Was the Islamic Alexander the product of a gangbang?

By Razib Khan | July 14, 2006 9:18 am

Wikipedia is really funny, I mean, what you stumble upon…Nikah Ijtimah “is a form of polyandry that existed in the Pre-Islamic period in the Arabian peninsula.” I knew of the purported existence of polyandry in pre-Islamic Arabia (see No God but God), but this, I did not know of:

…there were four types of marriage during the Pre-Islamic period of ignorance. One … type of marriage was that a group of less than ten men would assemble and enter upon a women, and all of them would have sexual relations with her. If she became pregnant and delivered a child and some days had passed after her delivery, she would send for all of them and none of them could refuse to come, and when they all gathered before her she would say to them “You (all) know what you have done and now I have given birth to a child. So it is your child O so and so! Naming whoever she liked and her child would follow him and he could not refuse to take him.”

In Mother Nature Sarah Hrdy describes cultures, like the Ache of Paraguay, where partial paternity is accepted. That is, a more than one man might be the potential father, so responsibilities are divided appropriately. Hrdy tells of another case where one group of Yanomamo set upon another. It so happens that the attackers were known to the overwhelmed villagers, and a Brazilian captive recounts the story of a Yanomamo woman pleading for the life of her son by arguing that there is a non-trivial possibility that the child might be the son of one particular warrior who has taken it upon himself to kill the young. The warrior considers the probability, and dismisses it, and immediately kills the child.


In any case, the money shot, I am surprised that I didn’t stumbled upon the fact that Muawiyah I might have been conceived via Nikah Ijtimah. But the might must be emphasized, because Muawiyah is reviled by many Muslims, especially the Shia, for his role in the usurpation of the Caliphate from Ali. With his line, the Umayyads, the history of Islam enters its period of worldly expansion, the great swaths of conquest in the first decades of Islam were due to this Arab Alexander and his successors. If the Shia detest him, the Sunni are not much more favorable, the Umayyads are sometimes termed the “Arab Kingdom” for the non-Islamic character of their rule. To a great extent Muawiyah and his successors left the Hellenistic and Persian substrate untouched, their rule being one of a garrison culture which collected rents from the older civilizations over which they now ruled. The subsequent Abbassid Caliphate which overthrew the Umayyads can be argued to be more fundamentally Islamic. But, it can also be argued that the character of Islam was not fully formed during the late 7th and early 8th centuries, so the attacks against the Umayyads are a combination of history being written by the sycophants of the Abbassids and the natural attenuated nature of Islamic practice during this period.
In any case, I do find it amusing that while many great men like Jesus, the Buddha and Plato were born of virgins, Muawiyah, a man of a different character altogether might have been born of the inverse scenario, a man of many fathers instead of none.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion
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Comments (22)

  1. In any case, the money shot

    cringe

  2. Per the wikipedia & historical method: I would be wary of accepting something from the Hadith at face value as a historical reference, in the same way that I would be wary of accepting the Bible or Koran or Damapada as straight-up historical records. Religious texts are historically useful, but they aren’t histories; and the Hadith has a very particular axe to grind. Islam, for all its arabism, was in the beginning working to effect a complete cultural revolution of the Arabic peoples. Reading the Hadith describe a gang bang (something obviously offensive the Islamic view of gender, sex, and marriage) is like reading the Tanakh say that the canaanites were heathen idol-worshippers or reading the Spanish accounts of the Aztecs promiscuity.
    That said, Hrdy’s work on south American partible paternity is fascinating. It’s not just when paternity is “in question,” but a literally different way of organizing paternity and gender. Women are sexually autonomous and anyone they have sex with while pregnant (not very scientific) is considered the father of the child. They do not believe that paternity is “in question,” but believe that all the men contributed to the production of the child and are therefore repsonsible. Research indicates that children with multiple fathers may actually ahve a higher survivability that those with single paternity.

  3. Mr. Me

    Can you elaborate on how partial paternity plays out, like if one of these potential fathers finds another mate does he ditch his investment in his potential child and shift to the certain child, or are there traditional/cultural barriers to that? Any idea on how faithfully the tradition of Nikah Ijtimah was followed in practice? It seems like it would become fairly unstable when the child has a 1/9 or even 1/5 chance of descending from the chosen father, especially if that father was chosen for his wealth over the other potentially free-riding ganbangers.

  4. I would be wary of accepting something from the Hadith at face value as a historical reference
    yes.
    Any idea on how faithfully the tradition of Nikah Ijtimah was followed in practice?
    these sort of practices are on the end of the range of normal.

  5. You may find this article helpful to make sense of partible paternity:
    Kim McDonald, “Shared Paternity in South American Tribes Confounds Biologists and Anthropologists” in Chornicle of Higher Education 4/9/99, Vol. 45 Issue 31, p. A19.
    ABSTRACT: Presents studies on multiple fatherhood in indigenous societies in South America. Evolutionary roles of female fidelity and male provisioning; The view that multiple fatherhood may minimize sexual jealousy; Similar behavior in Western society; Studies by Stephen J. Beckerman and Kristen Hawkes; Findings discussed at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  6. Karen Lofstrom

    That comment re Muawiyah is probably invention. The Shi’a hate him, the Sunni, following the Abbasids, hate him — for all Muslims, it’s OK to hate the Umayyads. The Wikipedia articles re Islam have been a battleground between Sunni and Shi’a, Salafis and everyone else, and between Muslims and anti-Muslim bigots. I was trying to keep them neutral but gave up in exhaustion and despair. I was getting too angry.
    The indispensible Montgomery Watt spends a lot of time in his 50-year old biography of Muhammad (in two volumes, (Muhammad at Mecca and Muhammad at Medina) discussing possible marriage customs at the time of Muhammad. The evidence is VERY sketchy, and filtered through a thousand years of sectarian wrangling. Watt believes (and it seems likely to me) that various Arabian tribes had various customs, some of which were more woman-friendly than others.

  7. razib

    i appreciate your comment karen. i suspect you are right.

  8. Karen,
    I would appreciate your direction in finding methodologically objective social-science and historical works on Islam. It’s not just the anti-Muslim bigots who muddy the waters, but Westerners who are afraid of appearing bigoted and so distort their research, and muslim apologists who can be deafening in their apologies. Among them, it’s hard to get a clear picture.
    Some of the compelling textual evidence for the production of the Qur’an (e.g., Crone) seems fascinating to me (and sociologically makes sense), but I can’t seem to get a read within the cacophony of contemporary muslim studies about works like that.
    Incidentally, the wikipedia articles on Gerd Puin and patricia Crone and John Wansbrough seem pretty even-handed; is that because I’m ignorant of the field?
    (If you would prefer to contact me directly, instead of hijacking Razib’s blog, here’s my email: bkyu@pacbell.net Sorry razib to use your comment section for this, but Karen’s post didn’t include a link for me to contact her directly, and I’d really appreciate her insight.)

  9. Sorry razib to use your comment section for this
    don’t mention it.

  10. Where did you hear about Buddha’s virgin birth? There may be some mythology associated with a heavenly spirit entering Queen Maya’s body during a dream presaging the birth etc. But I think most people believe Prince Siddhartha’s birth to be an earthly event. Remember, the Buddhists do not ascribe any divinity to Buddha – he was just the perfect human. Any such belief that Buddha was a godly incarnate is in fact held by Hindus.
    There are regions in India where polyandry was (and still may be) practiced, usually involving brothers. The system was definitely more economically favorable to the woman and her progeny.
    The most famous case of polyandry in Indian literature is of course the marriage of Draupadi to the five Pandava warrior brothers in Mahabharat. Interestingly enough, the scribes of the Mahabharat assign unambiguous paternity to each of Draupadi’s five sons. There is no mention in the epic if the group followed a strict pattern of cohabitation by rotation, in which case paternity could indeed be established beyond doubt.

  11. There may be some mythology associated with a heavenly spirit entering Queen Maya’s body during a dream presaging the birth etc. But I think most people believe Prince Siddhartha’s birth to be an earthly event.
    googling and print.google suggests this is a confused issue that is often muddled by christian preconceptions. so i’ll withdraw it because i don’t have time to establish further clarity on this legend.
    Any such belief that Buddha was a godly incarnate is in fact held by Hindus.
    actually, non-elite buddhsits regularly exhibit this belief. see d. jason slone in theological incorrectness where he uses typical therevada buddhists in sri lanka as a case study.

  12. Remember, the Buddhists do not ascribe any divinity to Buddha – he was just the perfect human.
    You’re making the same kind of mistake that Christians make when they argue with each other over the “truth,” making claims about what Christians “really” believe (or making normative claims about what they “should” belive.
    There are millions of Buddhists who believe that the Buddha was divine (i don’t know about virgin birth) and he is worshipped alongside numerous boddhistatvas (sp?). When you’re talking about more than a billion people, and a religion that has developed and evolved in at least 40 different cultures and lanugages for over 2500 years, any statement beginning “Buddhists believe” becomes nearly nonsensical.
    This is always the difficulty in talking about major world religions. Even the smallest of them, Judaism, is incredibly diverse internally. At best you can talk about sort of competing ‘gravitational wells’ within huge meaning systems, so that the non-divinity of buddha may be a center of gravity within buddhism, but it’s one among many competing centers of gravity. Jesus, Buddha and Kunfuzi all have this same debate/conflict in the religions that grew up after their deaths: were they divine or human?

  13. j. todd,
    you make a good point about the diversity of explicit beliefs. there is really no ‘litmus test’ for most religions. that beign said, i would also offer that there are “under the hood” cognitive processes which also suggest universality of belief across all religionists. that is, the modal buddhist and christian worship the same concept of god, even if clerical elites regularly multiply necessary definitions in a game of generating a task for their profession.

  14. razib “i would also offer that there are “under the hood” cognitive processes which also suggest universality of belief across all religionists. that is, the modal buddhist and christian worship the same concept of god”
    Say what? Buddhism at its base has no concept of god or gods (except in the form of gods and devils being caught within the cycle of reincarnation/transmigration, and what was human now could be a god or devil in a later incarnation). Certain traditions do seem to have some form of supernatural being (pure land is one that has always confused me and seems most opposed to traditional buddhist thought), this being an artifact as buddhism was incorporated into the native beliefs, but the “creator of everything” or a supernatural entity that cares about us in the personal sense, or a deity that claims a group of people as priveleged, just seems to run counter to everything I have learned. As I said, as the tradition arose and migrated around to different people, the basic buddhist concepts were modified by the people, but I’m not sure that would be a “modal” view. Buddhism, as I understand it, deals with reality and how to eliminate dukkha, and any concept of god is irrelevant and meaningless.
    I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from. Any chance of elaboration?

  15. I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from. Any chance of elaboration?
    yes. what you read in the canon of any religion, codified, modified and commented upon clerical elites, usually has no relationship to the cognitive representation of the individual believers. buddhist might declare god is irrelevant, but therevada buddhists in sri lanka treat buddha just as a god like any other in their day to day behavior and mental states.
    because human minds have particular constraints there seems to be a common way for our species to model beings, whether higher or not. even if christians aver that they beleive in a trinity, they basically conceive of three separate individuals. even if theists of the ‘high religions’ declare that god is everywhere, they make great sacrifices to soujourn to where god’s presence is felt to be greater. even if many theists declare that free will is invalid because god determines all, they live their own lives as if choice does exist.
    my point is to be cautious in taking explicit verbal assertions as the literal truth of how people actually model the world and interact with it.
    there is difference between what people believe they believe
    and what they believe

  16. I agree with the distinction that Razib and Ormsbee make between what followers of a faith should believe and do believe. (That goes for political faith too. Some of my neighbors probably still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.) However, the point I made was that virgin birth and/or the Buddha’s divinity are not articles of faith in Buddhism as a whole. Whereas when it comes to Christ, you can not be a Christian without accepting virgin birth, son of god and resurrection.

  17. Whereas when it comes to Christ, you can not be a Christian without accepting virgin birth, son of god and resurrection.
    this is not true. there are individuals who aver that they are christians who would reject some or all of these points (especially one & two, where whole sects will reject these contentions). some of the dssenters are even bishops of the church.

  18. Well, I guess one learns something everyday. Although I beg to differ somewhat.
    What one must recognize about organized religion is that it sometimes matters little how you reconcile your own considered beliefs with the popular faith. Mainstream religion is group think. So it matters more how the group perceives you. I doubt that the sects and the bishop your refer to will be considered Christians by most others of the faith. I mean look at the Mormons, the Ahmediyyas. How are they perceived by other Christians and Muslims? If you disagree, write your own myths and philosophy.
    Religion is a human construct anyway and the majority rules by a set of unverifiable and arbitrary doctrines . I have never understood why someone would continue to claim adherence to a faith after having rejected its accepted guidelines and central defining tenets. Its like organized sports. Either you accept the rules and play or don’t play at all. Can’t play American football by soccer rules and keep calling it football. Why would gays want to receive communion? Why would Bishop Spong want to redefine a theistic church in non-theistic terms? What’s the point? (In his last exhortation he sounds like a Hindu, almost) For that matter, given the position of women in most major religions, why is any woman religious in the traditional way?

  19. ruchira,
    organized sports are organized. there are leagues with rules, and the teams operate as an oligopoly. modern religion though is different in that there are low barriers of entry.
    as an unbeliever i am a nominalist in religion. operationally i can accept modally accepted consenses for the purposes of discussion, but, fundamentally i do not accept that religious statements and concepts have much substantive content.
    as for why bishop spong wants to redefine christianity.
    1) i don’t think he’ll be successful. religion doesn’t explore the full sample space, it is constrained by cognitive parameters, and theism is one (those which have tried to be explicitly non-theistic, like jainism, have tended to revert to theism ‘on the ground’ no matter what elite practioners profess).
    2) on the other hand, i’m sure that groups like the ebionites were perplexed at the attempt by paulines to take the message of jesus of nazareth, meant clearly for the jewish people, to the whole world. remember, christianity was the first universal tribal religion, a seeming paradox in terms (buddhism in contrast seems to be a universal non-tribal religion, explaining its greater interleaving with local religious substratum).
    my overall point is that there must be two levels of discourse. with the religious i take their terms for granted and do not engage in excessive semantic reorientation because they take their premises and beliefs as ontological commitments rather than concepts open to reflective analysis (though some cognitive psychologists who study religion are actually theists). but, when it comes to non-religious people i demand that they simply not take religious concepts at face value as if it has any meaning aside from what society imposes upon it. rather, religious is just another natural phenomena ready to be decomposed and reduced to its various constituent parts.

  20. Razib, thanks for the reply. I’m not sure I completely agree with you, but then most of my research and readings have been in more Westernized buddhism (Lama Surya Das), Tibetan (Dalai Lama), and Zen (Watts, Suzuki, Hagen) – my journal has my reading list. There has been very little written there (mainly to say that Buddha was not divine, nor should he be worshipped as such), but, as you say, there is a difference between what is written and how people act.
    Most of the people I’ve talked to/encountered on the web would say you are mistaken, but for some they do seem to put Buddha on some sort of pedastal (despite his admonitions not to) which could be related to divinity. One individual was shocked and disgusted (basically) in the “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” line. It could be the general human trait of “deification” of people (look at the way that some treat Reagan). Some people seem to think that respect should be akin to worship, unfortunately (or perhaps for some people it blends into the same thing). Maybe someday we’ll work our way past such things, but I have a feeling we’ll just express it in different ways.
    -side note- I’ve also talked with many Buddhists online, but I tend to avoid the more religious/supernatural-themed threads and people, so you could very well be right in the scale/extent of such beliefs/practices. I may have to do some diving now that my curiousity has been raised.

  21. Razib:
    You are almost as argumentative as my daughter !
    Actually, you and I are not saying anything too different, in as much as:
    … with the religious i take their terms for granted and do not engage in excessive semantic reorientation because they take their premises and beliefs as ontological commitments rather than concepts open to reflective analysis… Hence my problem with Bishop Spong splitting hairs about Christian doctrine. He wants to play in the established league by redefining the rules. Why? Form your own sporting league, I say.
    As a non-religious person, I would be much more open to accepting another’s religiosity if indeed it was a “personal” revelatory experience and interpretation, however illogical. My own rejection of religion is precisely due to the absence of such an experience thus far and my reluctance to accept anyone else’s word for it. It is in fact the universality of major religions accepted without examination and reflection by a vast majority of human beings which makes me uncomfortable and impatient.
    When I was speaking about Christian articles of faith re: virgin birth, son of god, resurrection etc. I was actually doing exactly what you are prescribing. Accepting their words for what they purport to believe, at least publicly. I find no reason to look into their hearts for the fine distinctions and minutiae that they may be struggling with, as long as they claim to be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever. They are defining themselves, not I.
    And, organized religion is very much like organized sporting leagues. The rule books are clear and the boundaries defined. Try a Zidane like head butt and the red card will be whipped out in a flash.
    On a different note, here is something you may want to blog about.

  22. It is in fact the universality of major religions accepted without examination and reflection by a vast majority of human beings which makes me uncomfortable and impatient.
    sure, but you can’t expect most people to examine & reflect, they aren’t too bright.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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