Saturday, January 8, 2011

Muslim Kindness

This post will be a change of pace from my usual tactics.  I'm not going to defend a religion, but I am going to stand up for a group of people.  I get pretty tired of the public and media attacking the entire Muslim world as if they were all terrorists and religious extremists.  This comes from all sides of society, including people from other religions, atheists and certain media channels.  Even one of my readers sent me a link to his (her?) blog in which he had a post implying that there weren't any decent, moderate Muslims, or at least that those people are in a very small minority.  My girlfriend's coworker tells his kids not to speak to anybody wearing a turban (even though many Muslims do not wear a turban, and most Sikhs do).  The popular image is that every one of them would behead us the first chance they got.  I usually try to point out that there are roughly 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.  Even if there were 10 million Islamic terrorists/extremists, that would mean that over 99% of Muslims are not.  If there were 100 million Islamic terrorists/extremists, that would mean that over 90% of Muslims are not.

Please note that I am not defending their religion.  The beliefs of Islam are as fucked up as many other religions out there, have done huge damage to humanity over history, and are responsible for many of the problems the world is experiencing at the moment.  I am no friend of the Islamic religion.  But that doesn't mean that the people who identify as Muslims cannot be decent, caring people, much like you and I are.

I've written before on this site (in comments somewhere, I think) that Muslims are my favourite people in general.  I'd like to give some examples of why.

India is a country of about 1 billion people, with only about 10% of those people being Muslims.  I first traveled there 5 years ago.  In Delhi, my girlfriend and I used the services of a tuk-tuk driver named Rajeev (Rajiv?). Rajeev was a Muslim who drove us around Delhi for a few days, showing us some of the sites that we might not have found by ourselves.  He was a very enthusiastic and outgoing man, and we liked him quite a bit.  On our last night in Delhi, Rajeev took us to his home for dinner.  The home was very modest, just a concrete hut with a concrete floor and barely any furniture.  We sat on the cold floor and played Super Mario Brothers with his kids on an original Nintendo system hooked up to an old TV.  His wife made dinner for us, which we ate on the floor.  This was not a rich man.  So what did he do next?  He took us to a tailor near his home, who made some clothes for us.  Rajeev paid for them and gave them to us as a gift.  Not only did he invite us, non-Muslim people who make many times more money than he does, into his home for dinner, he also bought us a present after!  It was pretty mind-boggling.

Now, you might think Rajeev was just an unusual case, and would be unwilling to change your opinion of Muslims.  So I'll write another story.  We were in India again last week.  There we met a Muslim man named Omar (I've changed his name for reasons that I'll keep unspecified).  Omar was a fairly wealthy man by Indian standards.  He insisted that we join him and his family for dinner.  He actually invited us to eat lunch and dinner there every day for the rest of our trip, but that felt too uncomfortable for us.  We decided to go for one dinner, and the date we settled on just happened to be his birthday.  We thought of bringing a bottle of wine or something for a present, but because he was a Muslim, thought that would be pretty inappropriate.  So regrettably, we went empty-handed.  Omar picked us up at our hotel.  When we arrived at his house, we were greeted by a much larger group than we thought we would see.  It wasn't just his immediate family that was over for dinner, it was a large part of his extended family, both adults and children.  They greeted us and treated us like guests of honour, even though we were not the ones having the birthday.  Omar's wife took my girlfriend upstairs and dressed her in an Indian saree, the traditional Indian dress for a woman.  We were given prime spots at the dinner table, and fed well.  When the cake came out, which was not a birthday cake and seemed to have been bought for us, they insisted that we make the first cut and take the first piece, a right that we usually reserve for the birthday boy.  After dinner, we were asked about our religious beliefs.  We told them that we were atheists, and they smiled and said it was OK.  It didn't affect their attitude towards us at all.  When it was time to leave, my girlfriend asked about taking off the saree, but Omar told her it was a gift, bought especially for her visit, and it was for her to keep.  Yet again, an Islamic family that makes much less money than we do invited us non-Muslims into their home for dinner, treated us like the guests of honour, fed us and bought us a present, despite us not being the ones celebrating the birthday.  Even the fact that we were infidels did not stop them.  We took photos with the family, and were given the front-centre place in the group.  We were then taken to meet Omar's friends and family nearby, where we were again treated like royalty.  I'll stop now, because you probably get the idea already.

In my view, the Muslim culture (whatever that might mean) has a level of hospitality that is not matched in Western culture.  What do you think?  Do we just have extremely good luck?  Is it a coincidence that the best we've ever been treated by strangers was by two Muslim families?  Does this change your opinion of this group of people at all? I'd be interested in your comments.


Jim said...

When I was in Iraq, I experienced many incidents of extreme kindness from Muslim people. I was fed, offered tea many times, presented with gifts (which I denied, due to the fact that we are not supposed to accept them) and treated with nothing but respect by the local population (not counting insurgents, obviously).

I came to learn that one of the things Muslims cherish is the ability to be friendly and hospitable to any guest. They see it as an honor to feed guests. They offer gifts whenever they can. In fact, I met some who seemed rather ashamed that they had nothing to offer us gift-wise. But they always gave something, no matter how little they had. Whether it was tea or bread, they made it a point to at least attempt to offer us something.

But I do admit that I have heard that this all had more to do with Arab culture than Muslim, it still spoke to their kindness and generosity as Muslims. I mean, here they were, supposed to hate us, and they treated us like human beings. I have always hated the generalized hatred of Muslims. When Timothy McVeigh attacked Oklahoma City, we didn't start hating all Christians.

I can not stand the hatred of an entire group for the actions of a few.

Religion, it seems, has no problem with this.

Admin said...

"... I have heard that this all had more to do with Arab culture than Muslim..."

I don't think there's a difference anymore.

GBM said...

There are Christian Arabs though. In the extreme minority, but still.

One recent example of Muslim kindness is in Egypt, where the Muslim majority rallied to protect the Coptic minority after an attack on a Christian church. They literally offered themselves as human shields while the Copts carried out their end-of-the-year ceremonies.

Jim said...

I think there is a difference. But it all depends on where you are or how the people in question were brought up. When we would get our culture briefs before deploying we were told about the kindness of the Muslim people, but to be wary of the Christian Arabs, as they would treat us with more hostility. The reasoning was that the Muslims tended to adhere to their religious teachings of treating everyone with respect.

Of course, this excludes the fundamentalists.

Admin said...

That must have confused the average American soldier.

"Wait a minute, sir. Ain't we here to kill the Muslims and free our Christian brothers?"

Maybe they should have flushed the Bible instead.

Jim said...

What confused us was what we were doing in Iraq, seeing as none of the "evidence" we had for invading them or linking them to 9/11 was credible.

Abu Yusuf said...

Hi. I'm a Malaysian Muslim and I enjoy reading your views. You are a very open minded person and I admire you for that.

Yes, indeed being kind is one of the virtues highly encouraged in Islam. You can find Quranic verses encouraging good deeds, as well as praising those who enjoy doing them , are scattered almost everywhere in majority of the chapters. Meanwhile there are verses condemning those who ignore their parents, the poor, the orphans etc etc.

So for Muslims, it is the matter of practicing them or not. Yet, not all of us actually practice what is being taught. Some misinterpreted them to cater their needs just like what the radicals do.

Nevertheless, regardless of faith, good virtues and being kind are things that people should and always do actually. If they have a good sense of morality, that is.

P.S: Hey you are kind too.. You thought seriously about giving a gift, but yeah, unfortunately we don't drink alcohol. :P

Anonymous said...

Just curious about the 1st experience.Rajiv is not a muslim name. It is a typical Hindu name.Hospitality is an indian trait- Muslims and Hindus alike.

Admin said...

Yes, Rajiv is a more typical Indian/Hindu name, but he was a Muslim.