Terra Incognita: Pre-Islamic but retained by Islam
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
From face veiling to female circumcision, many practices are said to have nothing to do with religion, but why, after 1,300 years, are they still practiced?
From face veiling to female circumcision, one hears that many practices perceived as negative in the West have nothing to do with Islam, the religion, the culture or the famed civilization.
Babak Darvish argued on his blog in June that “Islamic law teaches that the face and hands should be uncovered. Meaning that if somebody follows the traditional Sunni school of thought in Islam, they should not practice the pre- Islamic tradition of face veiling or Niqab.”
Another blogger notes “the wearing of a veil predates all the Abrahamic religions.” A website called Hilalplaze.com informs believers that “cultural dress is referred to in the ancient pre-Islamic era (Jahiliyah). Yet it is the veil from the ‘pre-Islamic’ era that is considered ‘traditional,’ and which stops women from contributing in society.”
The writer argues that the activities of the Taliban were typical of this un-Islamic society.
Greek writers about Persia described many upper-class women as veiled. There is no mention in the Koran of a new institution regarding female dress. But if the veil and all its permutations – niqab, hijab, chador, abbaya, burka, purdah – are pre- Islamic, then why has Islamic society been so good at cementing their appearance? In fact, despite the spread of Islamic piety from Bosnia to Cambodia, one finds a startling similarity in the veil.
Where once some Central Asian Muslim women were garbed in horrid long horsehair burkas that made movement all but impossible (they were banned by the Soviets), now one finds those same women wearing the same head scarf so common throughout the Middle East and Europe.
Another controversial concept widespread in the Muslim world is “honor killing.”
On the website islamonline.
net, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, is quoted as saying; “There is no such concept in Islam.”
An esteemed writer on the website reiterates “so-called honor killing is based on ignorance and disregard of morals and laws, which cannot be abolished except by disciplinary punishments.”
John Esposito and Sheila Lalwani, the former a well known American writer and defender of Islam, note that “these [honor] murders occur in the Islamic world, but they also take place in other countries such as India, and victims can be Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Sikh.”
Yotam Feldner, writing in Middle East Forum, notes that “the religious establishment in Jordan views honor killing as a remnant of pre-Islamic Arab tribalism.”
MK Ahmed Tibi has even proposed passing a law that would ban the use of the term by officials or the media. So here again a crime prevalent among modern Muslims becomes a “pre-Islamic” crime, or even one whose name should be abolished, lest it stigmatize Muslims. In fact, it turns out other communities are probably just as guilty as Muslims. When non-Muslims are victims of honor killings in the Middle East it receives widespread coverage. This was the case with Mariam Atef Khilla, a Coptic Christian girl who converted to Islam and was subsequently murdered.
BUT THE numbers and stories betray a deeper truth.
Robert Fisk, the usually anti- Israel writer at the Independent, wrote in September that 20,000 women are murdered a year, and that while it is a crime which Hindus and Christians also commit, it is all too common throughout the Muslim Middle East.
Honor killings have now come to shock the Western world when Muslim immigrant communities are implicated.
As with the veil, the question is the same – if it’s not part of Islam, why is it so common among Muslims? Fisk, Esposito and others like them might be right; women are murdered throughout the world. But are they drowned, strangled, shot, beaten, raped and sprayed with acid by their own relatives? Do the men express pride when confronted by police? It seems the answer is generally no.
Take Arab Christians, for example. Sometimes Arab Christian women who convert to Islam or run off with Muslim men are murdered by relatives. Until recently some families took out death notices in papers rather than actually murdering them. But Arab Christian women, to my knowledge, are never murdered for being “immodest” or because of “rumors.”
Arab Christian women often never wore a veil in the first place, not in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria or Jordan.
The last subject labelled a “pre-Islamic” tradition is female circumcision. Suffice it to say that this practice indeed predated Islam in Egypt, Africa and parts of Arabia.
According to one hadith (Islamic tradition), “circumcision is obligated for men, and an honorable thing for women.”
All four Islamic schools of jurisprudence agree that the practice is honorable for women. Dr. Adb’ al-Rahman ibn Hasan al-Nafisah, an editor of an Islamic jurisprudence journal in Saudi Arabia, notes, “We conclude that female circumcision is merely a cultural practice.”
But here again we have traditions that are pre-Islamic and yet which Islam helped cement.
The same is true of other unsavory practices, from wife-beating to slavery – all pre-Islamic –which were not eradicated by Islam. The same is not generally true of the Christian relationship with pre-Christian practices.
Christianity helped suppress slavery, after many centuries of tolerating it.
Drunkenness – surely a pre- Christian practice – has been semi-enshrined on St.
Patrick’s Day, but temperance movements were largely Christian in origin. The Mafia revenge culture of Sicily is intertwined with the Catholic faith, but priests have condemned it.
Without being a shill for Christianity, it seems obvious that “traditional” practices that receive little purchase in modern Western society thrive under Islam.
Excusing them as “pre- Islamic” is a misnomer; after 1,300 years, they are “Islamic,” and only Islamic jurisprudence can change them.
The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
Terra Incognita: Corporate world's new marketing strategy
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
There is something suspicious about how the new socially conscious ad campaigns play on our society’s stereotypical charitable views
In the Seinfeld episode “The Airport,” Jerry meets a model and she shows him a recent photo of her that appeared in Esquire where she is mostly nude, having just stepped out of a shower. It turns out the ad is for jeans. No surprise. We all know the mantra that “sex sells.”
Advertising companies have long realized that the main subject of an ad need not be the product. Watch companies show images of Mount Everest and sailing. Other firms pitch you a lifestyle that goes along with a product. From time to time, oddly, some products are actually marketed through ads that declare them to be the best; Oracle claims it has “the fastest ever database performance.”
But there is a new trend in advertising that, while it may not be sweeping the world, is becoming more pronounced. It is the “socially conscious” ad campaign. In a fold-out ad by Du Pont on the inside cover of the recent issue of National Geographic, the reader is shown an Indian train packed to the gills. The ad was specially designed for the January issue, whose main article was about “Population 7 billion: How your world will change.”
Lo and behold, we learn that Du Pont “has a rich history of scientific discovery that has enabled countless innovations and made life better for people everywhere.”
The company, it turns out, is not only making “higher quality food available,” it also plays a role in the body armor that has saved “more than 3,000 law-enforcement lives.”
It is not clear what connects any of this to the people on the train, but somehow the idea is that Du Pont is helping them.
IN THE latest issues of The Atlantic and the Economist are ads featuring a middle-aged African woman. It turns out that Chevron “helped thousands of entrepreneurs get ahead with microloans.”
This woman, whose emphatic stare takes up half the page, must be one of the beneficiaries, although we aren’t told how. The Chevron’s slogan is “Big Oil should support small business.”
But this isn’t the most egregious play on the social consciousness of the reader. That award must go to British Airways, which claims “the best part of giving soccer balls to kids in Africa is seeing the look on their faces.”
What is British Airways’ connection to this? It isn’t clear. The ad claims that “last year at British Airways, we put hundreds of small business owners in front of the people they needed to see – for free.”
And somehow this is connected to Tommy Clark, Grassroots Soccer founder, who “uses soccer balls to teach kids in Africa about AIDS.” It doesn’t really matter what exactly British Airways’ involvement is, because the ad alone draws you in.
Every well-meaning person wants to portray him or herself as saving Africans. Let’s be honest, we all know the photos of NGO projects, volunteer abroad programs and anything connected to “save children” has a smiling African kid, usually posing with a white person who has “saved” him.
So these new socially conscious ad campaigns play on our society’s stereotypical charitable views. There is definitely something suspicious about them. Who decided that disguising an oil company or an airline as a promoter of aid to Africa, and putting smiling African kids or women prominently on display would be good for business? The companies don’t really seem to be giving aid; they are claiming that somehow, by helping “small business” or inventing new products, their revenues are trickling down to benefit people.
And this brings us to the last problem with all this socially conscious advertising. It’s ridiculous. I should want to fly British Airways, not because it makes me feel that I, in some tortured roundabout way, am putting smiles on African AIDS victims’ faces, but because it is a better airline. I should go to a Chevron station because it offers cheaper and better gas, not because it supposedly supports a small business in Kenya.
There is something to be said for not buying from companies that are particularly heinous in their treatment of people or the environment. But the latest craze is all part of an elaborate scam. BP rebranded itself as “green” in 2000, when it replaced it’s stodgy shield with a green “helios” or sun logo. In 2008, Greenpeace UK awarded BP the Emerald Paintbrush award for “greenwashing” its image. Greenpeace spokesman James Turned noted: “You wouldn’t know it from their adverts, but BP bosses are pumping billions into their oil and gas business and investing peanuts in renewable [energy].”
The logo became even more embarrassing with the huge BP spill in 2010. A website called Climagegreenwash.org is now devoted to tracking companies that fake their environmentalism.
What concerns me isn’t the lack of corporate social responsibility; a company’s duty is to its shareholders, customers and employees. What is most annoying is that this is just part of a larger picture of misleading sloganeering. Whether it is President Barack Obama’s platitudes and lack of policy (he won the Nobel Peace Prize just for giving us “hope”), or all the lying NGOs who pretended to be helping Haiti but merely served as outlets for unemployed Europeans to do well-paid charity work, the new motto is “put an African child in the photo and feel good about yourself.”
NGOs don’t help Africa, and neither does British Airways, and yet we feel better about ourselves for choosing to fly BA and throwing a few cents at the Red Cross, buying a book that is printed on “green” paper and then eating some nonsense “organic” meal.
From one lie to the next we go through each day. Socially conscious advertising is just the tip of the iceberg.