Friday, March 2, 2007

A Trip To The Islmic Center

Last night I visited the Boca Raton Islamic Center as part of a course in diversity I am taking at Florida Atlantic University.

As a person who values intelligence, whether it be a rocket scientist or a person who has memorized a religious text, I was excited to listen to the well-versed director of the Center. To me, it is a beautiful thing to see people so immersed in faith – I always say, "I may not be a believer, but if that is what gets you up in the morning, or pushes you through each day, more power to you."

We were there to get schooled on the religion, as well as “in the kitchen” questions to those who faithfully adhere to the rules of Islam.

Like a good feminist journalist, I raised my hand.

“So how do you feel about polygamy?”

The woman whom I addressed the question to quickly sat down, saying that she would not be best fit to answer the inquiry.

In her a place, a man got up and told me of the power of having more than one wife.

First, he pointed out that it is very difficult to maintain this lifestyle (a life of more than one wife) because the man is meant to give the same exact treatment for each wife – of which Muslims are capped at four – meaning on a one-on-one level, on a financial level, on a sexual level, etc. And since this decision is not mandatory, he asserted that many men do not go down this path.

Next, he pointed out that for WOMEN it is actually a good thing. Why? Because he said that no matter how much his wife has changed, he will not leave her. There is no need to divorce that wife who has wrinkles, or fell out of love, he said, simply round up another wife. In Muslim nations the idea of a 50-year-old single, divorced woman roaming the aisles of Wal-Mart on a Saturday night just doesn’t happen…instead, they are sharing the couch with the other women. Hmm…which one is better?

And if one is lesbian or gay, forget about it. There is no toleration of homosexuals in the Koran. The director of the Islamic Center said it is a sick behavior that may be enticing to those engaging in this relationship, but can be controlled. He said followers do not believe in biological factors that lend to the development of these relationships – instead he said it is a sin. Yet, they will allow homosexuals to pray in the mosque, as Islam is a HEALING religion, and gays – according to him – need HEALED.

Again, as a good feminist journalist, I raised my hand.

The continued discussion started with their intolerance for gays and lesbians, but it quickly turned into a conversation about scientific knowledge vs. theology (as the concept of being born anything other than homosexual would fall into these categories).

It was my contention that there has been mounting evidence that proves the creation of life, the creation of the universe through science (the Big Bang Theory; Darwin's Natural Selection, Positive Mutations, and so on). More over, the scientific research being produced by scientists (who by the Islamic Center's interpretation would technically be a creation of Allah, and should then carry the will of God…wouldn't his scientific conclusions, then, be the will of God?) has healed, changed the world through technological advancements, medicine, and so on.

To me, these are tangible accomplishments. We can look up the theorists, drive to her/his house, and shake their hand.

We cannot, however, go to the "being upstairs" and do the same.

They concluded that if Allah wanted to have these notions as true, "he" would have written it in the Koran, and made clear distinctions that this is true. Instead, it is said that Allah created the world in six days.

Us believers in science contend that is was a series of matter and energy coming together, as well as cell mutation and adaptation that created this planet. WE believe that NATURE is incredible, beautiful, and capable of intricate life forms. Religious folks believe that GOD is incredible, beautiful, and capable of intricate life forms.

The director, nearly laughing, said if I were to say that two things just came together, without the help of any higher power – he used an example of a boat arriving a harbor with no one driving it, yet it managed to make its way to the bay, anchor, and unload all of its possessions on to the shore without ANY help – know one would believe him.

That was his refute against science. He says that a higher force had to have helped the matter, energy, cells, etc form.

Oppositely, I said that if a person TODAY were to say that they were sitting on a park bench and began hearing voices, and then wrote a text that refuted all scientific knowledge to date – all provable ideas – no one would believe this person. We would call that person crazy.

The conversation went back and forth until nearly 10 p.m. They would satisfy their side of the debate with what I call mystification, and I would satisfy my part with science.

It was very interesting, informal, and non-intrusive. We both respectfully thanked one another for their views, and then departed

However, not all was a debate on my behalf.

I will say that I have been enlightened to the fact that wearing the hijab – the tradition Muslim dress that covers the woman from head to toe – is actually quite empowering. As pointed out by a member of the Islamic Center, as well as a guest who came to speak to my feminist course years back when I was a student at the University of Southern California, there is nothing oppressive about choosing who gets to see their skin. In fact, it a beautiful thing to be able to cover up one’s body, to be modest about one’s privacy, and to follow the idea that less (skin) is more.

One of the women at the Center read the group a poem written by an anonymous Muslim:

Be Proud of Hijab
You look at me and call me oppressed,
Simply because of the way I'm dressed,
You know me not for what's inside,
You judge the clothing I wear with pride,
My body's not for your eyes to hold,
You must speak to my mind, not my feminine mold,
I'm an individual, I'm no mans slave,
It's Allahs pleasure that I only crave,
I have a voice so I will be heard,
For in my heart I carry His word,
"O ye women, wrap close your cloak,
So you won't be bothered by ignorant folk",
Man doesn't tell me to dress this way,
It's a Law from God that I obey,
Oppressed is something I'm truly NOT,
For liberation is what I've got,
It was given to me many years ago,
With the right to prosper, the right to grow,
I can climb mountains or cross the seas,
Expand my mind in all degrees,
For God Himself gave us LIB-ER-TY,
When He sent Islam,
To You and Me!

In the Western World of the United States this concept is simply outlandish. Women and men cannot accept the fact that some Muslims show only their eyes and hands. The Proverbial WE says that we should be able to wear what we want, meaning WE should be able to have every crack made public; that WE should be able to wear tight, form fitting clothing where boobs and butt pop out; and that WE should be able to wear clothing the size of doll’s clothes, in which cover only the absolute necessary.

Many women say, “If you got, flaunt it.”

How utterly patriarchal.

The same women who say that WE have come so far in our struggles, and that because WE have the “choice” to wear pants or a skirt, that we are now empowered enough to wear, well, just about nothing, are the same ones who are being limited in society because of the way they choose to dress. It may sound silly, but the truth is that since the county's inception, women have been sub-par for reasons including the idea that WE are only good for being attractive -- like pieces of art on a wall -- submissive and a place for men to take part in sexual release. WE were never thought to be intellectuals (...You mean there is a free-thinking, critical mind hidden behind that physical outer shell?)

While these women think they are empowering themselves, there are just as many men (and women) who are objectifying this look. And this degradation follows the recipe book of patriarchy, as WE are still under the wrath of the men in power. Our bodies still belong to the man because with every step forward, there are three steps back thanks to comfortability, and false senses of empowerment.

WE must continue the struggle against the oppression.

WE still get better tips, raises, and maybe a more successful partner if WE show our skin.

WE still refer to those who do not wear revealing clothing as butch or prude. Or in the case of Muslims – or other religions where women wear conservative dress, such as Judaism, or nuns in a Catholic church – as oppressed.

And while I am not religious, and do no only seek the acceptance of a higher being, the topic of to show skin or not, begs the question: who is really oppressed?