Lipstick Jihad

   29 July 2005, late evening

How could this great-grandfather be so horrible, I asked my mother, as to cruelly make maman bozorg a co-wife? Why was it allowed at all?

Maman explained that in the Koran, it says that a man can take more than one wife on the condition that he treats all of them exactly equal. Their quarters must be furnished with equal elegance or simplicity; he must spend an equal number of nights with each. But what about love? I asked. How can he love them equally in his heart. He can’t, she said. The heart doesn’t work that way. And that’s why men should never, ever, have more than one wife. Because the heart is not docile, can’t follow literal instructions, can’t be cordoned off like a garden—this grove for the first wife, this for the second. Sooner or later, emotions blossom or wither in places they shouldn’t, and the pretense of heart boundaries collapses.

I’m pretty sure Azadeh Moaveni is actually talking about the conflict between her American and Iranian identities in this passage, and the difficultly she has reconciling her love/hate relationship with both. Lipstick Jihad was much better than I ever thought it would be. Though Moaveni is writing about her experience as a member of the Iranian diaspora, the book should appeal to anyone interested in the immigrant experience in general. I can’t recommend the book enough.



  1. I’ve heard this same thing before, but the speaker was not talking about identity. They were actually talking about how the contingencies placed in the Koran essentially limit any devotee from having more than one wife (concurrently) and how the “West” doesn’t understand this aspect.

  2. I’ve heard of this tenant in the Koran before reading this book as well; I just like the passage in the book because of it’s subtext. As I understand things, the Koran was actually limiting the number of wives a man could take, because at the time it was common for people in the various Arab states/tribes to take more than the four the Koran says is allowable. (Apparently the inheritance laws for a women were also progressive for the time.) Nine Parts of Desire spends some time discussing how the Islamic faith was progressive in its treatment of women at the time, but that the progressive nature of the religion doesn’t seem to have carried forward.

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