A while back, there was a post on Coming Anarchy that referenced this fatwa concerning the question of whether a woman could, under Shariah, lawfully refuse her husband’s request for sex if she is tired from having performed her other Islamic duties (such as nightly prayers).
I’m not at all impressed by the conclusion reached – at best, it’s medieval sophistry, at worst, it’s little more than institutionalized rape. That’s not what motivated me to write this post, though.
For those not in the know, a fatwa is basically a ruling on Islamic religious law issued by an imam or other Islamic authority. Since they’re issued by a wide range of individuals and institutions distributed throughout the Ummah, they often disagree with one another, sometimes violently. Taken together, though, they’re an organic body of law quite different to what we have in the West – probably the closest parallel is English common law – Shariah, however, is much more diverse and, it seems, much less structured. As a method of making and applying law, its distributed nature is actually somewhat attractive; however, as it’s based on literal interpretations of a religious text, it is, by definition, fundamentalist, and thus thoroughly unattractive.
There’s a number of online repositories containing fatwas, some with comparatively liberal outlooks, others extremely conservative. I find them interesting because they offer a window into Islamic law and culture that I’ve not had before. While I’m sure there’s a selection bias based on which groups are willing to put their fatwas online and in English, they still contain a diversity of opinion, and really interesting to browse through.
Bias time – I’m a filthy materialist, looking with a perspective similar to someone visiting the zoo. Some fatwas repulse me, others vaguely disturb me, and still others make a certain amount of sense.
It’s really important not to judge Islamic culture in its entirity by these; many Islamic cultures do not rely solely on law derived from fundamentalist interpretations of a religious text. Even so, it’s hard not to be dumbfounded by the quaintness of it all. Take, for example, the particularly convoluted line of reasoning in the first link below, in which video recordings bypass restrictions on images by virtue of the fact that you can’t actually see little sports people when you look at the tape. It’s a good demonstration of how literally applying 1400 year old writings to modern situations leads to absurdity.
So, in the interests of learning, here’s a few that I’ve dug up:
While slowly uploading 3 years of email archives to gmail this afternoon, I spent a while poking about random video blogs following links from last week’s Epic-FU. While the content is amusing, it’s the fact that they even exist that really interests me – random people creating not only content, but regular shows, of quality at least the same as I’d expect from regional TV. It’s been said for some time that the internet facilitates a massive democratization of culture, but you don’t really get that as a gut feeling until you go out* and dig around.
It’s really quite heartening. There’s a real golden age going on – a huge diversity of people picking up tools, making some stuff, and changing the world. There’s a directness and apparent honesty to the content that’s really appealing. Even though a lot of it’s fairly low brow, that’s OK – it’s usually deliberate, and you don’t get the feeling that you’re being condescended to by a media conglomerate that’s decided you (as part of the great unwashed) are insufficiently intelligent or attentive. And that’s not to say that it’s typically low brow – there’s some really great, really thought provoking content out there, too..
Anyway, vector – Epic-Fu is a 5 minute weekly that covers pop internet culture. Episodes usually contain a mix of music, pop culture video links and notes about cool new web tools, as well as the occasional WTF? – one episode a couple of weeks back, for example, was interspersed with ‘FUnetics’, a Scientology spoof with a weird alternate reality web game attached to it.
Here’s the two videos that started me ranting..
Oddly compelling freestyle mouth music on the streets of America – from RocketBoom
One last thing – I stumbled across For Your Imagination somewhere this morning; it’s a startup aiming to provide production services to people wanting to run video casts of their own. This, too, is pretty heartening, and it’ll be interesting to see how this works – it seems to be focused on providing a service to creators rather than exploiting them as current media conglomerates do. Of course, what matters is how the service matures. Anyway, check out their demo reel on the site’s front page. Make sure you give it time to load, though – if the video isn’t fully downloaded, it just stops playing and goes back to the beginning.
* By ‘go out’, what I really mean is sit in front of your computer and click some of the buttons** you haven’t clicked before.
** By ‘click buttons’, what I really mean is click the button on your mouse while holding it in a particular place on your desk, following a sequence of similar actions that have placed your your mouse cursor over a particular shape on your screen***.
*** As a complete aside, the layers of abstraction in the words we use to describe our behaviour on the internet are totally fascinating, don’t you think? I wonder if you could judge depth of change by the average depth of indirections between the metaphors used to describe typical actions and the literal meaning of those words. Internet life is at least at depth three or four..