Motorcycle Diaries Part IV

(This article was first published in Jordan’s Living Well magazine)

Mmmkkkhhh! Hhhaaaakkhht! Thfoouu! No, these are not horrendous typos you are seeing. This is my best attempt to emulate and reproduce some of the charming sights and sounds we still encounter in some of the streets of Amman. Excuse me for turning your stomachs, but I almost slipped on one of these stray missiles the other day while navigating my way in downtown Spitville.

I went there to buy a famous book of Hadeeth, or the alleged sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. You see, I had written a mini-study in Arabic some years ago, which emphatically proves that most of these sayings could never have been uttered by the most intelligent, the most compassionate and the most civilized man to have enlightened Arabia fourteen centuries ago because they directly contradict with the clear text of the Quran. I still maintain that they were falsely attributed to the prophet in a concerted effort to tarnish the great religion of Islam.

So I thought I could reinforce my arguments because I recently read in this particular book an alleged story which claims that Prophet Muhammad had instructed his followers to lick their fingers and lick their plates after they finish eating any meal – because they never know which particle of food carries the blessing. Even that piece which falls on the floor, these bizarre tales related, should be picked up and devoured because it could be the magical one harnessing the hidden goodness. I thought that such heresies directed at the prophet were worse than any cartoon that can be drawn in an obscure newspaper because its authors insist that these are stories that are as authentic as any verse in the Quran. But the finger-licking instructions were only a small fragment of the whole story. I do believe that the greatest damage done to the heritage of Islam has been deliberately inflicted by those who invent, print and promote these lies. The aim is very clear: to empty Islam of all manifestations of beauty by making it synonymous with ugliness, vulgarity, and everything backward, unhygienic, primitive, and intellectually retarded. And what better arenas to contaminate than those in which Muslims had once been the unchallenged pioneers. From architecture, science, and the arts, to the very clothes Muslims wear, a vicious campaign of “uglification” was underway. The sharpest and deadliest sword swaying over any dissenting neck was to claim that the prophet himself had wanted it to be this way. For example, there isn’t a square centimeter of monuments from Alhambra to the Dome of the Rock to Taj Mahal that Muslims did not lavishly decorate with breathtaking precision and magnificence. So comes a weird hadeeth to proclaim that the decoration of mosques with Arabesque and calligraphy is prohibited, and that the shape of the dome – Islam’s gift to the world of architecture – is un-Islamic. That explains why the historic old town of Mecca was completely bulldozed, using the same dogma of the morons who dynamited the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan. Muslims invented the prototypes to all the orchestral musical instruments of today (kithara, rebec, lute, psaltery, tabor, timbale are the precursors to the guitar, piano, violin, cello, bass, and percussions). Flamenco songs are the only European folkloric songs that chant for the majestic allure of the night (noche), the moon (la luna), and the black eyes (ojos negros) – and guess where that came from? Even the word Ole according to the etymology section of a Spanish dictionary comes from the name of Allah, which Muslims used to hail upon hearing a moving tune. Yet you have entire chapters in these hadeeth books decreeing that musical instruments will be melted in hellfire and poured down the ears of those who listen to music. Muslims, who used to fascinate the world with their exotic and colorful attires, were also the first to wear shirts, or qamees in Arabic (camisa in Spanish and chemise in French). So comes along fabricated directives of the prophet that Muslim men are better off wearing a short dress that reveals their hairy legs, and to top it all, should don a wild, untrimmed beard and crown it with a shaved moustache. Why? Because this is the closest to an orangutan that you can look. The list is long and depressing. No longer do we recall that Abbas Bin Firnas was the first person who attempted to fly in the 9th century. Now we only learn how to steer passenger jets into civilian buildings instead. Someone out there didn’t want Islam ever again to be associated with splendor or exquisite taste. It should be perpetually linked in the minds of the world with videotaped decapitations of innocent men and women begging for their lives.

Back to Phlegmtown. I decided one Friday morning to surprise my kids with hot, freshly baked sesame bread loaves from Abdali, a nostalgic desire that always whetted my appetite during the cold winter mornings of Geneva. So as my place in the queue approached the oven, what appeared from a distance to be the aromatic fumes of toasting bits of dough turned out to be the smoke of the cigarette hanging permanently from the lips of the baker in charge. Needless to explain, the ashes were getting flicked all over the place and all over the bread. What shocked me more than anything, however, was that I was the only person in the queue who found this scene to be objectionable, although the mayhem the cigarette was causing had been visible to all. What the hell has happened to us? We are the offspring of the civilization that invented soap. We invented bathing, for God’s sake, in public hammams no less. Arabs were the first to discover that diseases were contagious and built separate wards to quarantine the sick in 8th century Baghdad, which later came to be known as hospitals. So why do we stand numbed in a bread queue and not be outraged at the needless disintegration of our standards of hygiene?

There goes the pleasure of my coveted brunch. Back in the car, a program discussing some incest related technicality that can result from polygamous marriages was airing on a local station. My blood started to boil. It is indeed a sad fact that one of the first things westerners learn about Muslims today is that they are the people whose religion allows the men to marry four wives. What is even sadder is that almost all of you are reading this saying, well of course it does, under certain conditions. Wrong again. There is only one situation where the Quran ever allows men to marry more than one wife, and it has nothing to do with the widespread fallacy of the pre-condition of fairness to the wives. The one and only place in the Quran where polygamy is mentioned is in the first three verses of the Chapter of Women. Any six-year-old is capable of understanding the unambiguous language used in those verses. After reminding humans that they were created from one soul, the second verse of this chapter immediately states:

“And give to the orphans their property, and exchange not the good for the bad [in your management thereof], nor embezzle their wealth into your own wealth; that would surely be a great crime”.

As you can clearly read, the subject discussed here is not the needs of the husband or the number of his wives, but the noble teachings about the rights of orphans in society. In the same breath in the immediately following verse, the Quran makes this unequivocally conditional statement:

“And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice [between them], then [marry] only one”

The chapter continues with more verses about the holy duty to protect orphans and the unforgivable crimes of digressing against the rights of this vulnerable group in society. Nowhere else in the entire Quran is the subject of polygamy raised again. The prophet himself grew up an orphan and appreciated best what it means to be a fatherless child. Indeed, in many places in the Quran, Islam appeared as if it is a religion whose sixth pillar was to protect the sacred rights of the orphans. And the above Quranic text could not be any more straightforward in this regard. In a war-ridden community where most of the male fathers would have been lost in battle, Islam envisaged that widowed mothers would be greatly disadvantaged in that harsh, male-dominated environment. Therefore, only if the purpose of marrying more than one wife had been to provide shelter and protection for the orphaned children of that wife could Muslim men combine two or more women under their guardianship. And even under those severe circumstances of an orphan’s crisis, if the man cannot be fair to the wives then only one is permitted. This is where the confusion about fairness comes from. Muslims conveniently ignored the essential pre-requisite of protecting the orphans, and legalized polygamy under the unenforceable regulation of requiring husbands to be fair to all the wives. Today, when Muslim men practice polygamy, no one ever mentions orphans, thereby conveniently committing a gross misreading of a very simple Quranic stipulation. It does not take a scholar to understand the first three verses of the Chapter of Women. Yet, an entire society has willfully twisted the text to a point where a famous Egyptian soap opera has recently achieved household recognition in the trivializing of what is an otherwise obnoxious and perverted practice. As usual, dissenting voices were silenced. Once again, Muslims chose to wallow in their deep ignorance of their own religion.

When I discussed this subject with friends many years ago, one of them directed me to a proper sheikh who he said was more capable of answering me (as is the case with most Muslims, an overriding fear of reading the Quran for themselves has been instilled by clergymen who want to reserve such rights for themselves – lest Muslims use their heads and interpret a simple verse without their aid and supervision). So I referred this eloquent cleric to the first three verses of the Chapter of Women and asked him to explain how a blanket permissibility could ever be construed from the conditional requirement about the orphans stipulated therein. Of course, he tried very hard to go around that pre-condition, but eventually stopped making any sense. When he had finally given up, he performed an astonishing miracle. He told me that the permission to marry four wives does not really come from the Quran, but is actually derived from the needs of males – which apparently he said we all know about. He added that we were both men – and it is at such moments of honesty that I usually get the urge to vomit – and that we both knew the uncontrollable urge one gets of needing to have more than one sexual partner. He said that Islam was a religion of accommodation, not hardship – thank God for that – and that it does cater for such overriding desires that are suppressed deep in the souls of men. I did say that his argument was astonishing because, here I was, quoting the Quran and pointing to this man of the cloth that Muslims have been distorting one of Islam’s simplest teachings for centuries, and he just stood there and casually asked me to forget about what the Quran says, because after all, polygamy had nothing to do with God and was just another case of overabundant testosterone. Right there and then, I just wished that my ballistic skills with saliva could save me and that I could shower this man with some of my thoughts. Alas, the conversation had to end at that point, and so does this edition of the diaries.

Take care, and if you ride, do it safely.

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