Speaking to two young men on campus one afternoon.
My next interviewees were two young men, MBA students from [my local] University, Talib and Ibrahim. Both are here temporarily as a function of their studies. Ibrahim is from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the location of Mecca. Talib was born in India, but moved to Dubai, where he was raised, as an infant. I asked him what it meant for him to be a Muslim, here and now. He explained that he saw it as an attitude of accountability to God, that living as a true Muslim meant to be “constantly reminded about your creator”. While he finds support from the community, he stressed that it is individual background and one's own devotion to the faith that mattered most. He asserted that one did not simply “inherit the title” by being raised in a Muslim family, and that being “Muslim” simply meant being submitted to God – and he and Ibrahim agreed that all creatures on earth are and must be submitted to God – but the ideal towards which they strive is to be mo'men, or “faithful”. Like Dr. S___, Talib emphasized the importance of following the Qu'ran, but he had a slightly different metaphor than the physician. Instead of calling it a prescription, he compared it to an owner's manual, such as one for a telephone or a car. The Qu'ran is a manual for life, he and Ibrahim said, and God, as the creator, knows best how to run our lives. Talib elaborated, “If in a petrol car, I put diesel, it will not operate!” Though some rules have now been proven to have scientific basis, such as using a toothbrush – or more traditionally, a miswak, something of a cross between a brush and a toothpick, which both men said they used back home – Talib and Ibrahim said that most people do not look for the reasons behind the rules.
I asked them how being Muslim affected their social lives, particularly at [our university]. Ibrahim said that he found it did, especially when other students are immersed in the drinking and partying lifestyle common to many, as alcohol is forbidden to Muslims. Talib emphasized that he did not feel like he was missing out, and felt he could interact easily and have open conversations about religion with other students. “I couldn't imagine anything better happening to me” he said, “than being a Muslim”. I then asked about restrictions, what sort of things from which the Qu'ran or Hadith directed them away. “Everything is halal, except that which is haram”, or everything is lawful except that which is forbidden. They mentioned alcohol, or anything that could be an intoxicant such as other drugs. Also considered haram were premarital sex and birth control, though they qualified the latter could be acceptable if necessary for the woman's health. Additionally, like Jewish persons, Muslims are forbidden from eating pork or any pork products. Ibrahim mentioned that he'd been meaning to go to the halal market – there are two in town, now – to find some special Jello that didn't use ground pig bone. The observance of halal and how strictly it is followed can depend on the beliefs of the individual and how strictly they feel they must follow the rules as laid out.
I also spoke to Talib and Ibrahim about the role of women in Islam. Talib said, “How Islam treats women is like a jewel”. Ibrahim cited a story in which the Prophet was asked whom he should favour, between his mother and his father. Three times the Prophet was asked, and three times he answered, “Your mother.” The fourth time he was asked, he responded with “your father”, and Ibrahim said that this demonstrated that the mother should be favoured three times more than the father. Mohammed, they said, set an example of treating women well, and even that the first time in history women were allowed to vote was when Mohammed was voted in as a religious leader. “You need to separate between culture and religion”, Ibrahim told me. In some Muslim countries, the federal law may been different or even entirely opposite of Islamic law. Islamic law provides for women, through their dowry, which stays in their name upon their marriage, and though a parent's assets upon their death are divided with two-thirds going to the male heir and only one-third to the female, the law dictates that the male is entirely responsible for the financial care of the female, paying all her expenses.
According to Talib and Ibrahim, a wife has a lot of power. She may seek divorce if she is unhappy for any reason – though the husband does not have to appear before a (almost certainly male) judge in petition, and can simply divorce a woman by saying “I divorce you” three times – and “she can make his life like hell”. An unmarried woman has the right to refuse her suitor, they said, and the qualities a suitor seeks in a wife value her character and her role as a mother-educator for their children and companion over her physical beauty. The main responsibility of the woman is as a mother, and she works outside the home only if she chooses to, and any income is solely hers to retain. A man may not take a second or third or fourth wife – up to four wives for one husband are allowed per Islamic law – without the permission of his first wife, and he must provide equally for all of them, including separate households if they so desire. Still, if this is the literal Islamic law, there have also been damaging interpretations and as mentioned, a country's law may be completely different, enforced in the name of God. The conversation between the two gentlemen and I was filled with questions on my part, and admittedly some bias, but they were gracious in answering my questions with good humour. Still, I thought it would be more informative in this particular arena if I were able to speak to a woman.
Want to start at the beginning? Part I is here.