Things that are true

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.

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7 Responses to Things that are true

  1. Sarai says:

    This is so interesting to read about. It’s one of those things where you know that other cultures are very different and/or strict but it’s not something you’re always conscious about. I don’t know how I would react if I lived in a place like that for long periods of time. Is it a total shock when you’re back in America?

    • mmarinaa says:

      No, not really. The UAE is not one of the strict countries. Plus it’s very diverse, so although there are very different lifestyles happening, my lifestyle can be pretty much the same as it was in the States. In all honesty, the biggest shock when I was back in America was how many white people there are. Even in New York, I spent a lot of time just being like “why are there so many blonde people here?”

  2. Liv says:

    Well that was really interesting. I thought I learned plenty back in middle school when my best friend was an Egyptian Muslim. Guess not. What I did learn from her is that dating isn’t allowed and that if you want to get married you just have to ask the girl you’re interested in. At least that was her parents’ story, and things could have changed from back then. I feel a lot of Islamic law is personal choice.

    Since you’re a fellow New Yorker maybe I should let you know that it is legal here to marry your first cousin …………………………. unless you knew that. But based on what you wrote you seemed to take the point of view of someone who does not accept it.

    Muslim = Arab is just a stereotype. And people don’t learn what stereotypes are until they experience the truth. For example I didn’t know most Indonesians were Muslim until I met my second Muslim friend in middle school, who was Indonesian. At first I thought he was named Muhammad for no reason … because I was that ignorant before moving to New York.

    • mmarinaa says:

      I have no problem with other people marrying their first cousin. I just wouldn’t do it because I’m extremely close to my first cousin, so it’d be too weird, haha.

      Islamic law is very much personal choice. And there’s no law about dating, if you define dating as seeing each other. You’re just supposed to do with with chaperones or in public. And thanks to technology, engaged couples or flirting couples can talk all the time. And again, it varies wildly depending on which culture you’re in and how strict the individuals involved are about Islam. My Muslim boyfriend and I are very much dating, his family is fully aware of that, and it’s no big deal. Others do it differently.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this enlightening post! I had no idea that polygamy was ever allowed. And, my parents noted that in Taiwan, it’s actually illegal to marry your first cousin, so I always assumed that it was illegal in America too because I never saw it in America.

    I’m curious, so I’m going to go read that paper you linked to now. Thanks, again!

    • Amanda says:

      Haha my parents always noted that marrying first cousins in Taiwan is illegal as well! I wonder how many people in Taiwan tried to marry their first cousins, that it’s such a taboo but commonly-raised point?! Because it’s not like it ever came up in our family in a relevant-way, but I’ve always known it was illegal for some reason?

  4. callistonian says:

    I don’t get how people don’t know some of this basic stuff. I hate how Americans, generally speaking, brag about we’re so great and yet we’re disgustingly ignorant. It’s really embarrassing! From what I can tell, though, Sharia law in the UAE doesn’t do women any favors. Her testimony is only worth 1/2 of a man’s and men are allowed to beat their wives… While I’m sure that many don’t, if a woman is unfortunate enough to grow up in one of the more conservative areas of the country she doesn’t have many legal options. Sure, she’ll get half of his stuff in a divorce but getting one isn’t easy as most of the women won’t legally be allowed to separate from their husbands just because they don’t like them. They have to prove serious wrong doing. If your husband’s allowed to beat you, just imagine what kind of dirt you’ll be required to have on him for divorce! Eek!

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