Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Saying that Quran is not inherently a patriarchal text does not automatically imply that Quran is inherently feminist either. Of course, feminist interpretations of Islam are possible but patriarchal interpretations are not just possible, they are already existing and dominant, and one cannot see much objective reason as to why a feminist interpretation should have more theological validity than a patriarchal interpretation as being the true interpretation, apart from the fact that it corresponds to feminist morality. If Quran cannot be read and understood at all without some sort of interpretation being imposed on it during the process, as the enthusiastic liberal Muslims who play the interpretation card would like to believe, then it implies that the text alone is devoid of meaning and there is nothing inherent to the Quran. It is inherently neither patriarchal nor feminist; it becomes either of these by virtue of the interpretation we choose to see it through. Yet this conclusion is something that would make most Muslims feminists uncomfortable, because they would like to believe that the “true Islam” conforms to their moral values of feminism. Apart from the uncommon Islamic variants which de-emphasize the centrality of textual interpretation in religion, such a deconstructed view of scripture is indeed awkward for most practising Muslims.
Some Islamic feminists say that Islam recognizes men and women as equal but prescribes different gender roles for them given their biological differences. Sounds neat, but it is a problematic position from a feminist point of view. It is not entirely clear how much biological gender can determine social gender roles. The tendency has been to view gender as primarily a socio-cultural construct (‘One is not born a woman, but becomes one’) and feminism has been in many ways a rebellion against the social norms of what women are and aren’t supposed to do. If Islam does indeed prescribe different gender roles, and it is a conclusion hard to avoid unless you resort to radical leaps of interpretations, then it is rendering itself an easy target for feminist attacks. All prescriptions of gender roles have a certain oppression about them. Furthermore, this is guilty of a binary conception of gender and ignores androgyny in its entirety.
The problem of reconciling Islam and Feminism becomes all the more apparent when we consider a topic like homosexuality. In this case Islamic feminists who support homosexuality have to explain away many Quranic verses (story of Lot, for instance) and hadiths which admonish against homosexuality, and even if we presume that this explaining away can be done successfully, there is still nothing left that is in favor of homosexuality. It may be possible to say that Islam can be interpreted in a way that makes it compatible with homosexuality, yet no one can demonstrate that Islam supports homosexuality, that Islam argues for homosexual rights. There is simply no textual evidence in positive acceptance of homosexuality, and this leaves a big chasm at the very heart of Islamic feminism. Clearly, the justified and well-cherished feminist support of homosexuality cannot be derived from the Quran. Therefore, feminism has at least some moral values on which Quran is, at best, silent.
Another example that can be brought up is that of the moral status of pre-marital consensual sex. Western Feminists are vastly accepting of consensual sex regardless of the marital status and do not deem it to be morally objectionable. Islamic Feminists tend to tip-toe around this. We may see them arguing that Islam doesn’t treat fornication as a legal crime, even though it does; the 4 witnesses requirement may be an unlikely possibility to fulfill in practice but it exists in theory. Let us give the benefit of doubt to the Islamic feminists and suppose that this can be successfully explained away and consensual sex is de-criminalized. Nonetheless, there is still no moral approval or acceptance of a casual sexual encounter in Islam. Islam morally prohibits pre-marital sex and all Islamic feminists who may believe that consensual sex is not to be morally judged and disapproved have a lot of explaining to do. And all Islamic feminists who disapprove of consensual sex also have a lot of explaining to do because it is a seemingly un-feminist stance to morally restrict sex to marriage.
These examples can be used to demonstrate the two grades of Islamic Feminism:
Weak Islamic Feminism: Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive.
Strong Islamic Feminism: The feminist principles and values are already present in Islam and can be derived from them.
The feminist support of homosexuality and consensual sex, among other things, is in my view a refutation of Strong Islamic Feminism. Weak Islamic Feminism is a position that can be consistently argued for, though it still requires feats of creative interpretations, and has the accompanying (awkward) conclusions that Islam is not inherently feminist and that there are at least some feminist moral values that are meta-Quranic. Either way it shows that Islamic Feminism is yet to explore these questions in philosophical depth and is not likely to be successful unless it is accompanied by a broader reformative theology that tackles the problems of textual interpretation.
Friday, January 27, 2012
A young monk, with little exposure to the company of women, finds himself aroused and seduced by a peasant girl:
"What did I feel? What did I see? I remember only that the emotions of the first moment were bereft of any expression, because my tongue and my mind had not been instructed in how to name sensations of that sort. Until I recalled other inner words, heard in another time and in other places, spoken certainly for other ends, but which seemed wondrously in keeping with my joy in that moment, as if they had been born consubstantially to express it. Words pressed into the caverns of my memory rose to the (dumb) surface of my lips, and I forget that they had served in Scripture or in the pages of the saints to express quite different, more radiant realities. But was there truly a difference between the delights of which the saints had spoken and those that my agitated spirit was feeling at that moment?" [Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose]
Unacquainted with the vocabulary of love, this young man caught in the moment of passion finds himself helplessly uttering words from the scripture.
We may also imagine its converse, a more familiar example: devoid of a proper vocabulary, a mystic caught in divine ecstasy finds himself helplessly uttering words of passion, love and desire.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Monday, January 23, 2012
"And when the grace and protection of the Divine Mother are with you, what is there that can touch you or whom need you fear? A little of it even will carry you through all difficulties, obstacles, dangers..."
Saturday, January 21, 2012
What Happened Before the Big Bang? The New Philosophy of Cosmology
What existed before the big bang? What is the nature of time? Is our universe one of many? On the big questions science cannot (yet?) answer, a new crop of philosophers are trying to provide answers.
Read this brilliant interview of Tim Maudlin. He approaches the interaction of philosophy and physics with a lot more rigour and understanding than what we find in Hawking and Krauss.
"There's an idea that suggests all the universe's electrons are actually one particle forever traveling backwards and forwards in time. It's a simple, elegant idea that solves some of physics's biggest mysteries. There's only one tiny problem....
This is the story of that bizarre thought experiment and John Archibald Wheeler, the brilliant, largely unsung physicist who came up with it."
Read more at io9: What if every electron in the universe was all the same exact particle?
Thursday, January 19, 2012
bodies and souls
look at me
at this instance, naked, free of the body and spirit
in understanding all the (extraneous) stimuli, I submit only to my impressions
(because) I am truly free of body and soul
(being naked and not covered)
again a virgin
I return to the disorder
and the last wing falls (or the last paper will tell) that I will return to this dance
and I will help me by myself
I will dream rich dreams
I will free my emotions
I will no longer live in subtitles of others
but only with the fruits of my tongue
I will be complete
I will comprehend your suffering
I will also laugh and we'll see the light
I will embrace your craziness
your inevitabilities, your inviolabilities.
there are so many uncertain roads, I may rest cold., abandoned
I believe I plunge
at this moment so free
of body and spirit
beautifully translated into English for this blog by Sharmeen A. Khan ©
(follow her on twitter at @sharmeenalikhan )
note: translation is more impression than verbatim. brackets are translator's additions.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Sunday, January 15, 2012
"There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you -- of kindness and consideration and respect -- not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had."
[hat-tip: 3 Quarks Daily]
Friday, January 13, 2012
Here are 6 brilliant short videos (combined in a single one) by the Open University explaining 6 famous thoughts experiments in a fun and easy to understand manner, and that too in mere 60 seconds. Enjoy!
1. Zeno's The Paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles
2. The Grandfather Paradox
3. Searle's Chinese Room
4. Hilbert’s paradox of the Grand Hotel
5. The Twin Paradox
6. Schrödinger’s Cat
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Sunday, January 8, 2012
@AfiaAslam raised a question on twitter whether it is ethical to preserve diaries after the death of their writers. Here are my thoughts on the matter:
While some may say that a diary is, by default, meant to be for author's eyes only, the situation is not entirely so clear in real life, where people attach different degrees of privacy to their diaries. Some may wish to guard them obsessively, others may not be so averse to their being read, especially after they are dead. In situations where the wishes of the author are not known, and in the absence of any clues that may indicate what the author would have preferred, or if such a desire is not evident through the contents of the diary, and the material in the diary is not of a personal and sensitive nature, then I do not see any reason why it should constitute a moral violation.
If the writer had expressed a desire that the contents of the diary be kept private and/or the material in the diary is of a personal and sensitive nature, then the ethical thing would be to honor that wish.
However, if the contents of the diary are of potentially great literary worth (such as Kafka's or Plath's) then it would put the custodian in a utilitarian dilemma, where he would have to weigh respecting the wishes of the deceased against benefitting humanity with the work of a literary genius. If the work is sufficiently valuable, one may treat the wishes of the author as we treat their self-destructive tendencies while they are alive — that is, just as we think it morally justified to attempt to save a man from killing himself, we may consider it morally justified to save a literary masterpiece from destruction.
Friday, January 6, 2012
“Patriarchy does not just influence people through socialization, but also through our collective subconscient heritage, which is a kind of cultural infrastructure into which we are born.”
Emanuel Derman in his post 'To me you’re a wave, but to myself I’m sometimes a particle' compares moral behavior with the wave/particle duality in Quantum Mechanics. Just as behavior of matter can simultaneously be viewed as being a wave or a particle, he says that behavior of humans can simultaneously be viewed as having responsibility for their actions and as not having free will.
When I do something GOOD, I like to say I acted freely, and I experience it that way.
When I do something hurtful or BAD, I sometimes excuse myself by saying I couldn’t help it (meaning I experience the cause as compulsion, provocation, reaction, environment, upbringing, parents, circumstances …)
But, when you do something GOOD OR BAD, I tend to praise OR respectively blame you as though you acted freely, in either case.
People can be simultaneously responsible for their actions, and yet not exercising free will. Or vice versa.
As far as descriptive ethics goes, I think it is pretty accurate, and I'd say that the switch between holding a person responsible and viewing them as devoid of free will is governed by Strawson's Reactive Attitudes.