Monday, October 23, 2006

The 4:34 Dance

WaPo's editorial page has an interesting op-ed by Asra Q Nomani. In it, she argues that the Koranic verse 4:34 -- "[A]nd (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them" -- which instructs men how to handle their wives when they get uppity, provides a continuum that leads to explosive laden belts.
As long as the beating of women is acceptable in Islam, the problem of suicide bombers, jihadists and others who espouse violence will not go away; to me, they form part of a continuum. When 4:34 came into being in the 7th century, its pronouncements toward women were revolutionary, given that women were considered little more than chattel at the time. But 1,400 years later, the world is a different place and so, too, must our interpretations be different, retaining the progressive spirit of that verse.
While I applaud Nomani for taking a public stand against domestic violence sanctioned by the Koran, I always must return to why she must argue this interpretively through the Muslim holy book. Look at the last sentence quoted above. Arguing through the Koran is silly. Literalists and Traditionalists have the heads-up in this argument based exclusively on their belief in a supreme, perfect God who revealed these laws and prescriptions to the Prophet Mohammad through the angel Gabriel. If God is immutable and perfect, his laws will not contain a "progressive spirit," but the just and right way to conduct oneself for all time.

Religious interpretation is a contradictory endeavor if you sincerely believe God revealed religion through some human conduit. This is not to say religious interpretation is a bad thing. It is one of the best things because it begins to liberate the individual from external religious constraints put on her by her mosque, church, temple and family. The more people begin to question their religious dogmas and the injustice codified within, the faster institutionalized and revealed religion will crumble. A very good thing if you even take the most cursory glance through history and the barbarity produced by religion.

There's a very simple solution to the ridiculousness of trying to prove the existence and validity of a god, or gods, that rule over humanity with divine law. One rule sums it up quite nicely: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

It has a beat everyone can dance to.