling kettles black, secular conservative critics of Islam at least do not have the problem of objecting to Islam what is inherent in their own religion, for they confess none. In their case, the problem is often simply in mistaking cultural quirks in degenerated Muslim societies for normative Islamic practice.

Muslim fundamentalists commit the same error when they mistake degenerated cultural practices in Western cultures for normative Christianity, and hence judge harshly Christians thereby.

In both cases sincere and good natured ignorance and provincialism are the problems. In some cases hypocrisy and resentment also factor in. With provincialism added on top.

In most cases the Muslims on the other side of the debate also have, at best, a spotty idea of their tradition which creates an absurd case of the ignorant arguing with the ignorant.

In most cases I suspect critical commentators of simply, outright, making stuff up.

The normal word for this activity is “lying”. Believe me, an intelligent and articulate critic of Islam can present his case without having to make things up on the fly. All that it takes is some homework and a clear intellect.

I respect an intelligent and well informed critic, but a critic operating out of sheer prejudice, sentiment and engrained cultural stereotypes regarding third world Moslem backwardness shows an inaccurate understanding of the subject, and opens himself up to criticism, while poisoning his own understanding.

This shows his complaints are not be grounded in principle, but in simple crude reactionary prejudice.

Ignorance is the bane of clear thought. The cure to ignorance is research and asking questions if one does not know a thing. Most critics of Islam have not the slightest clue about it, or at best have a distorted understanding of it.

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5 thoughts on “Islam, and Bridal Dowries – an Auster commentator has it wrong.

  1. I’m always looking for good sources re: it. Always improving my time management. BTW, I do get confused by references like ‘Chapter 4’. Do you mean An-Nisa?

  2. The incoherence! Always looking for good sources regarding Islamic theory versus practice (and often find myself dealing with debates where there’s different threads of the theory and much more shades of how it’s practiced). I’m assuming reading list you’ve given me is a great place to start for a grounding but need to improve my time management. However, do you know of any Internet sources to use?

  3. Hmm… there are tons, in fact too much is on the Internet. It leads to, eh, a bit of incoherence :-)

    I could scour my bookmarks. I like masud Ahmed Khan’s homepage when it comes to discussions of “traditional Islam” (or one particular conception of traditional Islam) there is some neat stuff on it about British Muslim history as well, going back a couple of centuries.

    We live in an age of incoherence, in some ways, and a remarkable lack of depth.
    There are always shades, of both theory, and practice, and both differ from land to land, age to age. For me the normative intent, what was originally intended, is important. No matter how much it clashes with the norms and spirit of a given age.

    But the normative practice can be, and often is, flexible once properly understood, far more so than most suspect. To understand the degree of flexibility and the degree of regidity requires coming to a vision, first a glimpse and then a vision of the original intent and sources.

    It is difficult to do this in our age, which leads us to either unpractical and rigid inflexible clinging to past norms that are no longer living realities in our age, or an overly pragmatic practical flexibility and clinging to everything of this age, and making the matter fit this zeitgeist. making the now, the contingent, into the criterion for the essence of Islam. Which means it can be endlessly redacted and is no more than something that offers a bit of comfort and flavor to life, but lacks a transformative power. Which robs the whole matter – Islam can be, was, and still is, or at least can be, transformative. But for it to be transformative it requires a balance between theory and practice, cultural rigidity and cultural bending. A balance that we are not taught in today’s world and that often takes a lifetime to learn.

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