If you think that you have just one life, think again. There's the life you think you have, the life others think you have and the life you really have- three lives!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Too exciting

I'm sooooo excited
Tonight I'm taking my gal pals, Roo and Miss F, to the Arrested Development concert. It's Miss F's birthday next week and I thought dinner and a concert would be the perfect gift for the gal who already has too much of everything else that a gal wants (shoes, bags, belts, etc)

Arrested Development is one of my favourite bands and I can't wait to see them play classics like Tennessee, Mr Wendal, Everyday People, and my favourite, United Minds.

I think I've mentioned before that I live in the most isolated, boring, perochial city in the world and I never ever expected that Arrested Development would come here. Most bands that visit Australia do the East coast (Sydney, Melbourne) and that's it. That means a five hour, $600 flight plus the cost of accomodation and the entry fee if I want to see any big names.

But Arrested Development is here, and I'm going to see them tonight!
Too exciting!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Update on the domestic violence issue

You'll remember my ranting about a Muslim women's association (otherwise known as Enablers) that had first hand knowledge that a father was abusing his daughters. He had broken the nose of one of them and cause the other to become deaf in one ear by banging her head against the wall. He had held them captive in their bedrooms for 3 weeks and threatened to kill them. He had also threatened to return them to Afghanistan to face the prospect of an arranged marraige or an honor killing.

You'll remember that upon learning of this I advised the association to go to the authorities. You'll remember that the association refused and instead brought in a conservative Imam to speak to the father. You'll remember that I drove to the police station at 9pm one night and filed a report. I informed the authorities. The girls were taken from their father and placed in foster care.

You'll remember that I attended a meeting with the authorities at their request along with a representative from this association of Enablers who defended the father, denied he had done anything wrong and then later called me a Kafir because I suggested that the intergenerational conflicts needed to be addressed by engaging the girls' boyfriends so that they also understand what is going on.

You won't know that I received a copy of the letters the girls had written during their time with their father that detailed every disgusting, degrading and humiliating moment of his abuse. You won't know how much I wept over those letters.

You'll remember that I did not choose to be involved in this situation- but the burden of knowledge was far too much to bear.

Well, the authorities have returned the girls to their father. He has taken them to Afghanistan.

I can only despair.

Polyandry Fatwa

Like me, you're probably wondering wtf polyandry is.

Well it's the female answer to polygamy. That's right- imagine that ladies- two fragile egos to pander to. I'm just quivering with excitement at the prospect!

The world just gets stranger and stranger- apparently there is a Polyandry fatwa- meaning that us Muslim women who have long been subjected to the humiliating and degrading practice of polygamy may actually be able to get ourselves another hole in the head.

Did I say hole in the head? I meant husband.

Seriously though, I'm all for equal rights- but do two wrongs make a right?

The Polyandry Fatwa

By Mohja Kahf

(AL-TAL, SYRIA) Women in this small Syrian town have had absentee husbands for decades, like women in many other poorer Arab states, where the lack of livable income drives many men abroad in search of work. Now, thanks to improved DNA testing and a fatwa from Syrian ulema that some think will soon be followed by the ulema of other countries, women here have the option of taking a second husband, even if they do not want to divorce the first one.

Polygamy in Islam has traditionally been a male prerogative. The preservation of nasl, or paternity, is cited as the reason why the Quranic verse allowing polygamy for men cannot be assumed to apply in both directions. This has always posed an interpretive problem, since Quranic commandments phrased in the male gender case are not generally assumed to
apply exclusively to men. Many verses commanding prayer and fasting, for example, or detailing how zakat must be distributed, are offered in the male pronoun, but apply equally to women.

With enhanced DNA testing now making it possible for paternity to be determined non-invasively from the moment of conception, in a process accessible to everyone in this socialist state, where all health care services are considered a universal human right, ulema in the small,
Muslim-majority country are relieved to be able to extend the blessing of polygamy to women. The secular government has not played a role in devising the fatwa, but a representative of family court says such marriages will be recognized.

“It solves a real stress that is on our society,” Sheikh Habib-uddin says, as one of the scholars who was instrumental in coordinating the ijma effort. “We have political prisoners who are arrested and never seen again by their wives. We have men who migrate to the Gulf for work, but send paychecks once in a blue moon, and God knows what wives and families they have taken there.”

His own daughter, Carima, was married for four months to her cousin Rafik, in a match that had been arranged and happily celebrated by the two families, when the state police hauled Rafik away for political activism.

“I don’t want to divorce him,” Carima says. “even though my mother and father said that would be okay. He’s my cousin, and I’m fond of him.” She blushes. “He should come out of prison and find an empty room? I can’t do that to Rafik. I should be there for him if he gets out one day. When. When he gets out.” She pauses to wipe the tears that have sprung to her eyes.
“But—I should put my life on hold? Not to be able to build a family of my own? My younger sisters were having babies, and I had none to cradle in my arms.” She cites the example of another woman in the extended family who lived on tenterhooks for twenty-two years because her husband, also a political prisoner, was reported alive by a prisoner who was released. Five
years later he was said to be dead, then alive again. Doubt and hope went on for more than two decades, with prison authorities unwilling to release information.

“Divorce is allowed in such circumstance, of course,” Sheikh Habib says. “But the woman refused it as long as a shred of hope remained.” Finally it became clear that her husband had been executed the first year, in one of the repressive massacres of the Baathist state.

Carima waited three years after Rafik’s arrest before allowing her parents to arrange another marriage for her, to neighborhood shopkeeper Abu Tosheh. She still goes to the authorities with Rafik’s parents at the start of every year to file an inquiry, and meanwhile is pregnant with her first child and glowing.

“This is exactly the sort of difficult dilemma God created polygamy to relieve,” says Muslim Brotherhood representative Aqil Fahim, a Syrian dissident who lived in Riyadh for four decades. “I’ve seen men in the Gulf who are supposed to be there to support wives and children back in Syria, but they end up finding a nice local girl and settling down. What happened to sending money back home?”

More than money is on the mind of Um Wisal, whose husband is one of those deadbeat dads in Riyadh. Abu Wisal’s father and clan were willing to support Um Wisal and her eight children, given the abandonment of their son, who wouldn’t divorce her. Rumor had it, he’d married two women in Saudi, a Moroccan and a Somali. Whenever she sent word asking for a divorce, he’d
wire money, along with the words “Baby, don’t go.” So Um Wisal had no case for divorce on the grounds of non-support, plus the words made her remember his charms. “That was our song,” she says, pulling the edge of her veil over her mouth to hide a smile. “Maybe he’ll come back some day, and we’ll have us some more good times.” She puts her hand on her ample hip and says, “But I wanted a man by my side. A woman needs support in this world. I wanted the
weight of a man.”

She found one, in the hefty shape of a truck driver from Ifrin, Farris al-Youm. Her husband’s clan was furious. They tried to take the children, but she wasn’t divorced from their son, so they couldn’t. “I’m halal married,” she says triumphantly. She sends the children to their father’s
clan after school, at dinnertimes, and for breakfast and lunch on weekends. Asked whether she is a good mother despite her second marriage, she insists that she is; Farris’ driving schedule allows her time to give them plenty of motherly affection, as well as to tend her two goats and to harvest her seven walnut trees.

Advocates of the Polyandry Fatwa insist that it’s not just about sex (really? because who could resist Arab men?). Areej Basaleh (who, with a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, teaches at Damascus
University’s Islamic College) says it’s about companionship, being a couple, having a mate at the dinner table, for some, while for other women it is also about finding a provider and a protector in a world that is still tilted toward male power (oh yeah- I forgot- we need protectors to keep us in the shadows, otherwise we'd whither away). Others want to balance between family obligations incurred with a first marriage, and personal inclinations addressed by a second spouse. Sometimes the first spouse is mentally instable, or infertile, or brainstem dead, but the wife wants to keep the bond out of loyalty, or for the children or inheritance issues.

And then there is also sexual need, she admits. “Marriage is a sexual outlet, among other social glues it provides.” Some first husbands have prostate problems and cannot take Viagra because of heart conditions, she explains, or simply are unable or unwilling to understand how to bring a
woman to climax, even though her equal right to orgasm is, nominally at least, recognized by Islamic jurisprudence. They want to clamber on top of a woman without the foreplay of “kisses and words” advocated by the Prophet Muhammad. Or they master vaginal sex in one traditional position, but are unwilling to adventure further, leaving her frustrated and bored, staring at the ceiling. Yet other aspects of the marriage may be fine, and the wife may
be willing to stay in the marriage for those reasons, seeing it as cruel and selfish to leave, especially if there are children. She is thus left with a sexual dilemma.

“Marriage is the one place we, as a faith community, do sanction sex, right?” Areej continues. “So it’s supposed to fulfill that natural, God-ordained function, in a context of love and compassion.”

“When it’s not doing so for too many women because the men are not stepping up, something is wrong, and religion should provide a compassionate answer,” says conservative cleric Imam Hamid al-Fahl, who works out at the gym to stay in shape for his wife, and brings her roses on the anniversary of the publication of the book that founded the Shafi’i school of fiqh. “Something
had to be done about all these restless women.” With the Polyandry Fatwa, men will realize that, for the first time in history, there are consequences for such shortcomings, Imam al-Fahl believes. Even those whose wives do not consider the polyandry route will be more motivated to try harder.

Opponents of the Polyandry Fatwa point out that it’s not just for women with absentee first husbands. Women with husbands who are present and accounted for make trouble in the family by marrying over them, they say. Feminists who would rather see polygamy ended all together are not pleased, but polyandry proponents say such activists are just not being realistic.
Christian Syrians in this 15% Christian country say they do not wish to get involved in what they see as a intra-Muslim issue, but privately, some think the Muslims have gone nuts (“We had the good sense to ban all multiple marriages by the third century after our faith started, and anyway we see abstinence as the ideal to strive for; you folks seem to swing the other way”), while others say they were glad to see Muslims finally being fair to women on the multiple marriage thing.

Romantics who insist that marriage means a pairing of two souls meant exclusively for each other are outnumbered by those who say that is a highly individualistic view, contingent on specific economic conditions in other societies. They add that marriage in Syria, rather than being merely an individual act, is a societal institution at the center of a web of complex,
pragmatic roles. Nature can be brought in to support either view, with romantics pointing to the lifelong pairings of monogamous animal species and polygamy advocates noting the proliferation of multiple partners in other species.

Conservative Muslim adversaries of the polyandry ruling, meanwhile, derisively tag it “the Slut Fatwa.” “Only a slut would want to sleep with more than one man,” says Mafini Dam of the Center for the Syrian Family in Damascus. (that's different to the other millions of slut fatwas out there mind you like the 'sew yourself up again slut fatwa', the 'it's ok to kill the slut who dishonored you fatwa' and the 'mutilate the vaginas of the sluts fatwa')

“Case in point, my neighbor Sharifa Izzat,” she says. “She’s got the apartment upstairs with her first man, and an apartment down in the basement with the second one.” There is a rhythmic rattling from the ceiling and Mafini, a widow, puts her hands to her ears. “A’ouzu billah,” she says.

Sharifa Izzat, 35, freshly showered, brushes aside Mafini’s disdain, as she enters the apartment house lobby. Sharifa’s upstairs husband is a respected contractor twelve years older than she, paunchy and bald, “but a dear,” she says, and a good father and provider.

The downstairs spouse is a long-haired starving artist with rugged good looks who takes her dancing on the town and paints loving portraits of her three children (from the first husband) in oils. Seven years younger than she, he made her feel alive after sixteen years of marriage had settled her into a rut. She was not willing to have an affair; it had to be halal and aboveboard. Nothing sordid: a clean, responsible act.

“Each husband satisfies a different side of me. I’m a complex woman in her prime,” Sharifa says brightly, pushing the “down” elevator button. “One for the money, two for the show,” Mafini says of Sharifa’s two husbands, grimacing.

Sharifa is open to the idea of a third husband, “but only if the right man came along.” It would make her life even more complex, she knows, and while her two current husbands have adjusted to each other, a third might change the dynamic. “I’ve always had a soccer player fantasy,” she says with a wink, as the elevator door closes on her. (I think she means soccer team)

Islamic education materials distributed by imams in support of the Polyandry Fatwa remind women that the Quran limits polygamy to four spouses, and that they must be scrupulously fair in dividing their time and attention among them, an ideal men have had a hard time living up to. The pamphlets also note that monogamy continues to be favored implicitly in the Quran. Most
Muslims, says Shaikh Habib, historically have been monogamous, and polygamy has been limited to small numbers in society, even if the spotlight often falls on those few. And most Muslims, he believes, will continue to be monogamous.

“But it’s nice to have options,” his daughter Carima adds.