لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا ٱلله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱلله

Eventually, I’ll write about contracts and how gorgeous they are—contracts between our soul and our body, between individuals in love, between us and The Infinite Last One. I want for now to address a question I received regarding the state of being Muslim, and how we know that we are.

In Islam, the only truly unforgivable sin is shirk (4:48), or associations with The Only One. It is what breaks/undoes the contract committing a Muslim to The Sole One. Shirk is an indiscretion of the mind that is incredibly easy to commit: because we can transgress by associating ourselves, shirk can take the form of bigotry or arrogance. We can commit shirk when we judge ourselves to be better than others (think shaiytan), when our practice does not speak our declared faith, when we forgive sins that were not committed against us but against others as though it were our place to dismiss them, when our actions do not translate the Qur’an, and when we are oppressors. All of these, if deemed shirk by Ar-Raqeeb, can make us unMuslim.

What is the path to redemption if shirk is unforgivable (4:48)? Islam is a faith of fluidity, and Muslims constantly recite the shahada. Incidentally, the declaration of faith is the only requirement to converting to Islam, which starts a soul anew. Of course, once Muslim, we recite this testimony all the time. This signifies that we are constantly in a state of conversion. (What a lovely and romantic thought, that we are constantly reconverting to Islam, like renewing wedding vows.)

What’s striking here is that this path to redemption also signifies that shirk in whatever form—bigotry, violent transgression, oppression, etc.—is a type of sin that is undone rather than forgiven. The transgression must be reversed because it cannot be excused (4:48). And thus we undo our damage and renew our vows to The True Love.

فَأَنْتَ عَنْهُ تَلَهَّى

I used to distinguish between worldly and nonphysical love—or rather, I used to abide by the logic of this distinction, but the idea of limited love did not reconcile with the truth I felt in my soul. While I do believe there is value in even superficially distinguishing between outerworldly and worldly love in order to help us understand ourselves as nonphysical beings, I think in the formation of human (specifically male) apprehension this only ever translates to the creation of hierarchies between “types” of love, that then prevent us from accessing it. Love soul to soul enflowers transmogrified expressions when embodied in a physically manifested heart. (Ethereal love is not “transcending” the physical.) And when translations of love exist there should be a critique of how that expression of love is manifest in social and legal realms.

That’s the premise through which exegetical conclusions are drawn; every examination of the Qur’an collapses the supposed theoretical “love” with demonstrable worldly love, because there is a deep unremovable connection between in that they should be absolutely indistinguishable. It is why men’s love of the Prophet is an “easy love,” because they were not as subject to his masculine oversights. The worldly manifestation of the Prophet (his embodied soul) did not challenge their love. It must be nice. And furthermore the worldly, oppressive manifestation of their (en)forced love toward him does not communicate that they love him with a nonphysical heart, because expressions of love cannot be severed from the divine love at which they are sourced. And that nature of that love (in all its qualities) cannot be forceful. For we are human beings made of free will, not angels, and no man can take from us what the God/dess has gifted.

Separation between physical and ethereal love, the common approach, is suspicious because in addition to being unIslamic it has deep connections to sexism via associations of the soul to men and associations of the body to women (which is philosophically Greek in origin). And from that foundation it has always been used to dismiss the concerns of women, who at the face of injustice are expected to remain silent/patient and wait for Judgment Day because this world “doesn’t matter.” The separation of physical from ethereal love is directly opposed to Islam because in Islam, belief cannot be separated from practice. If a Muslim holds a religious belief, but does not practice that belief, then it does not qualify as belief. If Muslims believe that men are spiritually equal to women, then our practice has to reflect that spiritual equality. In other words, there is no such thing as “spiritual equals”—you must be equals in all dimensions. The legal and social worlds must reflect the spiritual. It is why our destination in the hereafter is judged by our actions in this world.

One reading of Q4:1 is that the verse presents “mutual rights” as an incentive to reverence the God/dess; another reading suggests that the God/dess is reverenced independent of incentive and that the verse of “mutual rights” functions only to introduce the theme of roles in the subsequent verses. The reading I propose here, that the awareness and implementation of “mutual rights” is more than a reason to reverence the God/dess but a way to reverence Her, operates on two variables: (1) the recognition of the verb “to demand [mutual rights]” as an action, or a practice, as opposed to the mere existence of “mutual rights” such as, for example, the mere existence of “Signs” and (2) the Islamic philosophy that every action described in the Qur’an as originating from the God/dess is an act of worship and consequently an act of belief.

This reading is consistent with the indicative language of the Qur’an that fastens practice with belief; for example, “the God/dess will show you Her Signs, and you will recognize them.” (Q27:93) Here, it is the recognition of these Signs, and not the mere existence of them, that engage Muslims to believe. But to recognize is an action and a practice of the corresponding belief, which illustrates the Qur’anic theme of collapsing belief with practice: if the mutuality of rights, like the recognition of Signs, is not practiced, then the religion is not believed. A Muslim who does not recognize the Signs of the God/dess shirks the definition; the demand (not the existence) of “mutual rights” is equally fundamental to belief. It is not sufficient, therefore, to merely acknowledge “mutual”—not “different”—rights if these rights are not implemented into Islamic practice.

Subsequently, the mutual nature of the equality described in verse 4:1 of the Qur’an refers to all circumstances (not only spiritual), as its practical application is not in any way confined to the financial, legal, domestic, social, martial, or marital areas, among others, specified in the Qur’an.

Islam collapses the spiritual realm with the social and legal realm. There cannot be a difference. Any perceived difference was invented of out a twisted message originally intended to warn men not to become attached to material objects, which they extended to earthly injustices. If our actions in this world determine our destination in the hereafter, then it is absolutely logically fallacious to make the argument that there should be any kind of separation. We need to challenge manifestations of love in the social/legal realm as not being reflective of nonphysical love, because again, the two cannot be divorced. A Muslim man cannot argue that men and women are spiritual equals but refuse to pray behind a female imam.

The most fascinating hypocrisy comes from men under the ludicrous impression that women don’t have the right to question/challenge the Prophet when that’s what we’ve always done. Men like this consistently claim that men and women are different in our roles, except when confronted with recognizing the humanity of women and allowing us to have complicated relationships with the Prophet and that women have social obstacles toward our love of the Prophet that need to be addressed. And then to those men all genders are suddenly… the same? Equally not in a position to question?

Men should never question anything. They’re demonstrably terrible at it. Remember that time a woman disagreed with the Prophet and he complimented her insight? Remember that time a man disagreed with the Prophet and so the man decided to kill the Prophet’s grandson?

Remember when the disagreements of men following the death of the Prophet literally split the Ummah in half?

In the Qur’an, the excuses of oppressed men for violence against women are insufficient.

The vast majority of Muslim men, whether from previously/currently colonized nations or otherwise, live in patriarchal cultures; the Qur’an itself addresses this, for example, when demanding to know why men have buried their daughters alive or when protecting women from accusations of adultery. However, when confronted with this reality, men pretend that they weren’t patriarchal before colonialism when history proves otherwise, and when in fact their patriarchal structures facilitated the spread of colonialism.

While Muslim men love to falsely attribute patriarchy to colonialism, on the Day of Judgment Allah (swt) is going to ask men why they were violent toward us, and they are going to answer “because we were ourselves oppressed,” and it’s not going to suffice.
 
Indeed, while taking in death 
those who sin against their souls,
the angels will ask, “In what condition were you?”
 
They will say, 
“We were oppressed on the earth.”
 
The angels will say, 
“Was the earth of the God/dess 
not spacious for you to emigrate therein?”

They will have their sojourn in Hell, 
and it is an evil destination.
Except for the oppressed 
among the men, women, and children unable 
to plan and undirected 
to a way. 

For those, it is expected 
that the God/dess pardon them, 
for the God/dess 
is ever Merciful, 
ever Forgiving.
—4:97-99

The argument made in these verses is that if the oppression inflicted upon you is causing you to damage your soul by inclining you to oppress others, you should seek conditions in which you are no longer imposing harm and oppression onto yourself and others. It is of vital importance that we are aware of the state of our own morality.

(Note here that in this verse and the verses that follow, migration is encouraged and the migrant is valorized as someone who goes so far to save their own soul.)

It is of extraordinary significance that these verses appear in surah nisa, as describing the rights of women, and more specifically the regulation of male behaviors in order to protect those rights. It is not the oppression one endures that is emphasized here, but the harm that it commits against the soul and against others. Yet, contrary to the message of the Qur’an, men can’t comprehend that their approach to oppressions from which they do not suffer needs to be more than “chivalrous.” How can a Muslim only care about something for as long as it benefits him?

According to the Qur’an it is insufficient to dismissively declare that transphobic laws are a result of white supremacy, to falsely claim men were sexist because they were taught by whites, to pretend they weren’t afrophobic and anti-black before they were colonized. Here’s a newsflash: White supremacy is not the worst oppression to have ever happened. Oppressions do not have to be contributed to it in order to matter. There are oppressions other than colonialism. I am not going to choose my words carefully just because colonizers happen to be listening.

In addition to its situation in surah nisa, we know verses 4:97-99 are referring to women and structurally oppressed classes because the Qur’an makes a clear distinction between these two types of actions in response to oppression: those against oppressors and those against the soul. For example, 22:60 states,

And whoever responds [to injustice]
with the equivalent of that harm
and then is tyrannized –
the God/dess will surely aid.
Indeed, the God/dess is Forgiving and Merciful.”
—22:60

These verses assure us that societally tyrannized actions which are clearly a response to oppressors, rather than sins against one’s own, are divinely aided. Comically, the same Muslim men who dismiss violence against women as the work of colonizers will discourage violence against colonizers, effectively inverting both verses of the Qur’an.

Muslim men have adopted the position that their oppression excuses violence against women because the vast majority of “activism” against Islamophobia has relied on the corruption of scholarship of those—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—who descended from matriarchal or gender-equal societies. Subsequently, these men believe they too cannot be held responsible. Like straight men who complain about social expectations that their date will not pick up the cheque at a restaurant, Muslim men want the benefits of equality (and no accountability) without having established a legacy of gender equality in their history.

Immigrants (i.e. more settlers) to settler states adopt black and indigenous scholarship on anti-colonialism without ever being aware that they are living on stolen land, and it results in a belief that they have no culpability when it comes to patriarchy even though they are immigrating from very patriarchal cultures.

If you are indigenous to a place that was colonized that then overthrew the colonizing government, even if you have not yet done away with all of the residual corruption, never forget that there are nations who are still working to overthrow illegal governments, and that you’re on their land by permission of that illegal government. The only way immigrants to Turtle Island can become american/accepted is by signing off on a living legacy of genocide and slavery that requires us to actively perpetuate violence.

Yet in order Muslim men to ever care about oppressions that don’t affect them as long as they can attribute it too white supremacy. Is it so difficult to have empathy for something that has nothing to do with you? And yet they expect empathy in return. It is those whose activism is limited to anti-colonialism who ask questions like, “How can you talk about patriarchy without talking about racism?” when in fact they discuss racism all the time without discussing patriarchy.

The Qur’an in fact describes the arguments that the “oppressed wrongdoers” have with the “arrogant wrongdoers” regarding the actions that signify their disbelief.

But if you could see when the wrongdoers
are made to stand before their Creator,
refuting each other’s words,
Those who were oppressed will say
to those who were arrogant, “If not for you,
we would have been believers.”

Those who were arrogant will say
to those who were oppressed, “Did we avert you
from guidance after it had come to you?
Rather, you were criminals.”

Those who were oppressed will say
to those who were arrogant, “Rather,
a conspiracy by night and day
when you were ordering our disbelief in the God/dess
and attribution of equals to Her.”
—34:31-33

It is consistently emphasized in the Qur’an that oppression is no excuse to perpetuate oppression against one’s soul and community, and those who are oppressed and oppressive are identified as the same class of people—this is, in fact, a revolving identity—in both that the oppressed can be oppressors (the arrogant) and that both are “wrongdoers” whose punishments (“shackles on the necks”) are the same.

There is much to discuss in terms of all of the Qur’anic verses that elaborate on this issue and relate to the verses highlighted here, and I will explore these in upcoming posts.

The Oath Possesses Your Right Hand

Shortly after reading my article regarding polygamy, a beloved friend of mine (shoutout) maintained that “the responsibility possessing your right hand” should remain “the responsibility your right hand possesses” (translated across all other versions as “what your right hands possess”) because it is grammatically the right hand that is doing the possessing. I could see her perspective, and frankly, she has studied Arabic in greater depth and detail than I have.

But I disagree.

Structurally, the fragment reads word-for-word, “what possessing your right hands” or “mā malakat aymānukum”—there shouldn’t be a dispute that the “what” refers to a responsibility or an oath. It does not refer to directly to women, if the fact that means what and not whom weren’t clear. The Qur’an itself provides this antecedent by employing the form l-aymāna (oath) and yamīnuka (rightfully possesses), describing the nature of the “right hand” as responsibility. I feel that this is a crucial point that every exegete has overlooked.

However, translating the structure into English doesn’t require an inversion for its meaning to remain intact, even when Arabic inverts the subject-object orientation. We say things like this English all the time, particularly in modern and even contemporary poetry. Years ago, I penned the line in a poem, “Braves sudden movement, eye to eye.” Simplified, the object is structured as the subject, even though conceptually it is the eye that is doing the meeting.

In fact, since most translations of the Qur’an are not casual English, I find it very interesting that translators choose to invoke the inversion to make the phrase casual (and in their minds, I’m sure, clearer) when that is not its state, rendering it a judgment call and a deliberate decision considering the flexibility of the original phrase in Arabic. It’s true that in English we don’t speak in the language of poetic inversions of casual statements, but neither are Qur’anic English translations informal.

Translating “mā malakat aymānukum” as “what [oath] is possessing your right hands” honors the fluidity of the phrase in Arabic, whereas English interrogates for clarity in the ownership via subject-object orientation, which is already a philosophically imposed assignment. The implications of the oath being the object rather than the subject, particularly when we incorrectly understand (what) to mean “women” and not “oath,” are drastically grave in English.

Placing the responsibility as possessing the right hand in English emphasizes women as the entitled subject, rather than men as the entitled subject: you have rights rather than he has control. Arabic, however, lulls of a quality of possessive uncertainty.

I floated this past my love Zeina, a native Arabic speaker. “It’s both right?” I asked her at an obscene hour of the night when she certainly should have been asleep. “It’s more fluid in Arabic whereas in contemporary English it means two very distinct things.”

“Yes it is both. I’ve never thought about it that way. I think both work grammatically.”

Since in the inverted English the ownership is over an oath or promise or responsibility and not women, I’m not married to either structure in translation. In fact, there are also benefits, like the relief of responsibility from the marginalized, when the phrase is structured as the right hand doing the possessing. But in case anyone is married to either, I present this reasoning for my maintaining the Arabic structure in the English translation.

Polygamy is haraam.

I don’t really care about the outrage I’m going to spark, but before I spark it, I want to briefly mention that my understanding of haraam does not contrast starkly with halaal. In the thoughts of most Muslims, “haraam” translates to “forbidden.” Most of you know already that I subscribe to moral absolutes, i.e. I believe in the existence of universal morality. I want to emphasize that this is an entirely different question. It is erroneous to apply this structure to the dynamic of halaal/haraam, which describes the permissibility of a believer’s act specifically in relation to Allah, because while “halaal” does mean “lawful” or “permissible”—“haraam” describes the sacredness of an act.

In other words, the more sinful an act, the more sacred it becomes. Murder? Forbidden to us because human life is sacred, and thus so is the magnitude of severing a soul from its body, a sacred act reserved solely for the angels. Adultery? Forbidden to us because the love in a marriage is sacred, and thus so is the magnitude of destroying trust in its foundation. The realm of haraam encompasses that which is to remain respectfully unapproached. Arriving at this understanding was crucial to my development as a Muslim. An act being “forbidden” is uninspiring—I don’t really care. But if you tell me I can’t do something because it’s sacred, because it was not made for me to do, I …cannot describe how much I understand this in the depth of my heart.

Haraam actions are not forbidden primarily because they are harmful; rather, they are forbidden because they are sacred and the harm is a byproduct. This is of crucial importance: an object, animal, concept, act, that is haraam is meant to be met with a dreaded respect, not disgust. This is the wrong attitude to assign to the perspective of the Divine. Rather, the primary approach for us is that the act is awestriking because it is not fashioned for human beings. Haraam signifies a respectful distance from the act. (I will likely describe the meaning of halaal/haraam in a different post.)

In the Qur’an, polygamy is emphasized as not being fashioned for the human heart (“Allah has not made you with two hearts” —33:4) which is rendered incapable by Divine creation of exercising equality among multiple spouses. In fact, polygamy is made haraam on the point of justice and the incapacity of the human heart in more than just this one [33:4] instance:

And you are unable
to deal justly
among women,
even if you desire.
Do not incline [to favor one]
and exclude [the others].
And if you reconcile
and fear the God/dess
then indeed
the God/dess is ever
Forgiving and Merciful.
—4:129

4:129, like every verse of the Qur’an (including the “two hearts” verse), encompasses both broad and specific applications. It discourages polygamy, stating men could not treat women equally in marriage even if they were careful. This is because men are not Allah, and their gaze and judgment is neither Divine gaze nor Divine judgment, rendering yet another example of the meaning of haraam as an act that is uhuman or with supernatural qualities, or frankly, not one’s station. Broadly the verse employs the word for “women” instead of “wives” thereby curbing men’s unfair advantages in every institution by warning them they are incapable of being just.

Because the Qur’an was delivered to human beings, it speaks to us like us. It inhibits us with different degrees of no, whether polite or direct or incensed, but these are ultimately proclamations of inhibition—ultimately, the text is saying no.

Compare the structure of 4:129, discouraging men from marrying multiple women, with the one forbidding the consumption of alcohol (2:219): “In them [wine and gambling] is great sin and benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.” Most male exegetes read this verse as rendering alcohol haraam, yet do not extend their logic of implicit inhibition to polygamy even though every verse regarding polygamy follows the same structural reason as the “harm outweighing the benefit” in alcohol. You all know I do not contest alcohol is implicitly forbidden in this verse, but by that very logic, so are male exegetes hypocrites when they do not extend the polite inhibition to polygamy just because it’s polite.

The different weights by which the Qur’an forbids an act, but ultimately still forbids it as sacred or haraam, is another subject for its own post. The most widely cited verse regarding polygamy is 4:3.

[4:2] Give the orphans their properties
and do not substitute your defective property
with their superior property.
And do not consume their properties into your own.
That is a great sin.
[4:3] And if you fear that you will not
deal justly with orphans,
then marry amongst yourselves suitable women,
twos or threes or fours.
But if you fear
that you will not exercise justice,
then marry only one, or the responsibility possessing your right hands.
That is more appropriate
that you do not incline to oppress.
—4:2-3

I’ve included 4:2 to lend context to 4:3, which is the marginalization of women and girls. It is specifically familial and financial marginalization. 4:3 describes at least three circumstances in which the women upon its revelation found themselves: the first circumstance is as orphaned girls with property, which men are commanded not to consume into their own. The second circumstance is as marginalized women who are suitable, defined by the verse itself as women from whom these men cannot take property because the women were left with neither property nor guardianship, whom men marry to themselves amongst themselves. The third is “the responsibility possessing your right hand”—i.e. women who are under some guardianship, encompassing but not limited to slaves and captives the institutions of which marriage sought to eliminate, and thus entitled to protections by virtue so that men are less inclined to infringe on unfamiliar rights.

Male exegetes are often confused by “twos or threes or fours” but this is a natural reference to multitudes because the “you” address in this verse is not just the plural “you”—it is contextually the societal you. The “you” of the multitudes. These pairs of “twos or threes or fours” emphasize that societal address of the plural subject, just as the societal description of angels’ wings is offered in 35:1, which praises Allah “Who made the angel messengers having wings, twos or threes or fours” and “increases in creation what S/he wills.” The description is for the society of angels, a different type of contextual plural, and the numbers reference an infinite multitude of weddings, not of wives. Marry them to each other, amongst yourselves. The verb “marry” is not individually reflexive—it is societally reflexive.

It follows then the final circumstance 4:3 describes employs “wahid” to mean not just one but only—as in “one and only”—this circumstance: the circumstance in which a man has guardianship over a newly financially and familially marginalized woman. Any woman in this circumstance is the “only one” (as directly from the verse) he is allowed to marry. He cannot deal justly with orphans who have property, or with women toward whom he has no guardianship, so he can marry only women from whom he is expected to take responsibility. The recognition of “wahid” as operating as “only one circumstance” in 4:3 further supports “twos or threes or fours” as societally reflexive plurals. This happens again such as in verse 34:46, “seek truth in pairs and individually.”

The inclusion of “aw” (or) in “only one, or the responsibility possessing your right hands” operates as introducing the definition of the aforementioned noun. Take for example: “We saw the dancers, or women weaving through the air.” The latter part of the sentence following “or” defines dancer. In fact, in very previous paragraph, I was forced to repeat with in “He cannot deal justly with orphans who have property, or with women toward whom he has no guardianship,” to avoid grammatically defining orphans as “women toward whom he as no guardianship”: the latter is describing a different circumstance, not defining the first. In 4:3, the latter defines the former; otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to say a woman in just one circumstance, and then this other circumstance.

This is all very clear to me: the verse moves from orphans from whom men are not to take property; to women suitable by circumstance of familial and financial marginalization for men (societal plural) to marry; to women for whom men are responsible—women possessing the men’s right hands—and whose rights are familiar to their male guardians. Therefore the entirety of the verse remains intact in terms of context and its concern with addressing marginalized women especially in times of war. The verses emphasize justice toward women, and the feminine voice and interest is always centered to regulate male behavior.

This is the most immediate reading and easy to see. No one could read polygamy into these verses unless they really, really wanted to read polygamy into these verses, particularly since polygamy is described as humanly impossible in the remainder of the Qur’an. However, according to malestream scholars, polygamy was and is allowed in the following conditions: (1) when polygamy is used to relieve a substantial number of people living in poverty if the man who does so is able, in some sort of extravagant fantasy, to treat each wife equally and (2) some scholars are gracious enough to say woman is not forced into or to stay in marriage. When the Prophet’s daughter came to him and told him her husband wanted a second wife, the Prophet asked him not to marry again, because it would displease the Prophet’s daughter. This provides that a man cannot marry again if his wife won’t allow it.

Polygamy isn’t, however, is derived from the Qur’anic text, as I have shown. Men will pull verses to pieces for excuses: some have even suggested that polygamy is not only allowed but necessary in populations in which women outnumber men. The Qur’an simply says nothing about qualifying polygamy in societies where there are more women than men. It does, however, emphasize that men cannot deal justly with women because men are not God, despite whatever ideas they might have. In fact, verses 33:50-52 reluctantly permit the Prophet to marry women who ask to marry him and emphasize that “this is not for other believers” which further illustrates the meaning of haraam as sacred, and confirms that polygamy is in fact haraam.

This is clear, and would make nearly all polygamous marriages today Islamically unlawful. I realize there are women who are second wives in polygamous marriages who become very frustrated when no one believes that they’re happy or satisfied. I’m not making judgments on your happiness by finding it unlawful. When women aren’t abused, it’s none of my business. Rather, the source of permissibility for polygamy is not from the Qur’an. 4:3 states that orphans are to be given the entirety of their rightful properties, that men within a society are to marry financially and familially marginalized women in that society, and that men who cannot deal justly in either circumstance should only marry women in the (only one) circumstance in which they are responsible for these women.