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Islamic Book Controversy in Toronto

April 5, 2012 by  


By Sheharyar Shaikh

A non-Muslim acquaintance recently sent me a photograph of her friend who was holding the Toronto Sun newspaper in his hand with the recent headline: “Is beating women allowed?” (or something to that effect) in reference to a marriage guidebook penned by the late Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, an Indian scholar of Islam.  The book is available in Canada much to the horror of the Canadian public. I have not yet read the 160-page book “A Gift for the Muslim Couple” by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and I doubt that the editorial and reporting team at Sun Media has either.  Regardless, the Sun Media is generating much fear and paranoia for what seems to be cheap publicity points. Sensationalist articles and television shows targeting the Muslim community are mainstream in the U.K. and U.S. Unhindered, this wave seems to be rising now in Canada.

Tarek Fatah of course wants the bookstore owner charged under the law.

This is not unexpected of Fatah who has made a lifelong career out of stabbing his own community. Strangely he becomes bitterly resentful (as he did on March 1, 2012, at University of Toronto when he isn’t awarded the honor he feels he deserves from his “racist” circus masters in return for vilifying Muslims. What does he think? Fatah, … [i]f [the Michael Corens, Jonathan Kays, Ezra Levants] begrudgingly bear you on the same panel as themselves, its not for your rugged good looks, but the damage they can inflict on the Muslims using your small brain and a big mouth. 
Alas, Fatah’s daughter Natasha showed way better understanding than him of the way the game works when she remarked: “…when people you thought were good and decent, reveal their racism, and you find out your offence isn’t worth their time because you’re just another Paki.”

I do however blame the self-appointed Muslim community leadership, which began either mindlessly condemning Thanvi’s book in unison or has remained pathetically silent about the issue. Where is the Imam Council? Where is Ali Hindy? Where are the champions of faith who are foremost in their dawah efforts? Their silence is deafening.

I for one believe that the criticism of the Muslim community based on this book is unfair for the following reasons:

A Guide for the Muslim Couple was written in the 19th century.  Its author, A. A. Thanvi, was born in 1863 and died in 1943.  It is unfair to use this book to assert the Muslim male’s alleged contempt for women.  It is from before the time women could vote, work freely, get into professional colleges, own full property rights and be legally protected against spousal violence in the west.  If invoking this 19th century book is allowed to thrash Canadian Muslims today, then critics should be allowed to cite works from that same era to make the case for Western males’ contempt for women as well.  And if the mere presence of this book in the 21st century counted a crime, what then should we say to the world that sees the Western woman objectified, sexualized, and humiliated in bondage and sadomasochistic videos, criminally accessible to 5-year olds on the net, in the name of entertainment by the 20 billion-dollar porn industry here at home?  What about the continuing violence committed against women in society at present? In none of the stinging reviews was there as much as a peep about violence perpetrated against women committed overwhelmingly by non-Muslim (white) males. Was protecting Muslim women the Toronto Sun’s real agenda or was it to brushstroke the Canadian Muslim community in a negative light?

For example, NOW (National Organization of Women) tells us that on an average of 3 women are killed in the US every day, one-third of whom are killed by intimate partners. NCIPC cites that 4.8 million American women suffer bodily attacks and rapes from their partners every year – that’s 600 women per day. The Justice Dept informs us that one in five American college women will be raped at some point during their college years. College is preparation for the real world I suppose.

Is Canada much different? Afraid not. Women continue to outnumber men nine to one as victims of assault by a partner and are 3 times as likely to be killed by their partners as are men. According to the Canadian report Assessing Violence Against Women 74% of female killings occur at the hands of ex-husbands. Remember all this goes beyond fixing employment and income disparity and maternity leave disputes; it’s about letting women live in our society.

Under the current situation, it appears amazingly hypocritical to accuse the Muslim community of a “particularly sinister” kind of misogyny using a little known couple’s guide, all the while ignoring an ocean of a problem around us. It reeks of anti-Muslimism, nothing else.

And just when we may hold Eric Brazau, the shady man who broke the story in the Toronto Sun about Thanvi’s book, as some bleeding-heart friend of Muslim women, an impression he never fails to make as a “gentlemanly” guest on radio shows, be aware that this seven-time convicted violent offender has been criminally charged in the past for reportedly riding his bike in public alongside a hijabi lady and continually harassing her by calling her a terrorist and telling her to go back to Afghanistan. Toronto Sun itself broke the story in the past when it was newsworthy, but deliberately made no mention of it this time. Yesterday’s scum becomes today’s crusader for Muslim women rights. Incredible.

To make things clear on our end: Islam, like all pre-modern religions, does not, I repeat, does not stand for equality of spouses in a conjugal relationship. Man has a role in the family as a protector, provider and a moral leader, which is distinctly different from the one God awards to the woman. This is the truth. To the Muslim leadership that denies it, I say, shame on you for telling people lies! You know well that men have a responsibility to be the captain of the ship, to be the moral guardians first and foremost who will be held responsible before God for the moral direction of the family institution in society – which today is in shambles. Although Islam is certainly not “oppressive” to women, it does require wives first and foremost with guarding the household in their husbands’ absence. Chauvinistic?

Unfair? Exploitative? Perhaps. But this is what we are commanded, and if we turn back we hurt none but ourselves.

Moreover, if Thanvi’s theological book hurts public sensibilities so much, then let the detractors be brave and shout words of protest against all theological works – without singling out Islam or Muslim men. Would the “ethically-appalled” Eric Brazau, who broke the story of Thanvi’s book to Toronto Sun, saying: “I thought that it is incredible that this kind of thing can be found in Canada”, make similar raids into Jewish and Christian bookstores with a similar agenda? I don’t think so. Think about this: I have five copies of the same one book that gives women a status way lower than this Muslim book ever could; it’s called the Bible.  And guess what?  It’s way more popular in the homes and bookstores.

According to the Bible woman is the source of all sin, the cause of global death (Ecc. 25:13), the source of all wickedness (Ecc. 42:13), can be shameless like a dog (Ecc. 26:25), is of a sinister nature (Ecc.
7:26) is a recipient of special punishment from God (Gen. 2:15), brings shame when she opens her mouth in church (1 Cor. 14:35), becomes unclean to touch during periods/childbirth (Lev. 15:19), must be ruled by man (3:16) (1 Corinth 11:3), must submit to husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24), must learn to shut her mouth and be fully obedient (1 Tim 2:11) should wear a sign on her head of her husband’s authority at all times  (1 Corinthians 11:7-9) etc. This of course does not include centuries of Bible-inspired literature along the same vein that is still freely published and adorns the shelves of any corner bookshop. I would not burn the bibles in a pyre in protest because not only is it unIslamic but it would be provocative to those who deeply regard it as God’s word. However would a “selfless champion of women” like Brazau or the local useful idiot Tarek Fatah take on the Holy Bible for its misogynistic content, its influence and consequently demand its ban as they’d like for Thanvi’s book? We have to wonder.

Would they take on the Hindu scripture Manusmriti, a distilled version of the Hindu Vedas out of the mouth of Lord Brahma, which orders wives to worship their husbands like gods? Or that a woman unaccepting of a man’s sexual advances may be raped? (Brihadaranyaka 6.4.6 and 6.4.7) or the Rig Veda which calls women lacking intellect and enjoining widow-burning in words:  “Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned.” (Rig Veda X.18.7)  – all as being indirectly responsible for 16 ‘dowry murders’ and unknown number of female infanticides occurring in India ever day? 50 million women in India are mysteriously missing according to one UN report.

Similarly, when orthodox Jewish men in western countries get up in the morning and thank God every day for not making them a woman but a man (in a prayer called Amidah), or bar women from becoming rabbis, teaching the Torah or praying in a synagogue here in the West would these pro-feminist activists take to the streets in protest against that? If the situation called for it I know I would hold discussions with religious elders of all faiths to try to come to a common understanding. This is a positive approach. Dialogue, not incitement.

Lastly, for any criticism to be valid, it must be fair and balanced. 

The Toronto Sun review focuses only on the things in the book unacceptable in western culture for the purposes of cheap sensationalism. Study proper book reviews in academic journals and you will note that they do not try to deceive the reader by showing only one side, but give a balanced perspective of what the author is trying to say.  For example, in the Toronto Sun’s report, it states: “In the book’s opening pages, it is written that `it might be necessary to restrain her with strength or even to threaten her.’”  There must be a context to this which the critic conveniently ignores.  Any man would restrain a woman “with strength” and words if the situation called for it and would expect the same from her.

As far as the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), is concerned, he gave the Muslims the best advice when he said:

The best of you are those who are the best in conduct toward their wives. His wife Ayesha testifies that the Prophet (s) never hit a servant, woman or animal.  His example is what we Muslims are to emulate at all times.

We Muslims are also enjoined to lend an ear to criticism. Some criticism however is simply unfair and amounts to propaganda and hate-incitement against one target community by giving the audience an incomplete or a distorted picture. The Toronto Sun review article on Thanvi’s work A Guide for Muslim Couple is guilty of casting suspicion of misogyny and wife abuse singly on the Canadian Muslim community with no mention or regard for the era of the book’s authorship, misogynistic works of other faiths, presenting a distorted, one-sided impression of the book, and failing to mention female abuse as a serious issue confronting society at all levels.  This is an example of journalism run by a vile agenda against the Muslim Community.

Sheharyar Shaikh is the former President of North American Muslim Foundation.  He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity

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