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.