Sunday, July 6, 2014

Intolerance and Prejudice Against Non-Muslims/Expatriates in Oman

Being that it is Ramadan, I have been reading posts written by non-Muslims living in Oman, on blogger, twitter, instagram, what have you, exhorting other non-Muslim expatriates to be tolerant of Muslim religious traditions as far as abstaining from eating and drinking in public or chewing gum, ect....

Which makes me reflect on tolerance from the Omani end. Omanis generally consider me to fall in that end (the Omani end) since I officially have a tribe, an Omani husband and Omani kidlet, and am Muslim (was that in my own country before marriage as well). I am an abaya-wearing girl, this is not my first Ramadan, and basically that is all it takes I guess, for me to be considered on one side or another.

But I see tolerance differently. Tolerance in Oman is not exactly as I experienced as a non-Muslim teenager hanging around Ras Al Hamra/Qurum in the 90s.

When I was a teen I never got evil eyes from Omani women even though I wore clothes that were too tight, or too short to be properly respectful. I got friendly, albeit shy smiles. The women who worked in the caftan/sparkly jalabiyia stores always enjoyed dressing me up in the brightest pink creation they could find, or showing me how to wrap a scarf. Egyptian vendors in the malls gave me a free caftan once simply telling me it was free so that I could wear it. A woman once gave me the abaya she was wearing simply because I had complimented it.

No one ever told me I looked better that way (covered) or that I should cover or had to or was something bad if I didn't. No one acted as if I deserved disrespect or bad thoughts because I didn't cover, though of course, some Omani men remained creeps, staring or whistling or trying (in the lamest words strung together into lines in the histroy of the English language) to hit on me. 

[That said I must insert here: Canadian guys in my hometown were even farther towards the jerk end of the pool, being that they judged many women as being unattractive or undeserving of respect or kindness because she was not pretty enough for their unrealistic standards. They generally avoided me because I dressed like I had money and was from another place (my family was) and was thus out of their league and not likely to settle in town anyways. But I saw how unrealistic beauty standards affected a lot of my Canadian girlfriends. In their mid twenties now, they have just grown out of caring what small town Canadian boys think;) and that was a long battle hard-won. One girl was anorexic, another hypersexualized, another yet set herself low standards and accepted men who abused her simply out of being told for so long she was undeserving of love even though to me, she kind of looks like a supermodel.]

The only intolerance I ever saw in Oman I guess was in Nizwa, where some small boys hurled pebbles at my mother who WAS wearing short shorts in front of masjid/Mosque, bent over trying to photograph it. My mother never understood or cared to understand Omani or Muslim culture and STILL tries to lecture me about both as if she knew anything about either. Expat prejudice against Omanis I experienced as a child here as well, you could say.

That was it. Omani women invited us places. To weddings, to their homes... and Omani guys generally understood our culture and weren't creepy (even to my mother in her bikin sunbathing in the yard). Suburban posted about some of the same guys I knew here and it made me smile to hear of them remembered like that I mean, I am sure she knew ones I didn't. There wasn't just one shift. But I'll fondly remember Ghareeb's long-lasting and totally respectful crush on my little sister (he still asks about her and if she became a Muslim or anything and still can't afford to marry), Nasser telling us about Islam only when we asked about it, KH telling us about Islam but being so upfront, like 'yeah, that's what Muslims SHOULD do, so don't look to us to be examples because we are baaaaad muslims'. Ahmad trying to teach my mother how to break-dance and camel dance and inviting us to the coolest, coolest Bedouin stuff ever, like, weird desert races, weddings, and poetry recitations/ screaming competitions.

That was Oman before I moved here to live, permanently, and actually put myself into Omani culture.

I'd always kind of planned to put myself into Sharqiyah Region or Zanzibari culture, since the Omanis I had known had been from those cultures. Like, for example, my old landlord, Waleed.

Nicest man who ever lived, I swear. When my work stopped paying me did he ask for me to move since I couldn't pay him... Or hound me for overdue rent?

No. He swung by to make sure my ac was cleaned, to make my shower more posh (he put in a glass surround) and told me to just pay him back when I could.

His wife and sisters, even though they saw those same security dudes swinging by to visit me, never judged me to be bad Muslim. [PDO security guys brought me food, and told me about job openings thye'd heard of]. Waleed's wife and sisters, they knew I hadn't paid rent for two months so what did they do?

They invited me for dinner. They tried to force food on me. They asked to drive me places. They kindly asked me if I wanted to get married. They'd look for someone good for me. Not just some reject passport hunter or loser (that's most Arab ladies btw, when they are fixing to fix one up).

When I was deciding IF I should remarry my ex-husband or accept a difficult proposal to the Omani man I am married to now, Waleed totally acted like the father I never had. He spoke to both men on my behalf to guage their characters. Gave me fatherly advice. Told me I didn't need to get married just to support myself and not be strain on him and his family. To take my time.

THAT'S TOLERANCE btw, because to all appearences (as a Muslim) I was a sick guy magnet who was too lame to get a job or visa or pay rent. That's kindness.

That's Islam, how it treats people whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim.

I haven't been seeing that kind of tolerance lately. I guess I haven't visited Waleed's family, and I guess I am married into Dakhliyia/Interior Region culture...

My husband argued with me the other day about the majority of tolerant or intolerant people where he is from.

I agree, there are so many great Muslims from where my husband is from who generally want to give a good impression to non-Muslims and expats about themselves.

But there are so many others who are ignorant of the Islamic manners they should have and simply expect others to conform to their way of life or have it forced upon them. Or they are proud and think their ways are the best/most Islamic ever and everyone else with anything different is less than them or wrong. I see this in Muscat as well, from the highest, most educated Omanis, and it makes me sick and sad and filled with loathing, although during Ramadan, I should be filled with hope.

That makes me genuinely sad (prejudice and intolerance against non-Muslims in Oman) since I have lived as a Muslim woman in a non-Muslim country and felt the sting of intolerance and the cruelty of prejudice and prejudgements there acutely. Omanis here who have never travelled cannot imagine. They would change if they knew, if they experienced it.

I can never wash it off. How horrible that was, it lingers, and changed me. My patience and will to show others good will and treat them how I would want to be treated if I too was raised to be ignorant or cruel is gone. I have no patience. I get angry.

I miss my old self, before prejudice made me less kind and harder and tired, and more self-involved than idealistic and actively driven to better my society.

Prejudice is an understanding of something or someone you know nothing of. Intolerance is expecting your ways or thoughts or beliefs to be shared or forced or tolerated by people who do not understand or hold the same. Both ruin all that is good and could make great another human being.

In Islam the Qu'ran states that there is no compulsion in religion. That means Islamic beliefs and rules cannot and should not be forced on non-Muslims. They should choose for themselves.

I think no non-Muslim should have to refrain from the appearence of eating or drinking on my behalf, or chewing gum (what utter silliness). I don't think they should have to wear abaya or headscarf to be deemed respectful of my religion and culture. I don't even think they have to be stopped from drinking alochol or having their churches. If my way is the right one, people will seek it. They will ask about it, I don't even have to tell them, unless they deign to understand it. That to me is Islam. In Islam, I can be strict with myself. That is the best way, one of inner reflection, inner striving, for the true testament of faith is in one's own intentions and manners/deeds, not contained by what is imparted on the whole of one's society/country through any will but the individial (which Muslims believe is God-given).

I certainly would never have looked kindly enough on the strange and alien "Islam" if the Muslims I had met in Oman had been prejudiced or intolerant people. That is something to remember this Ramadan, and while I certainly hope no one suffers intolerance or prejudice as I have in order to become better human beings, I would like to see change, and I suppose experience is the greatest forbearer of change.

{Sorry for the terribly long post.}


Heather Duncan said...

That was a great post, thanks. It's a funny old world but you are right you get creeps and intolerant people anywhere in the world just how they chose to show themselves to you differs in different cultures.

Ramadan Kareem to yourself and your beautiful family x

Khaleej Alien said...

"I certainly would never have looked kindly enough on the strange and alien "Islam" if the Muslims I had met in Oman had been prejudiced or intolerant people."

Exactly how I feel. I'll probably be converting to Islam soon, thanks to some of the wonderful Omanis that I have met who gave me stories, opened up my mind and showed me what Islam is really about.

Anonymous said...

Very true, and beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

Please Oh Allah, save us from oppression of all kinds. Those which are hidden and those which aren't. Those which you know of and those which we don't. Those which are small and big. Sooner rather than later. Allahuma Ameen