I’m very proud to say that I have been an expatriate for almost a decade now. For over three years I lived in South Korea, which Buddhism is the main religion of choice but is also sprinkled by Christianity as well. For the last six years I have resided in Oman, a small Middle Eastern country neighboring Big Brother UAE. It has been quite an interesting ride learning more about the Islamic and Muslim culture while living in this region. I have gained a new found respect for my Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
Islam is the common theme that joins Middle Eastern countries together. It is experienced vastly differently across cultures and locations throughout the region. Islam is an Arabic word that was formed from the idea of world peace, which means submitting to a higher will beyond oneself. The notion of Islam teaches that there is only one God (Allah), and that Muhammad is the messenger of God. The idea is to submit to the Will of the Divine.
It is the world’s second-largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers, which makes up around 24% of the world’s population, most commonly known as Muslims. As someone that grew up in Detroit, Michigan, it’s interesting to note that most Muslims live outside the Middle East. Michigan actually has one of the biggest Muslim populations outside of the Middle East. The idea of the call of prayer and seeing mosques all around was not really foreign to me before moving to the region.
Islam was founded by Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be Upon Him) in Saudi Arabia. He received his first revelation from God at the age of forty, while He was engaging in a meditative retreat, through Archangel Gabriel (Holy Spirit).The Qur’an is the primary source that Muslims use to practice Islam. It is the record of the words of God which were revealed to Prophet Muhammad in Arabic through Archangel Gabriel.
Islam is built on five pillars, the first of which is a statement of faith (Shahadah). The other four are major exercises of faith which includes: prayer (Salah), mandatory charity (Zakah), fasting (Siyam) and the Pilgrimage (Hajj). The fasting period is typically during Ramadan, which in 2018 in Oman was from May 16th to June 14th. As a teacher in Oman, it is always interesting to see the devotion that Muslims have to upholding these pillars. It is illegal in Oman to drink water or eat in public during Ramadan. I surely made it my business to respect these rules as a Christian living in a Muslim culture.
In Islam, as in Christianity and Judaism before it, there are two distinct ideas for religious understanding. These include faith and worship (ibadat), as well as temporal and worldly activity (mu’amilat). Islamic law, or the shar‘ia, is a system of theological law which covers both areas. Shar’ia remains an important guide to daily life for many Muslims, but its legislation now isn’t only in the legal system in most Muslim-majority countries, such as Oman, where I live, with differing levels of involvement and influence. In some cases shar‘ia has remained the state’s government and legal system, as in Saudi Arabia.
Islam is viewed by many Muslims not simply as a religion, but also as a way to identify with their culture and heritage. In a way there seems to be a struggle between sticking with traditional values and modernity nowadays in Muslim culture. For example, in the culture in the Middle East there is a strong regard for family and honoring family values, which relates back to Islam.
In most Middle Eastern cultures, it is still expected to follow the rule of arranged marriages which is strongly influenced by the family. From my personal experience, dating is taboo or what they call “haram” in the region. Nevertheless, as someone who has dated a local in the culture who was torn between Western culture which he witnessed and what is instilled in family values. I saw first hand the internal struggle someone from a Middle Eastern background has with this issue. The notion of bringing shame on the family is a hard pill to swallow in Middle Eastern societies. In the end, the younger generation is striving to find a fine balance between traditional roles and ideas in the Middle East, but still holding true to their own wishes.