Notes and my reflections as I read Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time by Karen Armstrong
This 214-page book only has five chapters and the fourth that I finished the other day while driving to the mountains is simply called "Jihad." On nearly the final page, Karen Armstrong writes "[Muhammad's] original aim had been to end the violence of jahiliyyah, but he was now behaving like an ordinary Arab chieftain. He had felt impelled to go to war in order to achieve a final peace, but the fighting had unleashed a grim and vicious cycle of strike and counterstrike, atrocity, and retaliation, which violated essential principles of Islam." (pg. 163)
Truthfully for me much of this chapter was Muhammad doing things that were against what he desired to do or else the spirit of the Quran. Actually the first part that took my attention wasn't so much against Muhammad's or the Quran's standards, but against mine. I just have a hard time justifying stealing from others being a God-sanctioned way of providing for yourself. I read how the Emigrants - those who came to Medina with Muhammad from Mecca - couldn't support themselves as merchants since there were already plenty and none of them were good farmers so they supported their community by raiding from caravans. Add to this fact, Karen Armstrong says part of Muhammad's strategy was to get the Quraysh's attention so he could bring his message from God to his people. The Quraysh had already rejected this divine revelation -- that's why Muhammad & Co. are outside of their home city -- but Muhammad feels burdened for his people, wants them to know this truth from God ... so he raids their caravans! Sounds about as decent as sending in the missionaries to convert the people before your powerful army comes through to steal the natural resources of a country! Stealing from others and trying to share your faith should never go together!
|Probably not the best way to share the goodness of your faith|
Granted Armstrong showed us that a revelation came to give permission for these raids - a "primitive just war theory" - because when Muhammad and his followers were ousted from their homeland, they were treated unjustly. Apparently by raiding caravans they could steal back what was stolen from them by the Meccans.
Twice in this chapter Armstrong notes the struggle, the "tragic moral dilemma" Muhammad faced as he had to expel people from their homeland. See, his whole justification for warring with the Quraysh was that the Muslims were made to leave Mecca. But now that Muhammad was rising to power in Medina and a few tribes didn't bow to his wishes, he was doing the same thing to these people by forcing them to leave their homeland due to their rebellion. Armstrong says, "He had wanted to cut the cycle of violence and dispossession, not continue it." (pg. 151) Yet he did. I suppose this shows that not even a prophet of God can change society in any sort of quick way, huh?
Armstrong quotes Ibn Sa'd and said Muhammad never hit any slave or wife of his. According to her, Muhammad "was ahead of his time" in this matter since so many of the Muslim men did "beat their wives without giving the matter a second thought." (pg.158) Now Muhammad was already introducing a lot of reform. Much of which gave women rights they had never had before such as inheriting property. This book notes that the men were outraged at how many social reforms Muhammad was making already. So Muhammad, knowing his enemy was gathering a massive army, had to keep the loyalty of his men somehow. Thus he permitted them to retain this wife-beating provision though he basically told them it wasn't something he wanted them to do. In fact Armstrong notes that Muhammad "did not like" the new revelation that seemed to give men permission to beat their wives. (I guess Muhammad was more progressive than God on this topic.) Armstrong notes: "Yet again, the conflict with Mecca had compromised his vision and forced him to adopt a course of action that, in more normal circumstances, he would have preferred to avoid. The Quranic legislation about women is intertwined with verses about the war, which inevitably affected everything that happened in Medina at this time; Muhammad knew that he had no hope of surviving a Meccan onslaught with disaffected troops." (pg. 158)
It's a shame that wife beating had to continue in order to keep the troops happy, isn't it?
One social reform Muhammad made had to do with women inheriting property. The men protested this wondering why women who do no work to earn money would get their (the men's) money. This is such an annoying and idiotic view as if women are not contributing to the household simply because the jobs they do don't pay in cash. While the men are out earning money, the women are staying home. It seems the men think they all sat around watching soap operas while scarfing down chocolate candies!
|Does she contribute to the household or not?|
Because we all know that babies miraculously feed, change their diapers and care for themselves while a woman simply snaps her finger and her house is instantly clean and a delicious meal is on the table ready for her family to enjoy. Yeah, poor men out working all day and their wives not contributing one bit to the household. How dare they think they should inherit property their men have worked for!
One last thing I noted was how a spirit of individualism contributed to a more patriarchal society. At one time both men and women of Arabia had multiple spouses. Women lived with their families and their 'spouses' would drop by for visits. It didn't matter which spouse fathered a child as children identified as their mothers' descendants. This started changing as the tribes became settled and people started accumulating property and wealth. Men suddenly wanted to pass their property on to their sons, so as Armstrong notes, "The Quran encouraged this trend towards a more patriarchal society." (pg. 146) It limited women to only one husband at a time and men to only four wives. Men started housing and taking care of their wives and children and now descendants are traced through their fathers' lines. Indeed I remember going into a house in Syria, seeing a picture of a group of fifty people or so and my hosts explaining that it was a family reunion. I looked closer and then asked, "Where are the women?" They laughed. In my thinking if you have that many generations of people and that many people in one family, you had to have women somewhere along the way. Alas, women are not traditionally pictured so I suppose future generations will only have adequate knowledge - or at least pictures - of their MALE descendants. *tsk* For shame. You know me, I'm not used to staying out of the picture. ;-)
Thoughts on any of this?