Tag Archives: Islam

Shari’a Law and the Daily Mail brigade

I wasn’t planning on blogging today, but a couple of things have got me thinking.

First of all, I’ve just been watching Channel 4 News and saw a piece about Sharia Law being outlawed in Oklahoma. And yes, I’ve linked to the Daily Mail’s versions of events there to help make my point!

I am starting to see America as more of a threat to our rights and the future of peace on Earth than anything the East has to throw at us – it’s portrayed in the media like a nation of Daily Mail readers! I am the last person to believe media hype, and I do have relatives in the USA and understand that there is a sizeable proportion of the population who are thankfully tolerant, level-headed and open-minded, but there is a growing threat from the conservative right which worries me more than anything else going on in the world today.

The attitudes which are reported by the media are doing so much damage to relations between East and West, and when coupled with America’s clumsy and selective interference in international affairs, I think the USA is contributing to drive young Muslims towards the more extremist sectors of Islam, and for Muslim countries to wrap themselves in an ever-more conservative veil to protect themselves from encroachments on their values and identity.

You can’t ever hope to reach any kind of harmony with another culture until you understand why they might fear you (even if you also fear them). I am pretty sure the explorers of many centuries ago figured this out eventually, so why are we still trapped in this cycle of fear now, hundreds of years later?

I am sure that some of my more, ahem, Daily-Mail-reading relatives might have a bit of apprehension about coming to see me in the Middle East and may find the sight of all those abayas and thobes intimidating at first, but have they ever thought about how it feels to be an Arab having to visit America on business? Stories of people being whisked off to Guantanamo Bay, intimate searches at airports and the sort of prejudice peddled by the reports on this Oklahoma issue must frighten the living daylights out of potential visitors to the US from the Middle East.

Furthermore, I can’t see that there’s even a huge gulf between Islam and Christianity. There are different ways of interpreting the prophecies of both religions, but the common ground is one of protecting values – values which don’t actually differ that much between religions.

Sure, there are extremist interpretations of Shari’a Law which most Muslims wouldn’t subscribe to, just as there are extreme sects of Christianity, the practices of which don’t sit comfortably with most Christians.

As someone who is about to move to a country which has Shari’a (and civil) Law, am I worried? Nope. I would be pretty worried if I got caught doing something bad (as you should be if you break the law IMHO), but I’m planning on being well-behaved, so that won’t be an issue. I am no expert, but from what I have read about Islamic faith and the law, I can see some merits to the system (although obviously extreme interpretations involving corporal punishment, and the way it can be interpreted against women and families is worrying). But, from what I understand, it is very much a community-led system where wrongdoings and issues are hammered out in consultation with religious leaders and with religious guidance from the Quran. Big Society at its best, if you will….

Neither the Channel 4 report, or that Daily Mail article, actually bothered to summarise what Shari’a Law actually means in practice, and I wish they had, because it would have been interesting to hear more about it.

What the Channel 4 report did give space to was the way the whole situation was brought about through sheer political deviance. There was no way that the tiny Muslim population of Oklahoma was even considering “infllicting” Shari’a Law on the rest of the citizens of Oklahoma at any point in the future. What was at stake was votes – votes for the Republican party, who gave citizens the opportunity to vote to outlaw Shari’a Law in the State as a hook to get them down to the polling booths. It also created an artificial gulf between Republicans and Democrats through scaremongering and fear. As a result, 8 Democrats lost their seats. Clever, huh?

And now, this clever little self-serving political trick has hit the news across the World, and inflicted yet more damage to relations between Islam and Christianity, East and West. The flames of fear which are fanned by both sides serve only a select few who seek to profit from ignorance – for the rest of us, we can only sit and watch as the fire is spreading and doing untold damage. The question is, who is going to reach out across the flames? We seem to be retreating ever further into our camps. Obama was the big hope, but that seems to have been a false hope now.

How “they” see “us”.

Another piece which has got me thinking this evening……..

I was browsing Qatar Living, which is probably the only internet resource for expats living in Qatar, and as such is a terrifyingly confusing melting pot of cultures (much like Doha in fact!). Most threads in the forum degenerate into incomprehensible bun-fights at some point, as cultures clash over misunderstandings brought about through the internet’s limitation as a communication tool.

There is a fascinating car-crash of a thread on there, where a girl who claims to be Qatari posts some concerns she has about arranged marriages (which are common practice in Qatar).

She is absolutely torn to pieces by fellow Qatari nationals, and as a Westerner (especially a self-deprecating British one!) I was quite taken aback at first at the vigour with which they defended their nation and their traditions. As a Brit, I’m pretty quick to put our culture down and to rebel against tradition at any opportunity. It’s part of my culture’s traditions 🙂

The reason this thread is so interesting is that the more you plough through it all, the more you realise that part of the reason they are so defensive of their own culture is because they see the Western culture as such a threat. When you look at the cold, hard stats relating to the success of our ‘love’ marriages in the West, then arranged marriages start to make more sense. In the West, we’re faced with so much (too much?) choice and opportunity these days that we rarely stop to work on what we have – we’re always looking ahead to the next exciting thing to come along. That applies to jobs, cars, clothes, relationships….

It’s only a recent development, perhaps over two generations. At the same time, our happiness levels have plunged and we’re all hooked on anti-depressants and counselling. And a lot of it has to do with the idea of the American dream, which most people over 50 have been sold from a very young age, even here in Britain. The American culture is heavily based on the pursuit of ‘better’, yet as a nation they are probably even more hooked on counselling and anti-depressants than us Brits.

Go on any British forum such as Mumsnet, read the relationships board, and see how willing people are to ditch their marriage at the first sign that something bad might happen/something better might come along/the sex has died down/the other partner isn’t pulling their weight.

I’m not naive enough to think that everything’s perfect in arranged marriages, but maybe if people entered into marriage with a bit more of a balance between head and heart, we’d all be a bit better off in the long run?

There must be a balance between my ‘ditch it and move on’ generation, and that of my Gran’s generation (where people in unhappy or abusive marriages were often socially or financially trapped with no means of moving on).

(Actually Qatar purportedly has the highest divorce rate in the region, and I wonder if that reflects the heavy Western influence on modern Qatari culture, or maybe it proves that arranged marriages aren’t a precursor to a successful marriage….or you could see it as a positive reflection of the freedom that Qatari people have to move on with their life if things don’t work out).

It’s all food for thought.

The clothing issue

Not so many posts from me since I started the blog…..probably because I’ve spent every night this week buried in books about the Arab world and Qatar.

Obviously one of the biggest issues for any Western expat to get their head around is the Islamic religion, and also local dress codes, issues which until recently, I thought were tightly interlinked.

I think I was pretty ignorant in the past about this, and like many Westerners, I saw a direct link between the Islamic faith and the way people dress in Qatar.

Going back a few years, I think my prejudices were even stronger. I remember going out there in 2006 for our friends’ wedding and being shocked to hear how much pride the local women take in their appearance, listening wide-eyed as my friend told me about going for a waxing over there (“They take EVERYTHING off!”) and how much the local women spend on beauty treatments.

Up until that point, I had naively assumed that women who covered themselves in head scarves and the abaya were repressed, miserable beings who probably saw little point in looking after themselves, as nobody ever got to see what they looked like anyway. I assumed that marriages were arranged (and often polygamist) and I couldn’t see any reason in that situation for a woman to make herself attractive.

Thankfully that trip to Qatar opened my eyes to reality a little bit more.

With all the reading I have done this week, I am ashamed at my previous attitudes and I am really looking forward to getting out there and immersing myself in the culture more fully and coming to understand more for myself, rather than just relying on books.

I have been reading up on the Islamic faith, and have learned a lot (even though I did have lots of Muslim friends at school and we studied Islam as part of our religious studies class). The similarities between Christianity and Islam are interesting, and while I personally find it hard to be convinced of a God, I can see that there must be some truth behind the stories recounting the history of the prophets, and whatever you make of these stories, I do respect people’s religions whatever they may be.

I have also had my eyes opened a little more to the way we in the West are manipulated by our own media to see Islam and the Arab nations in a certain light. We often assume that the Western media are completely free and therefore honest and “better”, but the reality is that the media just reflect our own society back at us, sub-consciously telling us what we want to hear, and the stories are told (and heard) through the filter of our own perceptions and prejudices.

I have always been conscious of a certain arrogance in Britain, whereby people assume that some habits or ways of foreigners are “disgusting” or “offensive”; Thankfully I have had a broad enough upbringing to look at the Brits a bit more objectively and realise that sometimes it’s just that another culture has a different way of doing things and that it’s not wrong, just different. I can also see that people from other countries see some of the things we do as disgusting or weird, but we often conveniently forget that!

A good example is the toilet habits of the Brits! I can remember being told in the playground that “people from the Middle East wipe their bum with their left hand when they’ve been to the toilet!” (and it goes without saying that this is not a reflection on reality). And then I went to the Middle East a few years ago and at first found the shower heads fitted next to the toilets pretty strange.

But looking at it from another angle, I can see that some cultures probably find the idea of us Brits just relying on toilet roll to get clean to be completely disgusting, and not having a proper wash down there until the next morning’s shower to be absolutely gross…..

So I am always careful to look at us Brits objectively, but despite this, I have still had my eyes opened a little by some of the things I’ve been reading this week.

So, the modest style of dress over in Qatar is not just about religion. It also dates back to Bedouin traditions, when such clothing was not only highly practical, but also served important functions in society.

I can also see how wearing the abaya can be liberating and even sexy! Imagine not having to worry about the image your clothes will present to the outside world. Being judged solely on what you say and do, rather than what you look like. Wearing sexy clothes underneath, with the intimate knowledge as a couple that they are for your husband’s eyes only.

There is so much pressure on Western women in terms of looks, and we all have days when we’re worrying about our clothing, whether it’s because we go out to a function to find we’ve dressed completely inappropriately, or we’re plagued throughout the event with that nagging feeling that an extra roll of fat has appeared somewhere, or that a bra strap keeps slipping down all the time.

It has been shown that in Western workplaces, a woman’s height and attractiveness will be a better indicator of her career success than her IQ. And we think of ourselves as liberated?!

I’m one of those people who really doesn’t WANT to care about what other people think, and sometimes I do go out looking pretty bloody awful, and I resent being judged for my clothing/looks as it’s not something which is important to me personally. However I do make an effort most of the time, and sometimes it is fun to get dressed up.

I must admit that I would really find incredibly liberating to cover up when going out, but I won’t be adopting the abaya when I live in Qatar!

When women have a choice over whether or not to wear the abaya, it’s a symbol of their liberation, not their supression (as I used to assume), and I can understand why more Muslim women are now choosing to wear it. I can also see that maybe Western women aren’t as liberated as we like to think we are.

The Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix took place today, and how refreshing it was to see the grid girls more covered up than they normally are. And how symbolic their very presence is of the fact that women’s lib still has a bloody long way to go in the West.