Monday, January 18, 2010

Global Imam vs Al-Azhar. The Iron Wall in Gaza

No clerics in islam !as it is often said but the reality may be slightly different since the modern times and the professionnalisation of the various religious careers. Since the last decades, the muslim clergymen are not anymore the ones they used to be, because of a set of changes in the social realm (education, urbanization…) and in the media : radio imams have been followed by tape imams, then came the time of the TV imams who became today internet imams delivering online fatwas. And it is no surprise that such a quick and violent and deep transformation of the religious institution leads to some eccentricities as it has been the case more than once.

Modern states have also played an important role, creating a religious bureaucracy submitted to stick-and-carrot incentives as illustrated by the last controversy about the building of an "iron wall" on the southern border of Gaza with Egypt.

As very few people seem to be convinced that it is a good idea to reinforce an already cruel siege on the population of Gaza, the Egyptian government called to the rescue leading clerics in order to legitimate what they were doing. One more time, shaykh Tantawi, rector of Al-Azhar, has demonstrated that he was an obedient servant of the state. He explained that opposing the wall was illegitimate and, thus, against against the islamic law.

Of course, such a statement has been followed by countless critics from all sorts of religious authorities, and notably enough from the « Global Imam », shaykh Qardawi, one – if not – the leading cleric for the Sunni Muslims.

But the worst thing is that the only voice to be heard for shaykh Tantawi’s defense was that of the Palestinian minister of religious affairs (Waqfs). He explained that Egypt was perfectly right in building on his border a wall (which will add to the suffering of the population of Gaza !)

Unsurprisingly, clerics in Egypt have opposed their reputed boss at Al-Azhar. Members of "Al-Azhar scholars front" have made a demonstration and various imams have refused to read the speech prepared for the Friday prayer in the Egyptian mosques. Their employer, the minister, has cut their wages in retaliation and it is possible that things get worst.

In the West Bank too, the local imams have been asked to read a prepared speech which was very critic of shaykh Qardawi. Those who have obeyed the official instructins have not been able to finish and the police had to come sometimes to calm the vociferous worshiping. Obviously, it is not necessary to be a sophisticated cleric to understand where does justice stand in Gaza case !

On the cultural side, famous Tunisian director Al-Majiri is preparing a moovie about the tunnelers of Gaza. Khalid Taja, a very respected Syrian actor, will play the leading role. Al-Qardawi’s life is represented on stage in a theater in Qatar. The illustration of this post is taken from the cover of a book edited by Bettina Gräf and Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen about Al-Qardawi well depicted in this interesting article.

As usual, the link to the original post in French.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Me and my for husbands: gender equality and polygamy

Nadine al-Bedair has got some fame in the arab world since she started to work for the US financed TV channel Al-Hurra where she hosts a program about women issues. This young Saudi journalist has been the target of many comments a few months ago because of her pronounced taste for skirts which seem to be too short for other’s taste.

Again, she has been the focus of many comments in the arab media after she published, a few weeks ago, an article (arabic) in the Egyptian daily Al-masri al-youm about the right, for women, to have more than one man. Taking the arguments ordinarily used by men in order to justify their sexual “rights” to more than a woman, she explained how, in her view, real equality between men and women should also mean sexual equality and the right for women to polygamy.

Of course, Nadine al-Bedair “forgot” to mention that polygamy is licit – for the men – according to the religious texts. Furious condemnations have been pronounced from many parts of the arab world (an Egyptian MP for instance declared his intention to sue her and the newspaper’s editor for such a blasphemy), but there has been some people too, brave enough to defend, or better to understand, her views about gender equality.

In a second publication, under the title Now, you have tasted wrath savor (arabic), she explained her satisfaction for the discussions raised by her provocative writing, which, to her great satisfaction, did not provoke any official reproval in her own country. She also mentioned the legislation adopted in Arab countries like Tunisia or Morocco and called again for a real equality between genders, including in the sexual realm.

Obviously, there is some provocation in the outburst of a young journalist working for such a “pro-westernized” (if not pro-US) TV channel as Al-Hurra, and polygamy is not such a social problem in her country where, according to official statistics, it concerns no more than 1% of the population.

It remains that the “Saudi Nawal Al-Saadawi” as she has been called sometimes has reactivated the public debate about the women rights in the Arab society. Not a bad news at the beginning of a new year.

As usual, the link to the original post in French.