Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Missionaries in North Africa Encountering Islam

"To lift up the Arab, as [Cardinal] Lavigerie wanted to lift him from his stagnant Moslem world, required more than providing the means to make his life easier.  The Arab could be instructed to farm intelligently, he could be given medical care, he could be taught to read and write so that he might discover for himself what was going on in the world beyond his own small sphere.  Yet these things would not change him sufficiently to turn him into the kind of man Lavigerie wanted him to be.  What was needed was a change in basic attitudes, changes that would make him tolerant not only toward Christians but toward his own people.  Islam as practiced in Algeria was a man's religion.  Women mattered little, either in the mosque or in the home.  Lavigerie believed that the best gauge of civilization was the way a nation treated its women, that if the Arabs were to derive any benefit at all from the new Christian influence around them, the first place for it should be in the liberation of Arab women from the ranks of slaves.  At that time, Arab women could be bought and sold, and their price depended on how much work they could do in the house and in the field and on how many children they could produce.  Arab princes had their harems, to be sure, but chances of getting into one were so slim that mothers dreamed of it for their daughters.  Prostitution though it was, it was better than the bleak life of suffering that otherwise faced any Arab girl born outside a palace.  Most Arab women died young from disease or exhaustion.  They were constantly pregnant, and the majority of their children were either stillborn or lived only a short time.  A women who for any reason was unable to do her share of the work was simply turned out of the house, and if she had no family to return to-and her family did not want her back-she could only hope that some man might take her in.  Making the Arab woman more helpless in her plight was the fact that actually there was very little about her to make a man feel any different toward her.  She had no education, she could not cook, sew, or take care of her children properly, she did not know how to run her house.  Indeed, she could not even call the place where she lived her house because most often she shared it with two or three other wives of the same husband."

-Glenn Kittler

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