Friday, 24 July 2009

Polygamy – The Cause of ‘Social Breakdown’?

Newsnight’s recent report into polygamy highlighted how the practice was on the increase within the Muslim community in the UK, despite it being reportedly on the decrease in the Muslim world. The report sought to understand the effects polygamy has on family life, and why Muslims in the UK may be taking it up. The report interviewed a woman who had been in a polygamous marriage and found it a negative experience. She claimed polygamy was not about ‘religion’, but about ‘Men out there’ who were ‘abusing women’.

Shadow Cohesion Secretary, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, raised her concerns about polygamy in the report, claiming that many of her female constituents are suffering within the practice, and she felt strongly that the Government was turning a ‘blind eye’ to it and the ‘social breakdown’ it was causing.

It is interesting that this report very vividly laid out polygamy within the Muslim community being the reason for social breakdown as well as the abuse and exploitation of women in society. As in reality even if it is on the rise, polygamy occurs within a very small proportion of the Muslim community, which is a community which itself forms a mere 2.8% of the UK population. Therefore the numbers of people affected by polygamy are minute, in proportion to the population of Britain.

So the question begs, how can such a small practice be blamed for the cause of social breakdown in society? Rather if the Government want to deal with ‘social breakdown’, should they not look at the actual social breakdown happening all around them - The mainstream attitudes in their society which cause fathers to walk away from women they have made pregnant without so much as a flinch, men who drug women at a parties and rape them while they are unconscious and partners who treat their women in whatever way pleases them? Are these practices sweeping across British society, over the miniscule practice of polygamy, not the ones causing real ‘social breakdown’ to the utmost degree?

Statistics only further highlight this ‘social breakdown’ that is occurring within British society today. One cannot blame polygamy for the fact that births outside marriage in the UK, have gone from about 10% in 1970s to over 40% in the 2000s, and in 2007 the proportion of lone parents as heads of households was treble that of the 1971 statistic of 4%. It is not in polygamy that can be pointed at for the fact that domestic violence accounts for nearly a quarter of all recorded violent crime in England and Wales and on average and two women per week are killed by a male partner or former partner. And it was not polygamy that caused the Children’s Society to conclude from their report of children in the UK that they were more depressed and anxious than ever - Rather it was the excessive individualism of adults whose love lives and romance came before stability and security for their children.

Therefore clearly, it is not polygamy that is causing 'social breakdown' in society and maybe if the media as well as Baroness Warsi turned their spotlight in the correct direction, they may begin to deal with the real social breakdown happening all around us. This has been and is continuing to be the disastrous effects of liberalism, where people believe they are free to do what they want and treat others however they want, irrespective of responsibilities, commitments and what is right or wrong.

The ironic thing about this polygamy onslaught is that if a man wishes to commit and gives rights to other women that he has a relationship with, this is criminalised under UK law – However if a man wants to marry one woman and mess around with others giving them no rights or commitment, he has full right to do so under the law. This highlights the utter fallacy of man-made law where the indulgements and fulfilment of sensual desires comes first, before the rights of people and what is best for family and the society.

No one denies that Muslim men who have conducted polygamous marriages and have done things such as conceal previous wives identities, denied other wives the same rights as the first, are not in the wrong, as Allah SWT says: ‘Marry such women as seem good to you, two, three, four; but if you fear you will not be equitable, then only one, or what your right hands own; so it is likelier you will not be partial’ (Surah Nisa: 3) Thus unjust treatment is in fact in contradiction to Islam, as a man must be able to give all his wives equal shares in everything and must treat them all justly, as he is accountable to Allah for his treatment of them. The Prophet SAW said, ‘The best of you are those who are best to their wives and I am best to mine.’ However the issue here is not that polygamy is the problem, rather it is the fact that the men have not adhered by the correct process in line with the Quran and Sunnah, but have used it to fulfil their own whims and desires.

Finally this polygamy debate has been nothing more than the latest attack that the media has had the opportunity to undertake on Islam and namely on Muslim women. After debates about the hijab, niqab, burka all subjugating and oppressing the Muslim woman, polygamy is the issue that is next in line for this discussion. However this is rather misconstrued as it is not only Muslims who practice polygamy. Firstly as discussed above, masses of people practice ‘polygamy’ in British society, but it just doesn’t have the same name - Those who have affairs, extra-marital relationships. Also the Jewish community and many Christian groups within the US, such as the Mormons practice it, but the report did not even so much as touch upon their communities, and how women are oppressed in them.

What this does show therefore that such an attack is just the latest in line on the ever increasing attack upon Islam as a way of life, and all of its systems. Despite who else practices polygamy, and who else oppresses and subjugates women on an even bigger scale, it is Islam and Muslims who are under the spotlight and must take the blame for these issues. It is without a doubt the fact that the comprehensiveness nature of Islam is a threat to the Western values and a hatred is actively being built up of the distinct Muslim way of life, to try and curb its rapid flourishment across the globe. But we all know the beautiful words of Allah SWT when he assures the Muslims: “They wish to extinguish the light of Allâh with their mouths, but Allâh will perfect His light; even though the unbelievers detest it. It is He Who sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that it may prevail over all other religions, even though those who worship others besides Allâh may detest it.” [Surah as-Saff 8-9]

Monday, 13 July 2009

Here we still are

Women in Afghanistan are facing increasing violence almost eight years after the fall of the Taliban, a UN report has showed. The report, issued by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, focuses on the "growing trend", not rapid decrease, of violence and sexual threats made against women in public life. So eight years after a liberation war, here we still are.

The thing about Afghanistan was that if it ever was first about rooting out one famous man - the Notorious Mr Bin Laden, the operation soon became something else. As it had to, just as Iraq did otherwise how else could the public continue to stomach and support what was happening. And the something else it had to become was the women. From the onset of the Afghanistan campaign, the blue grilled burqa draped over a suffocating Afghani woman was just as frequent an image as that of Mr Bin Laden himself - The women's plight in Afghanistan very swiftly took centre stage in the world's media as the second in line plug for the devastating bloodshed. We heard very soon about the ‘no everything policy’, which is what I call it – No education, no healthcare with male consent, no ability to go outside without male permission, etc. These female struggles became apparent to us with the unprecedented sudden media spotlight, and the world longed for the heroic solders to go and liberate them.

But we sit here eight years later, knowing what happened next. That eight years on, British soldiers continue to die by their many trying to conquer Afghanistan from the multitude of factions and tribes which govern it and women's rights has become the least of the problems on the Western To-Do list. Although there is some sort of Afghani ‘democratic’ parliament put in place, their presence serves more for glossy photo opportunities for the media, than an actual ruling capacity over the people. It is the warlords and their multiple factions who in reality, still rule Afghanistan. So even when the Karzai Government, under Western pressure have attempted to make reforms, they have not have the courage to implement any real change at all – Having attempted to deal with violence against women within marriage, they have recently taken a small step to simply tweak the marital law so that men can still starve their wives as a punishment, instead of physically beat them.

The reality is, the situation for women in Afghanistan is not very different now than it was before the war – Rates for education for girls in Kabul has slightly increased with the ability for NGOs and other independent organisations to work there, however in the South and West of the country things are just as they were eight years ago. Professional women across the country are still kidnapped and killed as the Taliban and its factions continue to assert their authority on how they view women in society. This seems nowhere near the liberation that the West claimed to bring Afghanistan’s female race.Western liberalism did of course in some attempts enter Afghanistan. Beauty salons grew in stature in Kabul and the beauty company Revlon swooped in before the women could even fling there burqas off. This reinforced the message from the West to the Afghani women; that adopting the view that looking pretty is a measure of liberation, is the way forward for them.

But the thing is the burqas did not actually fling off, even with the presence of salons and Revlon. Forget the fact that lipsticks would be the least of their concerns, there is a deeper discussion to be had about values. Without sounding naive, of course women in Afghanistan still feared the repercussions of the Taliban warlords in rejecting their rules, anyone could say which would be the main reason for their continuing submission, but there was a more deeper issue here I think. Although the Afghani women were atrociously oppressed, liberation for them was not necessarily about slapping on some Revlon make-up. And this is something the world needs to understand - That liberation for women is not only in the form of Western liberalism where women must assert their sexual freedoms and desire to live like a man through equality, to feel liberated. In fact history in the West shows that exploiting the sexuality of women through the value of freedom, has brought a whole different set of devastating problems for society. Thus although denial of basic rights, being owned like cattle is the Afghani society’s absolute exploitation of women; can the opposite be drawn from societies which implement liberalism? Is not the standard of women being sexual comoddities as the norm as well as leaving her to run the rat race of seeking her own financial independence despite what other responsibilities she may have in life, another form of exploitation? How can such standards for women be seen as the liberation when they have their own chains of subjugation?

Eight years, ten years, twenty years. Even if Britain and America set their hearts on changing women's rights in Afghanistan with what they see as their golden freedom and liberalism, they would only replace one set of problems, with a whole host of another. So it’s time we seek a solution for the women of Afghanistan which actually gives them rights and protection without unshedding another load of social problems. And a change that would actually put the needs of the people, and the women first – not make them the convenient smokescreen to cover up real political objectives. This is the complete system of Islam, which enshrines rights for women in such a way that it fosters absolute honour and protection for them from all types of exploitation in society.

It is Islam which forms the sentiments of the people of Afghanistan, for even those who have twisted it to exploit the people. And it is Islam which forms the sentiments of the women, who seek Allah’s mercy and help for the oppression they undergo. And it is the Islamic ruling system, led by a sincere ruler, which can eradicate all the tribal practices once and for all and ensure it is only the pure and undiluted Shariah which is implemented as happened in the time of the Prophet SAW. And most importantly, for this debate, it is Islam which will actually give women their rights to full participation in public life, without compromising their role as women. Instead of punishing a race for holding X chromosomes in their DNA, Islam actually gave them a distinct value; as the Prophet SAW famously once said, ‘Paradise is at the feet of your mother’ and that ‘The world and all things in the world are precious but the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman.’ Which other society can boast of enshrining the honour of a woman in such an intrinsic way as this?

The Afghanistan dilemma has become a plagued one in the Western media today, as all wonder how it is they can overcome this lingering mess. But one thing remains sure, that whether their military campaign ends ‘successfully’ or not, the place of women in Afghanistan will remain a cause for concern until real change can occur for them, which brings real honour. Not the most popular change, which has no proven track record in the least.