Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Experience with Islam.

All images of other cultures are somewhat false and the more remote the culture, the more grotesque the stereotypes. If, in addition to that, some elements of the culture happen to be an enemy of your country, your country’s propaganda machine will make the culture look as monstrous as possible. This goes for all propaganda machines. In the Middle East they often see an average western man as a whiskey-guzzling barbarian and western women as floozies that would sleep with anyone at the drop of a hat.In order to understand or criticize Islam one should know it, and most critics of it do not know it. How many have read the entire Koran or lived in the Middle East or any other Islamic country and spoken the local languages with the local people? I would dare say, very few.I have lived in several Islamic countries and I have read a big portion of the Koran and must say that I am not going to completely dispel the stereotypes, but rather give their milder version.People in the Islamic world are traditional. They did not invent Islam- they were born into it. Their parents and societies taught it to them. Therefore, they have a uniquely Islamic view of the world. In it, they basically see the world as composed of three great religions- Islam, Christianity and Judaism. People outside of these three religious are called Infidels. Therefore, Buddhists and Hindus are Infidels. However, the more extreme Muslims do call anyone who is not a Muslim, an infidel. These are the people that the US army comes in contact with.Muslim extremists are probably the modern version of old Christian extremists- such as the Crusaders or even the Catholic/Protestant fanatics in Ireland. They use the religion for their own selfish ends and in the process, give it a bad name.Still, it is true that if you are not a Muslim, you are not seen as an equal. Islam is right and other religions are wrong. People always ask you ‘Are you a Muslim?’ and if you say you are not, they smile, but you can see that they feel bad about the fact that you are not one of them. This is how people in the Islamic world think. People will have to revert back to Islam sooner or later since every human being is born as a Muslim.As long as you are not a Muslim, you will never really be a close friend with any Muslims. That is the honest truth. However, you will still have a pretty pleasant life amongst them provided the country is peaceful enough.If you are a non-Muslim woman you will, in a way, face less discrimination in the Islamic world than if you were a man. You can actually marry into a local family. The religion will allow it. A non-Muslim man cannot marry a local woman, though. That is why you see quite a few Western women in Egypt and Oman and Turkey with local boyfriends but virtually no Western men with local women.Muslims as a rule are modest. They are also very tolerant. They may not accept you as a close friend or a brother-in-law, but they will generally treat you nice. Being arrogant is seen as a very bad thing in Islam. Many rich Arabs in Saudi and the UAE are very humble people and are soft and polite in their dealings with other folks.Muslims are also non-violent as a rule. You hardly ever see fights or shouting matches unless it is an actual political demonstration. Most people like to get along and live in peace with each other. Another surprising thing is that gossiping and saying bad things about a person in his/her absence is seen as a terrible transgression. So, generally, people do not talk about you behind your back and there is little back-stabbing going on.Living in the Muslim world is not easy, but one gets used to it and forms a sort of a working partnership with the people without getting too involved with anybody. One also needs to understand that having a religious discussion with any Muslims is more often than not an exercise in futility as well as a dangerous undertaking- it may get you fired or thrown out of the country. Islam is right, other religions are wrong. That’s it. So, just stay away from such verbal engagements at all times. Just talk about local food, dances, weather, sports etc.Also, a lot of things that Westerners think of as Islamic, such as wearing veils or being violent are in fact either tribal traditions or corruptions of the original teaching. Islam does not teach killing of the innocents and /or oppression of women in the way you see the Taliban do it.Islam also prohibits racial discrimination, something that Christianity does notexpressly do. It does not mean that racism has completely disappeared among theMuslims, but it has been far less pronounced in the Muslim world than inChristianity. Racism is, in fact, a sin in Islam. There are no Black mosques and WhiteMosques in Islam unlike in the American South where there are still Black and White churches present.There are different Muslim countries and different variations of Islam, too. In Indonesia and Malaysia, Islam is different from its Middle Eastern variety, in that it is less strict and people there are more open to other cultures; the same goes for Muslims in India and Africa. However, they are still Muslim, so please keep that in mind and do not attempt to change them.Living in Muslim countries can be a safe and enjoyable experience as well as very rewarding culturally and financially. But you also need to know your place and stay in it. I have learned to do it, and also, to keep my mouth shut and be as professional and as discreet as possible. And if you are a man who plans to convert to Islam to have many wives, you also have to keep in mind that it is going to cost you. There is a bride price that you must pay, and it is not cheap.In short, if you want to learn about Islam, stop listening to the CNN and read more about it on your own. If someone offers you a well-paying job in a peaceful Muslim country, accept it, by all means. However, do keep in mind that not all is perfect with the way that religion and way of life is being practiced, just like there are problems with all religions- we still have not come up with a perfect way of following each one. In general, I have learned that I can live anywhere as long as I remain discreet, friendly, keep a certain distance from most people and basically, keep to myself. That seems to be the best way to do things if you want to survive anywhere.

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