I feel horrified every time I leave home, or the girls go to school. I submit totally to God, because I cannot predict anything that may happen. When the tension was at its peak, I made sure to discuss what was going on with my children. I was afraid they could be mistaken for an attacker. The Israeli guards would persecute anyone on the smallest suspicion. Or I feared they actually would sacrifice themselves in this way. Horror knocked at my heart each time my youngest daughter sat in front of the TV and asked, “What would you do if I became a martyr? Why do we live? Look at all this injustice. What did these children do to deserve this? Why do we live such a life in the first place?”
I made myself available to discuss this with her. We even planned an outing together so we could confront the situation peacefully. I took the girls to the Old City and we walked around, challenging our fears and the soldiers. At one point, I found the right solution. I said, “If you become a martyr, it doesn’t matter. I will follow. I will not be capable of life without you, and in this way we all become martyrs.” I wanted to show her how much I needed her. Somehow, my lack of interest in my own life made her worry. The heroic act she imagined began to fall apart. Young Palestinians want to commit a heroic act they can leave behind one that will be immortal.
Thinking about this is exhausting and worrisome. I don’t understand how a mother can live after losing her children in such a way. It is immensely difficult to lose a child. How do they go on when their children are hijacked and given over to death in such a way?
I have always been a fan of the Brazilian thinker Paulo Freire and his school of thought concerning education. I agree that there is no such thing as neutral education. Education is either about oppression or liberation, and education and raising children are connected. Both contribute to the growth of the child. I look at my children and their thirst for freedom, for liberation from unclear constraints, especially when compared to other Palestinians in the West Bank. The infrastructure here in Jerusalem is different from that on the other side of the homeland. Signs of modernity are much more obvious. Palestinian citizens here have slightly more freedom than those in the West Bank. Their confinement makes our freedom seem greater, though we are not free. Freedom is in the eye of the beholder, and there is always more to wish for.
What is happening in Palestinian society is horrific on a social and educational level. The horizons of the children—male and female—are closed off by settlements and a giant wall. The Palestinian raises his head, and his eyes can only see the surrounding wall. His movement is determined by a soldier, who holds him back at every checkpoint. Palestinians live in a disgusting maze of cities and villages that don’t allow for the possibility of a full life.
Now that young people, through social media, are able to access and absorb so much beyond their own narrow reality, their sense of loss becomes even greater. They are constantly aware of the freedoms others are able to enjoy—the freedoms they are repeatedly denied.
In my own life, the patriarchy is another form of occupation—a second form of dominance, an additional means of control. I wonder if I obsess over this comparison because I am Palestinian, because I live under a double occupation? Or is it an objective fact that life is this way? That a Palestinian woman must suffer two forms of tyrannical governance.
Despite theism, we are required to seek the truth. We will feel a sense of awe if we get close to it and bring it out of its depths.
Truth is sought, but reality is what should be lived.
Like marriage, which is described as peaceful living, but in reality is imprisonment. The married couple are the jailed and the jailer. Despite this, everyone insists that marriage is heaven, and the man and wife are the guards of this pure existence and eternal beauty inside that heaven.
I don’t know why I joined a training course in Shari’ah. Ten years earlier, I had thrown the textbook away the day before the exam when I discovered the shocking difference between truth and reality. I was getting ready for the exam, enthusiastically memorizing the texts. I wanted to fulfill my dream of practicing law. I wanted to defend women like myself. I wanted to become my own role model in a career that would allow me to defend and empower my gender.
The truth struck loudly when it arrived. The law is supposed to create order—this is the “truth” we are given. But the reality is that whomever holds power takes for himself at the expense of others. I saw this in the rules and definition of voided marriages. A Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying a non-Muslim man. This is an unarguable truth, I believed, and I was sure it was dictated by the Quran. I was the obedient Muslim, as I was expected to be. At that time, there was a fatwa on the Sudanese jurist Mufti Hassan Turabi. He was being attacked from all directions. “There is no text in the Quran that says that a Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying a non-Muslim man,” he said. He is a kafir, I thought to myself in ignorance.
I’d read the Quran every day and finished it at least once a month for the last twenty years of my life. And I read that verse time and time again. It is there in Surat al-Baqara, I said to myself. The religious rule is there in the book. Surat al-Ma’ida, al-Nour, and their many verses. I rushed to the Quran searching for that verse… and I didn’t find it.
I searched in another version of the Quran. Maybe there was a problem with my copy. I doubted everything, except the verse that I was sure was there. It prohibits intermarriage clearly and strictly. The rule had been there in front of me, I was sure of it.
I found the verse in Surat al-Baqara. I rejoiced. Here it is: “And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And a believing slave woman is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe. And a believing slave is better than a polytheist, even though he might please you. Those invite [you] to the Fire, but Allah invites you to Paradise and to forgiveness, by His permission. And He makes clear His verses to the people that perhaps they may remember.”
There must be another verse missing here, I told myself. He is also telling the man not to marry the polytheistic woman, and do not marry the polytheistic man, he says to the woman. But a polytheist is not a person belonging to another religion. Yet this is not the most important issue. If this verse speaks to the male and the female equally, why does the religious rule allow the man to marry outside the religion but forbid the woman to? If the Quran is so obvious and clear in its discourse, why did religious law change the rule in its application to the woman?
I began to research the question, and I found a book by al-Qaradawi, chief jurist of al-Azhar. He was popular at the time, and I related to his fatwas. His book was titled The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. In the chapter on the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man, his answer was straightforward and eloquent, separating truth from reality: “A Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying a non-Muslim man, whether he is kitab (from another monotheist religion) or not. And she cannot in any case. And we mentioned God’s words: (And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe.) And God has mentioned in regards to immigrant faithful women: When there come to you believing women refugees, examine (and test) them: Allah knows best as to their Faith: if ye ascertain that they are Believers, then send them not back to the Unbelievers. They are not lawful (wives) for the Unbelievers, nor are the (Unbelievers) lawful (husbands) for them.) And no other text except that came to this rule. Voiding has been agreed upon among Muslims.”
I tried to find an answer with certainty. I read the verse time and time again. It addresses both males and females. And the polytheistic are not the people of the book. There is this differentiation that is emphasized in our religious education: a polytheistic person believes in more than one God, or does not believe in God at all, whilst the people of the book are those who, like Muslims, believe in one God. Why can a man marry a Jewish woman or a Christian, but she cannot marry a man of those faiths if the Quranic rule is there, and clear? Al-Qaradawi’s answer to that was the same as the answer in our religion textbook in school when I was eight or nine years old: “The woman is not allowed to marry neither a Jew nor a Christian because the man is responsible for the family and he is dominant over her.” These were words I was raised on. I was convinced they were true. They were engraved inside me like a tattoo. I gave in completely to the religious authorities who are entrusted to pass on what God has told us. I was also convinced that the Quran had answers to my perplexity. The Quran is there to help me understand what I have missed. The Quran was created in a language and crafted into an understandable structure. It wasn’t falsified like other books. In the Quran lies certainty. In the Quran is the answer.
But what the jurists decided among their sheikhs and muftis was different. It is true that we are obligated to follow the Quran. While much is hidden and mystified, far from the understanding of commoners, there are things that are clear and obvious. Why should we understand it differently from how it was written? Why are phrases cut and dropped and not used in accordance with their meaning?