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A genuine secular democracy would not be so insecure

By Keysar Trad - posted Friday, 9 May 2008

The “non-religionist’s” argument that his or her freedom is greater than the freedom of “a believer” never ceases to amaze me.

Two articles last week highlighted an issue relating to Islam that created debate and controversy, there is no surprise in this as most issues relating to Islam these days invoke highly emotive responses.

As accustomed as we Muslims have become to misunderstandings being generated in the media, quite often we are bewildered at the different standards in the cry for freedom.


For example, a person is free to say what they like about our faith, but we should not have the right to respond using peaceful means, even our attempts at correction are seen by some as an expression of fundamentalism. We are meant to grin and bear it and submit to a barrage of so called “experts” telling us what the faith that we have studied all our lives is really meant to say.

The debate in question relates to the teaching of the topic: “Women in Arabic and Islamic Literature”, by a lecturer whose PhD thesis we are told focused on “expressions of female sexuality and homoerotic desire in 9th-13th century Arabic literature”. I suppose that this is a study like any other: it is meant to add something to our academic heritage that is of value to some funding body that would be interested in sponsoring this field.

Simone De Beauvoir presented the Marquis de Sade’s philosophy in a completely different light and his sadistic life is the subject of academic study and research. However, his writings are not taught as an example of Christian literature, despite the fact that he was raised by his grandmother alongside her five daughters (his aunts) four of whom were nuns and during another period by his uncle who was a Catholic priest, after which he was then sent to a Jesuit school. It would be grossly unfair to pass off his writings as an example of either religious or French literature.

When we think of French literature, works like Marcel Proust’s Remembrances of Things Past is what springs to mind and when we speak of English literature, we do not reflect on Mills and Boone romance novels, but rather on Jane Austin and William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s dialogue between Brutus and Mark Anthony is even celebrated by the great Arabic writer Almanfalouty as one of the most eloquent discourses in human history (even when translated into Arabic).

Arabic literature has produced greats like the poet Almutanabby (a male) and Alkhansa` (a female who lived at the time of the prophet Mohammed - peace and blessings upon him), she was unrivalled in her poetry. I am sure that they also had sex lives and erotic desires, but their works were not famed for erotica. On the topic of desire, we have the poetry of Qays, for example, whose verse in praise of Layla is very widely quoted. Books have been written on his love for Layla, a love that never came to fruition and drove him into an infatuated type of insanity that produced some profound poetry.

He sang (roughly translated):


I visit the house, the House of Layla
Kissing this wall and that wall
Not for the love of the house
But of she who used to grace this house.

I cannot see the misogyny in this poem, all I can see is a brief articulation of experiences that practically every member of humanity goes through from time to time as we learn to grow through the pain of unrequited love.

If we move into Islamic literature to look for examples of women, one needs look no further than the Holy Koran, the words of God. The Koran has numerous references to women, some by name and some by reference to their position.

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About the Author

Keysar Trad is the spokesperson for the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia Inc. which he founded.

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