never knew I could learn so much about one culture in so little time."
thought the presentation was very informative and explained and
cleaned up many questions I had about Islam. It was good to listen
to someone who knew and was from the culture.
Daughters and Seven Sons
Title: Seven Daughters and Seven
Page 1: “…her father had taught her to read and write when she was very young, even though it was not the custom in their time for girls to learn such things…”
Analysis: This is not customary in Islam however. Both men and women are required to acquire knowledge. Many Islamic traditions speak in general (i.e. gender non-specific) about the importance and value of seeking knowledge.
Page 3: “…Allah had not seen fit to bless him with sons, and all that happened afterwards stemmed from that fact….the ways of Allah are beyond human understanding.”
Analysis: This quote reflects the notion that sons are better than daughters. Islamic teachings place no greater worth on a son than a daughter and in fact both are considered a blessing from God. In fact, there is an Islamic tradition that states, “Whoever raises three daughters, treating them well, will be admitted to Paradise.” No such tradition is mentioned with regard to sons.
Students should also know that the word “Allah” is the Arabic word for God, as are the Hebrew word, “Eloh” and Aramaic word, “Allaha”. Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus.
Page 9: “All of Baghdad considered him, with his seven daughters, as cursed as his brother of seven sons was blessed.”
Analysis: Again as in the analysis of the passage on page 3, Islam places no higher blessing in a son than in a daughter. Both are blessings. In pre-Islamic times, baby girls were buried at birth as they were seen as a burden and an embarrassment. Islamic teachings prohibited such practices, instructing parents to treat their sons and daughters the same.
Page 12: “’I don’t like to imagine whose sons they will be,’” he added unnecessarily, “’since you can provide them with nothing.’”
Analysis: This passage suggests that in a marriage contract, it is the bride’s side that must provide a dowry or marriage gift to the groom’s side. Islamically, when a man and woman are married, the contract that is executed between them has as one of its conditions a wedding gift, known in Arabic as mahr, which is a gift from the groom to the bride (not the other way around) to show his affection and commitment to the marriage. This gift is her property once she receives it and no one, not even her father or guardian has any claim over it.
Page 16: “Who were the husbands of girls without money? Poor farmers from the country, for whom a wife was a beast of burden, cheaper to feed than a donkey. Rich old men, who already had two or three others, and were looking now for a very young one to warm their ancient bones and to further increase the consequence of the first wife, the one who counted. Thieves and assassins who sought women with no family or with families powerless to protect their daughters from whatever abominations their husbands chose to inflict upon them. ‘Think of your father,’ my mother said. ‘Think of him. He’s my husband, and he took me though I came to him with nothing. Could I have gotten a better husband if I had brought with me gifts worth a thousand dinars?’”
Analysis: This passage again alludes to the status of women. According to Islamic teachings, women who become wives, and women in general, are not considered beasts of burden. In the Quran, God describes women and men as “protecting friends of one another.”
This passage also alludes to the practice of polygamy, which prior to Islam was a practice that didn’t limit the number of wives a man could marry. Islamically, a man is allowed to marry more than one wife, provided that certain conditions exist and he is able to maintain each household equally in every respect, otherwise he must have only one wife. So, the norm in Islam is monogamy, not polygamy. The verse of the Quran in which this issue is addressed was revealed in the context of a period of war in the life of early Muslims (who were being attacked by the Meccans for their monotheistic belief), leaving many women and their children without care or support. Rather than leaving these women and orphans to fend for themselves, early Muslims were given permission to take more than one wife provided that the man is able to care for his first wife, and any additional wives (limited to four) equally. But in the same verse of the Quran, God states that it is impossible to care for more than one equally, so it is best to keep only one.
This passage also alludes to the abuse of women, which is categorically prohibited in Islam, as is abuse of any person or animal. It also implies once again that women give a dowry to the husband when they are married, which is contrary to what Islamic law dictates, as mentioned above.
Page 20: “It wouldn’t have been three hundred years before, or two hundred years before, or two hundred years before, or even a hundred years before. I’d learned that from the books my father borrowed from my uncle and let me read too. Had not Shahrazad kept herself alive through a thousand and one nights by virtue of her cleverness and knowledge, to become the beloved and long-lived queen of the sultan Shahriah? Had not Buran, for whom I was named, influenced the policies of the caliph himself? Once women had been musicians, scholars, warriors, poets, and merchants. But the descendants of the caliphs who’d founded Baghdad forgot their desert heritage. Addicted to nothing but luxury, they’d permitted actual power to fall in to the hands of Persian conquerors, who brought with them their own customs, including the hijab, the veil for women. It was their way of distinguishing free women from concubines. Turks had followed Persians, but the veil remained. In the end, of course, all women wore it, and none of them were free.”
Analysis: The paragraph speaks about the status of women centuries before the story takes place, including that fact that women had been musicians, scholars, warriors, poets, and merchants. She makes the little known point that the custom of wearing a face veil is not an Islamic tradition, but one which was adopted from the Persians, who used it to distinguish free women from slave women. While the head covering is mentioned in the Qur’an, it does not include covering the face as became a common practice in later times. Also adopted from the Persians women was the practice of seclusion and segregation of noble women as a means of elevating them above the commoner. The head covering or hijab, on the other hand came to honor, distinguish and protect all women from being viewed or valued for their physical characteristics, not to harm, oppress, enslave or abuse women. Wearing hijab or any other Islamic practice, Muslims believe, should be for the sake of pleasing God, not out of coercion or fear.
Page 20: “’You’re very wise, Buran,’ he said. ‘You should have been born a man.’”
Analysis: This passage again is derogatory towards women by alluding that women cannot be wise. Many Islamic traditions tell of the wisdom of women, from the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife of 25 years, Khadijah, who was a business woman for whom the Prophet Muhammad worked, to one of the most knowledgeable of women Aisha, who was known as a scholar. There are also many Islamic traditions that tell of women throughout Islamic history that enjoyed status and prestige for their intelligence and accomplishments, whom men sought for their wisdom and scholarship.
Page 20: “’Yes’, I replied, letting out a little of the bitterness that had festered inside of me for as long as I could remember. ‘If I were a man, I could help you; I could help my sisters. I could help myself. You know I’m as able as any man. It isn’t fair. My being born a girl was a mistake.’”
Analysis: This passage once again is derogatory towards women in their abilities and potential. Students should understand that this same thread throughout the book does NOT reflect Islamic teachings or practice, but most probably the culture of the time. But even in Arab culture, Arab women today are some of the most educated and accomplished in the world.
Page 23: “’…except by selling herself. I’d kill her before I’d let her do that.’”
Analysis: Both ideas presented in this passage are prohibited in Islamic teachings. The first implying prostitution, and the second, vigilantism and honor killings.
Page 25: “…raise a great lamentation and rend our clothing, mourning for your lost reason.”
Analysis: This passage refers to a pre-Islamic practice when women were hired to lament the death of person or some other catastrophe to increase the compassion of others for the plight that has befallen the family who hired the lamenters. Islamic teachings discourage such displays of grief after someone dies and limits mourning to three days after the death of a person. Even though grief extends for sometime after three days, Islamic teachings encourage people to keep focused on life and the worship of God and not the person who died.
Page 25: “’Women don’t go into business.’”
Analysis: This again is an idea that is not reflected in Islamic teachings or actual practices, which in no way prohibits women from such endeavors. In fact, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, Khadijah was a successful merchant. She directed her business from Mecca and employed men to carry out the buying, selling and traveling across the desert by caravan to centers of commerce in her time. The Prophet Muhammad was one of her most successful employees and honorable agents and it was because of his honesty in business that she proposed marriage to him at the age of 40, when Muhammad was 25. She was his first wife for 25 years before her death. Another famous Muslim woman was As-Shifa bint Abdullah who was made the head of the marketplace at the time of Umar, the second caliph after Abu-Bakr. She held the position of what would be today, the Minister of Finance.
Page 26: “My mother turned to my father. ‘You could beat her,’ she said. ‘If the old woman’s elixir doesn’t work you could beat her. Beating is one of the best methods for driving out evil spirits.’”
Analysis: According to Islamic teachings, beating another person, particularly a woman or a child, let alone an animal is strictly prohibited. If a parent does abuse a child, an Islamic judge can order the child to be taken away from the parent and given to another relative for care.
Page 30: “If things kept on as they had been going just before my father fell ill, in time he might teach her to read and write as he had taught me.”
Analysis: In the story Buran lost the favor of her father due to her plan to disguise herself as a boy and go out in the world to do business. As a result, he started to ask her sister to help him while he was ill. Buran felt that her father would only teach the one he favored.
In fact, Islam teaches that seeking knowledge and becoming educated is incumbent upon every individual and it is a parent’s responsibility to educate the children. It is also prohibited to favor one child over the other.
Page 33: “…let alone give you marriage gifts sufficient for a respectable match.”
Analysis: This passage again refers to women giving a dowry to the husband. This is opposite to what Islam dictates, as mentioned previously.
Page 33: “It’s wrong to fly in the face of custom. Each of us has a place, and if we fall out of it, the world will turn upside down”
Analysis: The concept here of each having a place in the world is something that is acceptable according to Islamic teachings, however, advancing from that place to something better can only make the world better and not turn it upside down. Islam encourages the betterment of self, spiritually as well as materially so that civilization can be advanced for the good of humanity, not to the detriment of it. In fact, Islamic civilization was one of the most advanced & modern (in its time) in human history, and was the catalyst for the Renaissance of Europe.
Page 38: “I put the piece in my money belt. ‘It’s my talisman,’ I said, ‘my treasure. As long as I have it, I know I’ll be safe.’”
Analysis: The idea in this passage probably reflects a cultural practice than a religious one. The belief in Islam is that nothing can benefit or harm a person except God. Safety and security only come from God and harm and fear come when God’s protection is removed. Talismans play no part in protecting anyone any more than they can protect themselves.
Page 42: “Next to the gate, built into the wall, was a great tank hewn out of stone and kept full of water for the benefit of all who passed, thanks to an endowment left by a wealthy citizen insuring through blessed charity his place in Paradise…”
Analysis: The institution of endowments was one of the great contributions to civilization made by Islam and the Muslims. An Islamic tradition states that there are three things that will continue to acquire good deeds for a person after their death: a righteous child that prays for the parent, beneficial knowledge taught to others that benefits those it was taught to and who also teach it to others, and perpetual charity that continues to benefit others. It is in reference to the perpetual charity that the concept of an endowment came into existence. It is through endowments that water tanks were erected, hospitals and universities were built and even the care of blind cats until their death was instituted in the times when Islamic civilization was at its height.
Page 51: “’It’s lucky for you that you’re down there and I’m up here, or I’d beat you within an inch of your life.’”
Analysis: Again physical abuse of employees was and is not a practice condoned by Islam. Islamic traditions instruct Muslims to never raise their hands against a woman, a child, nor an employee as a form of discipline or punishment.
Page 73: “On the other hand, the fortune-teller with whom you chatted in the suq [marketplace] said we’re in a cycle of seven warm winters to be followed by seven cold ones. But then again, how much does a fortune-teller really know?”
Analysis: Seeking fortune-tellers for advice about the future is prohibited under Islamic law, as it again negates the belief in God’s divine will. Muslims believe that only God knows what the future will bring.
Page 84: “I thought I was content with the slave girls I called for whenever the mood struck me. I did not need a wife, who would intrude upon my studies, my work, my recreations – at least not yet.”
Analysis: Slavery was banned through Islamic law. Therefore, the student should understand that this passage, while it might reflect cultural practices of the time of the story, it is does not reflect the religion of Islam. .
Also, marriage in Islam is considered an integral part of one’s faith and therefore highly encouraged. There are many Islamic traditions that encourage marriage and speak to the nature and tone of marriage in Islam, such as “Marriage is half of one’s faith”; “And among God’s signs is that He created mates from among yourselves that you may live in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts.” (Quran, Chapter 30: 21). This verse in particular describes the idea of marriage as a place of tranquility, love and mercy.
Page 85: “In the name of the Prophet,…”
Analysis: Muslims do not invoke oaths in the name of anyone or anything besides the name of God as it negates the belief that God is the source of everything. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad, as is the case with all the other Prophets was a messenger of God, and therefore not the object of worship.
Page 95: “’Of course, of course,’” I replied. “’But what are six daughters, or eleven daughters, compared to one son?’”
Analysis: Again, this passage degrades women, which does not represent Islamic teachings or practices. See earlier notes on the same subject. Men and women are equal before God.
Page 104: “’That’s ridiculous, Nasir’ I said. ‘Women are concerned with children and housekeeping and adorning their bodies. How can you possibly share anything with any of them? Little Darirah will never really grow up. Women are like children.’”
Analysis: This is quite a derogatory remark concerning women and it is not the Islamic position. Women are highly respected members of the Islamic community, which gives them a very high rank, as opposed to how some cultures regard women. For example the mother is regarded as three times more important than the father in a family structure. The Prophet Muhammad was asked by a companion of his, “who was most deserving of his companionship” and the Prophet replied, ‘your mother’. The Prophet was then asked two times again, “who after her [the mother]”, and the Prophet replied two more times, ‘your mother’ and then finally, ‘your father’. Furthermore, there were many Muslim women who were intellectuals of their times. In Islamic history, there is no notable Islamic Scholar who did not have at least one woman in the list of his teachers, who was most likely, a scholar herself.
Page 108: “’…my favorite, danced the most sinuously of all. But I did not call for her. I let her go, as was polite, to one of the guests.’”
Analysis: Once again, slavery was actually banned by Islamic Law.
Page 122: “Though wine is forbidden to the followers of Mohammed, we kept some in the palace with which to entertain our frequent Christian, Jewish and pagan guests. I sent for a bottle, drained it to the dregs, and then went to sleep.”
Analysis: As mentioned in the passage itself, Islamic Law prohibits the consumption of wine or any other alcohol or intoxicating substance. It is also prohibited to serve it or sell it. The prohibition stems from the third purpose of Islamic Law, which is the preservation of the intellect. The other five being, the preservation of life, the preservation of religion, the preservation of wealth, the preservation of linage, and the preservation of one’s honor. Since intoxication relinquishes a person of their intellect while intoxicated, it is prohibited.
This passage also speaks to the good relations Muslims enjoyed with people of other faiths, which was characteristic of Islamic civilization.
Page 155: “As I put them on, their flimsy silk felt strange against my skin, but not uncomfortable. I veiled my face heavily because I didn’t want to be recognized when I went out in the street, and I didn’t want to appear anything but a modest woman.”
Analysis: The use of the word, “veil,” here is misleading. The covering of the hair by a scarf and modest, loose-fitting dress, commonly referred to by Muslims as “hijab” becomes obligatory for a woman when she reaches puberty. It should not be confused with the face veil, which is often cultural. The purpose of the hijab is so that a woman is not judged by her physical appearance or sexuality, but rather her character, behavior and intelligence.
Page 158: “I had been spared a fate I’d always dreaded. I would never have to share the bed of a man I didn’t want or who didn’t want me.”
Analysis: Islamically, the bride has the final say as to whom she will marry. It is one of the Islamic conditions of marriage that she consent to her marriage. Therefore, Islamically, the marriage contract is not valid without the bride’s consent.
Page 167: “’Lady’, Hassan replied quietly, ‘I don’t know what your motive is, but I know perfectly well what it isn’t. It isn’t to fulfill the commands of Mohammed. Perhaps some man wronged you once, and you take revenge on me instead.’”
Analysis: Revenge is also discouraged in Islam and instead forgiveness with regards to being wronged is encouraged. Unless tried in court before a judge a person is innocent. Vigilantism and revenge is not considered valid law enforcement in Islam.
Page 174-175: “His tone implied his answer was self-evident. ‘I want to ask him to give you in marriage to my son. We’ll expect no wedding gifts. Your person will be sufficient.’”
Analysis: Again as mentioned in passages above, the marriage gift, or mahr in Arabic, is given by the groom to the bride and not the opposite in an Islamic marriage contract.
Page 176: “’…you can’t defy the laws of Allah, Women were meant to marry whomever their fathers decree.’ I didn’t know where in the Koran those words were written, but I didn’t say that out loud either.”
Analysis: This passage again conveys a common misconception about marriage in Islam. No such thing is written in the Quran. Based on Islamic teachings and practices, a woman does not have to marry the man her father chooses, and has the final say as to whom she will marry. She must consent to her marriage in order for the marriage to be legal and valid.
Page 202: “’I swear by my father’s head…’”
Analysis: As stated in an earlier passage, Muslims do not invoke oaths in the name of anyone or anything besides the name of God as it negates the belief that God is the source of everything.