Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chapter 6: The Emperor Anointed


“I sensed that you were not very successful with your mission, Hosius.”  Said the emperor after listening to a brief report from Hosius, the person he finally met at the conference room, after calming his nerve over his silly answer to his sister.
“You sensed correctly, my Lord,” answered Hosius, admitting his failure.  There was other bishop in the room.  His name was Eustathius, a bishop from Antioch, then a prosperous city in the Roman province of Syria, now the town of Antakya in the Southern Turkey.  Hosius brought Eustathius as his sidekick, to strengthen his heart in front of the emperor, for his mission had not been successful.  Hosius’ mission was to put a stop to a controversy sparked by a presbyter called Arius.  The controversy was called the Arian Controversy, after the name of the priest who started it. 
In truth, controversy had been the hallmark among the followers of Christ.  They were of zealous type, and they would pursue their zeal of whatever denomination to the highest degree.  What made it worse was that there was no central authority among them; hence anyone of note can challenge whoever he wished.  In some towns or principalities, such as Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, and Jerusalem, there were organized congregations, later known as churches, generally under the leadership of bishops, but this leadership was purely religious.  Bishops did not have temporal power at their disposal to dispel those challenging their views.  Each group or denomination was pretty much on its own, which was expected, for the temporal power belonged to pagan emperor who reigned over them.
Before the Edict of Milan, the Christians were either ignored or oppressed.  With the Edict of Milan, they found new freedom to profess their belief.  With the new freedom, their zealousness spread like a wildfire.  What used to be disagreement among them had transformed into a crisis the proportion of which could threaten the stability of the state. 
Constantine of course was not interested in these doctrinal controversies, for at best he considered himself only a nominal Christian at that time, but when the proportion of the controversy appeared to be strong enough as to threaten the stability of the empire, especially in Egypt, Syria and Judea, he turned to his old reliable servant Hosius, who was only too willing to be the personal envoy of the emperor. 
 “A bunch of fools, you Christians,” said Constantine after his amusement with Hosius’ answer receded, “I should not have declared your religion legal at Milan,” he continued.  Hosius tried to read whether there was regret in the emperor’s tone, but he found none.  Obviously Constantine did not really mean what he said.
“The situation is critical my Lord, but not hopeless.”  Said Hosius.
“Any suggestion as to what I should do?”
“An emperor’s act,” answered Hosius rather quickly.  He obviously had thought through thoroughly before meeting the emperor.  But the emperor found his answer ambiguous at best.
“Another edict?”  Asked Constantine.
“No my Lord.”
“Now, if you cannot straighten out your controversy among yourselves, then perhaps my sword can.”  Said Constantine.  Hosius detected seriousness in the emperor’s tone of voice.
“You speak the truth my Lord.  Your sword can quench the raging controversy, but it would only be temporary.  I am thinking of a more permanent solution.”
“Permanent solution?”
“And a chance for my Lord to be remembered for eternity.”
Hosius obviously knew how to massage the emperor’s vanity.  His last word struck deep into Constantine’s bone.  His brief conversation with his mother a few nights ago sprang into his mind.  There was something very similar between the conversation he had with his mother and what Hosius was saying.   Both the mother and the bishop sensed that Constantine was destined for greatness, although the former was more concerned about the salvation of her son’s soul while the latter was more concerned about avoiding the emperor’s wrath.
“The controversy, as my Lord knows best, is about the nature of Christ.  Is he very God, or only divine?  We the people of truth believe that he is very God, the only begotten of the Father, uncreated.  Arius the deviant said that he is perhaps divine, but he is nothing more than a creation.  We believe he was with the Father even before time was created, because he and the Father were of the one and the same substance, but Arius said that before he was, he was not.”
“You can cut the crap, you tongue twister,” retorted Constantine, “I am not interested in theological nuances.  If you believe that this Christ is God, or Son of God, He surely would have the power to settle this dispute.  Otherwise, find other gods that can.”
“Of course he could my Lord, but that’s not the point.  The Lord Jesus works in a mysterious way.  He could settle this dispute easily if he wants to, but that’s not his way.”  Hosius was a little taken aback and found himself a bit strained with a cynical remark by the emperor, but he composed himself and spoke in a very diplomatic manner.  He knew that Constantine was at best only nominally Christian, but he didn’t quite expect the emperor would use such a coarse expression. 
“And what is his way?”  Constantine asked
“To work with the anointed one,” Hosius quickly answered.
“I thought Jesus Christ is the anointed one.”
“He is, my Lord, but he is also a God.  By the anointed one, I mean the divinely appointed king.  And that king is none other than you, my Lord.”
“Is not Jesus Christ a messiah, an anointed king?”
“He is no longer with us in person, my Lord.  His task as a man had finished.  He is with the Father at his rightful place now.  But let’s not delve into that.   Shall we instead, my Lord, focus on the issue at hand.”  Said Hosius, finding himself a little awkward to answer the emperor’s inquiry.
“If another edict is not the answer, what exactly do you have in mind?”  Asked the emperor.
“A conference, a universal conference, to be convoked and convened by your majesty,” said Hosius.  It was obvious that had thought through the solution before meeting the great emperor.  Perhaps because he believed it was the most practical of all available solutions.  Or perhaps because it was expected of him to provide an alternative solution, having failed to carry out his mission entrusted by Constantine about two years earlier.
“A conference to settle the dispute among the Christians to be convoked and convened by a pagan emperor?  What can be more ridiculous than that?  If prominent bishops like both of you cannot solve it, what chance does a nominal Christian like me have?”  Protested Constantine.
“No chance, my Lord, that is, if your majesty are just a common unbeliever.  But my Lord is neither unbeliever, nor a common man.  My Lord is Constantine the great, the ruler of the greatest empire.”  Eustathius, a prominent bishop of Antioch who was no less articulate than Hosius, if not more, spoke for the first time. 
On his way back from his mission, Hosius had asked Eustathius to accompany him to seek an audience with the great emperor.  Hosius did not want to risk the chance of persuading the great emperor from convening the universal council among all prominent priests the world over.  He needed a sidekick, to use a modern parlance.  It was only now that his sidekick spoke, since it was Hosius who was made an envoy by the emperor, not Eustathius.   It was Hosius who was called to account for his mission, not Eustathius.  But now that a proposal was tabled, Eustathius felt obliged to chip in.
“As to the common man,” interjected Constantine, “I am probably not, but as to the believer in your God, I am hardly a Christian.”
“My Lord may be more Christian than my Lord thought, but that is not the point.  The point is my Lord is the king, and we the Christians are your subjects.”  Said Hosius.
“That can hardly be disputed.  But is that a point?  Or rather, the point is, how could I, whom most of you would call a pagan emperor, settle the dispute among the Christians?”
“There are times, my Lord, for verbal persuasion.  But when verbal persuasion fails, it is time for imperial decree.”  Eustathius interjected.
“Hosius already said that another edict is not the answer.”  Constantine protested.
“And Hosius has spoken the truth,” interjected Eustathius, “for what is required now is not an edict, but as Hosius has said, a council, to be convened by my Lord.”
“Have I not shot down your ridiculous idea already?  How could you the Christians accept a council to be convoked and convened by a pagan emperor?”
“Aahhh, my Lord is being too modest,” said Hosius, “Are not my Lord forgetting something?”
“Namely?”
“When was the height of the Jewish Kingdom?”  Said Hosius in the form of a question.  Constantine sneered at him.  The emperor apparently was not amused by Hosius’ insinuation.  He being quite knowledgeable of the Jewish history, Constantine answered nevertheless.
“During the King David and his son Solomon, of couse.”
“Yes, King David and King Solomon.  The Jews were at their height when there were great kings in their midst.”  Said Hosius.
“But I am no Christian King,” again Constantine protested.
“All the same, my Lord,” interjected Hosius.  “As I said before, what is needed is the anointed one.  And that anointed one is none other than you, my Lord.”  He added.
“Tongue twister,” Constantine retorted, yet again.
“On the contrary my Lord,” Eustathius interjected, “my compatriot Hosius has spoken the truth.  The Lord our God works in the mysterious way.  True, your majesty Lord Constantine has not been baptized, and this by consequence gives the impression that your majesty is not a believer in Christ.  Your majesty also humbles your majestic self by calling yourself a pagan emperor.  But who can deny the fact that your majesty has done a great service to the Christianity.  With the Edict issued in Milan under your majesty’s name, Christianity has found a new lease of life.  No Christian, not even great church fathers, has given this faith its vigor and vitality as your majesty has given.  We bishops are prone to quarrel among ourselves.  The case with Arius and Alexander is only one of many cases—only the most prominent so far.  And given our proclivity to disagreement, who would be better to mediate our dispute than the one who is not taking any side.  And we are not just talking any neutral man here, but we are talking about the great emperor whose edict has brought to life the faith which had hitherto either been ignored, or worst, persecuted.”
“And it should be clear my Lord,” added Hosius, “that even a god needs a king, because it is through human intervention that the God’s work is perfected.  In this case, my Lord is not a mere human, but a divinely anointed emperor, even if my Lord has not realized it yet.”


Links to Earlier Chapters

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chapter 5: The Emperor and the Bishop


The person Constantine was supposed to meet was Hosius, a bishop of Cordoba, a Christian prelate of Spain.  He was a longtime associate of Constantine. 
Constantine first met Hosius about 14 years ago, in the late 311 AD, when he was still a junior emperor, or a Caesar.  He was preparing a battle against emperor Maxentius, his main rival in the Western Roman Empire at that time, who happened also to be his brother in law.  Maxentius was the brother of Fausta, the second wife of Constantine.  Both Maxentius and Fausta were children of Maximian.  Maximian, as we mentioned earlier, was also the step father of Theodora, the second wife of Chlorus Constantius, the father of Constantine. 
Anyway, late into the evening in the Fall of the year 311 AD, while discussing the best strategy with his generals on how to fight against Maxentius, whose army was greater in number than his army, Constantine’s assistant came knocking, telling him that someone had been waiting to see him since the morning.
“Do I know him?”  Constantine asked his assistant.
“I doubt, my Lord,” answered his assistant.
“Then tell him I am too busy to receive a visitor.”  Ordered Constantine.
“I did, my Lord, but this is no ordinary visitor.  He said he has something that could help bring us victory against Maxentius.” 
Constantine was not na├»ve to the ways of the world.  There were far more flatterers bringing empty promises than there were worthy people.  This one he believed belongs to the former, not the latter.
“He has been waiting to see my Lord since the morning, and he said he won’t leave until he has your majesty audience, no matter how long it takes,” continued his servant, when he saw his emperor didn’t seem to be taken by the bait.  Constantine relented and the visitor was brought in. 
The visitor was unkempt.  His hair was long, untidy.  His beard too was long and messy.  His face wore a rustic look and appeared fatigue, a sign that he had come from a far distance.  He also looked tired because he had been waiting to see Constantine since the morning.  Constantine’s assistant did not alert his master earlier because he had been given strict instruction that the junior emperor did not want to receive any visitor that day.  The assistant braved himself to alert his master that evening partly because he was sympathetic with the visitor who had been sitting outside of Constantine’s tent for the whole of the day and about half of the night already, and partly because he thought the man had something really important to suggest to his master.
When the man entered his tent, Constantine saw that there was nothing to suggest that this man would be someone who can help him win his war, but the junior emperor noticed a determined look in the stranger’s eyes.  When he approached closer, Constantine smelled as if this visitor had not been taking a bath for at least a week, if not a month.
“Who are you?”  Constantine asked.
“The name is Hosius, from Cordoba.  A man of God, and a servant of the Lord Constantine,” answered the stranger.
“What do you want from me?”
“To be at your service, my Lord.”
Constantine smiled coyly.  What kind of service this unkempt stranger could possibly render.  I need a general, not a man of god, he said in his heart.  Be that as it may, Constantine decided not to dismiss the stranger much too soon.  After all, he had been waiting since the morning just to have a few minutes with the junior emperor.
“And what would that be?”  Constantine asked.
“A group of fearless soldiers, and a help from God.”
Constantine almost burst into laughter, as were his assistant and generals.  This poor man is a dreamer, thought Constantine.  He couldn’t even take care of himself, and he want to help me.  Constantine had seen and heard enough of the nonsense, even in that few seconds, so he spoke dismissively.
“As for soldiers, I have the most disciplined army; and as for God, I already have Sol Invictus,” said Constantine, referring to his brave and disciplined soldiers, and to his undefeated sun god.  Sol Invictus was the leading Roman deity at that time.  Expressed more fully, this deity is called Deus Sol Invictus, meaning, the undefeated Sun God.  The origin of this deity is generally traced to the ancient Mesopotamian god and was introduced into the Roman religion around 222 AD by Emperor Elagabalus. 
“My Lord speaks the truth.  Hosius too speaks the truth.”  The stranger added.
“You must be a Christian,” said Constantine.
“A bishop, from Cordoba; a prelate of Spain.”
“Your title, whatever it means to you, doesn’t impress me.  You are dismissed.”  But before Constantine’s assistant managed to usher the stranger out, he flashed an emblem to the junior emperor’s face.
“In this sign, you shall conquer.”  The Bishop from Cordoba said.
The emblem was a monogram.  It showed a combination of first two Greek letters, Chi-Rho.  It represented the first two letters for Christos, or Christ, the God of the Christians who believed in his divinity.  The monogram reminded him of his dream a few weeks ago.  In the dream he saw a battle where one of the groups was using the embroidered letters Chi and Rho as their banner.  The battle was won by that group.  The dream did not suggest that Constantine fought against this group and lost; neither did it suggest that Constantine was leading an army with this labarum.  He himself was not in the battle.  The battle was just shown to him for a brief moment.
Waking up from the dream, Constantine thought about it for a while, but later dismissed it as a mere handiwork of the daemon.   He considered himself the son of Sol Invictus, or the son of the undefeated sun god.  Why would the son of Sol Invictus want to use the Chi Rho as his banner? 
Constantine forgot about the dream already, until Hosius flashed him that monogram.  The monogram looked the same as the labarum he saw in the dream.  Who is this man, he thought.  Does he know about my dream?  As far as the junior emperor knew, he never told anyone about his dream.  Could it be a mere coincidence?
Whatever Constantine’s state of the mind at that time, the whole episode caught his interest.  He called Hosius to come back before the bishop was out of his tent.
“Who are you?”   Constantine asked.
“As I said my Lord, the name is Hosius, a bishop of Cordoba, a prelate of Spain.”
“Why did you flash this monogram to my face?  Don’t you know that I am no Christian, and that what you did just now can offend me, and you may lose your head for that?”
“Death doesn’t scare me, my Lord.  I have narrowly escaped it twice already.  In any case, when my time comes, I will die, but not a moment before that.  In the meantime, I want to be of service to you, because I see in you, my Lord, a greatness that I have not seen in others.”  The bishop spoke longer this time.
“You see in me greatness?”
“Yes my Lord.”
“What do you mean ‘you see’?  We have not even met each other, until now.”  Constantine asked.  The junior emperor of course was trying to gauge whether this bishop had some extraordinary experience, or whether it was a mere coincidence.
“If your majesty permits, I shall relate my story.”  Hosius said.
“Go on.”
“As I told your majesty already, I have escaped death twice in my life.  The first was during Diocletian’s persecution, and the second during Maximian’s. How I managed to escape is a long story, and is not important in this regard.  Suffice to say that Lord Jesus saved me.  What is important is that soon after my second escape, I had a dream.”
“You saw me in your dream?”  The junior emperor interjected.
“No, my Lord.  Not you, but three lions and a flock of sheep.”  Hosius paused for a while, trying to read the expression on the junior emperor’s face.  The junior emperor looked attentive.  Hosius continued.
“In my dream, I saw three lions.  One of them was old, while the other two were young.  Of the two young lions, one was male, the other female.  I saw the young male lion was chasing after the sheep, but the lioness, instead of helping her brother, fought against him and protected those sheep.  The lioness won the battle and killed her brother, the male lion.  Henceforth, she kept an eye on the flock of those sheep, clearly protecting them.”
“What an odd dream,” said Constantine, “but what it has to do with me?”
“It was indeed an odd dream, my Lord; so strange that I couldn’t keep my mind off it.  It should be the lioness going after the sheep, for it is generally female lion doing the hunting, not the male.  Or at least they should hunt the sheep together.  What happened instead was that the female lion was protecting the sheep from her male counterpart.  Now, my Lord, I was disturbed about this dream for so long because I couldn’t quite make what it was all about.  In fact, I have forgotten about it until about three months ago when I was in Syria.”  Hosius paused again.
“What happened three months ago?”  Constantine was more curious, as were his generals and aids in the tent.
“Three months ago I happened to see a lioness.  On that same day, I saw a flock of sheep.  A month later, the news came to me that my Lord is up against the emperor Maxentius.”
“So?”
“For a few days after that I couldn’t sleep.  The memory of the dream came back to me.  I thought and thought and thought, trying to find whether or not there were any meaning in all these.  A week later, it all dawned on me and everything was as clear as the clear morning sky.”  Hosius paused again, looking at his audiences.  They were all listening attentively.
“What was as clear as the morning sky?”  The junior emperor asked.
“That the old lion was the late Maximian, the male lion was Maxentius, the lioness was you, my Lord, and a flock of sheep were the Christians.  As soon as the meaning of the dream dawned upon me, I quickly prepared myself for this journey.  It has been a long journey from Syria, as you can see the state I am now.” Hosius paused for a while and continued, “I see in you as the protector of the people of my faith.”
The emperor, his generals and aids were bursting into laughter. 
“What an interesting story you have,” said the emperor when he managed to compose himself.  “I am no Christians’ protector, and Maxentius is no Christians’ persecutor.  Are you not dreaming, or at least struck by a fit of fancy, old man?  By the way, if you are the bishop of Cordoba, what are you doing in Syria?  Besides, do I look like a woman?”  There was no anger in the young emperor’s words, especially the last one.  His generals and aids laughed at the appellation.
“Dream never comes in a clean shape, my Lord.  That’s why it is called a dream, not a reality.  It has to be interpreted.  Now, my Lord of course is not a woman.  And far from being a lioness, my Lord is a great general and a junior emperor.  The lioness was symbolic.  The lion and lioness represent the two children of Maximian.  They are Maxentius and Fausta.  Fausta is not the one against her brother, but it is her husband, namely your majesty.  As for the flock of sheep, it clearly represents my fellow brethren in faith, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As for Syria, I was visiting my friend in Damascus.”
Constantine did not know how to respond.  He might have dismissed the dream and its interpretation as a mere Hosius’ fancy, but the coincidence of his dream with the labarum as flashed by the middle-age bishop was too important to be dismissed too easily. 
“You may want to interpret your dream anyway you like, old man.  What I want to know is that why did you flash that monogram in my face, and why did you say ‘in this sign, conquer.’”
 “As your Lord knows it well, the Christians are fearless, but not many of us would want to be soldiers.  In fact, many of us refuse to fight.  We would rather die as martyrs rather than serving what we call pagan emperor.  But, if we fight along the side of the savior against the side of the persecutor, my Lord would find that we are the bravest of soldiers.  I can help make that happen.  In your Lord’s army, there are already many who believe in the Lord Jesus.  I can help rekindle their spirit to be braver than they already are.  I will also enlist the new ones, but since I am no soldiers, my Lord has to train them to become skilled warriors.”  The bishop said.
“Still you didn’t answer the flashing of that monogram on my face.”
“The monogram will boost their spirit and make them braver warriors and better soldiers.  I am suggesting, of course, along with my Lord’s existing banner.  I don’t mean for my Lord to replace the existing one.”
Constantine looked at his generals and aids.  From their face, they showed no objection.  They had no reason to object, because any help, regardless from whom, would be a great help.  Constantine’s generals needed to muster any help they could get.  If they could get it from a Christian bishop, so be it. 
“Suppose I agree with you, what would you want in return?”  Asked Constantine.
“Nothing, my Lord, except some freedom to exercise our religion.”
Now, Constantine did not fancy this group of people who worship a man named Jesus Christ who was said to be the God incarnate, for Constantine already had his own God, but he also knew that these believers calling themselves Christians would rather choose death rather than forsaking their faith.  Those who did not fear death would make good soldiers.  That much Constantine knew for sure.  If this bishop can turn these zealots into soldiers, Constantine knew that no forces can defeat him.
Constantine also knew that he had nothing to lose.  Any help that may come in whatever form and however means would definitely be of a great help to his cause.  Besides, Hosius did not make any unwarranted demand in return, other than asking Constantine to treat the Christians with fairness.  That was not too difficult a request to grant, for unlike his rival Maxentius, his late father-in-law Maximilian, and especially the late emperor Diocletian, Constantine did not hate the Christians.  In fact, Constantine felt that he could count on these Christians to support him wholeheartedly, for they too would want him to win.  Maxentius had been quite brutal with the Christians, though not as brutal as his father Maximian or Diocletian.  Under Constantine, they could hope for some respite. 
So it was.  With his well-disciplined army, including the fearless Christians, Constantine fought against Maxentius’ army in the great Battle of Milvian Bridge.  Constantine won the battle, resulting in him becoming the Western Augustus, or the emperor of the whole Western Roman Empire.  The year was 312 AD. 
With that victory, Constantine now had only one rival, namely Licinius, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire.  He was willing to share the empire with Licinius; himself to rule the West, and Licinius to rule the East.  To cement the relationship stronger, and as a gesture of his willingness to share power with Licinius, he offered his half-sister, Constantia, to Licinius as a wife.  Thus in 313 AD, Licinius became the brother in law of Constantine, and together they declared the Edict of Milan. 
It is called the Edict of Milan because the edict was declared in Milan.  With this edict, the Christians will not be persecuted on the basis of their religious belief; neither will their property be confiscated on the same basis.  They were free to worship the God they desired.  The declaration made Christianity lawful.  The idea for the edict, of course, did not come from Licinius, who at best felt that the Christians are mere pests, if not a threat to his government.  The idea was from Constantine, in gratitude to those Christians serving in his army, and especially to Hosius, who in Milan in 313 AD became his guest of honor, and afterward his useful associate and trustworthy envoy.
As is often the case in politics, there is no permanent friend, or permanent foe, only permanent interest.  Such was the case between Constantine and Licinius.  While Constantine was quite willing to share the empire, Licinius did not quite feel the same.  Thus in 316, they fought against one another in the war of Cibalae, with Constantine being victorious.  A year later, they clashed again in the battle of Campus Ardiensis, where agreement was reached to make both of their sons’ the Caesars.  The enmity climaxed by the year 324, where the great civil war ensued.  Licinius lost the war and was about to be executed, but Constantia, the sister of Constantine and the wife of Licinius, pleaded for her husband’s life.  Constantine agreed and granted an imperial pardon under a house arrest in Thessalonica. 
Any emperor worth his salt, however, would rather die than having his throne striped.  Such was the case with Licinius.  While Constantine may find a room in his heart to forgive the aggression of Licinius, the loser obviously cannot always forgive the victor.  Losing the open battle, Licinius secretly conspired to topple Constantine, as we had earlier seen.  The conspiracy being failed, and finding no more reconciliation between himself and his brother in law, Constantine ordered Licinius be put to death.  Constantine thus definitively, in early 325 AD, became the sole ruler of the whole Roman Empire.
It was a few weeks after Licinius was put to death that Hosius came to pay him a visit.  Hosius was about to give him a full report on the mission sent two years earlier by Constantine.   

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Polygamy: One Golden Umbrella Please


Among the Malay society, it is said that when a wife allows her husband to marry another woman, her abode in Paradise would be guaranteed.  On top of that, she will be given a golden umbrella.

Strangely, not many Malay women are thrilled with the prospect of a guaranteed Paradise.  As one Malay woman (a religious teacher no less) puts it, “I have no problem with polygamy, as long as it is not my husband who practices it.”  

As for the prospect of having a golden umbrella, not many among them are thrilled with it either.  Perhaps the umbrella made of gold would be too heavy to carry.  A tightly woven nylon or polyester, the stuff a normal umbrella is made of, would have been more practical.  Or perhaps it is the thought of having a rival which leaves the idea with a bad taste.  In any case, they would rather choose other route to Paradise.

But the Malay men seem to cherish the idea.  We need not waste out time speculating why it is so.

I was told that these are the sayings of the Prophet, but my search for authentic traditions on these has been fruitless.  Perhaps I have not been thorough in this research.

During my younger days, those who wanted to practice polygamy only justified it on the ground of following the Sunna of the Prophet.  Muhammad the Prophet married multiple women; therefore it is Sunna to do likewise, so they said.  But of course their female counterparts would be quick to retort and question as to why their husbands are so eager to follow this particular Sunna, while at the same time appear to be sluggish on following other Sunnas.

I also heard that it is more meritorious to practice polygamy instead of monogamy; that men with more than one wives would receive more rewards than others who have only one.  Perhaps the headache that comes with having multiple wives, and this headache can often be stronger than an acute migraine, makes them more forbearing, hence more meritorious.

As confessed to me in private, all my close friends who practice polygamy, however, do not seem to think that marrying more than one woman is such a meritorious thing to do.  I was even told by a friend that one particular polygamist would have turned back the time to a period when he was a monogamist, if only he could. 

To put the matter into perspective, the merit of allowing polygamy is not difficult to fathom.  Polygamy can be a practical solution to a practical problem.  After the war, for instance, when many women are widowed and many children are orphaned, polygamy is not only a sensible thing to do, but would appear to be highly recommended.  Or even if there is no war, but when the number of women exceeds the men, it is also a sensible approach to take.  Or when it is feared that the men can fall into adultery for one reason or another, polygamy could provide the answer, because Islam strictly forbid sexual relation outside of marriage.

But when it is entered mostly for the pleasure of having another woman to share one’s bed with, then the cost it entails is generally not commensurate with whatever benefit it may accrue.

Being a practical religion, Islam discourages celibacy.  Even if one is poor, one should still get married.  The Prophet also admonished his overly pious companions who refused to get married, fearing that women, and later on children, would disrupt their devotion to God. 

Men and women are meant for each other, but in most cases, two is already one too many.  What more if three or four.
 
Leading scholars such as al Qaradawi and Ibnu Taymiyyah, as well as countless others, say that polygamy is not something recommended, but something permissible.  There are certain conditions to be fulfilled for those who want to practice it. 

If truly polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy, then the Prophet would not have stopped his son in law, Ali, to marry another wife, when the idea was strongly objected by Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter and Ali’s wife. 

Arguments are often made that the reason Fatimah objected to the idea was because her prospective rival was the daughter of the Prophet’s archenemy, Abu Jahal.  But the daughter of Abu Jahal, whose name was Khataba, was already a Muslim at that time, and the sin of the father is not inherited to his children in Islam.  The Prophet himself married Umm Habibah, the daughter of Abu Sufyan, another archenemy of the Prophet.  The reason the Prophet cautioned Ali against the idea, therefore, must have been elsewhere.  Regardless of the real reason, the Prophet would not have stopped Ali from taking another wife if truly it is a meritorious thing to do.

Furthermore, if truly polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy in all circumstances, then the prenuptial agreement allowing the prospective bride to stipulate her agreement to marriage proposal on the ground that her would be husband would not take another wife once they are married, would not be valid in Islam.  But such is not the case.  Woman is allowed to stipulate such a clause, although many do not seem to know about it.

Marriage is a Sunna.  There is no doubt about it.  But having multiple wives is only permissible in Islam; it is not a recommended thing, except in exceptional circumstances.  One who wants to enter into polygamy must fulfill the required conditions and must know what it takes.  A polygamist is not more meritorious than a monogamist on account of having more wives.  On the contrary, he is facing higher risk of condemnation both in this world and the next world. 

The idea that polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy seems to come from an incidence between Ibnu Abbas and a group of some overly pious men who did not like the idea of getting married, fearing that marriage would disrupt their devotion to God.  To these people, Ibnu Abbas retorted: “The best man of this nation is the one with the most wives.”

Based on this saying, some conclude that polygamy is better than monogamy.  If one looks at the incidence more carefully, however, one would know that Ibnu Abbas did not suggest that such was the case.  He was admonishing a group of young devotees who had mistakenly believed that celibacy would bring them closer to God.  Ibnu Abbas told them that the best of this Ummah was the Prophet, and he had the most wives, since the restriction of having not more than four wives was not applicable to him.  The Prophet died leaving nine widows who were still alive.  In effect, Ibnu Abbas merely told them to get married, not to practice polygamy.

This matter should be presented as it is, not as one fancies it to be.  Those who suggest that polygamy should be abolished on account that it brings more harms than benefits—such as the disharmony in the married life, etc.—are taking the matter too far.  God would not have allowed polygamy if there is no merit in it.  But when the Quran (4:3) says that if you fear injustice, then marry only one, then one who is honest with himself would know where the matter lies.  Saying that polygamy is “more Sunna” than monogamy is self-serving, especially when one is looking for a young and beautiful maiden rather than a single mother with children to care for.

In any case, a woman who allows her husband to take another wife is truly an honorable woman.  Such woman deserves Paradise, especially if she does it out of goodness of her heart.  But to trick the womenfolk by saying that Paradise and Golden Umbrella are guaranteed for them if they allow their husbands to take another wives is an act of dishonesty. 

Anyone cares for a golden umbrella?

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Friday, July 12, 2013

The Celibate and the Amorous Prophets


Muhammad the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, is often depicted as a sex maniac who used his power to enjoy women at will.  Having multiple women as his wives was not enough for him.  On top of that, he had to have a child as his wife as well.

It would be of no use to point out to these people that Muhammad actually married a widow 15 years his senior, Khadija, who had been married twice before; that he did not take any other wife as long as she was alive thereafter, living together with her for 25 years; and that when she died, Muhammad was not looking for a young beautiful maiden to replace her, but an old widow of his age to take care of his household. 

Neither would it be useful to tell them that when Muhammad did marry multiple women thereafter, it was not for lust, but for practical (if not altogether for noble) reasons: that his marriages with Aisha and Hafsa were to cement relationship with his two close companions; with Juwairiya to honor the tribe he conquered; with Umm Habibah to honor the daughter of his archenemy who had been abandoned by her husband; with Zaynab his cousin to nullify the prevailing practice regarding the status of adopted son.  And so on and so forth.

It would be a waste of time because these people would be quick to point out that Muhammad remained a one woman’s man because he had no power when Khadija was alive; that he was grateful to her for uplifting the shackle of poverty from his back.  But as soon as he migrated to Madinah, and assumed the role as the absolute and undisputed leader, he began to accumulate women in his harem one by one.  All those practical reasons are therefore mere excuses.  He did not marry all those women for noble reasons.  He married them because he was an amorous man.

These are typical views that the Christians had about Muhammad's private life in the Middle Age, a period when they had a very strict view on sex and marriage.  One would think that since their perspective on sex and marriage has changed 360 degrees since then, as we have seen in the last episode, one would no longer find those views to be prevalent among the Christians. 

Such, however, is not the case.  Browse the Internet, and you surely will encounter such views.

Among these views, the favorite one is the charge the Muhammad was a pedophile.  Simply put, he preferred a girl instead of a grown up woman for sex.  Because of this attack, some well-meaning Muslims theorize that Aisha was 18 when she was married to the Prophet, not nine as generally believed.   

But the Muslims need not be apologetic about the Prophet having many wives, or that one of them was only “a child.”  Islamic worldview is not similar to other religions’ worldview.  Islam came as a complete package as other religions were not.  Islam came with a written scripture, that is the Quran, and a “living scripture,” namely Muhammad the Prophet himself.  It also came with complete and practical accessories, namely the Companions.  Muslims’ lives are to be molded based on these written scripture, living scripture and practical accessories.

Other religions do not have such luxuries. 

Hinduism does not have practical human examples to be followed.  It has scriptures, but the founder of this religion is not known, much less the examples he left behind.  The founder of Buddhism is known, but the life he left behind was not practical.  One has to be a monk to follow his footstep.

As for Christianity, its founder is considered a God.  Too little about Jesus Christ is known; too few examples left by him to be followed.  We do not know about his married life because he was said to live a celibate life.  We do not know how he ruled the country because he never managed to form a government.  All we know about him is that he was born miraculously without a father, and that towards the end of his life, he lived like a wandering teacher.

The only examples for the Christians to follow would be the Jewish prophets, because they accept Jewish Scripture to be part of their Bible.  But the Old Testament (Jewish Scripture) is replete with stories about men having multiple wives.  King David had 100 wives; Solomon had one thousand (700 wives and 300 concubines). 

Islam came to limit the number of wives one may have, unlike the Old Testament which put no limit to it.  When the verse limiting the number of wives was revealed, a number of companions who had married more than four had divorced some of their wives, to comply with the rules.  But the wives of the Prophet automatically became the Mothers of Believers.  Once married to the Prophet, they were no longer lawful for others to marry them, should the Prophet decide to divorce them.  Special provision was therefore granted to the Prophet, in that the limit was not applicable to him.  

Muhammad the Prophet had led a complete and practical life with more than adequate practical examples to be followed.  There is no example that a Muslim finds missing in him, including the matter regarding sex, marriage and parenthood. 

Had the Prophet led a celibate life, like his counterpart Jesus, he would have left a grim example to be followed. 

Had polygamy was not allowed at all, many widows would be left unprotected during his time and many other times thereafter. 

If he did not marry the young Aisha, then we would not know that women are eligible for marriage once they reach puberty. 

After all, it was from Aisha that we know about his bed manners, not from Khadija.


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Friday, July 5, 2013

The Curious Tale of Egyptian Arab Spring


When my friend posted on his Facebook’s wall, “Seerah of Uthman and Ali being replayed,” I responded saying that I did not know what he was referring to.  A few moments later, my wife told me that President Morsi of Egypt had just been ousted.  By then, I knew what my friend was talking about.  He was talking about the event leading to Morsi’s ouster.

Then my friend asked me to write about it in my blog.

To liken the tale of Egyptian Arab Spring with the Seerah of Uthman and Ali is a little difficult to make.  The differences between these two appear to be more than the similarities.

As for Caliph Uthman, he was ousted through assassination.  President Morsi too was ousted, but his eventual fate is still being written.  Beyond this, there is not much similarity. 

Uthman was elected from the six candidates chosen by Caliph Umar when the latter was stabbed.  Morsi was elected in the first legitimate general election after 60 years, subsequent to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.  Uthman was a member of Consultative Council during Umar; Morsi was an outsider who used to be imprisoned during Mubarak.  Uthman ruled for 12 year; Morsi managed only one year.

As for Caliph Ali, he took over the caliphate after the assassination of Uthman.  Morsi took over the presidency after the fall of Mubarak.  Ali ruled for about four and a half years and found relatively no peace.  So was Morsi, except that his presidency lasted only a year.  But beyond this, there is little similarity.

Ali was not among the rebels who protested against the reign of Uthman.  In fact, he was among Uthman’s supporters.  Although Ali had some disagreements with Uthman, the two maintained cordial relationship and Ali had direct accessed to the troubling caliph.  When the rebels surrounded the house of Uthman, he sent two of his sons to protect the caliph.  He offered his council to the caliph and tried his best to quench the rebellion. 

Morsi and the organization he represented, however, were among the protesters against Mubarak, although they played a background role.  Morsi was the beneficiary of the Egyptian Arab Spring because he supported it; the same cannot be said about Ali because he was against it. 

In spite of the differences, one may wonder, therefore, as to why my friend said that the Seerah of Uthman and Ali is being replayed?  The answer lies in his person.  He is a devoted Muslim who yearns for Islam to be established in Egypt.  Like many devoted Muslims, it breaks his heart to see Morsi fell in that way.  It breaks my heart too.

Uthman, Ali and Morsi are three good Muslim leaders who fall prey to the circumstances.  Their similarity lies here, except that the first two must be given priority since they are the leading companions directly trained by the Prophet himself.

Of the three, only Ali is the true victim of the circumstances, because to some extent, the fall of Uthman and Morsi was partly attributed to their own doing. 

Uthman was a great man but was not a great leader.  He was too gentle and too congenial, both to his kinsmen and to his enemies.   He forgave when punishment may have been a better action.  He refused to shed blood among Muslims.  If any blood were to be spilt, he wanted it to be his blood.  This is the characteristic of a great man, but a leader sometimes needs to spill some blood to avoid greater danger.  Uthman did nothing wrong as a man and as a Muslim, but his leadership in this aspect is somewhat wanting (may Allah forgive me for saying such a thing to a man loved by Allah and the Prophet).

As for Morsi, he miscalculated a little.  The Arab Spring that toppled the iron ruled of Hosni Mubarak was led mostly by the liberals and the secularists.  It was not led by any particular organization or political party.  It was led predominantly by the urban youths who wanted Egypt to be freed from the authoritarian rule. 

Morsi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  Although MB took part in the Arab Spring only in the background, it has an added advantage when the election time came.  MB is well organized with supporters all over the country, the majority of whom did not participate in the Arab Spring.  As general election is not participated only by the participants in the Arab Spring, but by every voter throughout the country, many of whom are MB supporters, it was not surprising therefore that the party backed by MB won the election.

But MB in general and Morsi in particular had misread the Arab Spring.  By winning the election, they must have thought that they were given the mandate to rule the country as they saw fit.  They moved quickly to establish Islamic Law because this is what they had been fighting for since MB was established in 1928.  They saw the opportunity and they seized it quickly, forgetting that the uprising known as the Arab Spring was actually initiated by different types of peoples and for different purpose.  In the process, they alienated the very people who gave them the opportunity. 

As Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-Prize winning diplomat put it in a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine: “The uprising was not about changing people, but changing our mind-set. What we see right now, however, is just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak’s era — only now with a religious icing on the cake.” (1)

MB also forgot that it is viewed as a threat worldwide.  While founded in Egypt, it has networks worldwide.  For that reason, it also has enemies worldwide.  Israel is especially threatened by its rise.  The Western countries definitely do not feel comfortable with MB regardless of what their leader say in the public.  The Arab monarchies are also not amused with the development.  Alienated internally and feeling threatened externally, in retrospection, it is not surprising that the revolt which gave it the opportunity also revolted to oust it.

The hardliners among the Islamists are already saying that Islam and democracy are not compatible, and that Islam cannot be established through democracy.   They cite the case of Algeria in 1991, and the Palestinian territories in 2006.  Perhaps they are right.  It could well be that whatever Morsi did, he would be ousted nevertheless.

But history also shows that the force of military power may not be the answer as well, as we have seen in the case of Taliban Afghanistan. 

In any case, we have to admit that while Islam remains the same, the world in the seventh century is not the same as the twenty first century.  The quick rise and the quick fall of MB and Morsi in Egypt should serve as the lesson to all Islamic movements worldwide, especially to the new governments in Tunisia and Libya, which also benefited from their Arab Springs. 

In spite of what is currently happening, and regardless of what people say, I believe that all is not lost.  MB should view what has happened in the cool headed manner.  It has to remember that when Islam first came to the scene, it eventually won and dominated the world because it had won the hearts and minds of the people.  Even though it has missed the opportunity, the organization is stronger now than during the Mubarak and his predecessors’ times.  Perhaps MB will be given a second chance, albeit in a lesser mode.
  
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