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Monday, May 30, 2016

Fathul Bari, iddah and grounded Muslim widows

Image result for dr fathul bari mat jahaya

COMMENT There are doctors and PhDs, and then there is Dr Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya, Umno’s youthful high priest in charge of Islam (and Muslims).
This fatwa factory has dropped another ridiculous religious edict with his recent Facebook post that Mastura Yazid, the “mourning” widow named as the BN candidate in Kuala Kangsar, is prohibited from campaigning outside her home.
Why? Well according to Fathul, she is still in the period of iddah following her husband’s death about a month earlier, and so she is forbidden from venturing out of her house for the next three months.
Really? Is this Islam, or is this some ancient Hindu culture repackaged in Wahhabist terminology?
One does not need to be a Muslim scholar to understand the absurdity of this statement coming from Fathul, whose Saudi-style Islam has been the order of the day in Umno in recent years. After all, this Malay party too has been inflicted with the disease now rampant among Muslims in this country - listening to young men in skullcaps waxing Quranic verses interspersed with sex and marital jokes.
Iddah is not about stopping a widow from going out of her house, meeting friends, doing grocery, not even from attending an event to hear Fathul and his ilk showing their ignorance about Islam.
And iddah is not even mourning. And  this is particularly true for a religion that enjoins followers to move on almost immediately after the death of their loved ones. The funeral is fairly quick and simple, and a Muslim corpse is usually buried six feet deep into the ground within 24 hours of his/her death. No sophisticated wakes and no one-week music festivals.
Unless, of course, your body is found sprawled on the rooftop of a building, possibly pushed to death from the opposite building.
Iddah is just a rule to temporarily prevent a widow from remarrying, after which it is natural for her to have sexual intercourse with a new man, so that there is no way that the DNA of the child she gives birth to will be disputed to be that of her dead husband’s.
The four-month period seem to be a sensible one and scientifically sound, for there is no way a cute little sperm of her dead husband would wait four dull months inside her to spring into action the moment it sees a gush of new friends coming. Of course, even this rule can be changed with new scientific discoveries, but that is another question which comes under the topics of ijtihad and yes, common sense, both enemies of the Wahhabis.
Now back to iddah and the four-month rule. It is applicable to a woman who is divorced and a woman who lost her husband. And that, too, if she is lucky enough (or unlucky) to meet a replacement for her dead husband just weeks after sobbing over his grave. But if she has given up the idea of remarrying, then iddah is irrelevant to her.
During this period, a widow is free to do whatever darned thing she wants to do. Yes, including driving a car - that detestable, sexually provocative act banned by the Keeper of the Two Holy Places whose family members have been quite generous to a certain Malaysian citizen recently.
Meaning of iddah is changed
Over time, with the spread of Saudi petrodollars and consequently their literalist brand of Islam, the meaning of iddah is changed, inheriting with it beliefs alien to Islam and common sense. In extreme cases such as in rural India, there are Muslims who emulate the Hindu mourning style for widowhood, although Hindus themselves have slowly come out of such a restrictive ritual.
Widowed women would not only confine themselves to their homes, but they also stop wearing colourful clothes or jewelry, just like their conservative Hindu counterparts, to show they are in grief (and by extension, not flirting).
The Quranic ruling on iddah (2:234) is clear and crisp, and there is never any restriction on a woman who lost her husband to travel and do all the things that a normal human beings would do: “And those of you who die and leave wives behind them, they (the wives) shall wait for four months and 10 days”.
God forbid that if I die today (preferably after this essay is published), our salaried guardians of faith would not allow my wife to get out of the house, when the truth is she would have all the more reason to get out of the house!
For how else is she going to put staple foods such as Big Mac, Vitagen and fruity jellies on the table for our kids?
Or perhaps Fathul thinks that he is still living the medieval period when Muslim streets were awashed with wealth, swept clean by the long and thick robes of women walking gracefully, their faces hidden from pious men lowering their gaze to their pointed leather sandals.
In fact, it is partly due to this fixation with the so-called golden age of the caliphate, or in current parlance the petrol-greased lifestyle of the Middle East, that some Muslims interpret the religion in rich man’s terms.
And so we see such rulings to ensure women stay unemployed enjoying the luxury at home with a couple of maids, that they only sit on the back passenger side of the car, and that they do not wear clothes other than to hide from the public everything except their ogling eyes.
If this type of Islam were introduced to the fishing folks in coastal India or the farming communities in Indonesia, all of whom are now Muslims, they would not have accepted Islam at all. For how else can a lady in Java step into the padi field without lifting her skirt to reveal her knees?
Allergy to deeper understanding
One of the biggest problems that Muslims face today is the rise of literalist Islam. Those in this category would like to call themselves “salafist”, the more polite name for “Wahhabis”, who have wreaked so much damage in the Muslim world starting right from the birthplace of Islam in Makkah.
Over the decades, this literalist Islam is marked by their allergy to deeper understanding of Quranic verses, and a rejection of various Quranic sciences used to interpret the revelations based on context and the human capability to think.
The art of thinking, after all, is not needed if you want to be a true Muslim, says the rule of the literalists.

The Quranic declaration that the Book is “for people who think”, which means it is open to interpretation as well as to scientific and historical experiences of the human being, is lost on people like Fathul Bari.
To Mastura, here’s an advice. Ignore the young man in the skullcap. Go out and campaign for your party, meet the voters, and give them whatever sarongs and T-shirts your leaders have prepared.
And to Fathul’s wife - if you don’t kick the bucket before the hubby, make sure he leaves you with plenty of money, at least for four months, and a good broadband connection in case you are selected as a candidate!

ABDAR RAHMAN KOYA is a journalist who lives in Shah Alam. -Mkini

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