Islam existed 1429 year ago since the revelation of the Quran and the immigration of the prophet (PBUH) from Mecca to Medinah, but it is definitely becoming a very hot topic nowadays. The saddening truth, however, is that interest in this remarkable religion is not due to its unique nature, but rather due to political, economic, social and cultural reasons that managed to put Islam wrongly in the middle of an ever going struggle. Even to try to compare two cultures in the name of religion is a big and unforgettable fault. It is important to completely separate between culture and religion. Much of what is taking place in the Middle East is considered as the rulings of Islam, when actually it is in total contradiction with Islamic teachings. Much of the day to day rituals in the Middle Eastern countries is traced back to culture not religion. Moreover, it is important to clarify the differences between the various Middle Eastern countries.
With respect to the first issue, it is crucial to differentiate between culture and religion. Admittedly, it is not an easy task. It requires a very good understanding of the religion in question as well as the very nature of the culture inherited in the region. Much of the common traditions in the Middle East could not be farther in content from the essence of Islam. Favouring baby boys over baby girls for example is immediately attributed to Islam as it is commonly imagined that Islam inhibits women in favour for men. However, the truth is that it was a common practice before Islam to burry baby girls alive as it was considered a dishonour to have a baby girl. Islam prohibited such acts and honoured females to the extent that fathers who have daughters are announced the good news of going to heaven for taking care of their daughters. Another very crucial issue about Islam is Jihad, and to which any act of violence in the Middle East is being attributed. The sad truth is that people who recite Quranic versus about Jihad never recite versus of peace. It is explicitly stated in the Quran that Muslims should not fight people who are in favour of peace. So if non-Muslims show their will to have peace, Muslims would be sinful if they continue war. Hence, the current state of violence is not actually a result of Islam, but rather a result of oppressive regimes, political injustice and land seizure. In this contexts, the two World Wars (most violent wars that tormented the world) were not initiated or even fought by Muslims! Another example is women not being permitted to work. It would be unfair to ignore the fact that Sayyeda Khadijah, the prophet’s wife was actually a business woman, who had her very successful trade business, which she continued to manage with the prophet (PBUH) after their marriage.
Hence it is important to shed the light on the differences between the various Middle Eastern countries. The Middle East, in spite of the fact that it is quite a coherent region that is unified through language, religion, geography and history, it is still divided in a number of aspects. Middle Easters countries are vastly scattered on the economic spectrum. While the Gulf countries are considered with some of the highest GDP per capita incomes, and are actually attracting the highest investment levels, some other countries have a large percentage of their population living below poverty line. Moreover, as much as these countries differ economically they differ politically and socially. In countries like Saudi Arabia women do not contribute to the workforce while in countries like Egypt women are a major percentage of the labour force and many families are actually being supported by women.
Hence, back to the topic of this article, it is important to understand the variations in culture and Islam practices within such a volatile region as the Middle East. It is crucial to dig deeper into the phenomena to know the actual reasons behind them and not to take the easy path of prejudgments against a holy religion regardless of the name of that religion.