Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wahhabism and Western Errors on Women

In the book Creation of the Middle East: United Arab Emirates, I am reading about a tiny federated country to the east of Saudi Arabia called the United Arab Emirates. In this country, like the rest of the surrounding region, the people follow strict religious and cultural norms according to Wahhabi Islam. If you are familiar with pictures of women being covered in full dress head-to-toe (minus the eyes), then you are already familiar with Wahhabism. Here's a good summary from the book:
Wahhabism, [was] a Muslim movement that swept the peninsula in the 1700s. It was a reform movement, inspired by the man who gave it its name: Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. It was called on Muslims to adopt a stricter interpretation of their religion, treating the Koran and the Hadith (the body of authenticated statements about what the Prophet said, did, or approved of in the actions of his associates) as fundamental texts, to be interpreted literally. Journalist Roger Hardy writes, "Like many revivalists in the course of Muslim history, ... [he] felt the local practice of Islam had lost its original purity." The Wahhabists preached social conservatism and modesty in dress, as well as separation of women and men in public, and making ritual prayer central to one's daily routine. The modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia is heavily influenced by Wahhabism, as the Wahhabis formed an alliance with the Saud tribe, and helped to establish dominance in the peninsula and to build the Saudi kingdom. (p. 13)
The problem fraught, I think, with any social movement to regain "purity" is that it stumbles into exaggeration. Instead of purity, decency should be sought. I define decency according to Aristotle's principle of seeking the middle road between extremes, where truth and beauty are neither subjugated nor embellished. For example, both Eastern and Western societies have their own exaggerations that harm the dignity of women.

In the East, Wahhabi teachers advocate women in full covering to keep men away from temptation, but these teachers err because natural beauty is not evil. Everything God created is "very good" (Gen 1:31), which includes the natural appearances of man and woman. The created world, which includes beauty, is meant to be attractive because it is a reflection of God's own infinite beauty. Jesus taught that evil does not come from Creation but from the heart: "For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come -- sexual immorality" (Mark 7:21). No matter how conservative the dress code, a man committed to lust will always find a way to brew temptation. Cover the body, the head, the face, the eyes, and leave nothing but a silhouette; all these are futile and will never purify a man's heart.

In the West, heathens keep men away from temptation -- by dispensing of the concept altogether! They advocate the purifying of society by purging all moral philosophy and religion from sexuality. To show the fruits of their belief, they have used the Internet to build the largest library of pornography in human history. Libraries are to house knowledge, and the Internet is their textbook on limitless sexual exploits. The female body is not seen as beautiful, but merely attractive to induce sexual pleasure for man. The female body is not seen as holy (i.e., set aside for a special purpose), but meant to be used and forgotten in a long line of sexual encounters. The female body is not a vessel of love, but a vessel to obtain money and fame through whatever demonstrative means necessary. Everything God created is "very good" (Gen 1:31), but pornography lowers the body to "very useful" status. In fact, the creative forces behind pornography deny the very distinction of good and evil and find everything permissible. However, St. Paul rebukes them: "You say, 'I have the right to do anything,' but not everything is beneficial. You say, 'I have the right to do anything,' but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others" (1 Cor 10:23).

I advocate decency because it is a concept accessible to human reason and it can be generally found without religious input. People and governments can debate it, and legislate what they find acceptable to provide a decent society. A decent society is not necessarily a pure society, but it is good enough for cultivating virtue -- and, perhaps, purity will be found too.

Can purity be found? Where is purity to be found? Purity cannot be manufactured by human invention. There is no law, edict, or philosophy that can cleanse the heart. All known methods have been tried and failed. If you want to be pure, call upon Jesus because only He who is pure can purify: "Just think how much more the Blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins" (Heb 9:14).

By pursuing a clean heart, you shall see God.