On the train: The West vs Islam

March 26, 2008 8:39 PM

Over the years I believe I’ve talked about the problems of the Muslim world in a fairly balanced way. I thought that the whole Danish cartoon thing was unnecessarily provocative, but at the same time I grasp the big irony which happened when Pope Benedict XVI quoted a piece of ancient text which said that some parts of the Quran were violent (just like it is in the Bible) and violent hardline Muslims reacted, well violently. Like I said, ironic.

To add to the above, I’d like to share with you what happened on the train today. A handicapped woman in a wheelchair and her seeing-eye dog got onto the same train carriage as I did. As we got in, two Muslim women about 10 seats away stood up abruptly and moved to the other end of the carriage.

I only noticed them because their actions were so exaggerated. I wasn’t the only one who noticed, because several people also looked. They probably just thought that the women’s behaviour was a bit odd. But because I know that dogs are considered unclean to Muslims, I understood their behaviour right away.

What ticked me off immediately was the hypocrisy of the situation. Tolerance and understanding cannot only flow one way – it needs to be reciprocal. Would I have perceive the situation differently if it was two people who moved because they just might be allergic to dogs? Probably. But because they were so obviously Muslim, there was no other way for me to perceive it.

I’m not saying that they should have just stayed where they were either (even though they were 10 seats away from the dog). But what would have been preferable was that they didn’t make such a dramatic move. They could have discreetly slided down a couple of seats and none would be the wiser. I’d still know they moved because of the dog but I wouldn’t have reacted the way I did.

This incident goes a bit to explain why Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments persist. Because Muslims here are such a visible minority, they have to understand that small incidents like this shape how the greater community views them. They must also know that they have chosen to come live in a predominantly Judeo-Christian and liberal Western society. Instead of the rest of us bending ourselves around them, it is them who should be bending around the rest of us.

10 thoughts on “On the train: The West vs Islam

  1. JDsg

    Oh, dear! Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments persist because Muslims won’t conform to “our” society. No, Islamophobia persists because people can’t accept Muslims for the way they are; they’d rather be intolerant (even in a mild form) of other beliefs and practices because they’re “not like us.” No one should have to “bend” around the other. When you learn to do that, your life will become less stressful because you’re not worrying all the time about why “they” won’t be like “us.”

  2. Jeremy

    I’ve got friends who are muslims and I definitely know they’re not militant or extremist. In fact most of them are pretty normal just like the rest of us. The fact that they respect our views and believes helps, just as we do theirs. As long as they’re not trying to force others to change and they allow their own followers to choose which religon they wish to practice, i’m all good.

  3. mooiness Post author

    JDsg: I think you misread my point. What I’m saying is, “when in Rome” etc. I certainly do not expect or want Muslims to abandon their traditions and customs. I merely want tact and reciprocity, especially when they are living amongst a largely non-Muslim population.

    Jeremy: exactly, respect have to go both ways.

  4. Yuuka

    Some Muslims hate dogs and pigs and just cannot contain their (misplaced religious) disgust for these animals. Someone should share with them the fact that these animals are God`s creations too.

    Personally, I think there is no point in being a devout follower of any faith/religion if you can`t even treat others with courtesy.

  5. JDsg

    No, I didn’t misread your point. I do agree with Jeremy, but I don’t think you understand some of the implications of your post. You wrote: “But what would have been preferable was that they didn’t make such a dramatic move. They could have discreetly slided down a couple of seats and none would be the wiser.”

    That may very well be; we’ll never know for certain because you’re the only one reporting this. (Maybe someone had simultaneously cut loose a silent fart, and they were trying to escape the stink; we don’t know.) Be that as it may, they made a “dramatic move” and that offended your sensibilities because they weren’t tactful enough. How does that promote Islamophobia? Women make dramatic move. Women are Muslim. Therefore, people fear Muslims because… why? What you want is for Muslims to conform to whatever it is that you think is appropriate. Tact is fine, although I don’t see where the fact that they moved further away is all that tactless, “dramatically” or not. “Reciprocity” is a rather vague term, and could mean anything. Are you offended because Muslims won’t drink a beer with you? (I expect you’ll say no; it’s a rhetorical question.)

    The point is that you expect “them” to conform to whatever it is that you think is right. That’s the basis for Islamophobia. “They” are not “us,” and until they become one of “us,” we need to fear them. The non-Islamophobic person says they are not like us, but so what? Different strokes for different folks. Until you can empathize with the other, you’re going to continue to carry that seed of Islamophobia.

    FWIW, I grew up around dogs and like them immensely.

  6. mooiness Post author

    Yuuka: yup, common courtesy would go a long way.

    JDsg: the way the world is today, it is unfortunate that everything that a Muslim do, whether man, woman or child will reflect on the greater Muslim community at large. And like it or not, most Western perception of Islam is formed by how Muslim minorities behave in Western societies.

    That said, I don’t think it’s unfair to expect everyone to be tactful. If the situation was reversed, and a couple of people stood up to get away from two Muslim women, the women should and are entitled to feel outraged.

    So my point again is this: if you want ppl to be respectful and tactful towards you, you have to do the same and stop being antagonistic to everything that goes against your religion.

    And if that last paragraph does not appease you, then we shall just have to agree to disagree.

  7. herman

    For us, who were born into western society, the practice of the muslim people looks strange and foreign. To make things worse, a small minority uses religion to justify war, violence, murder. And usually, these ones gets the most media coverage, because it’s shocking. yet, few hundred years ago, religion is used to justify the crusade, which is nothing more than a war waged to acquire land and territory by the european nations.

    Islamophobia exist in western society because of bad press coverage from suicide bombers, extrimist, terrorist. Most people don’t realize that, large majority of muslim people are good decent, hardworking people.

    In Indonesia, there has been violence against christian missionaries, churches burned, etc. Why ? because they associate christianity with western society, which they associate with general moral decline, the war in middle east, which they view as attacking their muslim brothers.

    I tend to aggree with the last paragraph, if the roles are reversed for example, if you go a muslim nation during the fasting month, i.e. Indonesia, you wouldn’t eat a fried chicken on the street, because people would stare at you, because you stand out. Restaurants would have to cover their window up, to avoid offending the people who are fasting.

    What I’m trying to say is that, we’re all made of the same stuff. We’re just human.

  8. JDsg

    @ Yuuka: “Someone should share with them the fact that these animals are God`s creations too.”

    We Muslim are well aware of this and of the importance of treating animals with respect. You might find this article of interest (Animal Rights in Islam) and these two ahadith. In the first of the two ahadith, the person is often named as a prostitute, whose sins were forgiven for having given water to the dog.

    “Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as sayings: A person suffered from intense thirst while on a journey, when he found a well. He climbed down into it and drank (water) and then came out and saw a dog lolling its tongue on account of thirst and eating the moistened earth. The person said: This dog has suffered from thirst as I had suffered from it. He climbed down into the well, filled his shoe with water, then caught it in his mouth until he climbed up and made the dog drink it. So Allah appreciated this act of his and pardoned him. Then (the Companions around him) said: Allah’s Messenger, is there for us a reward even for (serving) such animals? He said: Yes, there is a reward for service to every living animal.” (Muslim: 26:5577)

    “I also saw in it (in Hell) the owner of a cat whom she had tied and did not feed her nor set her free so that she could eat the creatures of the earth, till the cat died of starvation.” (Muslim: 4:1976)

    @ Mooiness: “f you want ppl to be respectful and tactful towards you, you have to do the same and stop being antagonistic to everything that goes against your religion.”

    For the first part of your sentence (up to the “and”), I would wholeheartedly agree. For the second half I disagree. But as I also pointed out in my last comment, I don’t necessarily see where moving away from a dog necessarily equates “being antagonistic.” I can think of several reasons why they might have moved away that has nothing to do with Islam. But even if they did move away for religious reasons, why should you care? Based on what you’ve said so far, I can’t see what all the fuss was about, unless there’s something more to the story. Something they said, perhaps? And that’s why it seems to me like the problem is more yours than theirs.

  9. girlstar7

    One thing I’ve noticed is that just because someone is of one minority group, doens’t mean they can’t be prejudice against others. I know a few Muslim people all of whom are lovely…but obviously there are also horrible Muslim people in the world. Just as there are horrible gay people, black people, asian people etc (as well as nice people of these groups, obviously).
    I once knew a gay man who argued actively for gay rights but claimed that he hated women and that all asian people should leave our country. GO figure?!
    I figure that people are people. Within every gender, race, religion etc. there are both nice people and extremely prejudice people that aren’t worth knowing. You just have to choose the people associate with wisely and not judge anyone on these irrelevant characteristics, but on how good a person they are 🙂

  10. Kynne

    Weird. I’ve experienced similar case yesterday myself where I was walking with my parents to a foodstall, when out of nowhere I saw a dog and it barked when it saw me. I was so stunned, I sorta leaped to the side and bumped against my dad who said “What lah you, scared like that.” Honestly, the dog seemed to appear out of nowhere. But on the other hand, I’m always oblivious to my surroundings whenever I walk (except for the company I’m with), so me being shocked outta my skin last night was nothing new.

    Here’s the thing about dogs.

    From what I know (via my parents), we can touch dogs but only when their fur/skin are dry. We can’t touch their tongue, obviously cos they’re wet. ‘Cos when we touch wet dogs (or any part of them that are wet), we have to go through a certain cleansing “ritual” which is a bit tedious to me. I’ve been unlucky few times so I can vouch for that.

    So we can touch but it’s better not to touch dogs. In general, we just sum it up as “dogs aren’t allowed to be touched”. To make things “easier”.

    The 2 women you saw on the train yesterday was kinda shocked too, maybe? Hence they just stood up abruptly and moved to another carriage? We don’t allow pets (let alone durian) in the train here so that’s a different story altogether. I wouldn’t have acted as “loud” as the 2 women for sure. Just be like “wide-eyed”, wait a minute or two, get up and walk to another carriage like nothing happened.

    Ever since the “fear of Islam” happened years ago, I try not to read articles about “Islam Vs West” or anything similar to that effect. I know that we’re not all a bad bunch. And I know you know that as well. Because of 1 bad banana, all of us are/can/maybe considered bad. Sad really. I do agree that there must be compromise, give-and-take, that sorta thing between both parties. But why some of them cannot or bend around the rest of the people, it’s probably because the problem was started by some people in the rest of the people “group”. Like for example, the cartoon thing. True that in Islam, any images depicting the Prophet (pbuh) are not allowed. Unfortunately, in that country where it originated from, most of us know that the govt. cannot control the media, unlike you-know-where. And unfortunately too, in countries where most of them were probably being “brain-washed” into “actions speak louder than words”. Literally. I don’t support those actions, period. Islam does not teach Muslims to do such a thing. Those who acted in such violent ways are probable examples of people who do not really understood the actual context of Islam and being a Muslim.

    About what the Pope said… It was only in ancient times that Muslims (at that time) had to defend themselves against those who sought to destroy them, with an intention to “wipe-out” the religion as well as the Prophet (pbuh). That was why wars existed. Which brings me to another point that.. “Jihad” for the sake of what all those people do in the name of Allah, is not “Jihad”. Again, misinterpretation in their part and by doing so they misrepresent the name of Islam and being Muslims.

    It’s because of those “group” of people who choose to act without thinking (and probably without praying and seeking answers from Him) that makes people like me sometimes wonder how safe will I be living in another country and bringing up children 1-2 years from now. Can I still use the name “Muhammad” for my son? Can I use “Bin” or “Binte” to reflect that the child is a boy or girl? Will he/she be a target of hatred or ridicule? Kinda scary thought, man. That’s also why I choose not to wear the “hijab” or head-covering, for now.

    IMHO, as long as we remember to respect, give-and-take and compromise, then we should be alright. I always say that when you’re in another country, whether you’re a PR or not, you’re still a tourist. So abide by the rules, behave in a good manner and never ever pissed off any of the locals. Oh. And smile. Being a Singaporean who’s used to strict rules and laws helps too. 😀


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *