In the Footsteps of the Prophet is a long-needed biography of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that focuses on his character, manners and experience, rather than merely narrating dates and facts.
Many classical Islamic books are somewhat out-of-touch for modern readers, so that while they may have been satisfactory to their original (often Middle Eastern) readers, when translated into English they end up being unapproachable and highly inadequate, often leading to more questions than answers. In the Footsteps of the Prophet, having been written by someone who lives and breathes the Western worldview, lacks these shortcomings, so that I can refer Europeans to it without having to make apologies for it.
On embracing faith
From the outset, the Quran presents itself as the mirror of the universe. The term that the first Western translators rendered as “verse”-referring to biblical vocabulary-literally means, in Arabic, “sign” (ayah). Thus, the revealed Book, the written text, is made up of signs (ayat) just as the universe, like a text spread out before our eyes, is teeming with signs. When the heart’s intelligence, and not only analytical intelligence, reads the Quran and the world, then the two texts address and echo each other, and each of them speaks of the other and of the One. The signs remind us of what it means to be born, to live, to think, to feel, and to die.
His writing style creates vague clouds of meanings and feelings, and it is often left as an exercise to the reader to make out anything concrete from what he says. This is very much unlike my own style, but perhaps there is a demographic that finds better meaning in his. What he is saying above is that the Quran provides various pointers (rather than conclusive proofs) of the Creator’s existence and presence, and the universe around us also provides its own pointers (rather than conclusive proofs). When you bring together the total of the Quran’s pointers and the universe’s pointers, your conscience (what he refers to as your heart’s intelligence) is offered the very difficult choice of accepting faith or rejecting it.
When you run into sufficient ayat in yourself, in the world around you, and in the Quran, you reach a point where non-submission to the Creator becomes a sin against your conscience. This is the sin of kufr (disbelief), of denying God’s signs and/or favors.
Throughout your life, your conscience is like a jury watching a trial that tries to decide whether God exists or not. Sign after sign is presented to your conscience, never sufficient to conclusively prove to your rational brain that God exists, but never so little that you can deny those signs in good conscience. Once you have seen sufficient signs, you will feel guilty to deny God, because you have done something that goes against your conscience. Even if you can rationally justify your rejection of God, the guilt may never leave.
As for someone who has never seen sufficient signs, that is a different matter.
The super-humanity or not of the Prophet ﷺ
Ramadan embraces the idea that there was something special (super-human) about the Prophet ﷺ, narrating a few stories like the angels visiting him when he was a child and performing surgery on him to remove a black piece of flesh from his heart, in this way purifying him from something bad that other human hearts supposedly contain. The Egyptian scholar Muhammad al-Ghazali in his Fiqh al-Sīra rejects this story, saying that good and evil are a matter of the spirit, not the flesh.
The story is problematic because it suggests there is some inherently evil within humans, embedded right in their flesh, reminiscent of the Christian concept of original sin. This story is just one example of the myriad stories in books of sīra (biographies of the Prophet ﷺ) suggesting that the Prophet ﷺ was special, something more than human. The Christians turned Jesus into God, and Muslims would probably have done the same, out of love and a desire for a human divinity that wasn’t so terrifying as God, if the Quran wasn’t so insistent that God has no associates and wasn’t so critical of the idea of Jesus as a Son of God.
While we may not be able to conclusively say that there is was nothing specially super-human about the Prophet ﷺ, a truly human Prophet is far more admirable than a super-human Prophet in reality. What’s so special about bearing a burden if you are given super-powers by God to bear it? And resisting evil while desiring it is a greater accomplishment, as in the case of Prophet Yusuf (biblical Joseph), than resisting it after God sends angels to perform surgery on you to make you a better person.
The beautiful story the Quran tells us is that the Prophet was a human just like any of us, and that he was given a terribly difficult mission that terrified him. He had to bear this burden with all of his fears and weaknesses, he had to face humiliation after humiliation among his relatives and tribe, and he had to face death on numerous occasions, not as a super-man who couldn’t be harmed, but as a fragile human who could suffer, who could fear, who could desire, who could be impatient, who could make terrible mistakes.
Say, “I am nothing more than a human being like you, being inspired that your god is One God. Whoever hopes to meet his Lord, let him work righteousness, and never associate anyone with the service of his Lord.” (The Quran 18:110)
God did not tell the Prophet to say, “All humans are equal, but I am more equal than you.” He is told to say “I am nothing more than a human being”. That is it. There is no need to turn him into a super-man and in this way take away his achievements as a human.
In the Footsteps of the Prophet contains only a few such stories, which makes it superior to other books of sīra.
Sufficient evidence is not presented to show why the relationship between Aisha and the Prophet was special and exemplary, a claim that the book makes in multiple places. The issue of Aisha’s age is not addressed, and for someone who has this in mind while reading the relevant passages, nothing presented sufficiently justifies things (see my article here for the views of the latest scholars who say that there is good evidence that Aisha was close to 18 at the time of her marriage). He mentions that the Prophet ﷺ “stayed away” from Aisha for a month after she was accused of adultery, then mentions that this event “reinforced their love and trust”. But this claim is not convincing when no evidence is presented for it, and in fact evidence is provided that it harmed their relationship.
The very important spiritual side of this matter is not mentioned. This was an intensely difficult lesson for the Prophet ﷺ, for he had not received guidance on what to do in the case of someone being accused without evidence being presented. Since the person accused was his own wife, and since he had no specific guidance on the matter, he could do nothing but suffer. He did not dare interact with his wife, not knowing whether her status as his wife was valid anymore.
Mentioning these facts would have shown that his abandoning her for a month was not an him throwing away his wife until she was proven innocent, as it would appear to a critical reader. Both in this book and Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time, the focus on the Prophet’s persona and his sociopolitical status sometimes causes the fact of his servitude toward God to be neglected. In the issue of Aisha’s accusation, he was a helpless servant of God, not knowing what to do to please Him.
Later it is mentioned that Aisha remained upset with the fact that the Prophet had doubted her chastity. Her mother asks her to thank the Prophet ﷺ for forgiving her and taking her back, but she says she will only thank God, since the Prophet ﷺ had doubted her. This, while seemingly a negative fact, is a good illustration of the fact that she maintained her independence of mind and did not act as an intellectual slave to her husband, but considered him a human that could be challenged.
Sufficient justification for the war on Khaybar is not mentioned: the fact that it continuously sought to pay Arab tribes to go to war with the Muslims, hoping to remain the supreme Jewish power over the gentiles of Arabia, the way Israel today hopes to remain the supreme Jewish power over the gentiles of the Middle East, and using one group of gentiles to do their dirty work for them against another group while they themselves remained safe in their fortresses, the way today they get Christians to fund and fight Israel’s wars for them.
The Prophet’s manners
As mentioned, the book approaches the Prophet ﷺ as a human to be understood and emulated, and many examples are shown of his immense kindness, tolerance and civility toward both his followers and his sworn enemies. While on the whole the image of the Prophet ﷺ presented by the book is believable, there are also passages like the following which appear to insert too much of the author’s own reading into the character of Prophet ﷺ:
The Messenger, moreover, drew from children his sense of play and innocence; from them he learned to look at people and the world around him with wonder. From watching children experience beauty he also more fully developed his sense of aesthetics: in front of beauty, he wept, he was moved, he sometimes sobbed, and he was often filled with well-being by the poetic musicality of a phrase or by the spiritual call of a verse offered by the Most Generous, the Infinitely Beautiful.
It would have helped if these characteristics were backed by concrete examples. We have no evidence that this is not merely how Ramadan wishes the Prophet ﷺ to have been.
In the Footsteps of the Prophet is a book I would recommend to anyone wanting to get something of an accurate view of Islam’s founder, a view that is neither harshly critical or fawningly uncritical piece of marketing. It shows the Prophet ﷺ as those who know the most about him see him, and I cannot give it a higher praise than this.
A non-Muslim may naturally be skeptical of a book, written by a Muslim, that offers such a seemingly charitable glimpse of the Prophet. Muslims have everything to gain if non-Muslims see the founder of their religion in a more friendly light. To that I will say that this is the Prophet ﷺ as Muslims see him. There are no dark secrets. If someone says that the Prophet said or did something horrible, we reject it. The Prophet’s character, as his wife Aisha said, “was the Quran”. We think of the Prophet as a follower of the Quran, someone who did his utmost to embody its teachings, and if someone makes a claim about the Prophet that is highly out of character for him as a person who lived and breathed the Quran, then we reject that claim regardless of where it comes from.
This is a simple matter of giving weight to more reliable evidence (the Quran) over less reliable evidence (hadith). If the more reliable evidence gives you one view of the Prophet, and the less reliable evidence gives you another one, if you are a rational human, you will prefer the view arrived at through the more reliable evidence, and this is what we Muslims do, and this is what In the Footsteps of the Prophet does. Those who have an ax to grind against Islam ignore the reliable evidence and waste their time building an alternate-reality version of the Prophet ﷺ based on less reliable evidence, a version of the Prophet that goes entirely against the Quranic view. What they say about the Prophet, therefore, is automatically rejected, since they intentionally ignore the most important evidence (the Quran) and instead focus on secondary evidence that confirm their preconceived biases.
A fair-minded person should therefore see that what In the Footsteps of the Prophet does is exactly what we Muslims do in trying to arrive at an accurate understanding of the Prophet ﷺ; we use the canonical, Quranic view to make sense of a world of secondary evidence of varying authenticity to reach a good enough understanding of the Prophet’s mind and character.
I read this book as part of my reading of all available material on Ahmad Moftizadeh. It is a short book of a little over 100 pages. Below I will mention some of the ideas and quotations I found interesting.
Regarding education, he says that the best way to raise Muslim children is for the parents to be good, spiritual Muslims, meaning that teaching them technical things about Islam is of secondary importance. Sending your child off to Quran school while they are treated with disrespect and abuse at home is not going to turn them into good Muslims. Their main idea about Islam will come from their parents and the rest of the people they see around them who are supposedly Muslim.
O God, if possible, place all the troubles of this world on my shoulders so that no on else may suffer.
The above is an expression of his love for humanity and his willingness to suffer and die for people’s sake. His unconditionally loving attitude toward people was perhaps the greatest reason why he attracted so many devoted followers.
Changing society is secondary and is a consequence of changing individuals. it is individuals that must first be changed.
The purest state of humanity is childhood. The purest human is a child. It is children who most deserve to be served and taken care of.
I am not sold on this idea, because an adult is just a child into whom decades of effort have been poured. When the time comes to decide between allocating resources to children versus adults, who should be given preference? Moftizadeh suggests it is the child, but I don’t see this as a clear choice. Serving an adult so that they can become productive members of society can make it more likely that children will be served.
Taking faith away from people is like taking instincts away from animals.
Meaning that without faith, humans will be as lost as animals would be without their instincts.
The Quran, for a person's spiritual livelihood is similar to the earth for a person's material livelihood.
Meaning that the same way that the earth sustains us materially, the Quran sustains us spiritually.
I swear to God, in all honesty and frankness, that true faith in God cannot exist in the heart of someone until that heart loves the poor.
The first pillar of religious activism is the love of the poor.
When a Muslim's past is not burdened with sins and disobedience of God, their eyes do not become veiled by delusion and they know that God continues to love them.
Meaning that when hardship strikes, a person who is close to God will not think badly of God and think that He dislikes them and enjoys punishing them.
Chon u La Kwewa Dast Pe Bkain (“How and From Where Do We Begin?”) is a 170-page Kurdish book based on interviews with Ahmad Moftizadeh done after he was released from prison (and soon before his death) and perhaps some of his writings.
It provides an overview of his thinking processes regarding various matters, especially the proper form of conduct for those who want to emulate his way. The information is often scattered and no formal approach program or vision is presented. Moftizadeh’s approach has generally been like the Prophet’s ﷺ, offering guidance as situations presented themselves, rather than sitting down to build systems for people to follow.
On the question of political work, he offers some guidance on the issues that his own movement had, without doing a formal analysis, and saying that different people at different times and places can reach their own conclusions regarding the best modes of action when doing Islamic political work. He strongly criticizes the political partisanship practiced by so many Islamist groups. In his view (and mine, too) matters of the heart take precedence, so that a Muslim who uses partisan thinking to attack another Muslim has automatically lost the way of wisdom. He also mentions that a key source of corruption within Islamic movements is when individuals seek power within the movement.
My key discovery regarding political Islam has been that Islamic movements must never seek power. His ideas are close to this, and his movement (Maktab Quran) does not seek power, but he does not clearly state it. In his thinking, it is apparent that he hasn’t arrived at this conclusion, thinking that at certain times and places, once a certain stage of growth has been reached, groups of Muslim can engage in political partying and do more good than harm.
He mentions that one of the biggest proofs the truth of Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood ﷺ is that his wife believed in him immediately. A wife knows her husband of many years better than most people. She knows his weaknesses and flaws. If she had known him to be untrustworthy, or known him to have significant flaws, she wouldn’t have supported him in bringing about a new ideology that totally opposed her culture.
And after her, his closest friends also believed in him quickly, even though he didn’t have any proof to offer them except a few verses of the Quran. Again, this shows the immense amount of trust these people had in him.
He is asked about his opinion on certain luminaries of the 20th century Islamic revival, such as Maududi and Qutb, and is asked why he does not refer to them often, and is asked whether he somehow disapproves of them or dislikes them like some people have suggested.
He says that loves Qutb’s message and considers him far greater than himself, and mentions a few lines of poetry he had written in which the word “Qutb” is used both metaphorically and as a reference to Sayyid Qutb.
He says that he does not have a very good memory for crediting ideas and sayings to their authors, so that he uses what he has learned from these men without saying it is from them. He also says that due to his business with social and political work throughout his active (pre-prison) life, that he did not have time to read too much, often taking ideas from other people.
A large part of the book is dedicated to clarifying the concept of tazkiyah (which could be translated as “spiritual cultivation”), which in Moftizadeh’s view takes precedence over instruction. Instruction is merely the the transfer of information from a person to another, while in Moftizadeh’s view, Islamic education should focus on tazkiyah, imparting on people a subconscious appreciation for Islamic manners and ways of thinking. Instruction is the transfer of information, tazkiyah is the transfer of character, and far more important.
He does his best to clarify what he has in mind regarding the difference between tazkiyah and mere instruction, using the example of Prophet Muhammad. To perform tazkiyah is to provide for people the subtle guidance and encouragement for them to become spiritually uplifted. To merely instruct people, the way it is done in various Islamic education systems, without focusing on imparting character, is going to do little good and has little affinity to the Prophet’s method of instruction.
Discrediting the madrasa
A large part of Moftizadeh’s thinking regarding Islamic education is to discredit the classical system that taught various technical topics without giving a thought to the cultivation of character, creating insincere clerics who did their Islamic work as a job without their hearts and souls being in it, and causing people to consider Islam something irrelevant to their daily lives, similar to government.
He is also equally critical of Sufis who cut themselves off from society and allowed Islam’s highly dynamic, highly activist message to be lost.
Moftizadeh and I agree on considering Islam an activist movement rather than just a religion, and I think he would agree with this principle of mine:
No Muslim's faith is complete if he or she is not an anti-poverty activist.
To me any Muslim leader who is not seriously worrying about and planning against poverty is either a hypocrite or a highly ignorant person, and in both cases is not worth following (he may, of course, have useful technical knowledge.)
Love and dawa
One of Moftizadeh’s key teachings is that a crucial part of spiritually uplifting others (whether those others are religious or not) is to treat everyone with kindness (mehrabani) and love, and to joke with people and talk to them in a way that reaches them (one would call it “building rapport” today).
Talking about “reaching people” is quickly misinterpreted by many (Muslims and non-Muslims) as a way for advocating for clever manipulation tactics for converting people to Islam.
There are two types of dawa (“inviting people to Islam”). One of them spends time and money on increasing the number of Muslims, and creates semi-missionaries who encourage people to embrace Islam using various tactics. The other type of dawa is to embody Islam, to live the Quran.
To me religion is a very personal thing, and any effort to connect with the hearts of other people with an aim in mind (to make them Muslim) is automatically dishonest.
To me, and more or less to Sayyid Qutb, Moftizadeh, and Tariq Ramadan , our mission is to love and to be kind, to do good in this world, to help people find a better way when they are stuck one way or another, without ever having the goal of turning them into one thing or another, treating their dignity and privacy with the utmost respect.
Religion and spirituality is a very personal matter, and it is highly disrespectful (not to mention awkward, and futile) to barge into people’s lives and try to convert them.
Proper dawa is goal-less. You do not make someone your “project” and try to finish this project by converting them. You, instead, treat everyone with love, kindness and empathy, while also embodying the rest of Islam in your daily life. Our interactions with non-Muslims must never be on the basis of hopefully one day converting them to Islam, this always leads to short-term minded, power-seeking behavior. Any kindness and empathy we show them must be given freely, selflessly, without expecting anything in return, and this means without expecting any return of the favor, or any added friendliness from them toward us and our religion.
We practice Islam and in this way show people what it is. They can take it or leave it.
I also feel that any money spent on converting non-Muslims to Islam is far better spent on eliminating poverty and educating those who are already Muslim, and especially new converts. In my view anyone who converts to Islam should automatically be given a monthly zakat stipend by their local mosque (if they are not wealthy), to make them feel like they belong to a community that cares about their well-being.
Conflicts of Fitness: Islam, America, and Evolutionary Psychology by A.S. Amin is a highly original examination of the dynamics of gender and sexuality within Western societies on the one hand, and within Islamic societies on the other.
As someone who has been working on reconciling Islam and evolutionary theory and on developing a post-feminist theory of human sexual dynamics, I hardly expect most books to tell me anything I haven’t already heard or thought about, but this book manages it. It is a short and enjoyable read that sticks to the facts and does not often try to force an interpretation on them, which will make it agreeable to people coming from differing backgrounds and ideological currents.
The author’s main thesis is that different societies have different reproductive climates designed to maximize reproductive success. In a short-term climate, like that of most of the United States, human evolutionary instincts drive men to do their best to have sex with as many women as possible while not caring very much about a woman’s virginity and past sexual experiences. As for women, the climate drives them to display sexual receptivity through makeup, dress and manners designed to encourage men to think of them in sexual terms.
On the other hand, in a very-long-term climate like Saudi Arabia, men maximize reproductive success not by trying to have as many short-term relationships as possible, but by maximizing paternity confidence. Saudi Arabian seek virginal women so that they can be assured their children are theirs, and they go to extremes to ensure this; marrying very young women and preventing women from leaving the house, getting an education or a career.
This way of looking at the problem of women’s status in extremely conservative Muslim societies is a breath of fresh air from all of the moralistic or emotional treatments the subject has so far received on the hands of ideologically-driven intellectuals and commentators. It is also good to find another Muslim who can think of these matters in scientific and largely apolitical terms.
A reader of Conflicts of Fitness may wonder how a Muslim can write from an evolutionary perspective when Muslims do not generally accept the theory of evolution. Amin does not offer an explanation for this, focusing on his research topic without delving into this issue, leaving it to the readers to work it out. In my essay God, Evolution and Abiogenesis I explain how the Quran is compatible not only with evolution, but with abiogenesis as well.
Explaining Islam’s policy toward polygamy
Before reading this book, I had often thought of polygyny as a privilege granted men in order to deal with certain exceptional circumstances (such as having an infertile wife). Conflicts of Fitness explains that there is more to it than this, and that women, rather than men, are potentially the primary beneficiaries of polygyny:
- If you have ten men and ten women, by allowing the most successful man to marry the two women, nine men are left to compete for the remaining eight women. These men will be forced to offer stronger commitment to these women in order to secure their hands in marriage, in this way creating a society where most relationships are highly committed.
- Successful middle-aged men often strongly desire to use their wealth and success to build new families and have more children. In a monogamous society, such men are forced to divorce their current wives, or worse, cheat on them. In an Islamic society, a safe outlet is provided for these men, enabling them to keep their current wives (who, if divorced, would most likely be unable to marry again due to their old age), while also enabling them to create new families. While this is not ideal for the current wives, most would prefer it over being divorced. This also increases the options of younger women, since married men would compete for their hands in marriage. Polygyny is not a zero-sum game for women, and the overall benefits to women is almost certainly greater than the harm it does.
Most Western women and men empathize with the underdog when thinking of hypothetical situations, therefore they are unlikely to accept the above explanation, since they empathize with the poor woman who will suffer having to share her husband with another woman. The fact that she chooses this over divorce is not given attention since it goes against the “Islam is misogynistic” narrative.
For a Muslim who already believes in the Quran, the explanation is a good vindication of the policy, and it should help restrain scholars overeager to place strict restrictions on polygyny. In a society where marriage is by consent and where people are free to divorce whenever they want, polygyny will be self-balancing. Men will have to balance the fear of losing their present wife with their desire for a second one, meaning that the majority of men will be unlikely to abuse this right. My experience of Kurdish and Persian society proves this correct.
In a short-term reproductive climate, women signal their receptivity to short-term-style sexual relationships in various ways, one of which is makeup. One thing that makeup does is simulate the effects of sexual arousal:
It turns out that when a woman becomes sexually aroused, certain physiologic changes take place. Among these changes are dilation of the pupils and the blood vessels in the cheeks and lips.
The author refers to this facet of makeup-as-a-signal-of-sexual-receptivity in many places in the book. However, while this is highly informative, it is not the complete picture. Makeup also serves as an important axis for enabling women to get ahead of themselves and other women. Makeup enables a woman to enhance her apparent quality as a worthy mate by making herself look younger and healthier. In a long-term or somewhat-long-term climate, makeup helps a woman appear as a better substance compared to her competitors. This, however, runs the danger of sending the wrong signal, of appearing to be receptive to sexual advances, for this reason in a long-term climate, a woman has to walk a fine line between enhancing her looks (which helps her get the interest of more suitors wanting to marry her) and signalling sexual receptivity (which garners the attention of the wrong audience).
The generational gap in reproductive strategies
The author mentions that an important reason for the strife that so often exists between teenage girls and their parents regarding dress and makeup is a generational gap in reproductive strategies. The parents grew up in a climate that was more long-term-oriented than the present climate, and they want to enforce the mores of their outdated climate on their children, not realizing that the climate has changed, and that by preventing their daughter from dressing more skimpily or wearing more makeup or dating more freely, they are causing her to fall behind her peers. Immigrants, especially Muslims, bringing up children in the West suffer a similar conflict. What should be done to handle this problem? The author does not say.
Should Muslims submit to the new climate, admitting that laxer standards are needed for their children, or should they fight off the West and try to keep isolated?
The Muslim Westerner’s mindset toward the West’s short-term reproductive climate should not reactionary, it should instead be constructive. Muslim men and women, following the Quranic program, should live and marry and construct their own Western society that proudly rejects everything it considers inferior and harmful and happily embraces everything it considers beneficial. Instead of trying to live in an “intellectual ghetto”, as Tariq Ramadan calls it, they live in the center of the Western intellectual tradition, reforming it, critiquing its weaknesses, calling for betterment, and freely defining new ways of life, exactly the way the intellectual elite throughout the ages have always done, defining new ways of life for themselves often at odds with the wider society.
Approaching Muslim women
I have seen some Western non-Muslim men wonder how you go about approaching a Muslim woman (to see if she is interested in a relationship), since the way they dress often signals unapprochability. The answer is that you don’t approach Muslim women (at least not the vast majority). The author gives an evolutionary explanation for this. Muslim women seek long-term partners, which requires deep knowledge of the man before any contact is made. It is for this reason that parents, relatives and friends are often heavily involved in planning and executing marriages. Approaching a Muslim woman, telling her she is beautiful and that you find her really interesting will most likely upset and offend her, since you are offering her exactly what she does not want; a relationship based on a short-term sexual attraction, and because being seen talking to a random man can harm her reputation.
Westerners, and some liberal Muslims, think these facts show that Muslims are out of touch or backward, and that they must be “better-educated”, “liberated”, “integrated”, “assimilated” and a whole lot of other euphemisms referring to the belief that Muslims should stop being Muslims and act more like non-Muslims for their own good.
The Quran requires that Muslims implement long-term reproductive strategies in their lives, meaning that for Muslims to remain Muslims, short-term reproductive behaviors can never be normalized. A Muslim woman who has a PhD and is attending a conference is not going to respond positively to some non-Muslim man’s pick-up line no matter how well-educated and liberated she is, if she is a devout Muslim. This is because in effect the man is calling her to abandon her chosen way of life. For her, sexual relationships are long-term matters that require the critique and approval of her family, relatives and friends, since Islam teaches her to think of herself as a member of a community, and to respect the opinions of her relatives and the authority of her parents. If a man is interested in her, instead of approaching her directly, he does it in a manner that shows his respect for the Muslim community and her family, and that shows his long-term interest in her, by having a friend or relative approach a friend or relative of hers.
Of course, this is not always an option, sometimes a direct approach is the only one possible, for example for a Muslim man and woman studying at the same college but knowing nothing else about one another, and having no one to mediate for them.
Islam, women, careers and divorce
The book analyzes the significant relationship between reproductive climates and attitudes toward women having careers. In a short-term climate, men cannot be relied on as providers, since they are interested in independence and short-term sexual relationships. In a long-term climate, men can be relied on, since men have no option but to be providers, in order to be able to attract the love interest of women.
This means that in a short-term climate, a career can be essential to a woman’s survival, while in a long-term climate, it can be largely irrelevant.
Men who like to follow a short-term sexual strategy (having sexual access to many females without having to commit themselves) will have an incentive to promote women’s “liberation”. For such men, it can be frustrating to live in a society that limits the availability of women, and they may do what they can to bring about change, to discredit the “backward” patriarchs, to get women out of society’s protection and into their own hands.
In his analysis of Islamic thought as it applies to the topic, the author’s methods and ways of thought are close to mine, which was a pleasant surprise. He refers to some of my favorite scholars while also maintaining a critical eye toward their opinions. He makes many references to the UCLA professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, someone largely unknown to me until reading this book:
Reviewing many of the Qur’ānic verses used to justify women’s restricted access to divorce, he concludes that the full implications of these verses have not been fully considered and intimates his opinion that Islam gives women the same access to divorce as it does to men. However, Abou El Fadl seems somewhat troubled that his opinion is in disagreement with the majority of Muslim jurists throughout Islamic history. The question becomes, is the majority opinion the result of the unequivocal evidence found in the sources of Islamic law, or a manifestation of the reproductive climates in which those opinions were formulated?
A woman should have full rights to divorce, because ethically, this is almost certainly crucial for ensuring the fairness of the marriage system. A man is given a degree of authority over his wife in his household. To ensure that this authority does not lead to abuse and tyranny, a woman must always retain the right to leave. Preventing her from leaving is going to greatly reduce her bargaining power in the relationship. I also support the opinions of the Salafi scholars al-Albani and Ibn Baaz in requiring a formal procedure for a man to divorce his wife, requiring him to stay with her for one menstrual cycle without having sex before the divorce is considered official. I believe that allowing a man to perform a permanent triple divorce by uttering a sentence is a highly damaging and defeats many of the purposes of Islamic law.
Reproductive climates and the practice of fiqh
Fiqh refers to Islamic jurisprudence, the field of discovering the best possible practical applications for the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah (the Prophet’s traditions ﷺ). One of the main theses of the book is that the reproductive climate affects the way men interpret Islamic principles.
According to Amin, in very-long-term climates like Saudi Arabia, paternity confidence is one of the prime directives in the minds of the jurists, so that they support nearly everything that can in some way restrict a woman’s freedom and make her a better reproductive object. Egyptians have a less long-term climate, so that their scholars are willing to make concessions to women’s freedom even if they acknowledge that in certain circumstances these granted privileges may lead to less paternity confidence.
Amin’s thesis is that reproductive climates affect the derivation of fiqh, leading to differing rulings (fatwas). This is one of the main conclusions of the book, that Muslim men prefer different interpretations of Islam based on their reproductive climates. To Saudi Muslim men, it is “obvious” that women should be restricted for everyone’s good, while to (cosmopolitan) Egyptian Muslim men, it is “obvious” that women should have more freedoms. A man’s reproductive strategy affects his values and makes him prioritize certain things over others, leading to a type of Islam that fits his own reproductive goals.
This scientific analysis of the derivation of fiqh is important and very much needed in order to separate what is truly Islamic from what is merely cultural within the rulings of the scholars. A new field can be launched, the (evolutionary) sociology of fiqh, that studies these matters.
The limitation of his evolutionary psychology approach is that it treats humans as genetic creatures, so that he studies how manifestations of genetically-driven instincts affect psychological behavior. To me this is only half of evolutionary psychology, although I know that many evolutionary psychologists limit themselves to this.
Humans are not genetic creatures, but genetic-cultural creatures, genes affect culture and culture affects genes. This adds a layer of complexity to human psychology that, if ignored, leads to incomplete theories. Thus the Egyptian toleration for less paternity confidence is not necessarily a consequence of the reproductive climate, it might be a cause of it. Perhaps the cultural appreciation of Egyptians for human rights led to a toleration for a shorter-term reproductive climate, so that this ideal was given priority over the concern for paternity confidence.
IQ is largely genetic (i.e. not cultural), but its consequence is a culture that appreciates various intangible ideals, whose consequence, in turn, is a re-interpretation of religion that tolerates a laxer reproductive climate, since this is more likely to achieve those ideals.
Having a high IQ does not mean that a person will be a nice, idealistic person. Rather, a high IQ population, after accepting certain teachings (Western/Christian philosophy, the Quran, Sufism), ends up becoming something of a humanist. A low IQ population, given the same teachings, will mostly focus on its form and ignore its content (ideals). Thus low IQ Muslims and Christians are often obsessed with appearances, socialization and ritual, while it is the high IQ Muslims and Christians who bother to read deeply into the texts.
It is, therefore, my hypothesis that when Islam is given to a high IQ population, the result is a humanist Islam, as is so well seen in cosmopolitan sections of Egypt. While when Islam is given to a low IQ population (Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan), the result is a focus on texts (naql, its extreme example being Wahhabism) and negligence toward the Quran’s principles.
While the author’s focus on reproductive concerns within the practice of fiqh is useful and enlightening, it is an incomplete view of the system. Genetics can lead to certain cultural (by “cultural”, I mean everything that’s not genetic) behaviors, which can then come back and influence reproductive behaviors, leading to highly complex feedback loops.
Dress codes for slave women
Amin mentions the fact that jurists have tolerated laxer dress codes for slave women compared to free women. According to his theory, this is a sign of the fact that since a slave woman is a short-term mate (more of an object of desire than reproduction), a short-term mindset toward her was tolerated, some jurists going as far as allowing her to show her breasts in public. Since paternity confidence was not a concern, the amount of skin a slave woman showed was not of much concern.
This behavior is also seen in Arab and Indo-Pakistani men living in the West who have short-term sexual relationships with Western women, but once they go on to seek a wife, they look for women from conservative families whose chastity and virginity can be relied on.
In both of the above situations, a double standard is maintained depending on the purpose of the woman in question. While the dress codes of slave women have no practical relevance to the modern practice of Islam, from a sociology of fiqh perspective, the matter might provide a useful insight into the thinking processes of jurists, showing how personal biases and reproductive goals affect the way Islamic sexual morality is interpreted.
It should, however, be noted that part of the justification for this double standard for the dress codes of free vs. slave women is verse 33:59 of the Quran:
O Prophet! Tell your wives, and your daughters, and the women of the believers, to lengthen their garments. That is more proper, so they will be recognized and not harassed. God is Forgiving and Merciful.
A common interpretation of “so they will be recognized” is that so that it will be known that they are free women and not slaves (as mentioned in al-Tabari’s tafseer). This clearly provides justification for tolerating different dress codes for different classes of women.
Another Persian scholar, al-Razi, interprets this verse as saying that virtuous women should dress more conservatively if there is a chance they will run into uncouth strangers, so that those strangers may recognize them as virtuous women and not women open to flirtation. This interpretation is more satisfactory in my opinion and prevents the use of the verse as justification for having double standards regarding different classes of women.
What does Islam select for?
All societies select for something. —Greg Cochran
All policy is eugenics.1 —Ikram Hawramani
Another relevant and highly interesting topic that is not covered by the book is the effects of reproductive climates on genes. For example, in a society that practices polygyny for long enough, the sex ratio will likely correct itself so that slightly more women than men will be born.
As I explain in my essay The Gene-Culture, any study of humans that entirely focuses on genes, or entirely focuses on culture, is going to be incomplete, because it focuses on one force while ignoring its equally important companion force.
A study of religious policies toward gender as entirely reproductive strategies, while highly informative, is incomplete. Thinking in terms of centuries and millennia, rather than in terms of individual generations and societies, will bring into focus the importance of religion as a gene-modifying force; Islamic culture will rewrite genes by selecting for certain characteristics and against others, the same way that genes (and reproductive strategies) affect our practice and interpretation of Islam, causing us to focus on certain aspects of Islam (and ignore others at times).
Islam rewards and promotes self-restraint, which is strongly associated with IQ, therefore high IQ people will get a more favorable treatment under Islam compared to lower IQ people who have difficulty with self-restraint. A woman who has a reputation for being “wild” is going to be passed up by men in favor of women who have a reputation for restraint. A man who does not have the long-term planning capacity to get a degree and a good career is going to be passed up by women in favor of men who have such capabilities.
Short-term climates create winner-take-all realities where a few attractive men get to have sex with a great number of women, as Conflicts of Fitness studies in detail, while the less sexually attractive and shy “nerdy” men are going to find it very difficult to find mates.
The Islamic system prevents this reality from existing. It punishes the womanizing “alpha males” by forcing them into long-term relationships where they have to make do with one, two or at most four women. And since many of these “alpha males” will not have the money to take care of too many women at the same time, they will often be forced to make do with just one or two women. This means that the rest of the women will not have access to these men, so that they are made to settle for less attractive men.
In an Islamic society, similar to Japanese society 100 years ago, the majority of men will be able to marry, including shy and nerdy ones who are totally incapable of using charisma to attract women. This fact of Islamic societies may be a significant contributor to the high fertility rates that devout Muslim societies enjoy.
Conflicts of Fitness is a worthy contribution in the best tradition of Western civilization, an effort to arrive at the truth without concern for political considerations.