By Sheharyar Shaikh
A non-Muslim acquaintance recently sent me a photograph of her friend who was holding a recent copy of the Toronto Sun newspaper in his hand with the headline, “Is beating women allowed?” (or something to that effect), in reference to a marriage guidebook penned by the late Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, an Indian scholar of Islam. The book is available in Canada (and other western countries), much to the horror of some of the Canadian public. My friend asked me for my response, and here is what it was:
I have not read the 160-page book “A Gift for Muslim Couple” by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, and I doubt that the editorial and reporting team at the Sun has either. Regardless, it is clear that a lot of fear and paranoia is being generated by the Sun Media for sad and cheap publicity points. We have seen, in recent times, many such sensationalist articles and television shows targeting the Muslim community in the U.K. and U.S. Unfortunately, the trend has recently been extending to Canada.
I believe that the criticism of the Muslim community based on this book is basically unfair for the following three reasons:
1. This book was written in the 19th century. Its author was born in 1863 and died in 1943, while India was still under the British Raj. It is rather unfair to use this book to assert the Muslim male’s alleged contempt for women. It is from before the time women got the right to vote, to work freely, to get into professional colleges, to own full property rights and, incidentally, to have legal protection against spousal abuse in Canada. If invoking this 19th century book is allowed to strike a blow at Canadian Muslims, then critics should be allowed to bring works from that same era to make the case for Western males’ contempt for women as well. And if reading this book in the 21st century should be a moral and legal crime, what should we say when the world sees 21st century Western women objectified, sexualized, and humiliated in bondage and sadomasochistic videos in the name of entertainment by the 20 billion-dollar porn industry right here at home? Regardless, the point is that this book is not from our time, and it should not be used to beat Muslims for “hating” women.
2. All pre-modern religious traditions hold women in a position that is in some respects, socially and politically, secondary or even inferior to men. Should the Sun’s criticism not be across the board and apply to all religions to be fair? Should Eric Brazau (the shady individual who went into an Islamic bookstore in Toronto and “discovered” this book) not make similar daring raids into Jewish and Christian bookstores, searching and exposing any and all material that might offend modern liberal sensibilities? Think about this: I have five copies of the same one book that gives women a status way lower than this Muslim book ever could. It’s called the Bible. And guess what? It’s way more popular in the bookstores too. Check out this website to know what I mean: http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible7.htm
I do not think of holding protests against the Bible or setting up huge bonfires burning Bibles because that would be provocative. Similarly, when orthodox Jewish men in western countries get up in the morning and thank God for not making them a woman but a man (in a prayer called Amidah), I do not think of marching out against them in protest. I would however hold dialogues to try to come to a common understanding. This is a positive approach. Dialogue, not incitement.
3. For any criticism to be valid, it must be fair and balanced. The Sun’s report on this book focuses only on the things unacceptable in western culture for the purposes of cheap sensationalism, the fertilizer that keeps Sun Media alive. Study a proper book review in academic journals and one will note that they do not try to deceive the reader by showing only one side, but give a fair perspective of what the author is trying to say. For example, in the Toronto Sun’s report, it states: “In the book’s opening pages, it is written that `it might be necessary to restrain her with strength or even to threaten her.’” There must be a context to this, however, which the critic conveniently ignores. Any man would restrain a woman “with strength” and words if the situation direly called for it and quite possibly expect the same from her.
As far as the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), is concerned, he gave Muslim men the best marriage advice when he said: “The best of you are those who are the best toward their wives”. His wife Ayesha testifies that the Prophet was never seen to hit a servant, woman or an animal. His example is what we Muslims should aspire to emulate at all times.