Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The 'Curse' of Religious Literalism

According to a controversial Islamic tradition, all a husband needs to do to divorce his wife is say "talaq", or "divorce", three times. In the Indian state of West Bengal, local Muslim leaders have declared a couple divorced because the husband invoked the so-called "triple talaq" in his sleep.

Notwithstanding that the triple talaq is a hideously sexist practice (only the husband can declare it) with little standing in Islamic jurisprudence, this case exposes the base stupidity of religious literalism. Religious literalism has a long and glorious history in all faiths, and can be thanked, amongst other things, for attempts to teach Creationism in public schools in America. Put into practice, it almost always does violence to the faith it purports to uphold.

In the case of talaq, the only philosophical foundation for the practice is that its utterance represents an exercise of the husband's will and intentions. By insisting that the same words uttered while sleeping are no different than ones uttered while awake, the local imams have removed this philosophical foundation and turned the words into some sort of magic incantation; a "hocus pocus" phrase divorced (if you will) from the intention they represent. For a religion that doesn't even allow representations of the Prophet lest people worship him and not Allah, it is fair to say that magic words amount to a blasphemy in and of themselves.

And just what the world needed: yet another reason to lay off the Ambien.
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