Religions, Traditions, Cultures and Freedom
We all grow up with bias in the favor of our cultures, traditions, religions and ideologies. This is because we get only a certain perspective from our family, neighbors, friends, relatives, media and other information sources, and education systems. In simple words, we all wear glasses of a certain color and see the world in that color. In order to view the world in its natural and true colors, we must take off these glasses and get rid of that bias. First necessary step in this process is that we accept the existence of these glasses or the bias. Unless we are aware of this natural bias, that everyone of us has, and accept its existence and its effects on our thinking and approach, there is no way that we could be able to see the world in its true colors and analyse facts in a neutral way. I know, it is extremely hard to accept and declare the life long, hard and deep beliefs as biased and wrong, but this is an unavoidable step in the realization of truth, in its true and raw form. Trust me, if all of us were able to do that, our evolution would have been mush faster and we had no need to invent the wheel again and again. We would be much more set to learn from each others experiences, regardless of where they were coming from. This would have provided many more open minds and approaches, and majority of conflicts and disagreements would have bern resolved in no time, since most of our disputes, disagreements, arguments, fights and wars, originate from two or more people or groups insisting on their points of views, based on their pre-occupations and biases, inherited from their cultures, traditions, specific sects of knowledge and religions. This may be the only way to end wars, and the destruction caused by them.
We also have to get rid of fears, phobias and superstitions, generally and commonly instilled into us by traditions, cultures and religions. It is safe to say for any tradition, cultural norm or religious practice that billions of people in this world do not follow and practice it, and nothing happens to them. So, factually speaking, contrary to the beliefs instilled into us, nothing will happen to us to if we abandon those biased, non-factual beliefs and practices. In short, “That” does not happen to the billions of people when they do not do “this”.
Most religions came during the times when freedom was considered dangerous and it was believed that the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are sinful by nature and if provided with freedom, will lead to a great chaos. Particularly the women were considered as a route to hell, weak, less intelligent creatures with unreliable memory. That is why starting from the oldest religions, women were supposed to be subdued to men, and the sole purposes of their lives were to please their men, do household chores and raise the kids. Until recently, till the advent of secular revolutions, women were deprived of basic human rights like, work outside the home to make living, chose a partner under free will, own property and wealth, share in wills and even to testify in courts and to vote.
Women were so neglected that in most cases it’s very hard to find any historical records about women. They were simply not considered worthy of any historical recordings.
In Britain, though most women enjoy the rights almost same as men, major changes came along in 19th and 20th century. They ran households, raised kids, were nurses, mothers, wives, neighbors, teachers and friends, but very little is recorded about them in history.
In France women could not rule. In few cases when king was too young to rule they mediated the transfer of power from late husband to son, when he was grown enough. Women could not rule the church either. Women’s right to education was not accepted until 19th century and even then they were considered inferior intelligence to their brothers and their education was limited to levels inferior to their brothers. In most cases they were not allowed to leave home and were educated at home. They were not eligible for leadership positions and the purpose of their education was to enlighten their homes and love and serve God better.
In Japan, women’s history did not get any attention until 1945. Since then some accounts are made in this regard.
In Eastern Europe, no significant real work was done in women’s history until 1989 collapse of Socialism. Even after that it is very hard to find any reliable and authenticated records of women’s history.
In United States and Europe there was no concept of women’s rights until the beginning of 19th century. Feminist movement in 19th and 20th century played a great role in legally obtaining rights for women. It is also said that the advent of birth control pill in 1960 removed a big hurdle in women’s progress. It was because the so-called male sociologists, theologists, politicians and other men of influence and power always feared a flooding of “bastards” with women’s emancipation.
1870 U.S. Census published the first account of female labor force and hammered down many common beliefs. It showed that contrary to common belief women were 15% of total workforce and were employed in many perceivably masculine professions like iron and steel works (495), teamster (196), Turpentine laborer (185), brass founder / worker (102), shingle and lathe maker (84).
Although abortion has always existed in one form or the other, it was mostly considered bad and unethical, in most part of the world and by all religions. It was not until late 20th century when some countries started to legalize abortion.
Women were commonly considered cheerleaders for warriors and military. Historically they sang war songs for warriors, and physically and sexually entertained and rewarded them. This was such a common theme that legendary woman like Florence Nightingale died of Sexually transmitted diseases. A common ritual that the victorious and occupying militaries and militias did in past, and they still do, is to do a massive and public rape of the women from lost and occupied nations. Traditionally, as a souvenir, these women were, and are, raped in front of their fathers, brothers and sons. Japanese, organized brothels in occupied nations for their military, during world war 2.
Women’s social status for the most part was of second or third class citizens. They were mostly subjected to abide by the rules set forward by fathers and husbands.
For the most part Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Islāmic and Christian views have seriously neglected women as human beings. Interreligious marriages are still not accepted by most religious leaderships.
In China, the land was always equally distributed among boys, after the death of father. Thus women were always economically and financially dependent on men and had to accept whatever offered by men.
In India, the killing of female infants in smaller cities, towns and villages, and selective abortion of female babies in big cities, is still very common. Female child is still a huge taboo on mother and family. Girls are fed less than boys, get no or little education and denied of healthcare. Parents have to pay life savings in dowry to their husbands and women who do not bring enough dowry with them are killed by their husbands or mother-in-laws. Women usually eat leftover after men have finished eating. If women survives after the death of her husband, few of them are still being satteed, burned alive with their dead husbands. If they are not satteed, than they are considered bad luck, bidwa, for whole family. Re-marriage is impossible in most cases, even for the teen age widows. Widow’s head is shaved, she is put in white saree and detained in a room, where she is fed little leftover of a very limited variety of food. Since she is bad luck, she is grossly denied any human interaction, touch or even conversation. She is supposed to stay away from everyone, particularly children. Many fo them are kicked out of houses and forced to beg or to do prostitution for living. Some of them end up in shrines, ashrams or temples, where they have to beg or do rituals for small amount of food or money or have to keep pundits “happy’ for their survival and permissions to just stay there.
Recent studies are showing that divorce rates in China are skyrocketing, mainly, because of improved economic and financial status of women. They are refusing to accept the things as they are and men are not changing much.
In Arabia, women had no rights. Female infants were often buried alive. Some women owned property and worked, but mostly, specially if they were from a “good family”, they were not allowed to work and wealth was distributed among male children after the death of father. Women were always at the discretion of a man, whether it was father, husband, brother or son. They were always considered as a taboo for male members of the family and the thought that one day she is going to have husband, was killing for most male relatives. It was because they considered the sexual relationship of a women of their family, even if it was marriage, as a dishonor to themselves and because, they always had to respect her husband, didn’t matter what. Her husband was always supposed to have upper hand over her father and brothers.
All religions have a history that is equivalent to modern-day terrorism. Whether it was St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of French protestants, Sons of Freedom, a sect of Doukhobors anarchists in Canada, Nagalim for Christ in India, Provisional IRA in Ireland, Anti-Semitic Romanian Orthodox fascist movements in Romania, such as the Iron Guard and Lăncieri, Russian National Unity, a far right ultra-nationalist political party and paramilitary organization in Russia, Lord’s Resistance Army, a cult guerrilla in Uganda, white supremacist Ku Klux Klan members in the Southern United States or bombings of abortion clinics and doctors across the United States, Christian extremism and terrorism have been involved in it.
Asoka the great, a Buddhist king and one of the four biggest conquerors in human history, is well-known for genocide and mass murders of Hindus. Buddhist clergy’s efforts to convert Sri Lanka into a Buddhist Sinhalese state have led the country into fierce and long civil war.
Destruction of Athens by Persians, destruction of persian empire by Alexander the Great and rise of Sassanians from a Zoroaster temple by killing the local rulers and princes, one after the other, are other examples of it. When a victorious Sassanian king carves Naqsh-e-Rustam with a dead Parthian under his horse’s hooves, while Ahura Mazda being delivered by priest as a reward of his victory, the cruelty rules over weeping decency.
History has also recorded the suicide of Cleopatra VII and marc Antony after they were captured by Caesar Augustus and persecution of Egyptian Christians by Byzantine empire.
Egyptian Pharoah Ramesses ordered the killing of all Israeli first born men and a very large number of slaves were killed in the building of pyramids. Egyptian jamaat al-Islamiyya and Islāmic Jihad have often resorted to violence and assassinations, including the assassination of former Egyptian president Sadat.
Burning of Rome by Senones, creation of new churches by taking advantage of Pagan churches in Rome, Gothic wars in Italy and destruction of city of Carthage by Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus are other examples of it. It is said that from the formation of republic in Rome and up to Principate, the doors of temple of Janus were closed only twice, while opened doors meant that Rome was at war.
Conflicts and violence between Gush Emunim and Hamas in Israel and Palestine, Radical Muslim separatists and occupying Indian Army in Kashmir, radical conservative IRA and occupying British law enforcement, Radical separatists in Mindanao, Philipines and brutal military of Philipines, Al-Qaeda terrorists and occupying allied forces in Iraq, Taliban extremists and occupying allied forces in Afghanistan, genocides and mass murders in Darfur, Croatia and Serbia , murders of millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs at the time of partition of India, persecution of Parsis, Bhais and Ahmedis by Muslims, and 9-11 attacks on United States, all tell the similar stories of religious hate and violence resulting into killings and murders of innocent human beings.
Originally, Islam was not as radical as it seems today. There were certain things about women, that Muslims pioneered. Islam strictly forbidden the live burial of female infants and ordered muslims to treat women with respect. Women’s right to education was accepted. Women were not considered qualified for leadership positions, but they were considered eligible for Shoora (advice). Islam also stopped forcing women into marriage and declared marriage a contract between man and woman. Sex outside the marriage was strictly forbidden and the punishment for it was as harsh as being stoned to death. Historically, most men were able to get away with it and it was women who were mostly punished. Women’s Satr, parts of body needed to be covered was whole body except face, hands and feet, as opposed to men who were obligated to cover only between waist and knees. Women were not allowed to leave home without a mehram (first relative, excluding first cousins. Marriage with first cousins was, and is till allowed in most Muslim countries). Men were allowed to have up to four marriages while women could not have more than one husband at a time. Women were allowed put a clause in marriage contract that might have stopped men to have more than one wife at a time, but this was rarely practiced due to wide availability of women who would not insist on having this clause in contract. Men were allowed to divorce within a period of three months and could not have the sexual relationship with the wife they were divorcing during that period. Women had the right to Khula’, a provision to get divorced by the approval of court. Women were allowed to have certain segregated professions like teaching, nursing, religious and government advisory and even business.
Mohammed implemented a highly controversial and imperial policy with neighboring states, “accept Islam, pay Jazyah (protection tax) or get ready for war”. He attacked and conquered neighboring states like Mecca and habshah (Ethiopia). The women were not qualified as soldiers, but they participated as nurses, cooks, water and food providers and suppliers and cheer leaders. The function of cheerleaders was to sing war songs and encourage men to fight and sacrifice their lives for God. Enemy women captured as prisoners of wars were distributed among warriors as londies (female slaves). Their masters were allowed to have sexual relationship with them. Kids born in these forced relationships had all the rights that a kid from a marriage would have. Female participants of war were not eligible for any male slaves. Slavery was condemned, but allowed. Male masters were allowed to have sexual relationship with female slaves, female masters were not allowed to have sexual relationship with their male slaves. All forms of homosexuality were subject to stoning to death.
Since marriage is contract in Islam some muslim scholars went as far as that multiple marriages were allowed to women, as well, if they could find men who were ready to share them with each other. This was hardly ever practiced, though.
Mohammed married eleven women. He never did Muta’ (temporary marriage) but allowed it for his followers. This is considered as the first form of sexual freedom allowed by a major religion. According to this religious principle, unmarried men and married men, while away from their wives for a certain period of time were allowed to do a temporary marriage for a mutually agreed time. This period would have been as little as one night. There had to be four witnesses, as for a regular marriage in Islam and any adult man, anywhere, could declare them husband and wife for the agreed time. Kids born in Muta’ had exactly same rights as the kids from a regular marriage. Even for the regular marriage in Islam a priest is not required and any male adult could be a Qazi (magistrate) and declare the couple husband and wife. Man had to pay mehr (agreed amount of money) to bride, just like regular marriage in Islam. Muta’ was supposed to be automatically nullified after the agreed period of time expired and both men and women were freed from each other. Men could do another Marriage or Muta’ right away, women were not allowed to marry or do Muta’ for at least three months. This three-month restriction for women, Iddat, was applicable after divorce too. Some muslim scholars have maintained that this prohibitive period for women was enforced to avoid the disputes of paternity and is not applicable after the availability of DNA testing.
Islam took a huge, radical turn during the second caliph, Umar. While frequently quoted to be against attacking other nations and countries, Umar ambitiously and brutally implemented Muhammad’s imperial policy of “accept Islam, pay Jazyah (protection tax) or get ready for war”. He attacked and conquered super powers of his time Rome and Farris (Iran), among several others and extended Muslim empire to a great extent. He was truly radical and contrary to the belief of most conservative muslim scholars, amended many teachings of Quran and Muhammad, always with a so-called religious excuse, though.
He banned Muta’. The reason for that was that many muslin men were avoiding marriage and just relying on Muta’. Many muslim women made muta’ a permanent profession and lived on Mehr (agreed amount of money paid by men) earned from Muta’ and avoided marriage, which he didn’t like. The excuse he gave was that Muhammad in his life banned it, but was not able to appropriately propagate this ban due to his death. Several close Sahabah (companions of Muhammad) disagreed. They included Ali, the first cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed, who was raised with Muhammad, because Muhammad’s father and Muhammad paternal uncle, Abu Talib, took care of Muhammad after the death of his parents. Ali was widely considered as the most knowledgeable person in Muslims and Muhammad himself honored him by saying, “I am ( Muhammad ) the city of knowledge and Ali is its door”.
Umar issued and forcefully implemented the decree of purdah. According to this decree, Muslim women were required to cover and hide whole body, including face, hands and feet, which were excluded by Muhammad. Umar was very short-tempered and was known to regularly beat his wives and allowed Muslims to do that, too. As per his decree, a non-mehram (anyone who was not first relative. First cousins were not considered first relatives) was not supposed to even hear the voice of a woman or the sound of her bangles. He ordered women that the non-mehrams must not even smell their perfume. Their were serious implications for women who did not strictly follow those new laws and were considered violated and hence not qualified for a free and respectable man for the rest of their lives. In several cases of Zina (sex outside the bond of marriage) he ordered Hud (the extreme limit of stoning to death) on accused women only, and let men go away for the lack of evidence, in the absence of four eye witnesses. Four eye witnesses are an absolute need for the implementation of Hud (punishment of Zina). That is why many muslim scholars believe that the stoning to death is for stupidity and not for sex outside the body of marriage, because it is applicable only if it was done in the presence of four eye witnesses.
Umar’s radical laws are final for conservative and radical Sunni Ulema (scholars), who constitute the wide majority of muslim scholars. Shia scholars who consider the first three caliphs, including Umar as illegitimate, because they believe that caliphate was supposed to run in Muhammad’s family (Ahlul Bait or people of house) and Ali (his son-in-law) was his true heir and his right to caliphate was stepped over by first three caliphs. Ali who finally became fourth caliph is the only acceptable caliph for Shias. Most Shias still do not accept and follow the Umar’s radical laws about women’s Purdah (hiding whole body, voice, sound and smell from everyone except first relatives) and Muta’. But Shias follow another very controversial and dangerous Muslim tradition, which was abandoned by other Muslims and Sunnis, because it was later considered as a lie and eception. It is called as Taquiyyah (hiding faith under necessity). Sunnis believe that it was allowed only for spying purposes and to avoid brutal persecution of Muslims in Mecca and should be avoided to the best even under those circumstances. In Shias, Taquiyyah is totally under persons discretion and one can hide his faith under any circumstances that he or she considers are requiring for it.
In short, while, like the followers of any other religion, you will find a complete spectrum of people, ranging from extreme right, radical and fundamentalist conservatives to extreme left, totally liberal people, there has always existed, and still exists, the idea of world-wide Muslim caliphate that seriously restricts freedom of thought, speech and action. These extremists interpret Jihad (Literal meaning struggle) as struggle with sword or weapons or simply war against infidels or non-believers and for them everyone except conservative Muslims are non-believers. They hate liberal Muslims, as well.
It is really noteworthy here that Human Genome project has found that 99.5% genes of all human beings are similar and the differences and dissimilarities account for only o.5%. In simple words all human beings are 99.5% similar and only 0.5% different. In other words if you pick any two human beings from this planet, they will be 99.5% similar and only 0.5% different, at the most. Do you realize, how much emphasis, many of us, have on this 0.5% difference and how much the 99.5% similarities are overlooked? Isn’t it criminal or what? Isn’t it, in true sense, that brother is killing brother? And rother hates his brother? There a popular saying in Urdu and Hindi that color of everyone’s blood is same! How true!! My gosh!!!