Leaving Religion and Discovering Masculinity
I could not ignore the blind reality that has been following me for most of my life. It took me a long time to get to a good spot in religion. I feel at peace with the lack of religion in its own way. Truth be told, I was always a questioning and liberal young lad. I remember questioning the idea of slavery in Islam at a very young age. My mother actually called the Imam and I excused it as the idea that they were just prisoners of war and it actually more humane than throwing them in jail. As life went on, I found myself excusing more and more of the religion.
Having spent most of my childhood in Canada, it was especially hard to understand Islam's view on women. I was not a women, but it was hard to square Islam's rules on women with that of growing up in Canada. My wife would need my permission to leave her home? A women cannot travel without a male guardian? A women must cover herself completely except her hands and eyes in a niqaab? The legal testimony of 2 women is required to match that of 1 man? A son inherits more than a daughter? A man can take a second wife and he does not need his first wife's permission? A man can have sex slaves? A wife cannot refuse her husband for sex. A woman must obey her husband. I could go on forever... I could not agree with any of these rules.
And so I grew up liberating myself from Islam and it made it easy to understand the dominant narrative in the West of gender equality. It become all too familiar to detect the cultural and religious hypocrisy that exists in Islam and the associated cultures. Cultures where it is common for boys to date and have sex before marriage, but it is a serious cultural offense for it to happen to a girl. I internalized all this and thought to myself, it is only fair that if I had a girl friend or had relations before marriage, that I not care about that in a woman.
There is definitely something to that in so far as it goes.Now, don't get me wrong, I was hardly a feminist or anything of the like. I knew that woman could be just as evil and selfish as men. I've heard a million stories. I would never put a woman on a pedestal or anything like that. Yet, something was amiss in my understanding.
The signs and evidence poured in throughout my life, just like it had with religion. I adapted my understanding of gender just like I had adapted my religious understanding throughout my life. Yet, like religion, you really don't feel at peace with the minor steps of interpretation. You must address the core. It is this core that is the hardest to face as you've built so much of your life around it. Your values and identity depend on it.
The strange part of it was that on issues of gender, there wasn't a book like the Koran/hadith that it was based on. I could not read those and decide such sources were incorrect according to history and science and morality, logic and rational and I could move on. The views of gender equality are a social construct of modern times. They are a more general belief within society.
In my case, at the core of gender understanding were a few generally accepted ideas that were so engrained they are still working their way out. I won't go into much detail, but I've talked about a few of them here, such as:
I don't want to devote this blog to these issues themselves. I am sure I will continue to learn in these areas.
At the core of it all though is a rather simple idea that applies to both leaving religion and gender issues.
It is Okay
It is okay to want what you want.
It is okay to not believe in the traditional understanding of religion. There is no need to hide it or be ashamed of it. If some people have a problem with it, it is their problem and we don't need to associate if it is that big a deal to them. I should seek to maximize my life in the non-religious sphere in the same way as religious people seek to maximize their religousness.
It is okay to be masculine, and to want what a man wants. A highly professional woman isn't thinking of being fair and marrying down. She might accept it, but she would surely first look for the highly professional Brad Pitt she desires. She has no problem saying she wants a man who is ambitious, good looking, mature, driven, religious/non-religious, family oriented, a rebel... she simply wants what she wants and goes after it. Another woman might want to be a housewife and seeks a man who can provide and she too is simply clear on what she wants and there is nothing wrong about it.
Yet, as males in this day and age, we are so often brought up that what we want is wrong. It is wrong for us to want a young, healthy, caring, loving, beautiful, feminine, virgin. A woman would not think twice about maximizing her gain, yet as men, we must not seek to maximize our gain in life? No woman thinks it okay for a man to be a fat lazy slob. Yet women think fatness should not be a value they are judged on. This is not to say you will/should get what you want. People rarely do in life. But it is a strange male thing in this day and age to think yourself wrong for maximizing your life with the best girl.
Perhaps there is some engrained male desire for sacrifice. Why we plunge ourselves to die in a war. Perhaps we feel we must sacrifice for the betterment of woman? Who knows.
Suffice to say, much like repressing yourself to appease a religious community, repressing your masculinity to appease some ideological notion of woman is only going to result in resentment and unhappiness.
The Odd ConflictI'll address one final irony of it all. Intellectually, I always grasped the idea that all religions or cultures or beliefs tried their to deal with reality as it existed for them. It wasn't wrong for people to think the Earth is flat. By all the data they had at the time, the Earth appeared flat. So, in the case of Islam, I could intellectually grasp the idea that many of practices were very practical for that time.
Yet, that leaves a certain paradox. Has humanity changed that much? We are as human beings pretty much the same from a biological perspective as we were thousands of years ago. We have millions of years of evolution that have influenced this. Civilization has been around for thousands of years and most of the grand issues are not new. Politics, family, children, sex, romance... are eternal.
So what am I supposed to do with Islam's religious views on woman? Is there no wisdom there? None at all? I could hardly accept that. I don't say that as matter of religion. It is a matter of science and history to me.
Let's take something like the Islamic view that it takes the testimony of 2 women to equal that of 1 man. The Hadith is rather direct about this.
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: The Prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?" The women said, "Yes." He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."Now, we don't really believe that today do we? I don't either. Yet, being an attitude that prevailed throughout history in many cultures, there must be some basis for it besides men being evil and wanting to oppress woman.
In my life, I have observed that women would be more likely to:
- Not want to hurt a person's feelings
- Value belonging to a group/person
- Value reputation
Heck, most of the time, woman will proudly talk about how they have these traits on their own. They love community and care more about feelings. Yet these traits definitely affect the telling of truth in a 'black and white' legal environment.
Heck, from an evolutionary perspective, many of these might be built in preferences for most of us.
This is not say these cannot change or culture cannot change these. It is not to say men are better. Surely caring about feelings is a good thing as well. By extension, this would stereotype men as caring less.
However, we should not ignore such wisdom and take it for what it is. Again, not from a religious perspective. I'm sure you'd find equal wisdom in the Bible, Hindu Scriptures, Mayan texts...
Of course, I do not take the Korans very misogynistic views on women or men very seriously. Yet, like I said, I am consciously realizing that the societies they were meant to govern still have lessons for us today.
Those males fortunate enough to have grown up around good strong males, probably already know this; perhaps even instinctively. Yet, for many of us, like myself, it is a relearning. So it is of the oddest irony that while leaving traditional Islam, I have come to see some of its wisdom in relation to the rules of society. I suspect society will have to relearn some of these as wel.
And yes, as a disclaimer, this is an article that is focused on me, and I am male. This in no way takes away from any struggles or issues a woman.