Friday, August 06, 2004

The Impurity of Tears

Islam divides things into pak (pure) and najis (unclean). Al Sistani's Web site lists "ten things are essentially najis." They include blood, shit, piss, dead bodies, pigs, dogs -- and infidels (kafir). Even the tears of an infidel, if he eats pork, are unclean.

Islamic theologians debate who exactly is a "kafir," and especially whether the term applies to Christians and Jews. Sistani has a fairly humane interpretation of Islam. He believes Christians and Jews may be pak, not najis. Then again, they may not be. Because of the uncertainty, he advises, "it is better to avoid them." According to

An infidel i.e. a person who does not believe in Allah and His Oneness, is najis. ... As regards the people of the Book (i.e. the Jews and the Christians) who do not accept the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad bin Abdullah (Peace be upon him and his progeny), they are commonly considered najis, but it is not improbable that they are Pak. However, it is better to avoid them.

The entire body of a Kafir, including his hair and nails, and all liquid substances of his body, are najis.

If the parents, paternal grandmother and paternal grandfather of a minor child are all kafir, that child is najis, except when he is intelligent enough, and professes Islam. When, even one person from his parents or grandparents is a Muslim, the child is Pak.

If a Pak thing touches a najis thing and if either or both of them are so wet that the wetness of one reaches the other, the Pak thing will become najis.

As a polytheist, of course, I'm clearly najis. Could I be treated in a hospital if I fell sick in a land where this division of pure and impure was believed? Could I be permitted to use a public toilet? As I read Sistani's interpretation, if I shake hands with a Muslim, who is sweating, he becomes najis by his contact with me. And if he dries his hand on a towel, that towel, too, becomes najis. But if another Muslim with wet hands uses the towel, the najis is not communicated to him.

And remember, this is Al Sistani -- one of the sensible and least strident men in power positions in modern Islamic scholarship. He is one of the men we count on for stability in creating a secular society there.

And you wonder why I prefer secular liberal democracy to Islamist theocracy.