by Doctor Science
It turns out that Marty Peretz is pretty much a bigot
But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.A lot of people are upset about it, but as far as I'm concerned it's news like "Water, Continued Wet."
Meanwhile, science fiction writer Elizabeth Moon thinks
Muslims fail to recognize how much forbearance they’ve had ...I feel that I personally (and many others) lean over backwards to put up with these things, to let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship, on the grounds of their personal freedom. It would be helpful to have them understand what they’re demanding of me and others–how much more they’re asking than giving.This is, frankly, considerably more surprising and upsetting than Marty Peretz being a jerk (water, wet), for me and for a bunch of other people.
only repeating what the media’s been telling her — what our climate of bigotry and willful ignorance has been telling her.
I had been planning to make a pre-Yom Kippur post about the Book of Jonah, which is read during the afternoon services, but I've changed my mind. A major part of the several services throughout the more-than-24-hours of Yom Kippur is spent listing and regretting sins, especially those that are collective (everything is in the plural, what *we* have done) and that are sins of speech: lies, gossip, deadly silence. To atone, we have to speak rightly; I will do some small part now.
This is a story about a heroine. She is a historic figure, quite possibly the single most influential woman in recorded history. She also seems to me a fascinating and admirable person, as I dimly peer at her through the mists of time, language, and culture: fully worthy to be one of those people whose lives are templates for our actions and understanding -- that is to say, heroic. Mythic*.
Her name was Khadījah bint Khuwaylid. When we first see her she's a wealthy widow, but not sheltered or particularly secluded. Khadījah was a businesswoman, very like the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31:10-31 in the Bible:
She considers a field and buys it;Like that woman, Khadījah apparently had property and trading ventures she controlled for herself. Mohammad was a young man -- younger than her, possibly by as much as 15 years -- an orphan with good connections but neither wealth nor parents to support him. She hired him to go with the caravans as her agent, found she could trust him, and clearly saw *something* in him, for she offered to marry him.
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
That's right. Mohammed's first wife was a wealthy older woman who proposed to *him* -- she wasn't a passive counter in a game between men, used by her father or brother to cement a particular relationship, she was a woman who arranged her own life. Personally, I imagine her as a woman who didn't want to marry someone her own age or older, someone who'd expect to boss her around and tell her what to do with her money and her life. I also imagine her as a woman who could tell that this particular young man was more healthy, intelligent, charismatic, and good-looking than a wealthy older man, supposedly her peer, would be.
There's a saying among Muslims that "Islam did not rise except through Ali's sword and Khadījah's wealth." Her money was only the first of IMHO the four crucial things Khadijah gave Muhammad. The second thing was that she was apparently already a monotheist of some variety -- not a Christian in any formal sense, it seems, but no longer a follower of the traditional polytheistic religion of Arabia.
The third thing was their daughter, Fatima. Like most Westerners, I'd heard that Mohammed had many wives; what I hadn't known is that he had very few children, and no sons that survived infancy. Of his (three?) daughters, only Fatima had any descendents -- all the many descendents of the Prophet are from her. When you hear people say that "Islam is the most patriarchal religion", remember that: the Prophet had no sons, his is a female line.
The fourth thing was the most important of all. When Mohammed starting having visions, he went to Khadijah and said: "I don't know if I'm crazy, or if God (Allah) is talking to me." And she said, "you're not crazy." Khadijah, everyone agrees, was the first Muslim -- and without her, there might well not have been any more. She believed, she supported and encouraged him, when he was most uncertain and afraid. When Muslims call her "The Mother of Believers" they don't just mean that she's an ancestor, they also mean that she, by her belief, gave spiritual birth to the generations of believers yet to come. A woman was the original, model Muslim.
Mohammed and Khadijah were by every account deeply loving and devoted to each other; he had no other wives while she was alive. Theirs is supposed to be the template for Muslim marriages -- and it was a loving, monogamous relationship chosen freely by both of them, in which they raised daughters they both cherished.
When non-Muslims talk about Mohammad's super-patriarchal marriages, they're obviously not thinking of Khadijah. After she died, Mohammad did marry 10-12 women (depending on who's counting) -- but only one of them was a virgin. All the rest were widows or former slaves.
Mohammad's only virginal wife, Aisha, is the one who gets most of the attention from non-Muslims (there are two novels about her in print in English at the moment: Mother of the Believers, by Kamran Pasha, and The Jewel of Medina, by Sherry Jones). She was married to the Prophet as a child, was the prettiest and liveliest of his wives -- and she lived the longest after his death, and had the most to do with the development of the religious tradition and the political machinations of the early Caliphate.
I guess Aisha is supposed to be the "romantic" one -- not to mention the one whose life can make a modern Westerner feel superior to those backward, misogynist Muslims. But for me, Khadijah is the interesting, romantic one: the one who picked a partner for her life, and found they were both partnered to history.
Most of my knowledge of Islam comes from two books:
The Venture of Islam by Marshall Hodgson (3 volumes). It's hard not to use the word "magisterial" for this work, one of the great achievements in inter-cultural ambassadorship of the twentieth century. Published in the early 70s, it will still give you most of the background you need to understand what Hodgson calls "Islamicate" civilization: the cultural complex associated with Muslims and Islam, as "Western" civilization is associated both with Christianity and with Ancient Greece.
Women and Gender in Islam, by Leila Ahmed. At one point in my life I was a professional indexer; I did the index for this book which means I read it *extremely* closely at one point. The book was very illuminating for me: Ahmed is resolutely opposed to monotonic, orthodox views of "what Islam is" or "what women are". I'm a little surprised to discover that it's still considered "definitive" almost 20 years later: it's simply too short to do justice to the diversity of the topics.
You can get a feel for the kind of diversity there is within Islam by comparing two online articles about Khadijah: one from a Sunni site, one from a Shi'a site. Both are pious and conventional, but they differ as much as two articles on Mary the mother of Jesus would, if one came from a Catholic site and the other from a Baptist one.
*I do not use the word "myth" to mean "untruth", but "a story so powerful you can organize your life around it."