Concerns have been recently raised about the Muslim Toronto police chaplain on his personal views about women and marriage. Officer Musleh Khan's viewpoints come across as strongly patriarchal and infantalizing of women. However, he claims that he does not believe women are second-class citizens and that his words have been taken out of context.
Khan is a young officer who seemingly follows a morality shaped by patriarchal values. It is easy to find similar counterparts amongst certain conservative religious communities where women face restrictions and duties of various kinds. As such, instead of trivializing the problem to the viewpoints of one Muslim chaplain, the issue at hand should be one of patriarchy-infused religious morality.
Can we really expect Khan to espouse liberal views if the type of traditional religious education he may have received could instigate him to reject equality? As such, the concern for conservative Muslims should be aimed at the sort of traditional religious education that is being imparted to young Muslims in less moderate communities, which paralyzes their critical faculties.
The problem is the belief amongst certain groups of conservative Muslim groups that reason must be replaced by taqlid (mindless imitation) in religious affairs. This is perhaps why some individuals are able to read and recite Arabic verses, but are rarely able to explain the meaning of those texts.
Khan has expressed that wives should be obedient to their husbands and seek permission before leaving their homes. He also asserts that it would be a major sin to refuse sex to husbands without a proper excuse such as sickness or obligatory fasting. He believes that it is the nature of men to demand sex more than women.
Had Khan studied the Qur'an based upon tadabbur (reflection) and aql (reason), he would not have fettered the meaning of the texts with patriarchy. Indeed, the idea of seeking permission from husbands before leaving home and the notion of greater sexual desires of men are extraneous to the Qur'an. Such viewpoints can be found in medieval legal manuals, but Muslims are not bound by the opinions of fallible scholars who shaped classical jurisprudence.
Reducing a human being to the servitude of another goes against the principal Islamic teaching on submitting to none except Allah.
Classical scholars were expounding upon the Qur'an based on their social mores. Their opinions coloured by their cultural constructs are not binding upon later generations of Muslims.
Conservative Muslims like Khan will have to explain that if they do not view marriage as a contract in which the husband buys exclusive access to a woman's private parts, then on what basis do they continue to impose restrictions on the mobility of women, which was a feature of such marriage contracts?
However, since Muslims like Khan have abandoned legal reasoning for mindless imitation of the texts, they may not be able to appreciate how patriarchy of the legal jurists influenced their viewpoints. Additionally, such Muslims may not be able to answer whether the increasing number of Muslim stay-at-home dads will also have to seek permission from the bread-winning working wife.
There exists a secondary text in which angels curse a woman for refusing sex to the husband. However, this text is also extraneous to the Qur'an. The very idea behind sexual relationships is to engender mawadda (affection), which cannot arise if the wife is obligated to perform sexual acts without regard to her emotional welfare. Moreover, reducing a human being to the servitude of another goes against the principal Islamic teaching on submitting to none except Allah.
The whole Khan fiasco will die out when the media loses interest. It will however provide fodder to xenophobes who will stoke their pet peeve of Islam bashing. They will contribute to negativity and hatred, but will not support Muslims like the Canadian Council of Muslim Women who are actually combating patriarchy and bring much-needed change.
The need of the hour is for Muslim communities to revive the use of critical reasoning in religion and free Muslims from the stranglehold of popular male celebrity scholars who infuse religious teachings with their unthinking patriarchal biases.
In this regard, progressive and Universalist Muslims will continue to assert the truth that patriarchy does not define Islam.
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