Thanks to a few comments on earlier entries, I’ve realized that some things that I’ve come to accept as truth since living here, are denied abroad. Or they’re downplayed and treated like they’re rare. But these are some truths that are very much true in other parts of the world.
Polygamy is still a thing.
In many countries, multiple wives is still acceptable and practiced. According to Islam, you must be able to provide for the wives and there can only be up to four. (Although usually it’s two, maybe three.) Many of my students at my old school would talk about their own mom and then their brother’s mom. It’s difficult for them to explain in English since we don’t have common words for such relationships. Sometimes they relegate it to step-mom, but it’s really not quite the same. I see it most often with very rich families or families that have only recently (or only during the weekdays) moved to urban living.
Marrying your cousin is normal.
Yes, first cousins. You have to keep in mind that many Arabs have fifty cousins and they’ve never met half of them. It’s not the same as marrying someone you grew up with like a brother. Usually it’s for the benefit of the parties involved. An ugly or older cousin gets married to another ugly or older cousin because otherwise, they’ll be single forever. Or sometimes a highly successful cousin is married to a gorgeous, younger cousin. To keep the good fortune in the family. (And yes, there is a slightly higher risk of birth defects. But slightly. And everyone doesn’t necessarily know/agree with that.)
There are religious police.
They literally go around telling people to change their behavior to be more Islamic. My friend’s company was sent on a project in Saudi Arabia and the police (they’re called mutaween) came up to their group and asked them if they were Muslim. It was prayer time and he wanted to know why they weren’t headed to a mosque. My friend and his group were also extremely wary of women because they didn’t want to be caught talking to them in public. That’s a huge no-no, regardless of whether they are Muslim or not themselves. Men and women are kept very separate in most Islamic countries. I spend a lot of time with my boyfriend’s friends, but I very rarely see their girlfriends/wives.
Islamic law is the law.
Sharia (or Islamic law) is the official law in many countries. Here in the UAE, there’s an odd sort of mixture. But Sharia wins overall. In terms of what’s different, yes, men and women are treated differently. If I married under Sharia here, (which I would have to if I married here, although I don’t have to become Muslim, interestingly,) my children would belong more to my husband than to me. If we got divorced, I’d have no rights to the children. So women don’t necessarily have the same freedoms under Sharia, but there are tons of laws in Sharia that aim to protect them. For example, if we got divorced, I would automatically get half of everything, no questions asked. I would also set a monthly allowance that he’s required to pay me during our marriage. And as with common law, Sharia is very much open to interpretation. For example, alcohol is technically prohibited. But it’s like the mutaween; if you’re Muslim, it’s haram (forbidden,) but if you’re non-Muslim you can usually carry on as you like. And within the Muslims, it’s really a matter of individual choice. There are some dry countries, although many Saudis/Yemenis/etc. spend their weekends in other countries to avoid that restriction.
There are a lot of terrorists in struggling countries.
This is not true in the UAE or any of the other oil countries that control their own wealth. (I.e. countries that America doesn’t think it can take control of and meddle in?) But in countries that are struggling financially, terrorism is very prevalent. Lebanon is one example. One of my students told me that when he was there, he just went out and bought some grenades because that’s how common weapons are there. It’s also not difficult to knkow someone who is friends with or related to a member of Hezbollah. (I think it’s worth noting that Hezbollah is a Shi’a terrorist group, while Sunni is the majority sect of Islam. If you want more information about the different types of Islamic extremists and how terrorism manifests, this paper is interesting.) I don’t know that this fact is unknown, but I think people don’t fully understand terrorism’s prevalence in other countries. It’s not just a once in a blue moon occurrence like it is in America.
There are tons of Muslims in the world.
You know the country with the most Muslims? Indonesia. Only 20% of the Muslims of the world live in Arab countries. Yet somehow, if I say Muslim, you’re going to picture an Arab. I suppose it’s logical on some level, since it originated here. But it’s also important to know that there are tons of Muslims in Asia. Like, tons.
That’s all I can think of today. Enjoy.