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Saturday, December 2, 2006

Memo to Grand Imam Tantawi


To: Grand Imam Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

From: God

Dear worshiper Mohamed Tantawi,

I'm writing concerning what you stated in the latest issue of Sout El Azhar (The Voice of Al Azhar) newspaper. To be very frank with you my dear worshiper, I was very troubled by what you said because you didn't just state absurd words, you literally put them in my mouth. Therefore, I've decided to set aside a few minutes from my busy daily schedule and pen down this letter to you.

First, before telling you how you bothered me, let me just reiterate that I am really fond of you my worshiper Tantawi. Even though you're a poodle of the regime that appointed you, I'm still pleased by your manners, soft spokeness, and moderation in several religious issues. And you sure know I love moderates. They make me look less insane. However, what you stated in this newspaper might make me change my mind about you.

My angel Gabriel brought me the latest issue of Sout el Azhar. I held it up and my jaws literally dropped when my eyes fell on the main  red headline (see below). My jaws dropped Tantawi. You managed to drop the jaws of Allah. Congratulations!

"The Grand Imam: the hijab of the Muslim woman is a divine obligation. She who fails in implementing it will be penalized by God," the paper's main headline read.

You know Tantawi, two things I really hate: sin and people putting words in my mouth. You just did the former. You didn't just put words in my mouth, but you've turned me into something which I'm not.

The lunatic orthodox Jewish settler who lives in the West Bank and used to live in Gaza turned me into a foolish god who keeps on making Palestinians yet denies them any piece of land to live on. The Coptic Christian turned me into someone who's in a blood feud with divorced people and this poor Christian lady who has to wait till her husband sleeps with another woman in order to get a divorce and escape his abuse. Osama Bin Laden turned me into a mass murderer. And you just turned me into a cruel nutbag. A cruel nutbag who punishes girls and women for not covering their hair. 

First, you can rest assured my worshiper Tantawi, I don't, as you've stated, punish women for not covering their hair. I thought common sense should have made it easier for you to fathom this fact. Apparently, it has not.

Look at the earth, the stars, the moon, the galaxy, the seas, the rivers, the mountains, the flowers, your own internal organs, I don't think they make me look so cruel, I don't think they make me look so dumb. I don't punish women for not covering their hair. I am not that sexually frustrated my dear worshiper Tantawi.

Second, since I stated what common sense entails, allow me to turn to the three verses in the Quran you and others use in order to brainwash girls into believing that me wants them to cover their hair and me would throw them in hell if they showed up at my doorstep with uncovered hair.

Before doing so though I would like to challenge you with something. Show me where in the Quran the word "hijab" means a "hair cover". Show me the verse where I said in the Quran that a hijab is a piece of cloth women put on their heads. I'll give you my throne in heaven and appoint you God if you showed me this my dear worshiper Tantawi.

If you searched the Quran from cover to cover, you won't find a single verse indicating that the word "hijab" refers to something women cover their hair with. In fact, "hijab" means a "barrier", "something that separates". A paravan in your house is a hijab, the total cover of a woman (Taliban style) is a hijab, the hair cover that leaves the face uncovered is not. As a result, you can't use the word "hijab" in naming the thing women cover their hair with today. Using this word would contradict the Quran.

Now, let's turn to the first among the three verses in the Quran you Muslim preachers down there have been using in messing up my girls' minds.

Verse 1: (Al Ahzab 33:53, Yusuf Ali Translation)

O ye who believe! Enter not the Prophet's houses,- until leave is given you,- for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited, enter; and when ye have taken your meal, disperse, without seeking familiar talk. Such (behaviour) annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you, but Allah is not ashamed (to tell you) the truth. And when ye ask (his ladies) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen (in Arabic: hijab): that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs. Nor is it right for you that ye should annoy Allah's Messenger, or that ye should marry his widows after him at any time. Truly such a thing is in Allah's sight an enormity.

The above verse indicates the etiquette of visiting my prophet Mohamed in his house. Visitors were not encouraged to linger for long after their finish their meals, they were ordered to speak to his wives from behind a screen (i.e a paravan), and they were not to marry them after the passing away of the prophet due to the special status they all had.

These rules and etiquette are definitely quite strange by today's standards but they were not so by the standards of the year 630 AD in the sun burned desert of the Arabian peninsula. Trust me my dear worshiper, things were very very different 1,400 years ago! 

Now, let's look at the part where the male followers of the prophet were asked not to speak to his wives unless from behind a screen. You will notice two things. One, it's very clear that the screen (or hijab) here was something that separated the ladies from the men who wanted to talk to them. In other words, the men were not allowed to see the wives at all, not a single atom of them. Imam Abu Abdullah Al-Qurtubi in his interpretation of the Quran explained why I revealed this Quranic verse. Umar Ibn Khattab once told the prophet: "prophet of God, the righteous and the sinner enter the room where your wives are present. Order your wives to get "hijabed" (block their sight by the use of a screen/hijab)". And thus the verse of the hijab was revealed.

The second obvious thing is the fact that this verse was dealing with the prophet's wives only. The entire verse was on what to do when invited to the prophet's house (where his wives were present), what to do when you want to talk to his wives, and what should happen if the prophet passed away. It was not a verse to be applied by all Muslim women. And again I reiterate, such rulings were understandable 1,400 years ago in the Arabian desert. See this number: 1,400. 1,400 years my dear worshiper Tantawi.

Well, one smart ass (excuse my divine French) might say: aren't Muslim women supposed to follow what the prophet's wives did? Well, fine with me! Then these women have to be completely blocked from the sight of men. That means that a paravan should be built in each house barring male visitors from seeing the female inhabitants, and if they decided to leave their homes, women should be either inside vehicles with dark tinted windows or a Taliban style burqa.

Since the above is literally impossible unless the Taliban ruled the entire Muslim world, we can now deduce that this verse did not refer in any way to the piece of cloth women put on their heads today.

Verse 2: (Al Nour 24:31, Yusuf Ali Translation)

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.

There is a mistranslation in the above verse. Yusuf Ali used the word "veil" to translate the arabic word of "khymar" which is the large all encompassing gawn women used to wear in the Arabian desert. As we've stated above, in the Quran, the word veil or hijab denotes a physical object ( house paravan, burqa) that prevents men from seeing women. And it was only prescribed for the prophet's wives.

So what was this verse really refering to? According to Qurtubi's interpretation, women back then in 630 AD used to wear these  khymars and throw the majority of the attire over their backs thus leaving the chest area evident. This verse orders women to cover their chest area, their breasts area, their bosom. In other words, it's a verse calling for modesty (by 630 AD's standards) and not an explicit order to cover the hair because a woman can dress modestly without essentially covering her hair.

This verse was only revealed in order to correct a wrong habit women in 7th century Arabia used to do. It's not an order to put today's piece of cloth on heads. Believe me, if I wanted women to cover their hair, I would have straightforwardly said so in the Quran instead of leaving people such as yourself misinterpret verses that were revealed for something completely different.

Now, another smart ass (again excuse my divine French) might say: see women used to cover their hair. Of course they did. They were in the desert you prick. Men and women used to cover their heads because that was what the environmental conditions entailed. Bedouin men cover their heads even today. Besides, you don't have to follow every thing the inhabitants of 7th century Arabia used to do. They used to own slaves, even the Quran itself sanctions the owning of slaves because that was the norm back then, do we, ops I mean you, own slaves today??

Verse 3: (Al Ahzab 33:59)

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Again this verse was meant to correct or address a condition that was present back then. Women used to go to the toilet in the open air in the middle of the desert due to the unavailability of private bathrooms in their houses. When these women were doing their thing, bad men used to come and harass them thinking they were slaves or loose women. This verse commands women to cover themselves so they would be known and thus avoid being molested. So the verse was mainly a way to separate the "free women" from the slaves who were more prone to be subject to harassment.

Now, since the reason for this verse is no longer present today, women are definitely not required to get covered. Today you have toilets in your homes and there are no slaves anymore.

What I'm explaining above is very evident in the following hadith (saying of the prophet)

Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 4, Number 148:

The wives of the Prophet used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place (near Baqia at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night. 'Umar used to say to the Prophet "Let your wives be veiled," but Allah's Apostle did not do so. One night Sauda bint Zam'a the wife of the Prophet went out at 'Isha' time and she was a tall lady. 'Umar addressed her and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda." He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of "Al-Hijab"

Notice the words "Allah's Apostle did not do so". The prophet asked his wives to don the cover only after he noticed the "toilet problem". In other words, if this problem didn't exist, I would have not revealed such a verse. And again, notice how the word "hijab" in the above hadith refers to something that makes a woman unrecognizable. Umar recognized Sauda because she was not wearing the hijab. Therefore, the silly piece of cloth you want women to wear is NOT a hijab my dear worshipper Tantawi. It's a silly piece of cloth you and your likes have invented.

All the above should teach you something my dear worshiper Tantawi: always read the Quran within its historical context. The overall message of the Quran is eternal, yet there are details, such as the above verse, that should be taken within their respective historical contexts.

The issue of historical context is very crucial Tantawi. By taking the historical context of a religious text into consideration, you won't end up making such absurd statements like the ones you made in Sout El Azhar. And when you quit making absurd statements and passing insane judgments, I'll end up being a wise smart god. Because, seriously, I manifest myself on earth through you people, and you alone can make me sane and you alone can turn me into a lunatic. Please make me sane my dear worshiper Tantawi. 

I hope I have made things a little bit more clearer for you. It's up to you whether you want to preach what I just explained in this memo or continue to maintain the status quo so not to rock the Muslim world's stagnant, very stagnant, boat.

If you'll decide to do the former, then please don't involve me in whatever you say. Tell these poor girls that they should cover their hair, just don't tell them I'll punish them if they didn't do so. Don't involve me, don't speak on my behalf.

Best regards,



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