Today we learned about Shari'ah law through reading a case and acting it out under the rules of the Islamic courts. It was interesting to learn about the rules of the law, where they come from, and how they affect the people that they govern. Before the conference, I thought that Sharia only governed criminal, civil, and public cases (as in the U.S.). However, I learned that Shari'ah is based upon the Qur'an and Sunnah (actions and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) and serves as a moral code for Islamic regions.
As Ammar Shams, Regional Head of Corporate HSBC, spoke to us about Sharia, I thought about those that may be marginalized in a country whose court system is based upon a religion they choose not to practice. I believe that everyone should have the right to choose the life they live. If they choose to follow Islam, I am content with that. However, I am bothered when there appears to be no option for one to opt out of selecting Islam.
Islam is a lifestyle, not a religion. Being born into an Islamic family here in the Middle East means that all of your cultural understandings and legal system will revolve around Islam. (There is even a soulful song projected across the city right before prayer times to remind the city to pray.) But what if I am born into an Islamic family but choose to not practice Islam? Is it fair, then, for me to be governed under Islamic laws? One could move else where, but family and comfort discourages that. Then, I wonder how much of the practice of Islam in such regions is choice versus obligation. I asked Ammar, "What if I grew up here in the UAE into an Islamic family, but I choose to not practice Islam?" He responded, to the effect of, no one will check whether or not one is following the rules of Islam. However, if you are born Muslim you are considered a Muslim until you die. Denouncing Islam could be punishable by death under the law. However, in the UAE, saying that the person is “out of their mind” and thus cannot be executed prevents this.
In my experience here, the people seem very happy. Especially the women, they seem content with their lives. If you like it, I love it. I remember watching the Sex and the City movie in Abu Dhabi where Sarah Jessica Parker talked about all the work a woman had to go through to eat a fry under her veil. However, from the people that I met, this is an undertaking that they do not object to. It does not make them feel oppressed. In fact, it is just a part of their worship and daily devotion to adhering to their holy book. Additionally, women only where the wraps in front of men not in their blood line. This means that in their homes around their brothers, fathers, nephews, uncles, etc. (anyone they cannot marry) they do not have to wear the wrap. Additionally, they do not have to wear it around only women. The thought behind it is to keep modestly and the eyes of outside men off of you, to perserve your beauty for only the eyes of your husband (prevent lustful gazes).
Seeing their devotion to their god has really spoken to me in a meaningful way. I go to church on Sundays (or not), read a verse a day (if I get around to it), and pray every blue moon (okay every two or three blue moons). Yet, I consider myself a Christian. However, these worshippers are so dedicated, not to religion, but in their pursuit of a relationship with their higher power that every aspect of their lives (prayer, food, personal interactions, social life, etc.) is based upon their devotion. My time here has inspired me to put more into getting to know my God.
The UAE is a unique country in the UAE as it is more open to westerners. This experience has prompted my desire to travel to other Muslim countries and cross compare my findings. I spoke with a girl at the conference from Libya who was present in Libya during the Gaddafi uprisings. It was amazing to hear her story and how fearless her and her family where through the protests. Her father helped to heal the injured civilians and was arrest several times because of it. It was amazing to hear her story.
I’m so used to seeing Muslims portrayed in the media as bombers, extremists, oppressed, and angry. Here in Dubai, I’ve found the opposite. I find peaceful, accepting, empowered, and happy people.