Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lived Islam in Tajikistan

The most useful class I took before coming to Tajikistan (aside from language classes) was without a doubt the Anthropology of Islam. Despite the fact that I kind of despise anthropology- it's really quite different than the economics world I live in- that class has really helped me understand parts of life here.

The class was really all about understanding that there are differences between the percieved "law" of Islam and how it is lived around the world. Essentially there are 1.2 billion Muslims in today's world, and we can only really expect divergence in how it is lived.

Interestingly, I get to see these very things being played out within my host family and the Tajik culture. Recently, Sharif's father visited from his home about an hour away. Like Sharif, his father is a relatively devout muslim. That day, Sharif and his father got into a pretty deep conversation about religion (specifically Islam and its tenants).

While I understood most of everything that was said, I regretably had a hard time formulating my thoughts/questions/concerns into coherent Persian sentences. Nonetheless, I wanted to note some of the things I found interesting in the conversation and my subsequent response (that I wasn't able to say). The following are the best translations that I can come up with (assuming I understood correctly anyways). My commentary is italicized.

*Remember, these are only two mens' thoughts on what Islam says about the things we do or the way we should live. The interesting part about this excercise is that at the end of the day I will not know what Islam really is, only how Islam is lived by these two men.

1) Plastic surgery is wrong because it alters your appearance. God is the ultimate engineer, and so you should embrace what you have. This goes for eyebrows too, they should not be plucked by women.

Well then why are we allowed to shave our beard if it was given to us by God? Then of course the women wouldn't look at us! Sharif and his dad are jokesters, so I'm not sure how serious this response was.

I think this was particularly interesting because it highlights part of why I think Islam is so interesting: it offers a lot of contradictions that are usually used to give men what they want.

Also this rule applies to transexuals and women/women relationships. man/man was not mentioned. Men who want to become women and women who want to become men are against God. They will go to hell. But what if they should have been a man? What about in between cases? They should be what they are born as. Obviously my vocabulary wasn't strong enough here, because I wasn't able to explain that gender neutral cases existed naturally, and that there is not always an obvious male/female organ.

2) Islam says we can have four wives, because the Prophet Muhammed said it was God's will. We can have four wives for four reasons:

-There are more women in the world then men. Huh? That's not true... Women live until they are 100, and men only until they are 50. I think the flaw in this logic is obvious, so I won't go into more commentary.

-If one wife is pregnant, you can have another to sleep with (and impregnate, I suppose). Ladies, this topic is not my speciality- so you can tell me what you think about this one.

-If one wife is sick, you can sleep with another. Makes sense.

-It is the optimal amount of sex for a man (I think this is what was said, this part got a little weird because I wasn't so sure where it was headed). Anyone wondering if this is the optimal amount of sex for the women?

I take issues with this because the reasoning was flawed from the get-go. And besides, why stop at four?

3) Women should work in the house. Men should work outside the house and earn money for the family. This is the way it should be because it is Gods way. So what happens if a women works and doesn't get married? That's not good, a woman's job is to have kids and take care of the house.

4) Don't drink alcohol. It's bad for you because it makes you sick. A little is okay. But not often and not a lot. No comment.

5) Ultimately, when you die it's a scale, like the ones in courts. If you're good outweighs the bad, you will go to heaven. If you're bad outweighs the good, you go down. How do we know where things fall in this scale? Why is being transexual weighed more heavily than drinking alcohol or eating pork?

Overall I think Islam is a good religion. Despite what people say, it stands on similar grounds that Christianity and Judaism do. The real issues with understanding Islam come when we try to understand what is Islam and what is culture. In Tajikistan, I can't reasonably say what parts of the mysogenistic attitudes taken here stem from culture, religion or some mix. While any muslim man will probably argue that it comes from Islam, that may not always be the case.

So can the lived catagory of Islam help me understand Islam? Often, people bend parts of religion to fit into their culture. I'm not really sure what that means in the grand scheme of things. If religion lives in culture and culture lives in religion, then can we ever really understand a religion without living in its culture? I don't think we can. I'm not entirely sure what that means in the grand
scheme of things, but it's an interesting thought.

Thanks for reading my jumbled thoughts!

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