There is a lot of confusion surrounding polygyny and the role it plays in Muslim marriages. While some believe it’s just another way for the men to exercise their power, others believe polygyny was invented by Muslim cultures. These are clear misconceptions, and don’t really justify the uprising against it.
First of all, the laws and traditions surrounding polygyny in Muslim marriages are diverse throughout the culture. In certain Muslim countries it should be pretty common to see polygyny, while countries like Turkey and Tunisia don’t allow it at all.
Secondly, when Islam came into existence, polygamy was already part of several societies. Even the bible has instances of polygamy, indicating that the Islam religion simply adapted to general marriage guidelines at the time. In fact, polygyny was more focused towards taking care of the women while Muhammad was still alive.
Given that Islam is a very practical religion, it made sense at the time for one man to have multiple wives. This way orphan or fatherless children could have a father again, and women received security so-to-speak.
However, polygyny has never been an easy choice for a Muslim man, because he has to maintain justice and fairness between all his wives. The Qur’ãn states that if a man takes a second, third or fourth wife (four being the limit) it’s his duty to give each an equal amount of everything.
In modern times polygyny isn’t recommended, mainly because it requires a special type of man who can always be objective. This is also why it doesn’t happen very often. And although it’s not a tactic to discourage polygyny, Muslim men have to prove why they need a second wife to a family court, in addition to proving he can take care of her just as well as he’s taking care of his current wife.
Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was a Muslim politician, journalist, and political agitator. He was born in 1838 in Persia and dies in 1897 in Istanbul. He is considered by many to be the founder of modern Islam. He was educated in various Afghani and Iranian religious schools and moved to India in his late teens. While studying religions in India, he became acquainted with the teachings of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and later wrote a treatise rejecting these teachings. The book, entitled “The Truth About The Neichari Sect” was published in 1881. It was later translated into Arabic and republished as “The Refutation of the Materialists”.
Following his studies in India, Al-Afghani made a pilgrimage or Hajj to Mecca (not Denver). During his many travels, he developed his ideology which has been described as combining the traditional Muslim antipathy toward non-Muslims and a more modern criticism of western imperialism. He used this ideology to appeal for a unity of Islam and urged the faithful to adopt western institutions and science in order to strengthen Islam.
Al-Afghani had a strong impact on the Islamic world. He continues today to be a source of both controversy and inspiration. He advocated for Islamic modernization in short essays, lectures, and newspaper columns. He based his beliefs on finding a way to bring together traditional Islamic culture and the sciences and philosophies of the Western world. He believed that modern Western technology and science may be separated from the manners and ethos of Western civilizations and used by the Islamic World without Islam having to accept any consequences.
Later in life, Al-Afghani tried to serve as a counselor to the Shah of Iran but was suspected of heresy. Al-Afghani started a campaign of violent opposition to the Shah and was eventually deported.
He died in Istanbul and was buried in secret. In 1944, what was believed to be his remains were transferred to Afghanistan and remain there under a mausoleum.
Sufism, also known as Tasawwuf is Islamic mysticism. It is not a sect of Islam but is instead another dimension of worship and understanding. There are Sufism orders, also called Tariqas in Shia, Sunni and other Islamic groups. When a Muslim practices Sufism, they are dedicating themselves to worship and to Allah. They disregard worldly ornaments and finery and abstain from the wealth, pleasure, and prestige that is often sought by others. Sufi Muslims often worship alone, preferring to commune with Allah one-on-one.
Those who practice Sufism are adamant that Islam should be learned from both teachers and studies. The Sufi movement can trace its teachers back many generations to the Prophet himself.
The name Sufism may have come from the rough woolen garb worn by the first Islamic mystics. Sufis belong to certain orders which meet for spiritual sessions. The meeting places are called khanaqahs, zawiyas or tekke.
Sufis strive for a perfect connection with Allah. They regard Muhammad as perfectly exhibiting the morality of God. He is considered their prime spiritual guide as well as their leader.
All but one order trace their origin to Muhammed through Ali, his son-in-law, and cousin. The Naqshbandi believe their origins lie in Muhammed through Abu Baker, the first Rashid Caliph.
Sufism has developed strict practices which focus on self-control. This allows the followers to achieve both mystical and psychological insights as they lose their own sense of self and reach a mystical union with God.
There are fraternal orders within the Sufi movement where leaders help disciples as they work toward a mastery of Sufism’s ritual practices and philosophical principles. These practices and rituals include reciting and writing hymns and poetry. In fact, some fo the most beautiful Islamic literature was authored by Sufis.
Sufis are considered devout Muslims. They pray five times day, give to charity and fast. They distinguish themselves by their attempts to improve their spiritual lives and commune with God.
Sunni Muslims belong to the largest Islam denomination, Sunni Islam. The name is derived from the word Sunnah, a reference to the good example of Muslim behavior set forth by Muhammad, the prophet.
Disagreements arose between the Shia and Sunni Muslims in 632 A.D., regarding who should be Muhammad’s successor. These arguments created a larger divide over time, becoming broader and more political, in addition to the dissenting juridical and theological opinions.
One group, which eventually became the Sunnis, believe that Muhammad never specifically designated any particular successor, and that by electing his father-in-law Abu Bakr to become the first caliph, they were acting according to Muhammad’s sunnah. They believed that it was only important that the successor be someone who was pious and would follow Muhammad’s religious example.
Another group of Muslims, who would eventually become known as Shia Muslims, disagreed, and believed that the successor should be a blood relative of Muhammad. They believed that Muhammad had intended Ali ibn Abi Talib, his cousin and son-in-law, to be his successor.
The tension between the two Islamic groups have continued throughout the generations, to varying degrees. Current ethnic conflicts, in addition to the recent rise of Wahhabism, have fanned the flames of discord between them. Many of them seek out immigration lawyers to move to different countries.
Sunni Muslims make up 87 to 90 percent of the global Muslim population, which makes them the largest religious denomination in the world, with Catholics being the second-largest. In English, Sunni followers are known as Sunnis, Sunnites, Sunni Muslims, and Ahlus Sunnah. Some refer to the denomination as “orthodox Islam.”
The Sunnis read the Quran, the book containing the sayings of the prophet. They believe in the six pillars of iman (faith), the Maturidi and Ash’ari schools of theology, as well as traditionalist theology. They fast during Ramadan, follow the required ritual prayer (including 5 prayers per day), make a promise to travel in pilgrimage to Mecca, give to the poor, and pledge themselves to their Muslim faith.
The history of Islam dates back more than a thousand years, when the founder, Mohammed, was given messages by God. As a prophet of the one true God, he admonished the Jews and Christians for no longer honoring the tenets set forth by Abraham and the original prophets.
After the death of the prophet, there was dissent among the survivors regarding who should be in charge of the faith and guiding believers forward. At that point, there were two primary groups, the Shia and Sunni. While the majority of the Islam believers at that time followed the Sunni path, around one in five became the first Shia Muslims.
These folks believed that the founder of Islam had handed down his role as head of the faith to his cousin. Whether or not he was the rightful heir continues to be debated within the faith to this day. In fact, there are many Sunni who do not believe that the Shia are legitimate adherents to the faith because of this belief.
However, both groups keep the same five pillars of the faith and have the same beliefs regarding Allah and his prophet. Although there are more than one and a half million Muslims in the world, this is one of the points that continues to create disharmony in the Middle East and elsewhere.
In addition to these two groups, there have been other splinters within the faith, with different levels of acceptance within the community. Today, the political climate in the Middle East is incredibly complex, creating problems beyond these splits in faith.
Shia Muslims continue to have a large enough voice to be heard throughout the world, as the largest minority group within the Islamic faith. They stick to the belief that Mohammed handed down the right of leadership to his cousin.
It seems interesting that in the 21st century, the great American enemy of our time has a theological bent yet is somewhat similar to the scourge of the 20th century, against which the Americans won a decades-long “Cold War.”
A century ago, communism was the great threat of our time, and that has since been replaced by radical Islam. But when you look back over history, communism and Islam have actually had a pretty friendly, albeit convenient, union through several conflicts dating back to World War I.
As the Islam-based Ottoman Empire was being divided up in the early part of the 20th century by several Western powers, Russia’s communist resistance to the tsarist regime consistently stood up for the Ottomans, pressing that the empire should not be divided into ethnocentric states and should instead remain a homogenous nation base on its unifying Islamic ideology. Why did the Communists rise up? They stood for the “oppressed and persecuted” by the West – and they saw this as a symbol of that oppression of Islam.
After the Communist Party came to dictatorial power in the Soviet Union, Islam found a partner in world relations, as the Soviets quickly aligned with Persia (later Iran) on a variety of issues – a relationship that still exists today. But does it seem odd that a secular, atheist ideology such as communism would align for so long with a theocratic model of governance like Islam and sharia law?
When you look past the theology of Islam, you can see that communism and Islam actually have a relationship that makes sense. They developed a bond over oppression and persecution from “the capitalist, imperial, colonial West” – Muslims seeing their Empire being scuttled, and communists standing up for the “proletariat” that had been “left behind” by “greedy capitalists.”
As rebellions and insurgencies bubbled up throughout Eastern Europe and into Asia in the 19-teens and 1920s, Islam was trying to expand its reach, and communism was taking hold in what were previously Western democracies that were being swallowed up by the growing Soviet Union.
Taking out the religious aspect of Islam, the two political ideologies were quite similar and had similar goals and means to those ends. With communism, it was about collectivism and putting down any dissent or disagreement with the collective; for Islam, it was about forced conversion into a rigid way of life and putting down any who dared live differently. Both survive and thrive on fear, intimidation and forced compliance.
Communism has been responsible for the killing of millions of people (like the death penalty in Texas) – many of them people over which they ruled. Whether it’s the millions of Soviets killed by Stalin and Lenin, millions of Chinese killed by Mao, or the hundreds of thousands of Cubans killed by Fidel Castro.
Islam has grown worldwide mainly through militaristic action and conquest, as evidenced by the long-standing Ottoman Empire. While conversion does happen voluntarily, wide swaths of populations were conquered militarily, with Muslims killing Jews, Christians and other non-believers in their path – and in recent years, more extreme Muslims are killing even their fellow Muslims in the name of a caliphate – whether the radical elements are part of ISIS, al-Qaeda or Boko Haram. The Qu’ran does direct Muslims to get infidels to convert or to kill them if they don’t submit. Fear and intimidation is also the game in Islam, and like communism, a dictatorship is the best way to get compliance and submission to the way of life espoused by the political ideology.
One can argue that communism is a non-theist form of Islam, or that Islam is a monotheistic form of communism. The two have had a good relationship since the rise of communism on the world stage over a century ago, and with the same goals, aims and means to achieve those ends, one can see with some clarity that there is a reason that the two forces work together so often. It isn’t just coincidence:
Part of what is so special about living life as part of the Islamic faith is knowing you’re a part of a much greater community, and the faith as a whole derives strength from the sum of its individual parts. Ummah is exactly that. Ummah is the whole of Islam, each member bound to all the others by the special religious ties from which they find meaning. The word itself means simply “community” or “nation,” sometimes confused with the word for ancestral ties, “Sha’b.”
It’s important to distinguish the past and present Ummah. Early in the Qur’an, Ummah was originally indicative of a single group of people with shared spiritual and religious beliefs. Now, Ummah more refers to all of Islam. Sha’b, then, is used to distinguish different groups of people based usually on regional differences.
Curiously, the Constitution of Medina–inspired in part by Muhammad’s actions and insights for the document in CE 622–refers not only to Muslim citizens of Medina as part of the Ummah, but also Jewish, Christian, and Pagan citizens. This isn’t entirely surprising, as Jewish and Christian religions share the same god with Muslims, although their beliefs and customs and traditions vary widely. The various religions, Christianity in particular, assimilated a number of Pagan rituals over the centuries before they became popular.
The Ummah of invitation includes all these other communities that don’t directly fall under the flag of Islam, while the Ummah of response includes only Muslim followers of the faith. According to Islam, the Prophet Muhammad was sent to invite all people to embrace the enlightenment that the guidance of the Muslim faith offers, but only those who accept the invitation will be rewarded with eternal paradise when life in this world has ended.
Ummah has more important implications for the development of the Islamic faith. In the past, Arabic communities rule themselves based mostly on tribe and blood relation. When the Prophet Muhammad helped spread the concept of Ummah throughout these various communities, it had a uniting effect. No longer was blood or a single community’s history of tradition most important, but the whole of Islamic culture–the Ummah itself connected them all together and gave the entirety of Islam a renewed sense of purpose that has perhaps fragmented in the many centuries since Muhammad’s death.
Part of the success of Ummah was based on the idea of spiritual salvation and the importance of the messages from God that Muhammad helped show the faithful. It gave them a much different way of thinking about their place in the world. God’s will was most important, and everything else was secondary.
Ummah is mentioned sixty-two times in the Qur’an, and most references are about the various peoples that are subject to eternal salvation rather than the whole of Islam. Most historians acknowledge that the word’s meaning changes over time, at first roughly translating to “people” before eventually evolving to mean the Islamic community as a whole–an obvious parallel to real-life history.
Even though the Ummah isn’t technically a guiding principle of the Islamic faith, it certainly does help the community as a whole find equilibrium while its members find their way through life. It is that peaceful reservation that makes Islam so special to its devoted members.
Although we don’t hear enough about its importance to the world stage, Turkey is in the hot seat of international politics and intrigue right now. This is in no small part thanks to U.S. President Trump’s decision to arm the YPG in a bid to help fight against ISIS, even though Turkey defines the YPG as a terrorist group as well. As relations between the U.S., Turkey, and Russia are strained even more than usual, Russia and Turkey are about to set pen to paper on a deal that would supply Turkey with a state of the art air-defense system. This is happening while one Turkish relief organization helps rebuild and restore damaged or destroyed mosques in Syria.
Needless to say, Turkey is in the middle of it right now.
The deal with Russia should help improve relations between the two countries, something is seen as somewhat of a mess after Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane hovering along the border with Syria back in 2015. Although the move is better in the long-run, it does not make things easier for the U.S., where President Trump is trying to distance himself from accusations that he is working more as a Russian puppet than an American president. Sometimes it’s difficult to do the right thing when the need for political posturing and looking strong seems to contradict those decisions.
There are signs of progress throughout the region, even as much of it seems to fall further into chaos year by year.
Turkey, Pakistan, Qatar, Malaysia, and Indonesia are forming an alliance to help stabilize the region and make it safer over time. The pact hopes to increase security in the face of radical Islamic terrorism, while also helping to foster unity among the greater Islamic community. In addition to military and defense aspirations, the countries involved strive to spread humanitarian assistance throughout the region–something war-torn parts of the region sorely need.
In another sign of good things to come according to lawyers, Turkey is throttling forward as an economic force that could thrust a number of other predominantly Islamic countries into the world spotlight as stronger, more meaningful members of the global economy. In order to do this, Turkish relations with China must become stronger and more stabilized in the future. They’re already on the road to doing so.
Part of this is the One Road, One Belt initiative enabled by Chinese President Xi all the way back in 2013. This would create a more reliable land route for trade stretching from China to Europe. The one obstacle to the plan is simple that there are too many obstacles! The number of Middle Eastern countries China would need to pass through is a tough hurdle to overcome, especially in the midst of so much war and chaos and diplomatic differences. This also leads to a number of options–forks in the road, so to speak. Diplomacy success is a huge requirement for getting the project underway, and getting Turkish regulations to bend is yet another issue.
If the problems can be overcome, many believe that Turkey can be the focal point of a new sense of Islamic community and pride that could lead to a reduction in radical Islamic elements throughout the region. Such a reality could promote better relations throughout the region and with the west. Either way, Turkey’s importance to international relations couldn’t be more obvious to those invested in news coming out of the country right now.
A lot of people believe that the Islamic Community and its strict religious beliefs and tendency to uphold its most valued traditions means that feminism cannot possibly exist within its metaphorical borders–but that just is not the case. Not only is feminism alive and well within the Islamic community, but it could also be argued that the fight there is far more important than anyplace else. Even so, it’s important to realize that feminism for a Muslim means something far different than it does to the average western feminist. And that’s okay.
So what is feminism to the Islamic community, and what form does it take? The answer is far from simple, but let’s try to break it down anyway.
Islamic feminism is predicated on the belief that women are not, in fact, meant to submit to the will of man–a common religious belief not only in the Islamic tradition but also in other major religions as well. This is obvious enough in modern history, as women have held higher offices such as prime ministers and heads of state in predominantly Muslim countries.
Like other feminists around the globe, they primarily seek equality in both public and private settings, but they also focus on equality within a mosque setting–where it perhaps matters most. One of the biggest voices in modern Islamic feminism since 2002 is Margot Badran, who fights to obtain a modern dialogue for feminist voices within the Islamic community (currently an impressive eighty years old!). Islamic scholars have labeled the fight of Islamic feminists as radical rather than practical, but contemporary circumstances worldwide have led to an increased need for discourse from all sides because a great part of Islam seeks to gather greater support inside and outside of the Islamic community.
Even as early as the seventh century, the fundamental rights of Muslim women have been fiercely debated. Understandably, the topics under consideration than were far removed from the topics we discuss today. One extreme example is that of female infanticide, a practice in which female offspring were murdered to make way for the more desirable male heirs and inheritors. The practice was eventually banned, paving the wave for a very real, but very gradual improvement in the way women have been viewed and treated over the centuries since then.
Today, things are different–and so is the fight. While western feminists fight only for equality, those in countries dominated by Muslim communities tie the fight for equality into the need for secular democracy. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is based out of Pakistan, and its primary function is to increase both the involvement and relevance of women up to full participation in all political and social aspects of their culture. This same organization is also tied into the fight against radical Muslim terrorists and their beliefs.
There are a number of other groups at home and abroad who work with similar intentions. They include “sisterhood,” a platform for Muslim women to have their experiences and stories shared. Another is Sisters in Islam (SIS) of Malay. There is also a global movement called Musawah (the Arabic word for equality). Many of these organizations meet fierce resistance from both men and women who disagree or believe the time is not right for the debate, and so the fight is slow and ongoing. Still, it needs to be fought for things to change for the better.
Members of the Islamic community must make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once during their lifetimes, as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During this pilgrimage, members of the faith might visit a Miqat where they typically put on a garment called an ihram. The garment is white cloth, and wearing the ihram is mandatory. This is because Ihram is also a state of being in which the participant not only wears traditional clothing but also cleanses body and mind in preparation for what is to come.
Five Miqat stations were designated by the messenger of God, the Prophet Muhammad. A last was eventually installed for those traveling from eastern countries. The stations include Dhu’l-Hulayfah, Juhfah, Qarn ul-Manazil, Yalamlam, Thaneim, and Dhat-i ‘Irq.
The purpose of stopping at a Miqat station is specifically to enter the state of ihram. Although they may seem simple from the outside looking inward, trademark rituals involved are strict. Most Muslims will be familiar with most of the routines from a young age. When entering ihram, it is forbidden that a man ties knots or wear stitched clothing–even footwear. The feet must not be entirely covered, but different Islamic sects have slightly different views on how much of the foot must be allowed to show while entering ihram.
While women might choose to wear a hijab or dupatta if they wish, their faces must remain exposed. This means they cannot wear a burqa or niqab. In another deviation from ritualistic prayer that occurs in the traditional mosque, men and women are allowed to pray in the same room together. The logic is that on the Day of Judgement, there will be no gender segregation.
Hygiene is incredibly important to maintaining a truly authentic state of ihram. If the Ihram is worn is somehow sullied, then the entire ritual is deemed invalid. Muslims must refrain from using scented products while wearing the ihram attire and entering the ihram state, or the ritual is again considered invalid. That means no deodorant until departure. The same goes for women: no cosmetics can be used during a visit to a Miqat station.
Muslims are accustomed to ritualized cleansing and cleaning before prayer. The same goes for prayer that occurs at a Miqat station. Muslim men must be “whole” during their visit. The state of ihram requires they leave hair and facial hair intact. Additionally, they do not trim their nails. Everything else is familiar with any member of the Islamic community. Members must not smoke or engage in sexual relations, they must not curse or kill animals, and they must not fight with one another. In essence, they must maintain their purity for the duration of the ritual.
Interestingly, it does not matter whether a Muslim is on air or land. When entering the strict zone of a Miqat, one must put on the ihram. If on a plane, it is perfectly acceptable to wear it while flying. Many choose to put it on from the airport. Pilots are aware of this ritual (of course) and usually make sure their passengers are aware whenever they fly into a Miqat zone so they can change if necessary.
More important than anything else is the participant’s relationship with God. Other daily affairs are of no importance. If one has pressing concerns from home, then one must bury them until his or her return. The mind is important to a Muslim, and thoughts must not deviate from the goal: prayer.