Frederick P. Isaac

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Articles and book information on Assyrian issues including contemporary history, experiences under Islamic rule, leadership and Assyrian aspirations to nationhood.


Indigenous Peoples

Under the Rule of Islam

 

by Frederick P. Isaac

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The Ruinous Cyclone  

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Lack of Personal Choice

 

 

Personal Freedom
 

 

In the late sixties, a Kuwaiti lady from a respectable family, returning from summer holiday in Europe, came out of the plane with a small white dog she had bought as a pet. She disembarked with the dog held on a leash next to her. The following day, on the five o'clock evening news, she was obliged to apologize for her unbecoming Western behaviour and abandoned the idea of owning a pet dog.

In Iraq, in the mid-sixties, in the early days of the ascendancy of the Ba’ath Party to power, Abdul Salam Arif, a one-time friend of General Abdul Karim Qassim and later his executioner and successor to government, launched an ethical campaign of morality. Any schoolgirl or woman seen in public wearing above-the-knee skirt or dress was stopped and brushed with whitewash paint from the knees down to her ankles as a deterrent to unethical behaviour. To avoid the 'painter's brush', a couple of schoolgirls, attempting to run across the street, were hit by cars and killed instantly. Many other schoolgirls were injured during that campaign. Besides the uproar and failure of the scandalous scheme, it caused grief to several families of good abiding citizens. Islamic culture seems to conflict more than agree with Western culture.

In Saudi Arabia, pioneer of the Abode of Peace, female citizens are not allowed to drive vehicles. Only men are allowed to drive. Females either hire a taxicab or are driven by the family chauffeur or a member of the family. A group of educated females launched a street procession in late 1990. They demanded the government lift its ban on women driving vehicles. They wanted the government to issue female adults with a driving licence and allow them to drive by themselves instead of relying solely on men. On November 6, 1990, forty seven (47) Saudi females, mainly students and employees in the educational sector, assembled into 14 vehicles and drove in the streets of Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia and demanded their legitimate right to drive vehicles by themselves. They explained to the authorities this would minimise delay, remove much inconvenience and give them a sense of independence and accomplishment. They demanded that females be allowed to drive on their own rather than be at the mercy of a hired male driver, a family member or taxicab. That would give the females self-reliance and independence to drive to work or place of business without dependence on a male driver. To find themselves always dependent on male drivers was totally unacceptable and humiliating. One gets the impression that in addition to their driving privileges, male drivers act as their protective guardians to save them from mischief.

The police detained the Saudi female group. They were released the following morning against guarantees from their spouses that such an unbecoming act, on the part of their females, would not be repeated. The Internal Security reminded their spouses that such acts were contrary to their upbringing, conducts, and would not be tolerated. They described the female activists as irresponsible and of ill repute. They described their husbands as laic and communists. Women in oriental countries are generally held in low esteem. When it comes to a woman standing up for her right as equal to man, in opportunity and management, she is looked at as inferior and treated as such. Privileged are only those that come from the upper caste, very wealthy, and whose families have traditionally been involved in politics. Saudi females are still not allowed to drive. Christians, in Islamic countries are generally not allowed to worship openly or celebrate Christmas publicly in the traditional way. Wearing the crucifix is banned. Classical music, Western musical concerts, operas and public entertainment in amusement parks is foreign to them (Pryce-Jones, 1989: p 272; Al-Jamal Publications, 1991; Aburish, 1995: pp 73-74, 92-93).

In May 2001, the Talaban Muta-we-ah in Afghanistan 'ordered foreign women to stop driving vehicles out of respect for local "tradition"'. According to their fatwa, issued by the Islamic Shari’ah Court, women are prohibited from showing their faces in public. They are barred from employment except in the health sector. The Afghans seem to be following in the footsteps of their counterparts, the Saudis, in reverting to traditional Islam, clogging the wheel of progress.

As a rule, Muslim men cannot socialize with their spouses or partners in public functions and entertainment centres. They rarely participate in public celebrations and festivities. When they do, they become very protective and irate. Muslim males prefer to mix with other ethnic groups or communities without the accompaniment of their female partners. They prefer to bring along non-Muslim female partners for such functions and shows. According to their cultural custom, they cannot mix with their own females publicly, whether as individuals or a group. Those who live in cities live an urban life with a tribal mentality. Most of their functions are segregated, including their wedding ceremonies and celebrations.

People who lose their freedom stain their hands with blood in an attempt to restore it. The mind of an individual, like an independent country that fortifies its defences and raises armies to defend itself, stands up to the challenge to defend its conviction intellectually. Although sanguinary measures would be required as the last resort to save the day, it is a very high price to pay. Gold and wealth may regain it, but only with the hard currency of spilling blood and self-sacrifice, can one regain freedom. Scores of free thinkers, writers and intellectuals have suffered terribly for expressing themselves due to heavy literary censorship. Several of them have been threatened, others jailed and their books and writings suppressed. Some have been forced to retreat and curb their pen. Others have chosen to live in exile rather than compromise their right to freedom of expression. Those who succumb and adhere to the inevitable become bewildered and disillusioned. Because of their frustration, they become loud and aggressive or lead a life of reclusion. Religious leaders, in the Abode of Peace, inculcate fear in their people in order not to be challenged. Some intellectuals are prepared to discuss any topic except their own individual freedom of choice. Since posing religious questions, generating debate, and writing freely fall under the definition of apostasy, hence a crime, many intellectuals stay clear of the clergymen to avoid confrontation with ardent adherents of the faith (Hiro, 1989: p 31). Yet, deep in their hearts, they feel betrayed for being restricted in expressing their views on various aspects of life. Since, in their world, there is no room for compromise on such clear-cut matters, writers remain concerned but silent and carry their guilt with them in mute anger for not trying harder on the path of self-expression to free themselves from reactionary elements. Like Nasr Abu Zeid, an Egyptian Muslim professor of Islamic studies at Cairo University, who was declared an apostate by the Islamic Religious Shari’ah Court, and ordered to divorce his Muslim wife on the ground that Islamic law forbids a Muslim woman to stay, married to an apostate. They become solitary prisoners of conscience and lead a subdued life of intellectual misery of unfulfilled expression of conviction.

Certain Islamic schools force Koranic teachings on their pupils since childhood. Islamic schools instill in students the fear of Allah by compelling them to learn the Koran by heart. They embed it in their culture, rock solid, at a very early age. Many children recite much of the Koran even before they reach the age of ten or eleven. As they grow older, they become habitual believers. Realizing the deadly risk of breaking away when they grow up, they join the mainstream and become vocal and overt in their hostility against other religions. In the Sudan for instance, Sudanese youths are whipped and chained for refusing to memorize the Koran. "Children are held in detention and have their ankles chained for days for refusing to accept the Islamic faith".

 

 

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