Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Ordinary Muslim

Shrinkwrapped writes today about the meta-communication concerning Islam that we Westerners receive every day. This is information that everyone receives, whether consciously or not, and despite the intentions of the officials and media people who are presenting the information:

…every time a prominent Western politician assures us, in the wake of yet another Islamist atrocity, that Islam is a Religion of Peace and the terrorists do not represent true Islam, they convey the message that Shakespeare understood so well: They doth protest too much. Inevitably, the message becomes: Atrocity ... Islam. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant; it is how our minds work and how meta-communication works. It is an inherent and emergent property of the flow of data.

The repetition of the official version of the information – “Islam is a great religion that has been hijacked by evil people” – makes the underground, secret version that much more potent. It becomes equivalent to samizdat, literature that lacks the sanction of the state, but all the more powerful for it, and ringing true to its recipients.

So… “Islam = Atrocity”.

Are other meta-communications possible?

If you think about it, how likely is it that 1.4 billion people are bloodthirsty cutthroats and psychopaths?

Forget about the “moderate Muslim”; I’m looking for the “ordinary Muslim”, the Umma’s equivalent of Joe Six-Pack, the guy who holds down a job and supports his family, the woman who raises her kids and tries to keep them from harm. Common sense tells me that people like this must outnumber the raving zealots by several orders of magnitude.

The other day I stumbled onto a site that opened a window into the world of the ordinary Muslim. It’s the Haj Committee of India, the official website for pilgrims looking to make their obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca.

It would be easy to make fun of this material, with its quirky English and accounts of arcane practices. But instead I’ll look at the insights it can give into the efforts of ordinary people for the sake of their religious devotion.

As the welcome page says,

Haj is one of the five tenets of Islam. It is every Muslim’s desire to perform Haj at-least once in his life time. Performing Haj, is obligatory on every sane, financially able and adult Muslim

The Haj Committee has produced a beautifully designed site, with versions in English, Urdu, and Hindi. There is an interactive form where the user can register officially for the haj, and by clicking on various links the would-be pilgrim can obtain information about accommodations, plane fares, and official instructions. There’s even a “list of Pilgrims deceased in Stampede.”

This is from the “Guidelines”:

Be it known to all the concerned that any extra amount charged by any institution or individual shall not facilitate the Pilgrim concerned for any preferential treatment. Pilgrims are, therefore, warned that they should not fall prey to the appeals of any such elements.

I can just imagine the shysters and con-men who await the poor country boy just off the plane from India. The Haj Committee seems to be well aware of them, too, and warns in “Do’s and don’t”: Do not give money for sacrifice to any person. Do not get cheated by individual persons offering cheap sacrifices.

The “Do’s and Don’t” section contains much more in the way of practical advice. It opens with information about Mecca:

i) Each pilgrim is entitled to only three square meters of space for himself and his baggage. This translates into very limited space availability.


iii) Each Pilgrim will be provided with a single mattress at Makkah and Madinah. For his comfort , he is advised to bring bed sheet, some woollen clothes and a light blanket.


ix) The refrigerator is to be shared by all the pilgrims. Therefore, Pilgrims are requested to use it optimally.

So we can see that the pilgrims must be packed together like sardines. The Committee wants pilgrims to be mindful of their fellows in these conditions:

54. Maintain personal cleanliness and hygiene and do not litter waste or garbage. Use dustbins for throwing things.


59. Do not keep extra persons, not even relatives in your rooms or tents as each pilgrim gets only 2.5 sq. Mtrs. of space and you never know about the character and antecedents of unknown persons.


3. There are very good toilets and Wudu-Khaanas at both Haram Shariefs and pilgrims should avails of these Facilities.


42. Acquaint yourself about using the European style commodes in the toilets. Know how to keep the toilets clean and how to wash properly. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed in asking about these things.

Then there are the practical exigencies to be consider whenever large numbers of people are gathering in a foreign country:

21. Always wear the metal wrist band given by Haj committee and always carry the card given by the moallim.


31. If, Good forbid, any emergency arises during the course of Haj, and even if does not affect you personally, you must immediately inform you relatives in India about your welfare.

When writing #31, the authors must surely have been thinking of the stampede, which has become almost an annual event for the haj.

The Haj Committee reminds the pilgrims that Saudi Arabia is not India, and that they do things differently there:

37. Do not visit Jeddah without informing or taking clearance from your Moallims. You may be caught and send to jail.


41. Do not carry opium, marijuana, brown sugar, sleeping pills, liquor or drug with you. These are banned in Saudi Arabia and invoke the death penalty.

The dope and booze I can understand, but the death penalty for brown sugar? What’s going on here?

There is nothing about jihad or killing the infidels in these instructions. In fact, one of the things that stands out is the application of what might in other circumstances be called the Christian virtues:

5. It is best not allow old, infirm and children to go for pelting and even ladies have to be either disallowed or they must go at a time when there is not much rush. the pelting of stones can be done on behalf of the old, aged infirm, children and women by others.

6. Remember that you are the guests of Allah and always keep in mind that you conduct during the whole Haj should be of high standard that one associates with the guest of Allah.

7. Be patient and considerate with fellow pilgrims.

8. Have a helpful attitude. Haj is a spiritual experience which is unique and for many pilgrims it is once in a lift time. Try to get the maximum reward from Allah by spending your time in Ibaadat and repentance. Be on good behaviour. Be very particular specially when you are in the state of Ihraam as there are lot of precautions that you have to observe.


14. Do not allow the old, infirm, ladies and children into very crowded places where there is likelihood of their getting injured or suffocated. Especially during the pelting of the jamarat, great care and extreme caution have to be exercised.


26. In crowded places like areas of Tawaaf and Sayee, during boarding buses, during pelting of jamarat or in queues for toilets or for food, please take care of the old, infirm, ladies and children.

I presume that many of the pilgrims try to heed these guidelines, and that – within the limits of normal human fallibility – they are out there in the hot sun of Mecca helping old ladies who faint, returning lost children to their parents, sharing food with each other, and generally behaving as normal and decent people do everywhere.

Or, as one instruction sums it up:

17. Refrain from idle gossip, anger or loose talk. You have to be on your best behaviour. You conduct has to be such that Allah is pleased with you and accepts your Ibadat. You must sincerely repent any sin that you may have committed during lifetime. Be truthful, show compassion to fellow beings, good conduct, exemplary behaviour and desist from anger, outburst and physical violence.

Amen to that.

I tell you, the Haj Committee did more for me than all the pronouncements emerging from interfaith prayer breakfasts, all the “religion of peace” cant, and all the “we are the world” codswallop that saturates the airwaves.

It doesn’t make Muslims any less strange to me, but it does give me a glimpse into their common humanity.


Wally Ballou said...

It's not as draconian as it sounds. A little Googling confirms that "brown sugar" is a common mame for cheap heroin, usually from Afghanistan, India or Pakistan.

So, not at all out of place in that list of contraband.

(suppose that's what Mick was really singing about?)

Dymphna said...

"brown sugar" is also an endearment for charming women of African descent. Some say they can also be intoxicating.

What a wonderful list. I love Indian English. As the West declines and the Chinese take over and everyone has to learn Mandarin, there will still be Indian English...what a nice permutation.

Now, if someone could just get the Indian jihadists to stop "purging" the Hindus -- or, for that matter, other Muslims who don't match their standards.

Just how long has the Muslim/Hindu animosity been going on? The Muslim conquest may have succeeded in Persia, etc., but they never quite managed to erase the Hindu culture. I wonder why?


AndyS said...

" ... but they never quite managed to erase the Hindu culture. I wonder why?"

Among other reasons, the Central Asian Muslim rulers probably thought that the religous beliefs of the millions of Indian peasants out in the villages simply weren't worth bothering about one way or another. About 10% did convert to Islam but there were never any coordinated drives that I know of.

And the rulers were right! For hundreds of years, this mass of humanity - living a barely subsistence lifestyle - were utterly indsignificant: economically, politically and militarily.

And then comes along the Europeans and eventually this quaint little notion of "one man, one vote" ...

Charles Martel said...

Today I was pulling into a store lot when I noticed the car in front of me had a bumper sticker stating, "Patience" with a reference to the Koran.

When the ladies, wearing scarves, got out of the car I asked, "Patience for what?" And they replied with HUGE grins on their faces, "Why patience for anything!"

I asked if they were being patient for the Muslims to take over our country and they replied, "Why yes! That would be wonderful!"

At this point, my wife dragged me away but not before I said, "Great!! Then we can have sharai law!" And they nodded yes.

It's getting scarier every day.

Frank said...

India has been warred over since before Alexander and the Mauryans, and was never, before the East India Company, a single country.

When the Islamic Moguls set up shop in India in the 16th century, they were so hard on the Hindus that Hinduism spun off the warrior religion of Sikhism to protect them.

Its not so much that Hindus and Sikhs hate each other...its more the case that Islam gets along badly with everyone who is not Islamic. For all the BS we're treated to about how open and wonfrous the Caliphate was, the folks who push that line tend to forget about the frequent mini Jihads and pogroms against Christians, Jews, Jains and everyone else, not to mention onerous penalty taxation for everyone who refused to become Muslim.

As a side note, its almost self evident that most Muslims are good people, but it can be equally true that Islam itself can be a horrible religion full of good people. How many of us would have read the Bible if its only valid form was archaic Latin or Greek? How many Muslims have actually read the Koran, since its only valid form is that written in archaic Arabic (since it is billed as the "Word of God" in a direct sense, and apparently God gave it in archaic Arabic). That means that for the Joe on the street, Islam is pretty much what the person talking about it says it is.

Just as a description of a car would vary depending upon where a describer was standing in relation to the car, so Islam is described in a million different ways. To get to the base, all we have resort to is the Koran itself, and its a bloodbath of the first order.

Frank said...

Oops...I meant "its not so much that Hindus and Muslims hate each other..."

glefvsk Nope, that didn't work...

Oscar in Kansas said...

Well yes, Muslims are in fact human but I don't how this impacts our global struggle against Islamism. Most Germans, even most members of the Nazi party were 'nice people' in so far as they treated other Germans and Nazis well, were polite, obeyed complex codes of propriety and decorum. Many were extremely cultured, charitable to other party members, etc.

My wife's grandfathers worked for Imperial Japan, one as an engineer and another in the police. Quite obviously they loved their families, obeyed the elaborate codes of conduct of Japanese society, worked hard and played by the rules, blah, blah blah. Their brothers (meaning my wife's great uncles) were drafted to serve in China. God only knows what they did or saw there. But they were kind men, good to their families, yada yada yada. The same can be said for Confederates and Soviets and Maoists.

I am not the slightest impressed that anyone is charitable and polite to members of his own group. The test is how a group treats non-members.

People are people (as the song used to say) but War is War.

Baron Bodissey said...

Thomas, et al --

Humanizing Muslims helps me to understand them. I think if we understand them better we may be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, and thus not have to declare war against all of them.

Understanding them well may help us devise strategies to target our enemies narrowly, thus saving many of our own lives as well as many of Islam's.

But then again, maybe I'm being naive. Maybe there really is no way out except to war with the entirety of Islam, all 1.4 billion of them.

If so, God help us all.

Atanu Dey said...

Hindus are the archetypical dhimmis. Why so, you ask? Because they PAY for subsidizing the Haj.

Fucking unbelieveable (pardon my french).


Frank said...

Baron said:
"Humanizing Muslims helps me to understand them. I think if we understand them better we may be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, and thus not have to declare war against all of them."

Perhaps we should have gone to war against only some Nazis rather than the entirety of them.

Of course the above snide parallel ain't perfect, being as the present war is against NGOs, so to speak, instead of a full fledged nation, but sweeping aside all of the touchy feely rhetoric, its an ideological war and one has to gauge whether the vast bulk of Islam is closer to Islamism or closer to western values. So far it appears that even the moderate Muslims are at best ambivalent about which side they are on. And that's just in the west.

Mao went after his enemy's philosophy "root and branch". DeNazification in postwar Germany was rather more draconian than we are led to believe, yet it worked.

The US went into the Iraq war, as it did in Vietnam, with the well intentioned but foolish notion that it could fight gently and still win the peace. Even though the Bush administration attempted to fight the WOT the way it needs to be fought, it is stymied at every step by the foolish folks who still want to play cricket against a monster.

And frankly, I don't see how we'll ever win this thing. Christianity supplied the IDEA behind which Europe rallied in the reconquest of the Holy Land and later at Vienna. What are we to rally behind now? Nihilism masquerading as "freedom"?

Baron Bodissey said...

ScottSA --

The analogy with the Nazis is a poor one, as you noticed. Nazis were confined to one country (or two, if you count Austria) until 1939. They weren't 20% of the world's population. They were not spread throughout the world in varying concentration.

Not only that, they were a political organization leading a much larger ethnic group. The Islamists are a political organization in the process of trying to lead an entire religion; and they are the ones we must fight.

But in any case, how could we in fact make war against all of them? "We" are probably less than 20% of the world's population ourselves, since the Chinese and most of the Third World will not help us, and may actively assist our enemies.

What would you have us do? The President's strategy, flawed as it may be, is to try to effect change within Islam and prevent the violent extremists from gaining control within all the majority Islamic countries.

It would really help if more people in the West would stop rolling over and exposing their soft underbellies to our enemies. But that's a problem which our political and military leaders can't do much about -- it's a sociocultural problem, one that has to be addressed by changing enough minds, one by one, through example and persusasion, so that it becomes socially acceptable, even fashionable, to stand up to the Muslims who would dhimmify us.

But your main point is well taken -- what, in fact, are we fighting for? If it's for Janet Jackson's right to pop a tit in prime time, then I think we all are doomed.

Baron Bodissey said...

Ik -- great comments. Do you ever think of having your own blog? I, for one, would read it.

Exile said...

Excellent Baron.

Thought provoking. I have borrowed a bit from you and given you a Link

Frank said...

Baron said:
"...what, in fact, are we fighting for? If it's for Janet Jackson's right to pop a tit in prime time, then I think we all are doomed."

Like most on the right, I could rant about this little issue for days. But I have a little different take on it; I happen to think thaty the fundamental ethics of anglo-saxon society will resurge as always, and God help the wee Muslims when it does.

God help us too, because we have let ourselves stretch into nihilism far beyond that of the Weimar, and the snap back will be quite profound. What we may become in self defence is terrifying, and yet will be necessary. Fortunately we seem prepared to leave the Jews alone this time at least.

One would have thought that 1500 years of this would have taught the Mussalman not to play with fire. This is not mere racialist chest beating; rather its a recognition that European society is and remains hegemonic for a reason.

AndyS said...


Indian history isn't so black and white. The Marathas had thousands of Muslim soldiers (including most of their artillery forces) that fought for them. Mahmud Ghaznavi's cavalry commander was a Rajput. Aurangzeb, as well as all the other Mgghals except Babar had Hindu generals that commanded entire armies.

Also, along with the Marathas Aurangzeb fough the Muslim Sultans of South India for decades killing thousands and even destroying the mosques that were named after his enemies.

Baron Bodissey said...

Ken -- the Nazi analogy is getting somewhat shopworn, but since that's the hand that's been dealt me, I'll play it.

Nazis couldn't have been all that bad because they didn't litter and let the old and the infirm go first to the toilet.

I didn't say that Muslims weren't "bad" because they had those characteristics. I said that it helps me to understand them, to recognize them as fellow human beings. I'm sure there are many evil people who are kind to old ladies. However, there are some people who are kind to old ladies who are also good people.

I want to be able to cognize the Muslim as a fellow human, rather than simply an object both alien and evil.

Educated Germans with good manners ran the death camps of the Holocaust.

Yes, they did. And many more educated Germans with good manners did no such thing. Some very courageous Germans, actual Nazis, attempted to overthrow Hitler, and died in excruciating agony as a result.

There were many Germans who were simply afraid, and -- as weak and fallible humans tend to do -- let evil flourish in their midst as a result. Others were fervent nationalists, and let Hitler carry them along for the ride because he was a champion of the Volk.


If we are going to do something besides exterminate every Muslim on the planet, we will have to figure out a way to separate the extreme zealots from the run-of-the-mill Muslims. The latter group may never love us, but they don't have to. In fact, they can continue to be be glad every time a terrorist kills some of us.

But if they are normal people -- not memebers of the I-want-to-die-and-get-my-72-virgins club -- then they can be deterred from acting on their feelings, if we act shrewdly.

Many of the Germans who survived the war hated us, since we were the victors. But somehow Western Europe got put back together again without killing every single German.

Baron Bodissey said...


Having discovered the banality of evil you failed to recognize it for what it is.

I beg your pardon -- you obviously haven't been reading this blog if you think that's the case.

I just don't make the jump (which some people do) from "There is great evil in Islam today" to "All Muslims are evil."

Just for a change of pace, I wanted a glimpse into the ordinary -- possibly non-evil -- Muslim.

Muslim Unity said...

It is good that a few people are at least trying to make an attempt at understanding the religion of Peace and Love.
However I would like to warn the people comparing Islam to the Nazis as a huge mistake. You will regret it.

Anonymous said...

Humanizing Muslims helps me to understand them.

Yes, as long as you don't make the erroneous assumption that Islam is essentially benign (or can become so) just because you meet Muslims who are nice people.

But then again, maybe I'm being naive. Maybe there really is no way out except to war with the entirety of Islam, all 1.4 billion of them.

All 1.4 billion Islams, you mean? Seems to me you're making the classic mistake of failing to distinguish between Islam and Muslims. There has to be an ideological dimension to the war, and we must never lose sight of the fact that it should be a war against Islam as such, and not against "Islamism", "militant Islam", "radical Islam" or whatever the preferred euphemism is these days.

There should be nothing else than zero tolerance against Islam - anything else is appeasement and, in the long run, dangerous.

I just don't make the jump (which some people do) from "There is great evil in Islam today" to "All Muslims are evil."

No, and of course you shouldn't, but the phrase "there is great evil in Islam today" (emphasis mine) sounds like a sneaky form of Islam apologism to me, as it gives at least me the impression that the evil in question is not something that is inherent in Islam, but rather an unfortunate, non-essential element which can and should be removed, after which Islam will be a a good religion (again). I certainly hope that this (or something along those lines) is not what you mean, and I wouldn't usually think so, but your comments in this thread have left me somewhat puzzled.

The President's strategy, flawed as it may be, is to try to effect change within Islam and prevent the violent extremists from gaining control within all the majority Islamic countries.

Changing Islam is a waste of time. Getting rid of Islam, at least from our (as of yet) non-Islamic countries, is not.