RASTAFARIANS Islam interprets the relationship between a man and a woman as one, which should make many babies while living a peaceful existence. “...(God) has created men and women as company for one another, and so that they can reproduce and live in peace and serenity according to the commandments of Allah and the directions of his messenger.” On the other hand,“...(Rastafarians) view the position (of) women as a (weak-willed) one.” “...(Although) women are respected,...(and sometimes) even feared, (because of) their powers of fertility,...(their existence is still gazed upon as a fragile one).” Although both religions entrust the women with existence, thereby acknowledging that a woman’s womb is the giver of life, the women in these religions do not hold the same status as their male counterparts. The men (almost always) have extra marital affairs, and have many children, under the one condition that he keeps his wife happy “...(with
the penis)” and supports his family. “(Nevertheless), the control of women by men is reinforced through myth and symbol”.
The Rastafarian religion began in Africa. Although it has no founder, Marcus Garvey’s philosophy influenced it in its beginning. Born in 1887, directed ideologies that grew into the Rastafarian movement. In the early 1920’s, Garvey was the puissant black spokesman and founder of the “Back to Africa” movement. Garvey often spoke of the reparation of his people as coming from a future black African king. On one occasion, during a speech at one the meetings, Garvey proclaimed, “Look to Africa for the crowning of a black King, he shall be the Redeemer”. A few years later that prediction was realized when Ethiopia’s king, Ras Tafari Makonnen (hence the name Rastafarian) took the throne on November 2,1930. Upon coronation, he claimed for himself the titles of Emperor Haile Selassie (Power of the Trinity) I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe Judah, Elect God and King of the Kings of Ethiopia.
Selassie was not a Rastafarian himself. He was a devout Christian. Rastafarians believe that ‘God’ is not supposed to know that he is ‘God’. That is why when a group of Rastafarians went to Ethiopia to honor him, an official at the palace told them to go away. This did not anger the Rastafarians, nor make them question their belief. Instead it made them stronger. One of the Rastafarian beliefs is that Haile Selassie I has trotted on to the perfect flesh, and sits on the highest point of Mount Zion where He along with Empress Menen await the time of judgment.
Some quick facts about Rastafarians are that they also believe that each individual group and person is self-governing. While it is often associated with dreadlocks, smoking marijuana and reggae music, the Rastafarian religion is so much more. Some symbols of this faith are that the lion of Judah represents Haile Sellasie I. It represents the King of Kings as the lion is the king of all beasts. There are also several terms used in the Rastafarian religion or what some may call ‘Rasta Talk’. If noticed after Haile Selassie, there is an ‘I’. ‘I’ or “I and I” has several meanings. The most common definition of ‘I’ is that God is in all men. The _expression "I and I" is frequently heard among Rasta talk. What it means is that no person is more privileged than the other in the basic truth of life. All people are totally equal. This is why many times Rastas will opt to use "I and I" instead of "you and I" because they believe that all people are bound together by the one god, Jah. Another term used in Rasta talk is Babylon, which is often referred to as the white political power structure that has been holding the black race down for centuries. Rasta’s believe that Jah will send the signal and help the blacks exodus, meaning mass departure, back to Ethiopia...their homeland. It is also believed that the devil is actually the god of the White man. One of the more visible symbols of the Rastafarians is the color. These colors are red gold and green. The color red stands for the Church Triumphant, which is the church of the Rastas. It also symbolizes the blood that the martyrs have shed in the history of the rastas. The yellow represents the wealth of the homeland. Green represents the beauty and vegetation of Ethiopia, their promised land. Another characteristic of the Rasta’s belief is the use of Ganja for religious purposes. Its use is written in the bible in scriptures saying “He causeth the grass for the cattle and herb for the services of man” (Psalms 104:14), ". . . thou shalt eat the herb of the field " (Genesis 3:18) and ". . . eat every herb of the land " (Exodus 10:12). The use of this herb is very extensive among Rastas not only for relaxation, but for spiritual and medical purposes.
On the other hand, Islam originated in the seventh century when the message was revealed to the holy prophet Muhammad. Although, the revelations were passed down from Allah (‘The God’) to angel Gabriel, Muhammad manifested the knowledge. This message was thus preserved in the Holy Quran. The Quran is perceived as the word of God, the supreme Allah. Islam means submission or self-surrender of one’s own pleasure for the pleasure of God. Muslims believe that you must not only surrender to God but the laws of the world also. Muslims believe that every person is born pure and we have a choice to either follow good or evil. Islam teaches that the path to spiritual growth is open to all. Nonetheless, the main message is to seek delight God through faith, prayer and charity. To be a genuine Muslim there are five pillars of faith that must be followed. The first pillar is the Shahadei, which is a profession of faith. It is accepting the holy prophet Muhammad and his unity with Allah. The second pillar, observing the prescribed prayer, would occur at least five times a day. The next pillar would be the fasts during the month of Ramadan. The payment of Zakat, which is the fourth pillar, warrants that 2.5% of salary goes to charity after all family issues are taken care of. The most important pillar of them all is the Hajj. The Hajj is the pilgrimage from Medina to Mecca. Many Muslims go to the Hajj at least once in their lifetime and see it as an initiation.
Rastafarians, unlike the Muslims do not have it written in their handbooks how they should treat the women in their lives. It is just simply the way of life. They do not even have to go get married if they do not want to, unlike Muslims who are strongly urged to do so to follow the path of Allah. But, they do share some of the same views. Rastamen believe as long as their women have money in their pocket and their sexual needs met there really should not be any problems. “Ooman a ‘ebi load...when di money no nuff...(but)Ooman and wood neber quarrel.” Fortunately, in “the mid-1970’s the (formal but) enforced subordination of the Rastafari women to her Rastafari ‘king man’ precluded any role outside of the domestic sphere (was interrupted)”. Daughter Loi is the leader of the movement claiming that there is a ‘double oppression’ going on. She states that black women are oppressed first as blacks and then secondly as women. “Her call is for equality”.
Before the movement, the Rastafari women have always been insignificant to the men. “The place of all (women) is below that of all males, regardless of age”. Even the male child is held up as being exceptional. Nonetheless, the women are referred to ‘empresses’, as ironic as that sounds. The subordination of females to males are characteristics of the Rastafarians in general. According to the rastafarians a woman’s place is in the home, where they are to take care of the children, cook, clean and stay out of the king man’s business. Rastafari “...woman are thought to be deceitful as star-apple leaf”. They find the women’s nature to be ‘evil’. “...woman mean well, but so do black spiders...”. If a rasta man is holding a conversation, there is no acceptable reason to interrupt his ‘business’. An empress is not to even approach the group. She will be scolded for overstepping her boundaries. The rasta man will ignore the empress until he has completed all that he has to do.
A king man’s sexual activity with his empress is limited to twelve out of a twenty-eight day cycle. He has sex with her when he pleases, and when he feels that the time is right. Rastafarian tradition states that during a women’s menstruation period, her man (lover) is not allowed to sleep in the same bed with her. She is not even allowed to cook at that time. During that “...menstrual recluse...” she is considered to be sick. Women are also compared to the moon describing that “The moon is like a woman-it goes through periods”. The moon is also the symbol of fertility in their religion. (Although it may seem that the men hold much esteem over the women, in the Rastafarian religion. they really value their women.) The overall message, within all of the Rastafarian families is unity. The union between them is very powerful and evident even throughout the culture. One “dread” can see another “dread” on the street and just by giving each other a ‘big up’, silent words are exchanged. It is like they have a coalition or something. There is no way that a Rasta family can ever be broken apart.
On the contrary, the Islam religion takes marriage and families with far more importance. “Legally, marriage in Islam has three requirements. It must be entered into by two consenting adults, It should be witnessed by two male witnesses. Finally, two dowries must be given to the bride by the groom”. It is believed that when a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion. In a sense, marriage will keep you from swaying off of Allah’s path into a life of fornication, which is a great offense. Marriage is regarded as an act pleasing to Allah. The Koran says that “Marriage is forbidden to a man...that does not possess the means to maintain his wife and children...”.
The requirements of a Muslim man when he begins his family is, that he can take care of his children and wife. The Muslim men are allowed to have as many wives as their heart desires, the conditions are the same for all. Ironically, “the children of a marriage depend upon paternal acknowledgment in order to inherit from him”. The man’s duty in the relationship is provide the financial stability to take care of the family. His wife and children depend solely on him and he would have created a great offense if he took a wife that he could not take care of. If he is ill with a sickness that can affect his wife or children, he is not to be married. Marriage and the bond between man and woman is considered sacred in the Islam religion.
Similar to Rastafarianism, the women of Islam are subjected to the same inferiority. The role of a woman is to bear children. That is considered her first priority. A Muslim woman is not allowed to make her own living and is supposed to live off of her husband. They are also ordained to wear clothing that does not reveal their bodies and is not “sexually enticing”. The contours of the body should not be shown. She is to be covered or “modestly dressed” and the most important part of her wardrobe is her veil. But unlike Rastafarianism, Islam does not consider menstruating women to have any “...contagious diseases”. She is neither ‘untouchable’ nor ‘cursed’. A Muslim woman practices her normal routine except that she is not allowed to have sexual intercourse with her husband (she may also be exempt from some religious activities). Muslim women also began a ‘religious movement’ and began making decisions and holding ‘meetings’. There have been several activists that have emerged. Nevertheless, the emanation is a slow one.
The Muslims and Natty Dreads although they may have some similarities, tend to be very different. Where the King man knows he needs to keep his empress happy, by giving her money and sex, it is not required. It is written law for the Muslims. A marriage would not be legal otherwise. To which a woman during her period is deemed impure and even to the extent as unfit, a Muslim woman is neither and can go on living her life normally. Islam, a universal concept which one of its focal points is unquestionably living in serenity, while on the journey to Allah. On the contrary, Rastafarian incorporates keeping their “ooman” happy with “the wood” and money as their central concept where relationships are concerned. However, this underlying fact still remains, women are still inferior to men. Whereas, this is slowly changing and movements are in emergence, will old customs and beliefs still prevail...and Muslim and Natty Dread men still have the control? Works cited Adulkader, Tayob. (1999). Islam A Short Introduction. Oneworld Publications, Boston, Massachusetts.
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Dawood, N.J. (1990). The Koran. Penguin Group, London, England.
Esposito, J and Haddad, Y. (1998). Islam, Gender, and Social Change. Oxford University Press, New York, New York.
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