Colonizing Women, Chapter 37, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books

Could a heart that ignites with truth burn in vain? In the age of madness, could this longing be my bane? My beloved, take this hand and quench this pain. You know me—You know me. Bless me with the insight so that I may rest in Your grace. I am too content in Your love to dream of heaven, and I am too vain to agonize over hell. But I am completely submerged in my aching need to bask in Your glorious face. If this is arrogance, then help me know my place, but if this is glorious, then purify me so that I may reach the exalted place.


In the serenity of the night, the Conference of the Books seeks You. But it never dares to believe that it has reached You. No. It converses, it argues, it dreams, it quivers, and it trembles at the doorstep of Your omniscience. Isn’t a complacent love an arrogant disgrace!


At night, I drag the ruptures of the day. I haul its pains, and stand naked probing into every wound and cut sustained that day. Stepping into the Conference of the Books, I struggle to erase and heal the filth and pain. And, then it starts—the immutable sublimation in Your name. Purified, I rid myself of my fears—from the contaminations of my ravenous oppressors. You liberate me from the agony of the inquisition—from the mihna of a contaminated life spent in disgrace.


In my mind, when You are here, nothing ugly can co-exist in this space. When You are with me, I transcend myself to the innate. In this fantastic obscurity, I lose myself to find You. My mind is obscured by the unfolding of Your grace, but Your mercy guides me to a transcendent intuition. In my intellect I find that only You—only You are innate. In the innate there is only beauty. Nothing ugly can co-exist in this space.


Could an interpretation overcome the innate? Among those who claim to follow your message there is such a profound alienation. It always stands threatening to drag me to an arid wilderness. The ugliness of a stranger is a self-affirmation, but the ugliness of your brother is a profound alienation.


Covered in false piety, the wealthy successors of Your most sanctified place go to Egypt and India and purchase brides in a contract made in Your name. They pay a dowry to the impoverished family of a helpless girl and marry her for a week or month in a rented place. After fulfilling their desire, they return the girl to her family, perhaps to be recycled, or perhaps to wait until she expires on some future date. The flesh and limbs of powerless girls become part of the attractions generously offered to tourists during their stay. This happens in Muslim lands, this happens in contracts written in Your name. This is done by a group of people who use the garb of religion to hide a mutilated and rotted morality. I ask a group of so-called jurists, and I am told that “as long as the intent to terminate the marriage occurs even a minute after the formation of the contract then it is all valid.” What a remarkably legal and remarkably immoral response!


I remember, from years ago, the wailing of a girl being drafted into the service of some over-gorged, over-oiled customer. A day later, we found her bloodied body on the side of the road. Apparently, she preferred the embrace of a truck to the embrace of the dinar-wreaking glutton.


At times, legal technicalities are nothing more than a technocratic immorality. If people are objectified and consumed, no law or legal deduction could make the immoral beautiful or the ugly acceptable.


I think of these jurists and reflect on their endless rhetoric about the rights of women in Islam—on the honorable role of women and on the covering-up of women. But I fear that the seclusion of women has taught them that what is secluded is to be possessed and owned. And, all possessions are to be used. Yet, some possessions are forgotten until thrown away, some are recycled or replaced. The fact is that those who ache to regulate women are those who invariably violate them, and those who are obsessed with defining the limits for women are those who observe no limits with women. Colonizers always set borders that affirm their power, and you, my technocrats, are colonizers of women.


The ethical pulse that constitutes our being defines the life of our religion. The sexploitation of any Muslim, and in fact any human being, is a degradation upon our religion. Whether a woman is used and discarded in Egypt, the United States, or any other place, what can one say about a jurist who fails to take a moral stand? Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855) refused to accept the opinion of any jurist who succumbed to al-Ma’mun’s (d. 218/833) inquisition (mihna). Today’s mihna is in every drop of oil that greases the conscience. Today’s mihna is in the language of morality usurped and stolen by immoral technocracy. Hasn’t the time come to stop accepting the credibility of jurists who succumb to today’s mihna?