While I’d like to say that I’m shocked to hear that a Saudi Arabian cleric has issued a fatwa stating that Muslim families in the Kingdom should place burqas on their infant girls, I am not. What often gets forgotten in all the talk about unrest in the Middle East is how many radicals have either been born in Saudi Arabia, or have at least had long-standing associations with people there. And, of course, there is the financial connection between certain terrorist groups and activities and Saudi Arabia, most notably the trail of money that paid for the attacks on the Trade Center.
I am bringing up terrorism in this context, because more radical followers of Islam tend to engage in terrorism. It is to make a point about the cultural situation in Saudi Arabia. While there have been great strides toward modernization in this nation, there are still very strong and large groups that support what Westerners often view as conservative Islam. That’s a simplistic definition for the various sects that exist in Saudi Arabia, and is sufficient for most outside the Kingdom. To go deeper arguably requires either immersion in the culture, or extensive study into the history of both Islam and the regional politics.
As for this latest controversy, the Islamic establishment has been quick to point out that this fatwa is not necessary for the people to follow, and further, that it is counterproductive for Islam in general. Sheikh Abdullah Daoud made his comments on Saudi television, and while they were made a while ago, they have gone viral recently, due to turning up on YouTube. Of course, his argument was backed by unnamed medical and security sources that theoretically suggest that Saudi Arabian men cannot resist the temptation to molest infant girls. And that is the root of the outrage, from within the Kingdom, and throughout the world.
While it is slightly heartening to know that Sheikh Mohammed al-Jzlana, a former judge from the Saudi Board of Grievances, has come out publicly against this call to cover infants, the fact that it was brought up at all in the first place is disturbing. Claims of oppression against women throughout the Islamic world are rampant, and we have been given multiple examples of the uphill battle women face in these societies. We have been made starkly aware of the savagery that religious zealots in Islamic cultures are willing to mete out to enforce their dominance over women. And we have seen great courage in the face of it, in the form of a teenage girl that was shot in the head by the Taliban for being insolent enough to want to be educated. The words of Sheikh Mohammed al-Jzlana claiming that the sight of veiled children makes him sad are at least a little hollow in the face of all the injustices that are a way of life for women in his country.
As for reactions in the West, they are largely predictable – primarily focusing on the insanity, and additional injustice being levied against Saudi women. However, the Rev. Paul Begley focused on a much more disturbing concept in all of this. What precisely are the men of Saudi Arabia made of, that they need to be protected from the temptation to sexually violate infant girls? It is a valid question, and one that is at the root of why this misguided cleric is receiving fire from all directions, including his own colleagues in Saudi Arabia. Islam will remain a largely foreign philosophy and way of life to most Westerners. We are regularly accused of being controlled by islamophobia in our reactions to that faith, but when situations like this occur, our reticence to blindly accept Islam as remotely similar to Judeo-Christian faiths, in spite of any intersections in history we may share, is arguably justified. For now, we can only hope that the vast majority of people in Saudi Arabia choose to ignore this particular fatwa, and do not accept the assertion that the men of their nation are so utterly depraved that they cannot resist committing such atrocities as molesting infants.