Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fatema Mernissi: Love in Digital Islam

From a lecture by Moroccan writer Fatema Mernissi:

I was enjoying fresh grilled sardines at the Miramar Beach eight kilometers from Rabat with my colleague Kamal, an expert on "Medieval Arabic treatises on love~ when my cell phone rang. It was my Casablanca editor who wanted to publish Love In the Muslim World as a paperback to target the millions of Moroccan youth who dash to the beaches in the summer.

“But Layla! I shouted; "this book is more than twenty years old! The young people you are targeting with your paperbacks aren't interested any more In Ibn Hazm! Young Arabs my dear, spend their time watching video clips on the 465 Panarab TV channels or chatting on the Internet." And to make sure that Layla would give up her project , I added that at least "192 of these Arab channels flood our youth with a 24 hours non-stop deluge of superficial programs" which promote Western multinationals consumerism which clashes totally with 'Ibn Hazm"s romantic message of love.

Ibn Hazm defines love as ‘Ulfa' in the very title of his book (fi-I-Ulfa-wa-I·Ullaf), which literally means in Arabic to become attached to someone' (Iazlmahu). To do so, you have to use your ‘aql' to brlng your partner to trust you enough to allow you to get closer! A synonymous of 'Ulfa' is 'Uns', the very root of the Arabic word for human being; 'insan'.

And no wonder, Ibn Hazm dismisses "Love at first sight” as utterly ridiculous because it confuses love (hub) with hawa (desire) : " I indeed marvel profoundly at all those who pretend to fall in love at first sight. I cannot easily prevail upon myself to believe their claim, and prefer to consider such love as merely a kind of lust."

And he is convinced that when you use your 'aql' and manage to 'create a stable relation, you don't feel the need to either get new friends or buy new clothes:" Similarly I have never longed for a change for change's sake, in any of the things that I have possessed, I am speaking here not only of friends and comrades, but also of all the other things a man uses - clothes, riding-beast, food, and so on,"

Ulfa is the total opposite of giving in blindly to desire (chahwa) because you need to negotiate with the other. The danger of attraction is that: "Your love for something makes you blind and deaf”. You need to summon your 'aql' (reason) to avoid self-destruction.

And vanishing in pleasures is exactly ' what consumerist ads brainwash you to do: "The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself." Ibn Hazm has no chance today, I was convinced, because his 'UIfa' is about altruistic love and community-building while consumerist ads brainwash us to vanish into individualist and egoistic self-love.

And Western psychoanalysts are the first ones to witness the devastating impact of consumerist advertising that reduces humans to tragically solitary "Shopaholics:' because they confuse love with compulsive acquisition.

Whence my conclusion that the famous conflict Mr. Samuel Huntington sells as a "Clash of civilizations" (West/Islam) is in fact a clash between 'Aql', rational thinking and consumerist advertising! Islam, just like the scientific Western civilization, encourages us to develop our 'aql' so as to fight desire:" The one who is not ruled by his 'aql (reason) is destroyed by what he loves most': stressed the Imams such as Ibnal Jawziya (born in 691 AH/1292 CE), who carried up to the 14 th century, Ibn Hazm 's tradition of writing treaties on love.

So, if the Westerners themselves are incapable of stopping the confusion of love with the irrational consumption which disturbs their children, how can one expect that our own Arab youth, brainwashed daily by advertising on the televisions and internet, will care for Ibn Hazm's 'Ulfa'? And to finish the long telephone call with Layla, Mernissi concluded on a very pessimistic note: "My poor Ibn Hazm is condemned to the fate of dinosaurs who disappeared from our planet 65 millions years ago after 150 millions years of existence!

Just then, Kamal, my colleague sitting with me at the restaurant, shook my elbow to force me to read what he had hastily written on the back of the menu: "Fatema, You are a dinosaur! You are disconnected from the digital galaxy: Ibn Hazm's book on love is a best seller on the Internet!"

'Who consumes Ibn Hazm's message? Was my question to Kamal. "Apparently a lot of people do” he started," .. Just think for a minute about the profile of his likely consumers: the millions of young Moslims who study or work far from their families and who need not only to understand love for the first time but also to get the information from a religious authority who has two striking features. The first is that Imam Ibn Hazm was young. barely 35, when he ran away from his war-torn childhood city of Cordoba to settle In the Spanish city of Jatlva In 41SAH (1027 e.E) to write his book. The second is that he was born in a chaotic Spain torn by wars between Spanish and Arabs and between Arabs, and Berbers. His life was hectic just like Arab youth today because wars were going on non-stop since he witnessed the collapse of the Umayyad Dynasty in Andalus. And since he inherited his father’s aristocratic position as a Wizier, he ended up in prison and exile many times, which may explain his obsession with altruistic love.

Apparently, If the satellite-relayed information technologies such as TV and the Internet have transformed our planet, love seems to resist these apocalyptic changes. And one reason for this is that Western science advertised by secular Europe as the solution to all our problems, failed miserably when it comes to teaching us how to love. “The Science of Romance: Why We Need to Love to Survive” " was the huge title of February 4, 2008 “Time Magazlne” cover. But I discovered, after reading it, that scientists confess not knowing much: “we have only a very limited understanding of what romance is.

The love arrow is directed towards the self when it comes to consumerism, while it is directed towards the other in the case of ‘Ulfa’. And this is why I propose that first we increase our emotional intelligence by learning by heart Ibn Jawziya 50 words for love and second start a campaign for a U.N.U.F (a United Nations Ulfa Fund).

Ibn Hazm: an Andalusian love expert, who is Mernissi's main reference, was born in 384AH (994CE) in Cordoba, the Spanish city where the Umayyad caliphs reigned after they conquered Andalusia in CE 756.

Fatema Mernissi: a Moroccan feminist writer and sociologist. She was born into a middle-class family in Fez in 1940. She received her primary education in a school established by the nationalist movement, and secondary level education in an all-girls school funded by the French protectorate. In 1957, she studied political science at the Sorbonne and at Brandeis University, where she earned her doctorate. She returned to work at the Mohammed V University and taught at the Faculté des Lettres between 1974 and 1981 on subjects such as methodology, family sociology and psychosociology. She has become noted internationally mainly as an Islamic feminist.