Getting to Know Allah


The buzz of the alarm clock was my signal to get up and go downstairs to make the coffee. Ten minutes later, a warm cup of coffee in each hand, I would make my way back up the stairs, leaving one cup on the desk in my home office, and the other on her bathroom vanity. Back in the bedroom I would open the curtains, then walk over to the bed to kiss her good morning.

Lucette would shower and get dressed. After a quick breakfast I would drive her to her job on Parliament Hill, a ten-minute drive. For 35 years, she was one of the fifty or so elite professionals who provide translation and simultaneous interpretation to the House of Commons, the Senate of Canada, Parliamentary and Cabinet Committees and Party Caucuses. After a hurried goodbye and have a nice day—Wellington Street, in front of Parliament, is busy first thing in the morning—I would make my way back home and begin my day’s work, reading and writing about the Koran.

When she got home at the end of the day, depending on the season (and the weather), we would sit on the front porch with a glass of wine and some munchies and she would review and comment on my day’s work. I always had a copy of Fakhry’s interpretation of the Koran on my lap ready to answer her questions. This was when her Master's in Linguistics, specialty Translation, came in handy. Sipping her wine, she would patiently explain some of the nuances of Fakhry’s translation that I had failed to grasp or that I might have misunderstood.

We agreed on most things when it came to Islam and the threat it posed to Western Civilization—except that it would all come to pass, that the moderates would win the day and the March of Civilization would continue; that we would not see the Enlightenment, which ushered in the Age of Reason, undone. If our discussion became too animated and we could not find common ground, we changed the subject, if only temporarily.

For example, she had never watched Let The Quran Speak, a half-hour program hosted by Shabir Ally, President of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre in Toronto, then broadcasted across Canada most Saturday nights on Vision TV. This Saturday’s topic was the controversial Verse 4:34 that condones the beating of a spouse who disobeys her husband, or whose husband fears she will disobey.

4:34 Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they spend some of their wealth. Hence righteous women are obedient, guarding the unseen (their sex) which Allah has guarded. And those of them that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them. Should they obey you, do not seek a way of harming them; for Allah is Sublime and Great!

When we came upon the program, Shabir Ally was being questioned by a young woman wearing the traditional headscarf (hijab) on the meaning of what is often referred to as the "wife beating verse." Ally was not put off by her questions and appeared comfortable with being interviewed by a female. He offered an explanation that I had never heard before, nor come across in my research on the Koran. He said that Revealed Truth (an unassailable fact communicated to a mortal by a god) 4:34 had to be looked at in a much wider context, and in that wider context, Allah did not sanction the beating of one’s wife, but instead, instructed the community to protect and look after wives.

Lucette was impressed by Ally’s restrained and positive interpretation of a revelation which, when taken at face value, gives a husband not only the right, but a God-given responsibility to physically discipline his wives for both real and illusory transgressions against him or the All Mighty. The discussion of Shabir Ally’s interpretation of Verse 4:34 would lead us to the trial of Galileo charged with heresy for supporting Copernicus’ theory that the Earth revolves around the sun.

In the Bible, it is written that during the Israeli conquest of Palestine, God ordered the sun to stand still in the sky for a day so the Israelites could complete the extermination of the Amorites.

Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day (Joshua 10: 12-13).

God had commanded the sun to stand still, not the Earth. To accept Galileo’s explanation would have meant, for Christians raised on the literal interpretation of the Bible, that the Bible was wrong. This was unacceptable to Pope Urban VIII. It was not that he did not believe in the Copernican system; he simply wanted Galileo to keep quiet while the Church guided the faithful to a new interpretation of the scriptures concerning the sun interrupting its race across the sky for twenty-four hours.

My wife thought that Shabir Ally was just doing what the informed leadership in Rome had done, gradually getting the believers to abandon a simplistic, literal interpretation of the Koran.

Lucette was the optimist in our more than thirty-year marriage. I did not agree. When it comes to women's rights and religion, I argued that this was a doomed strategy; and in any event, women should not have to compromise on fundamental issues such as equality in the hope that one day, an enlightened male religious leadership will consider them equal in every way. She said I was being obstinate and unrealistic.

To avoid going to bed upset, we decided to watch the Australian Open where an obstinate and determined Greek Cypriot, Marcos Baghdatis, beat the overwhelming favourite, number two seed American Andy Roddick.

If we can, believers and non-believers, have the type of discussions Lucette and I had about Islam—taking time-outs if the discussion gets too animated—then her optimism that a modern interpretation of the Koran along with mutual respect and understanding will eventually overcome fanaticism and intolerance may be validated. Nothing would make her and me happier in this world or the next.

Lucette passed away on July 5, 2019.