ISLAM – ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW

It is hard for most people in Western countries, where church and state are rigorously separated, to understand that for Muslims, there’s little distinction between politics, culture and religion: each flows seamlessly through the other. Recognizing the religious integrity of Peninsula people makes sense of certain customs and manners. In turn, it guides the traveller in appropriate conduct and minimizes the chance of giving offence. Indeed, if you take the time to understand Islam, it will pay dividends when you interact with Arab people.

HISTORY
The Birth of Islam. Islam was founded in the early 7th century by the Prophet Mohammed. Born around AD 570 in the city of Mecca, Mohammed began receiving revelations at the age of 40 that continued for the rest of his life. Muslims believe these revelations, some received in Mecca, others in Medina, came directly from Allah through the angel Gabriel.
As Mohammed came from an oral tradition, he memorized the revelations, rather than writing them down, and then repeated them to friends and family. His contemporaries recognized the revelations as divine and they formed the basis of the Quran (meaning ‘recitation’ in Arabic). In turn, the Quran, as well as a series of suras (verses), became the basis of the new religion of Islam.
The Prophet Mohammed. Very little is known about the early years of Mohammed, other than that he was born around AD 570. His biography was written a century after his death and is more adulatory than factual.
Mohammed’s early life doesn’t appear to have been easy. His father died before he was born, and his mother died when Mohammed was six years old. Adopted by his grandfather, who also died shortly after, he was eventually sent to live with his uncle. With few means, the boy was obliged to start work early as a caravan trader. Mohammed’s honesty, integrity and efficiency, however, didn’t escape the eye of a much older, wealthy widow called Khadijah, who soon took him on as her agent. Eventually the couple married and had four daughters. After Khadijah’s death, Mohammed married several other wives (polygamy was acceptable) for political and altruistic reasons. In addition he had at least two concubines.
Sunnis & Shiites. Islam split into different sects soon after its foundation, based not so much on theological interpretation but on historical event.
When the Prophet died in 632, he left no instructions as to who should be his successor, or the manner in which future Islamic leaders (known as caliphs) should be chosen. The community initially chose Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s closest companion and father-in-law, as the new leader of the Muslim faith, but not everyone was happy with this decision. Some supported the claim of Ali bin Abi Taleb, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. These supporters became known as Shiites (‘partisans’ of Ali). Ali eventually became caliph, the fourth of Mohammed’s successors, in 656, but just five years later he was assassinated by troops loyal to the governor of Syria, Mu’awiyah bin Abu Sufyan (a distant relative of the Prophet), and Mu’awiyah became caliph.
Over the centuries Sunnism has developed into the ‘orthodox’ strain of Islam and today comprises about 90% of the world’s more than 1100 million Muslims. There are large Shiite minorities, however, spread across the Middle East – including in Bahrain.
From that point on the Muslim community separated into two competing factions. The Sunnis on the one hand favoured the Umayyads, the dynasty which was established by Mu’awiyah. According to Sunni doctrine, the caliph was both the spiritual leader of the Muslim community and the temporal ruler of the state. So long as a Muslim ruled with justice and according to the Sharia’a (Islamic law), he deserved the support of the Muslim community as a whole. Shiites, on the other hand, believed that only a descendant of the Prophet through Ali’s line should lead the Muslims. Because Shiites have rarely held temporal power, their doctrine came to emphasize the spiritual position of their leaders, the imams.
In 680, Ali’s son Hussein was murdered in brutal circumstances at Karbala (in today’s southern Iraq), an event that further widened the gap between the two factions. The division and hostility between the two sects continues to this day.
As with any religion approaching one billion adherents, Islam has produced many sects, movements and offshoots within the traditional Sunni–Shiite division.
Famous Early Muslims
Muslims contributed widely to the world’s body of knowledge at a time when Europe was lost in the Dark Ages, but few of their names are recognized by people in the West today. Here are four of the many intellectuals, travellers, medics and thinkers who deserve a better billing in Western history books:
Al-Khwarizmi (AD 780–850) Known as the ‘Father of Algebra’, Al-Khwarizmi combined Indian and Greek mathematical traditions and introduced Arabic numerals to Europe. He also built on Ptolemy’s work to produce the first map of the world.
Ibn Sina (AD 980–1037) A great medical scholar, Ibn Sina wrote the Book of Healing and the Canon of Medicine – a medical encyclopedia which was used throughout the West for over 600 years. Many modern clinics in Arabia are named after him.
Ibn Khaldun (AD 1332–95) Author of The Book of Examples and Collections from Early and Later Information Concerning the Days of Arabs, “Arabs and Berbers. Ibn Khaldun was the first historian to write on the philosophy of history and civilization.
Ibn Battuta (AD 1304–69) A world-famous traveller, Ibn Battuta’s pilgrimage to Mecca became a journey of 120,000km across North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. His travels in Saudi and Oman are commemorated in plaques at sites such as Bibi Miriam’s Tomb (Qalhat).

DISTRIBUTION OF SUNNIS & SHIITES
This is the approximate distribution of Sunni and Shiite Muslims across the Arabian Peninsula. For updates of this information, consult www.populstat.info.
Bahrain – 25%/57%/18%
Kuwait – 45%/30%/25%
Oman – 74% (Ibadi)/14%/12%
Qatar – 92%/0%/8%
Saudi Arabia – 93%/4%/3%
UAE – 80%/16%/4%
Yemen – 53%/47%/0%

TEACHINGS
Despite modern connotations with fundamentalism and the violent beginnings of Islam in the Peninsula itself, Islam is an inherently peaceful creed. The word ‘Islam’ means ‘submission’, or ‘self-surrender’. It also means ‘peace’. Taken as a whole, Islam is the attainment of peace – with self, society and the environment – through conscious submission to the will of God. To submit to the will of God does not just entail paying lip service to God through ceremony, but through all daily thoughts and deeds.
The principal teaching of Islam is that there is only one true God, creator of the universe. Muslims believe that the God of Islam is the same God of Christians and Jews, but that he has no son or partner and he needs no intermediary (such as priests). Muslims believe that the prophets, starting with Adam, including Abraham and Jesus, and ending with Mohammed, were sent to reveal God’s word but that none of them were divine.
The Quran is considered above criticism: it is the direct word of God as spoken by the Prophet Mohammed. It is supplemented by various traditions such as the hadith, the collected acts and sayings of Mohammed. In its fullest sense Islam is an entire way of life, with guidelines for nearly everything, from preparing and eating food to banking and dress.
Historically, this creed obviously had great appeal to the scattered people of the Peninsula who were given access to a rich spiritual life without having to submit to incomprehensible rituals administered by hierarchical intermediaries. Believers needed only to observe the transportable Five Pillars of Islam in order to fulfill their religious duty. This is true to this day and is perhaps one of the reasons why Islam is one of the world’s fastest growing religions.
After exchanging pleasantries with acquaintances on the Peninsula, the conversation inevitably tends towards three subjects that most Western people shy away from: sex, politics and religion. The level of frankness involved in some of these discussions can come as a surprise. Forewarned is forearmed, however, and there’s no better way of getting under the skin of a nation than talking about the things that matter most in life.
While all three subjects may seem like potential minefields (don’t talk about sex with the opposite gender, especially if you’re male; if you’re talking politics, avoid saying ‘you’ when you mean ‘your government’), religion is the one topic of conversation that takes a bit of practice.
For most Muslims, however, tolerating Christians, Jews (both ‘People of the Book’), Buddhists or Hindus is easy – knowing what to do with a heretic is the problem. Stating you don’t believe in God is as good as saying you doubt the very foundation of a Muslim’s life. So how do you say you’re an atheist without causing offence? Try saying ‘I’m not religious’. This will likely lead to understanding nods and then, on subsequent meetings, a very earnest attempt at conversion. Words like ‘You’ll find God soon, God willing’ should be seen as a measure of someone’s like for you and not as a rejection of your ‘position’; a reasonable response would be shukran (thank you).

THE FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM
1. Shahada. This is the profession of faith that Muslims publicly declare in every mosque, five times a day across the land: ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet’. To convert to Islam, one needs only to state this with conviction three times.

2. Salat. Muslims are expected to pray five times a day: The times of prayer are at dawn before sunrise, at noon when shadows are their shortest, at 3 in the afternoon, at sunset, and in the evening when it is completely dark. The exact times change as the day shortens and lengthens through the seasons. The five clock faces beside the mihrab are adjusted to the recommended times for that day.
It’s acceptable to pray at home or at the office, except for Friday noon prayers, which are performed preferably at a mosque where prayer has 10x the reward. Sunday is the first day of the week, Friday is the sixth – the day that Adam and Eve were created.
Just before fixed prayers a muezzin calls the Sunni and Shiite faithful, traditionally from a minaret, nowadays mostly though a loudspeaker. The melodic call to prayer translates roughly as “God is most great. There is no god but Allah. Mohammed is God’s messenger. Come to prayer, come to security, god is most great.”
Before praying, a Muslim must perform ‘ablution’ (washing arms, hands, head and feet with water or sand) to indicate a willingness to be purified in spirit.
Prayer involves prostration in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca (arrows in aircraft and in hotel rooms indicate the right direction) and the ritual recital of passages of the Quran. The prayer is led by the Iman, who stands before the mihrab and coordinates the movement of the prayer.
Islam has no ordained priesthood, but mullahs (scholars, teachers or religious leaders) are trained in theology, respected as interpreters of scripture, and are quite influential in conservative rural areas. At noon on Friday, the mullah gives a sermon usually on the do’s and don’ts and life but the exact topic changes. He is hired and salaried, knows the 14 chapters of the Quoran by heart and has a good character, voice and communication skills.
Children start to pray when 4 or 5 when they can behave. Teaching the religion starts at age 7, values are reinforced at age 10 and Ramadan practiced at age 13. Prayer focuses morals and discipline.
The size of the minarets are proportional to the size of the mosque. All mosques have a dome whose purpose is to amplify the voice. The mihrab is also domed in order to amplify the voice.

3. Zakat. This is the duty of alms giving. Muslims must give a portion of their salary (one-fortieth or 2.5% of a believer’s annual income to be exact) to those in greater need than oneself. First money is given to family, then to the community and lastly to the international organization.

4. Ramadan. It was during the month of Ramadan that Mohammed received his first revelation in AD 610. Muslims mark this special event each year by fasting from sunrise until sunset throughout this holy month. It is in the holy ninth month of the year (Islam follows the 13-month lunar calendar so the date of Ramadan moves ahead 12 days every year).
During this time, Muslims must abstain from taking anything into their bodies, whether related to eating, drinking, having sex or smoking. The idea behind the fast is to bring people closer to Allah via spiritual and physical purity. It teaches one to restrain your desires, improve your spiritual thoughts, gain awareness, learn patience, make one more compassionate and generous and to become a better human being.
Some people are excused the rigours of Ramadan, including young children and those whose health will not permit fasting. Travellers on a journey are also excused, although they are expected to fast on alternative days instead.

5. Hajj. Every Muslim capable of doing so (whether physically or financially) is expected to perform the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest of cities, at least once in their lifetime. For the individual, hajj is a profoundly spiritual experience, cleansing of sin and reaffirming of faith. Pilgrims who complete hajj return to respect in their home countries, in recognition of the rite of passage that it represents. Hajj is key to the cohesion of Islam as a global religion, drawing together Muslims from around the world in a single expression of faith.
The hajj occurs in the last month of the lunar calendar and lasts 5-6 days. For a pilgrimage to qualify as a ‘true’ hajj, it can only be performed during these few specific days of the Muslim year. Visiting Mecca at any other time of the year is known as umrah (the ‘lesser pilgrimage’ or ‘visitation’). Performing hajj is richly rewarded: all past sins are forgiven. Additionally, pilgrims are entitled to prefix their names with Al-Haj and doing so still evokes much respect in the community. The goal is to teach the trials and tribulations of Abraham.
Anyone who counts themselves as a traveller can’t fail to be fascinated by hajj – the single largest annual travel event in the world. In the airports of the Middle East, the sense of anticipation among the Islamic pilgrims, dressed uniformly in simple white robes, is tangible as people congregate to perform this once-in-a-lifetime journey. ‘Mecca’ is often used in English to mean any place drawing large crowds. As Mecca is the holiest city of Islam, some Muslims find this use of the term offensive.
History of Hajj
Although only Muslims are permitted to participate in hajj, non-Muslims travelling in the region at the time of the annual pilgrimage can’t help but be swept into the same sense of expectation and excitement as car horns and gun fire crackle the air, signalling the passage of the faithful. It immediately becomes apparent that this is no ordinary journey – it is a journey of extreme significance, anticipated from childhood, a source of inspiration in adulthood and a comfort in old age.
Unlike most travellers’ tales that are ad hoc by nature, hajj is a highly ritualized journey governed by tradition. Many aspects of the pilgrimage observable today have easily discernible roots in the history of hajj. That history can be traced to the story of Ibrahim (Abraham of the Old Testament), considered today as the founding father of the hajj tradition.
The Search for Water. During his lifetime, Ibrahim’s faith was tested many times. One trial involved taking his wife, Hajjar, and infant son, Ismail (Ishmael), to Arabia. Obeying Allah’s command to leave them in Allah’s hands, Ibrahim left Hajjar and Ismail in a dry valley with little food. Soon supplies ran out, and Hajjar began roaming the valley in a frantic search for sustenance. Eventually, failing to find anything, she fell to the ground in despair.
Pilgrims today commemorate that search for water by performing the sa’ee, walking seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah in Mecca.
Founding of Mecca. Ismail was now crying from hunger and thirst, so Hajjar prayed to Allah for help. As Ismail wailed, he stamped his foot upon the ground and suddenly up gushed a spring of water. They named the spring Zamzam and in time, caravans and nomads began to water their camels there. Soon a desert settlement formed around the well. That settlement was Mecca, and Zamzam is the only natural source of water in the city to this day.
Muslims believe the spring is where Adam and Eve, the first humans, appeared on Earth. And also that we are all born Muslim as a result.
Rejecting Temptation. Ibrahim’s greatest trial was still to come. Allah commanded him to take his son to the mountains and there slay him. Determined to demonstrate the strength of his faith, Ibrahim obeyed the commandment but on the way to the mountains, Shaitan (the Devil) intervened, harrying, cajoling, taunting and mocking Ibrahim to give up his mission. On the point of despair, Ibrahim overcame his temptation by throwing stones at Shaitan. This act is commemorated today by the stoning of the jamrah (pillars) in Mina today.
Sacrifice. When Ibrahim arrived at the appointed place with knife drawn against his son’s neck, he was commanded by Allah to allow Ismail to live, and to sacrifice a ram in his place. This is remembered during Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), when Muslims all over the world perform a ritual sacrifice, usually of a cow, sheep or goat, which is then prepared for family feasting.
Commitment to Pilgrimage. Ibrahim continued to visit Mecca. One day, Allah commanded him to build a house of worship and called on all believers to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Ibrahim and Ismail constructed the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building, for worship. This is the building which, to this day, Muslims are enjoined to circle while performing the tawaf (circumnavigation of the Kaaba).
Hajj & the Founding of Islam. ‘Our Lord! Send amongst them a messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them your aayaat (verses) and instruct them in the book and the Wisdom and sanctify them.’ (sura Al-Baqarah 2:129).
Despite the early religious origins of hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca over time became corrupted by idolatry as the Kaaba became the focus of pagan worship. After the death of his father, Ismail tried to defend the spirit of hajj in an annual visit to Mecca. He recognized, however, that it would take more than his example to recharge people’s faith and died with a prayer on his lips appealing for Allah’s help.
Islam is the only religion that stipulates pilgrimage: ‘Pilgrimage to the House is a duty to God for all those who can make the journey’ (sura 3:98).
Muslims believe that many prophets were sent through the ages to reveal the will of Allah but it was in AD 570, with the birth of a Meccan called Mohammed ibn Abdullah, that Ismail’s prayer was most significantly answered. For 23 years, Prophet Mohammed spread a message of obedience to Allah and a law of peace and order in Arabia – a message that was to form the foundation of Islam, one of the most significant moments in world history.
Initially, the Meccans (many of them powerful merchants) objected to the rise of Islam, as the new religion jeopardized profits and revenues collected from visiting pagans. In 622, they forced Mohammed into exile in the town of Medina where he established a model Islamic community. Six years later, Mohammed returned to Mecca with thousands of followers. Destroying idols, he purified the Kaaba and rededicated the House for the worship of Allah alone.
Thousands of followers travelled from miles around to hear his sermon, expounding the concept of a united Muslim community. Hajj, focused on pilgrimage to a re-sanctified Kaaba and a celebration of the unshakeable faith shown by Ibrahim, became a cornerstone of the religion of Islam.
A Millennium of Pilgrimage – A Once-in-a-lifetime Journey. For most of the history of hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca was considered a journey made only once in a lifetime. This was largely due to the expense involved in undertaking the journey. Early pilgrims had novel ways of funding their pilgrimage. Some brought goods to sell from their countries of origin; some brought slaves, selling one or two along the way to finance the next leg of the journey. Camel and donkey caravans provided transportation for wealthier pilgrims: those with fewer funds had to walk, taking up to two years to arrive in Mecca from the fringes of the Islamic world.
Hajj remains a costly commitment that many can only afford to finance once, and there remains no obligation on the impoverished to fulfill this pillar of Islam. Most families, however, see it as a point of honor to ensure elders reach the holy cities, pooling their resources to make the trip possible. Novel methods of raising funds are still in evidence and something of the spirit of enterprise shown by the merchants of old can still be seen in Jeddah, for example, where pilgrims bring unwrapped home-grown products – coffee from Yemen, saffron and pistachios from Iran, spices from India – fresh from their suitcases.
A Journey Beset with Hardship. Hajj over the centuries earned a reputation as a dangerous and difficult enterprise from which there was no guarantee of safe return. Indeed, hardship was considered part and parcel of the journey. Before setting off, pilgrims would draw up wills and appoint executors in the expectation of failing to make it back home. Bandits, highwaymen, robbers, warring tribes, kidnappers and disease were just some of the hazards pilgrims could expect during their attempt to reach the holy cities.
Despite the improved transportation, the provision of healthcare and security on arrival, and the promise of safe passage on return, there is a continuing expectation of hardship. Once in 30 years or so, hajj falls in the hottest summer months on earth. Ask pilgrims how they will cope as hajj once again approaches that testing time of soaring daytime temperatures and most will say they welcome the added challenge – they welcome the chance to demonstrate their faith in extremis.
Defenders of the Faithful. Security of hajj pilgrims as they travelled between countries of the crescent, en route to Mecca, was a traditional benchmark of a monarch’s fitness to rule. The safety of the annual caravans that gathered in Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad perplexed caliphs and sultans alike, each eager to illustrate their strength, benevolence and religious rectitude in ensuring safe passage.
Leaders across the Muslim world still take their responsibility to their pilgrims seriously, spending large sums of money to ensure that infrastructure is in place to facilitate the pilgrims’ journeys. As protectors of Mecca and Medina, each successive monarch since King Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern-day Saudi Arabia, has similarly sought to leave his mark on the holy cities, hoping to achieve favor in heaven, some would say, and to demonstrate strong leadership of the global community of Muslims. The King of Saudi Arabia takes personal responsibility for the pilgrimage, and every year the king, along with his entire government, uproots lock, stock and barrel from the capital in Riyadh to Jeddah, the ‘hajj gateway’ on the Red Sea.
Hajj Today. While much has changed since the time of the early pilgrims (particularly in terms of the character of the journey and the levels of comfort experienced in Mecca and Medina), what has remained consistent over the ages is the opportunity hajj represent for profound change – both in terms of an internal spiritual and religious journey and in terms of relationships with the outside world. An express commandment of faith, the pilgrimage to Mecca is seen as a way of cleansing the soul, eschewing the distractions of everyday life and reaffirming ‘Islam’ – literally ­‘submission’ to Allah. By the end of the hajj journey Muslims are considered ‘reborn’ in the eyes of God.
Performing Hajj. Performed at the Great Mosque of Mecca and its immediate sur-­ rounds – Mina, Muzdalifah and the Mount of Mercy at Arafat – hajj takes place annually at a predetermined date, which advances annually by 10-12 days according to the lunar calendar on which the Islamic year is based.
Although the term is often taken to mean the entire journey from home, hajj is also used to refer to a very specific set of traditional rites that are carried out over the course of several days.
The First Day (8th Dhul Hijja). The rituals begin with the Day of Deliberation or Reflection, known as yawm al-tarwiyah in Arabic. On this day, pilgrims leave behind their distinguishing garb and with it all identification of status, wealth and nationality, and dress in ihram , two seamless, unsewn sheets that symbolize a state of consecration. This ritual is performed outside Mecca, and is accompanied by recitation of an-niyyah (the stating of intent). On reaching the holy city of Mecca, pilgrims perform tawaf al-qudu m, circling the Kaaba seven times, shoulder to shoulder with fellow pilgrims in the same state of reverence and reflection. After praying between the Black Stone and the door of the Kaaba, pilgrims then move to the Station of Ibrahim for further prayers. Pilgrims drink the holy water of Zamzam before proceeding to the sa’ee , where they must run or walk seven times back and forth between the two hills of Safa and Marwah.Thereafter, pilgrims enter the Great Mosque for the performance of further holy rites, before leaving for Mina to spend the night until summoned for dawn prayers.
In Mecca is the Holy Mosque of Makkah al- Mukarramah (Mecca the Blessed). It holds 1 million people on its five levels. First built by angels, it was the first place of prayer of Adam who rebuilt it for the first time and 1000 years later, Abraham rebuilt it for the second time. In total it has been rebuilt 12 times. In the mosque is the kaaba, an empty, black cinder block structure 14m high, 12m on longest wall and 11m on the shortest wall. It is covered with the keswah, a heavy cloth of black silk lined with cotton and embroidered with gold and silk (it is changed annually).
The Second Day. (9th Dhul Hijja) – the Day of Standing, or the day of Arafat. Pilgrims head for Arafat after the dawn prayer at Mina. Forming a key component of hajj, the wuquf (standing) involves pilgrims passing words attributed to Ibrahim when he first summoned pilgrims to Mecca. Traditionally, this is a day of solemnity, reflection and the examination of conscience by pilgrims.
Some choose to climb the Mount of Mercy (Rahmah) at Arafat (though the crowds often prevent most from doing so). During the evening, pilgrims leave for Muzdalifah as part of the nafrah (rush) or ifadah (overflowing). There, pilgrims pray together and pass the night in each other’s company.
The Third Day (10th Dhul Hijja). During the Day of Sacrifice, pilgrims begin the day in dawn prayers at Muzdalifah and then return to Mina. They collect small pebbles about the size of a chickpea – 49 pebbles if their stay in Mina lasts two days, 70 pebbles if they are able to stay for three days.
In 2004, due to the many injuries to pilgrims inflicted by the fervour of the stone throwing, Saudi hajj authorities replaced the pillars with long walls and stone basins designed to catch any ricocheting rocks.
At Mina, pilgrims throw seven stones at the jamrah – (‘pillars’) symbolizing the temptation of Ibrahim by the devil.
Sacrifice follows, although pilgrims have one or two days to arrange for the slaughtering of an animal. A camel is considered the worthiest sacrifice, but an ox or ram are also acceptable.
Encouraging piety and charity, Islamic banks in Mecca facilitate official sacrifice by vouching to slaughter an animal on behalf of a pilgrim on an appointed day and sending the meat to developing-world countries.
It is at this point that a pilgrim’s hair is clipped. Although only a lock of hair is required to be cut, many men choose to have their whole heads shaved. The shaving is a symbol of rebirth – showing that the sins of the pilgrim have been cleansed through the successful completion of hajj.
On this day or the following, pilgrims head for the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca to carry out tawaf al-ifadah, a second circling of the Kaaba.
Days 4-6 (11th, 12th & 13th Dhul Hijja). Pilgrims spend their remaining days – known as the Days of Drying Meat – at Mina, each day casting seven stones at the three symbolic stone ‘pillars’ between sunrise and sunset. Before leaving Mecca, pilgrims usually perform tawaf al-wada (the circling of farewell).
Pilgrims who successfully complete hajj prefix their names with ‘Al-Haj’. This appellation invites respect though hajj is performed as a mark of religious commitment, not to attain higher social status.
Abstinence. During hajj, pilgrims enter a state of ihram that, in greatly simplified terms, requires abstinence from three main things: disturbing or harming other living things; indulging in sexual behaviour; and beautifying or adorning oneself. As part of ihram , men are forbidden to wear sewn clothes, or to cover the whole foot or head. Women are forbidden to cover their faces. This tangible illustration of the equality of all in the eyes of Allah is a defining feature of Muslim pilgrimage as monarchs and merchants, men and women, pray shoulder to shoulder during all the rites of hajj.
Pilgrim Numbers. For an indication of the health of Islam in the modern world, one perhaps need look no further than the numbers of people attending hajj each year. Around 50 years ago no more than 10,000 pilgrims made the journey to Mecca. In 2010, pilgrims arrived from 181 countries stretching from Mali to Indonesia. An estimated 25,000 pilgrims came from the UK; 13,000 from the US. In 2012, 3.1 million pilgrims officially performed hajj. Around 1.4 million pilgrims were from Saudi ­Arabia, but the remaining 1.7 million people arrived in Saudi Arabia from all parts of the world. Further millions around the world also watch hajj live on TV and via the internet. Since 2004, Saudi radio has transmitted round-the-clock coverage of hajj in more than 12 languages.
Gaining a Visa for Hajj. In an attempt to keep the numbers of pilgrims manageable, only one hajj visa is issued per 1000 Muslim inhabitants of a country’s population. Restrictions on pilgrims from Saudi Arabia are in place in order to allow more Muslims from other countries to visit and Saudis can perform hajj no more than once every five years. Entry to Mecca and Medina is prohibited to non-Muslims – although non-Muslims can view the Great Mosque of Medina from Le Meridien Hotel.
The wait for a hajj visa varies from country to country, with some pilgrims claiming to have waited 20 years or more for permission to travel and others claiming to have been charged exorbitant sums from profiteering agencies. On the whole, however, the system works well and politicians understand the importance of ensuring that the citizens of their own countries are well represented at the largest gathering of peoples in the world.
General Logistics. For Saudi Arabia, the logistical challenges of hosting the annual hajj – the equivalent of 25 World Cups, or 30 simultaneous Super Bowls – are legion. To cater for an event of this magnitude, with this volume of people, an entire government department – the Ministry of Hajj – dedicates itself solely to the annual organisation of the pilgrimage.
Considerations include maintenance of the holy sites, such as replenishing the water of the Zamzam well, and ensuring adequate accommodation, drinking water, guidance and sanitation. Special pilgrim flights are scheduled by Saudi Arabian airlines, and at the height of hajj, planes arrive at Jeddah airport every minute. Boarding passes are issued two months in advance, and multilingual cabin crews are trained to assist pilgrims (many who haven’t flown before) on flights.
As soon as one hajj ends, preparations for the next hajj begin.
Protecting Health. One of the biggest challenges Saudi authorities face during hajj is the control of health risks. Many pilgrims tend to be seriously ill or elderly, often having waited a lifetime to make the journey, and death is not uncommon during hajj. In addition, authorities are on constant alert for signs of infectious disease. An international outbreak of meningitis following hajj in 1987 showed how easily disease can spread among high densities of people and many pilgrims return home with the infamous ‘hajj cough’. Many older pilgrims feel that if they pass away during hajj, especially perhaps after a lifetime of saving towards the journey, then this is Allah’s will and the ultimate blessing.
Various measures are in place to mitigate against the risk of epidemic, including obligatory vaccinations for pilgrims. Certificates are checked meticulously upon entry to Saudi and if pilgrims are found without them, vaccinations are administered on the spot. If pilgrims refuse, they are deported.
To cope with the health challenges of hajj, more than 20,000 health workers are annually drafted in to help give vaccinations and dispense free medical treatment. In Mecca and Medina alone, 21 hospitals remain on constant standby during hajj.
Ensuring Safety. Hajj has proved a tempting target for terrorists and political protest over the years. In July 1987, Iranian Shiite pilgrims rioted, leading to the deaths of over 400 people; in July 1989, two bombs attributed to Kuwaiti Shiites exploded, killing one pilgrim and wounding 16 others; and in November 2009 thousands of Iranian pilgrims demonstrated against the Saudi authorities, following widely reported comments by a Sunni Imam in Mecca that Shiites were not true Muslims.
The management of large volumes of people in relatively confined spaces leads to its own troubles. In July 1990, 1426 pilgrims were trampled to death in a tunnel during a stampede en route to the plains of Arafat. Fatal incidents have also occurred during stone throwing at the pillars in Mina Valley. Road accidents and fire (in July 1997, 343 pilgrims were killed and 1500 injured when tents caught alight) have proved equally challenging to authorities.
In order to manage the risks as well as possible, 63,000 armed security men patrol Mecca and Medina and 22,000 are employed in civil defense, showing the extent to which pilgrim safety is taken seriously.
The Future of Hajj. Usually travel is all about the journey rather than the arrival. When it comes to hajj, however, that is not the case. Throughout the ages, even when the holy cities were marked by little more than a dusty conglomeration of desert encampments, the first sighting of the Kaaba was a moment of wonder – an achievement of spiritual quest.
Over a millennium of pilgrimage, the infrastructure in Mecca and Medina has grown beyond imagination. Today the Great Mosque in Mecca alone boasts a total area of 356,000 sq metres, with a capacity for 773,000 people (and up to one million people during hajj season). As a point of comparison, the UK’s Wembley Stadium holds 90,000 people, and the Dolphin Stadium in Miami holds 74,512 people, giving some indication of the scale and size of the holy sites. The buildings are designed to impress, with soaring minarets, polished marble, and prayer halls of immense proportions, and many pilgrims are overawed by their first sight of the cities. Much of the US$10 billion Saudi earns from the annual hajj is invested in enhancing this legacy. But leaving a far more lasting impression, it is the congregation of the faithful, the sheer scale of the numbers who perform hajj that many Muslims comment upon as the most uplifting part of the experience. Judging by the ever-growing number of pilgrims each year, anticipated by some sources to rise to 17 million by 2025, it is fair to say that Ibrahim’s legacy has proved a spectacularly enduring one.”
Abraj al-Bait, a new 485-metre clock tower in Mecca, is visible from 40 kilometres away and comprises luxury hotels, malls and apartments for 15,000. A US$3bn project, it dwarfs the holy sites.
An estimated 9% to 20% of all pilgrims fail to return home annually, implying an increase in the Saudi population of a quarter of a million people every four years.
Two-thirds of the attendees are from outside Saudi Arabia and 2-3 million people attend each year.

Beside the mosque in Mecca, there is the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina where Mohammed is buried. The Al-Agsa Mosque (Dome of the Rock Mosque) in Jerusalem is where Mohammed stepped before ascending to heaven.

THE QURAN
Muslims believe that the Quran is the literal word of God, unlike the Bible or Torah that they believe were inspired by God but were recorded subject to human interpretation. For Muslims, the Quran is therefore not just the principal source of doctrine in Islam, but also a source of spiritual rapture in its own right. It is recited often with emotional elation, as a blessing to the reciter and the listener. The use of the ‘sacred’ language of Arabic, with its unique rhythms, gives the recitation a sacramental quality that eludes translation, and many Muslims around the world still learn large portions of the Quran in its original form to feel closer to God’s words.
Given the belief in the Quran’s physical sacredness, Islamic law forbids the touching or reciting of an Arabic Quran without special ablution. Travellers should be aware of this when visiting mosques and refrain from touching the holy book.

SHARIA’A
As there is no distinction between life and religion in Islam, it follows that a set of principles or ‘laws’ based on Islamic teaching should shape the general conduct of life. The ‘legal’ implications of those principles is referred to as Sharia’a, although it is not ‘law’ in a Western sense and is widely open to differences of interpretation.
In matters of dispute, or where someone breaks the moral code of Islam, Muslim scholars turn either to the Quran or to the Sunnah, a body of works recording the sayings and doings of the Prophet (and some of his companions) for guidance. However, there are many Sunnah authorities, and their reliability is in turn determined by different schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
Sharia’a law has come to be associated with extreme forms of punishment meted out to transgressors in some Arab countries: amputation of limbs for repeat-offending thieves, flogging of those caught committing adultery, public beheading for murderers. These punishments, associated mostly with the austere Hanbali school of jurisprudence in Saudi Arabia, are intended as a deterrent first and foremost and are only rarely enforced.
In some instances the Sharia’a is quite specific, such as in the areas of inheritance law and the punishments for certain offences. In many other cases it provides only guidelines.
A scholar or judge learned in Sharia’a law has to determine the proper ‘Islamic’ position or approach to a problem using his own discretion. This partly explains the wide divergence in Muslim opinion on some issues – such as with regard to jihad today.

JIHAD
If there is one term that is more misunderstood than Sharia’a by people in the West, it is the term ‘jihad’. This has come to be seen as the rallying cry-to-arms of so-called Muslim fundamentalists against Western regimes and is assumed to apologise for acts of terrorism. It is true that for some fundamentalists jihad represents a violent struggle to preserve the Islamic faith from the encroachment of a different set of moral values (or, as they would see it, a lack of moral values). For these people, it also represents a struggle against what they consider to be the bullying of countries whose political and economic dominance impinges upon the rights and freedoms of Islamic peoples – in Palestine and Iraq in particular.
The interpretation of jihad as being solely about waging war on alternative ways of governance and of living, however, is a very narrow definition that most Islamic people wholeheartedly reject. Indeed, violent behaviour runs counter to Islamic teaching regarding justice, tolerance and peace. In fact, the word jihad means ‘striving’ or ‘struggle’ and has much broader connotations than the translation usually ascribed to it by the Western media. Far from ‘holy war’, it more often means ‘striving in the way of the faith’ – struggling against one’s own bad intentions, or rooting out evil, ‘indecency’ or oppression in society. Islam dictates that this struggle should occur through peaceful, just means so that wisdom prevails, not through anger and aggression.
Jihad in a political context, as the ‘struggle to defend the faith’, has been the subject of intense debate among Muslim scholars for the last 1400 years. In as much as it refers to the right of a nation to defend itself against oppression, there isn’t a nation on earth that wouldn’t claim the same right. Nevertheless, for most scholars (both past and present) jihad refers primarily to a spiritual rather than nationalistic, political or military concept.

CUSTOMS & CEREMONIES
You don’t have to stay in the Arabian Peninsula for long to notice the presence of a ‘third party’ in all human interaction. Every official occasion begins with a reading from the Holy Quran. A task at work begins with an entreaty for God’s help. The words al-hamdu lillah (thanks be to God) frequently lace sentences in which good things are related. Equally, the words insha’allah (God willing) mark all sentences that anticipate the future. These expressions are not merely linguistic decoration, they evidence a deep connection between society and faith.
For most Muslims, in other words, Islam is not just a religion, it’s a way of life. It suggests what a Muslim should wear and what a Muslim should eat. It directs how income should be spent, who should inherit, and what amount. It guides behaviour and suggests punishment for transgression. Few other religions are as all-encompassing. Sometimes it is hard for Western observers to understand the part played by religion – in marriage and the role of women in particular – but looked at from an Arab perspective it is hard to see why some of the traditional Peninsula practices win such opprobrium from non-Islamic commentators, especially when placed in a historical context.
Turkey is the only Muslim country that has formally separated the religious sphere from the secular sphere.

MARRIAGE
It is true that a Muslim man is permitted by Islam to have up to four wives (but a woman may have only one husband). As with many things within Islam, however, this came about through consideration of a particular historical context where women were left without a provider through war, natural disasters or divorce. Uniquely, it allows a ‘certain latitude of nature’ on behalf of men within the framework of the law, but holds men responsible for their actions.
Both the man and the woman must enter the marriage freely or else it is invalid.

ROLE OF WOMEN
Islam regards women, whether single or married, as individuals in their own right, with the right to own property and earnings without anyone dictating how they dispose of that income. A marriage dowry is given by the groom to the bride for the woman’s personal use and she keeps her own name in marriage.
Mothers are highly honoured in Islam and far from being excluded from the mosque, as is sometimes believed by non-Muslims, they are exempted the duty to make it easier to fulfilL their function as carer of children. Most mosques have separate prayer halls where women can worship without feeling uncomfortable because of the presence of men. Men are never permitted to enter the women’s prayer hall but in some of the Grand Mosques, women are permitted, except during prayer times, to enter the men’s prayer hall. In Mecca, all Muslims, male and female, stand shoulder to shoulder in the sacred places and pray together.
Although Islam permits a man to have four wives, each wife must be treated equally: ‘if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly, then only one’ (The Quran, sura 4:3). Modern Muslim interpretation emphasizes the impossibility of loving two wives equally.

DRESS
Islam prescribes modest dress in public places for both men and women, which involves covering the legs, arms and head for men, and the hair and neck for women. It does not, however, mention the use of a veil. The origin of the custom of covering the body is unclear; it certainly predates Islam and to a large degree makes excellent sense in the ravaging heat of the Arabian Peninsula where exposure to the midday sun is dangerous to health.

DIET
Muslims are forbidden to eat or drink anything containing pork or alcohol. Nor are they permitted to consume the blood or the meat of any animal that has died of natural causes. These strictures traditionally made good sense in the Arabian Peninsula where tapeworm was a common problem with pork meat and where the effect of alcohol is exaggerated by the extreme climate. These are still good guidelines today.
Observance of these rules varies. In central Asia – the ‘Stans’ – alcohol is part of life with vodka part of every social activity and meal. This probably stems from the strong Russian heritage and their remoteness from the centres of Islam.
Meat must be halal (permitted). In other words, slaughtered in the prescribed manner, with minimal cruelty and with consideration of the animal.

ISLAM & the WEST
The American relationship with that complex of religion, culture and geography known as Islam…no part of the world is more hopelessly and systematically and stubbornly misunderstood. This reflects 1000 years of misinformation, mistrust and misrepresentation of the Muslim world by the West and vice versa. But to what extent can the same comment be made today when each country in the West has a sizable Muslim community, large proportions of Gulf students attend Western colleges, and expatriate workers from Peninsula countries return with a different story? The ordinary person in the street is better informed about alternative cultures than ever before in the history of East–West relations. So why does the myth-making persist?
Muslims and Christians confronted each other during the Inquisition, the Crusades and in numerous encounters throughout history. Religious propaganda was used as a way of helping each side achieve its purpose and the prejudices created persist to this day. Add to this the behaviour of a small minority who call themselves Muslim but who are not good ambassadors for the faith, and it would appear that the religion is doomed to be ‘hopelessly and systematically and stubbornly misunderstood’ for millennia to come.
On the other hand, if there is one positive outcome of the tensions between Islam and the West since September 11 it is surely the high-profile dialogue between ordinary people on what constitutes Islam and how it relates to Western culture. In newspapers and TV programs in every country of the West, the lexicon of Islam is becoming less alien and needs less definition. Debates about wearing the hijab (veil) that continue to dominate many media stories, for example, start with the premise that people are no longer ignorant of the custom.
Of course the dialogue hasn’t always been a comfortable one as the publication of derogatory cartoons in Denmark and videos in USA show, nor has the outcome always made good sense, as with censoring Christian expression in case it causes offence to Muslims. Nonetheless, slowly but surely, each ‘side’ is lurching towards a better understanding of the limits of tolerance expected by the other, and the threatening aspect of the encounter is receding in the process.
This may not be entirely welcome to the governments on either side of the equation. There’s an element of political convenience involved in old religious rivalries. After all, how does a government persuade its people to intervene in foreign affairs without drawing on old animosities? The origin of those old animosities is the subject of the following sections.
Shared Foundations of Monotheism
When in 2003 US General William Boykin, referring to a Muslim soldier, said ‘I knew that my God was real, and his was an idol’, it offended the Muslim world not so much because of the implied hierarchy of deities but because of the heretical nature of the comment. For all Muslims there is no God but God, and this uniqueness of God is the defining principle of all three major monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
The three religions have much in common as they all revere Jerusalem (the third holiest city after Mecca and Medina for Muslims) and they share the same prophets, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Crucially, however, Islam denies the divinity of any of these figures and teaches that Mohammed was the last prophet who will come before the day of judgement.
Islam, Muslims believe, is not a new religion but the refinement and ultimate manifestation of the monotheistic religions. As such, Muslims are respectful of Christianity and Judaism and their adherents (known as ‘People of the Book’), and acknowledge the debt to the revelations of the Bible and Torah, predating the Quran.
Foray into Europe
The monotheistic faiths became powerful cultural and political entities in the world because they broke the geographic confines of their origins. Islam is no exception and it soon spread across neighboring countries, shifting capitals from Mecca to Damascus and then peacefully to Jerusalem. From here traders from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa were exposed to the new “religion and recognized in it a practical, portable faith which they voluntarily took home with them.
The first major impact that Islam made on the West was through the campaigns of the Muslim armies who spread into Spain from North Africa in 711 and settled in Andalusia. During their occupation of this part of Spain, they built the great citadels and mosques of Granada and Cordoba and entered into a creative and largely peaceful dynamic with Christendom that lasted for seven centuries.
The early Islamic encounter with Europe resulted in cultural cross-pollination. The scholars of Muslim Spain translated classical works of medicine, astronomy, chemistry, philosophy and architecture from Greek and Roman sources, lost to the Europe of the Dark Ages. This helped bring about the Renaissance – upon which modern Europe is built.
Muslim Arabs introduced the concept of zero into European mathematics – without which there would be no computer age – not to mention other civilizing influences such as coffee, paper-making and chess.
The Crusades
Not everyone was pleased with the Muslim legacy, however, and pockets of resistance to the spread of Islam finally took a militant shape in the form of the Crusades “which took place between 1096 and 1272. In the ominous name of a ‘just war’, Christian zealots wrested the Holy Land from the Muslims in 1099 in a battle to regain Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the nine Crusades attracted not only the pious but also every kind of adventurer and miscreant out looking for a fight, and victory was marked by wanton bloodletting. In 1204, for example, the sacking of Constantinople by Crusaders led by the Venetians involved widespread slaughter and looting – as evidenced by the bronze horses plucked from the hippodrome in Constantinople that now grace St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
Atrocities abounded on both sides, such as the slaughter of 2,700 Muslim men, women and children by Richard I of England and Philip II of France on 20th August 1191. Reprisals came swiftly in the form of the torture and slaying of Christian prisoners throughout Saladin’s empire. Despite such animosity between the two sides, later travellers to the Holy Land were surprised to find Christians and Muslims settled into comfortable cohabitation. Indeed Christians throughout the succeeding centuries imitated many of the customs and manners of Muslims, particularly in terms of dress and eating.
Ottoman Expansion
The second great Islamic excursion into Europe came with the Ottoman Turks. They’ve come to be seen as an oppressive people, not least by TE Lawrence whose censure of the Turks in Seven Pillars of Wisdom finds resonance in Western history books throughout the 20th century. The tendency has been to emphasize Turkish military invasion rather than their cultural influence and in particularly the taking of Christian Constantinople in 1453 is traditionally seen as a traumatic event, impacting on European identity. This is a view, however, that is now being challenged by modern historians who point out that during the height of their reign in the 16th and 17th centuries, in an empire that stretched from Hungary to Libya, the Turks were welcomed by many as bringing culture and prosperity to countries under their control where they treated Christians and Jews with the respect accorded to monotheistic faith by the Quran.
Meanwhile in Arabia’s arid Najd region, a new spirit of ‘fundamentalism’, or a return to pure Islamic principles, was taking shape in the form of Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792). This ultra-conservative Sunni from Basra (present-day Iraq) was embraced by the Saud family who liked his teachings, and he became a significant influence on the expression of faith in Saudi. His followers, known as Wahhabis, launched various bids for political power and religious dominance over the succeeding centuries, including an audacious attack on the Shia city of Karbala in 1802, prefiguring movements such as the Brotherhood of Islam two centuries later.
Colonialism
When Napoleon’s armies took aim at the Sphinx in the early 19th century, it marked a turning point in the relationship between the West and the Muslim world. The great powers of Europe, with large overseas colonies built on the industrial revolution, began to make incursions into Arab territory that were more to do with strategic influence than with faith.
There were also positive interactions during the era of colonialism. European explorers came to Arabia with a genuine interest in a culture that seemed less tainted by the effeteness of Western society. By the mid-20th century, the desire for learning drifted in the opposite direction, with many wealthy Muslims studying in Europe. They returned to their own countries bearing Western ideas, including democracy and individualism.
Pan-Arabism
European control of the Middle East diminished with the Suez Crisis of 1956 – the era in which Gamal Abdel Nasser became president of Egypt, bringing with him the notion of pan-Arabism. First appearing in 1915, pan-Arabism was a movement for unification among the Arab nations of the Middle East. It was a secular and mostly socialist movement with nationalist overtones that opposed any kind of Western influence or intervention in Arab affairs. Unity based on race only fulfilled half the equation and soon unity based on Islam became a more suggestive prospect.
Movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, led by the radical Sayyid Qutb, pursued a universal Islamic society through whatever means necessary, including violence and martyrdom. With this movement, a different dynamic towards the West came into being. The revolution in Iran in 1979, in which the monarchy was replaced by Muslim clerics, was a further indicator of a new expression of the old alliance of faith and the sword.
Recent Tensions
From a Muslim perspective, the politics of oil has dominated relations between the West and the Arab world since the 1970s. The wealth that has come from oil has been equally divisive within the Arab world, giving rise to fundamentalist Islamic elements who perceive the relationship between the West and the Arab world as a threat to traditional Islamic and Arabic values.
Many Muslims believe that the politics of oil was the prime motivator behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When on 16 September 2001, at Camp David, George W Bush used the term ‘crusade’ to describe the early days of the so-called War on Terror, many Arabs came to perceive the war in the region as the continuation of a legacy characterized by the bullying of the weak by the powerful.
The other feature that has characterized recent tensions between the West and the Arab world is the perceived Western bias towards Israel in the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. Until a solution to the relentless problem of cohabitation between Jews and Arabs in Israel is reached, the entire region will remain in a state of flux. The key word regarding non-Islamic religious observance in the Arabian Peninsula today is discretion: whatever worship happens behind closed doors and which doesn’t interfere with the beliefs of Muslims is considered a matter between the individual and their own conscience.
Keeping the Faith Today
Modern life requires compromises with religion, but then it always has. As such, there’s not much that separates a Peninsula life from a Western one, except perhaps in the degrees of temptation and opportunity. That’s changing as access to Western culture becomes more prevalent in the region.
Except in Saudi and Kuwait, alcohol is widely available and has become a source of curiosity and experimentation for many youngsters and a way of life for some Arabs who have studied and worked abroad. Drugs, largely smuggled in from across the Gulf, have led to addiction (together with the familiar misery, shame in the community and family disruption) in a small but growing number of Arabian youths who seek to emulate the kind of rock-star lifestyles they see celebrated on satellite TV.
All of these temptations and opportunities are causing a new generation, educated to think and research the truth for themselves, to question the knowledge handed down from their elders. The uprisings of the Arab Spring of 2011 were partly symptomatic of the pull in two directions between a traditional life, governed by Islamic principles and concern for society, and the realities of a modern life where the individual and his or her own personal needs and satisfactions take priority.

With about 1.4 billion people professing the faith, 20% of the world’s population, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity; around 50 countries have Muslim majorities and another 35 have significant minorities. Six million Muslims live in the USA – around 2% of the population. It is the world’s fastest growing religion.

OTHER RELIGIONS ON THE PENINSULA
All the indigenous people of the Peninsula today are Muslim. One or two Muslim converts to Christianity wander in a state of miserable purgatory on the periphery of society, barred from all social interaction with family and friends by a decision that most Muslims would consider not just heretical but also a rejection of common sense, history and culture.
This is not the case with expatriate Christians whose religion is respected and provision for worship catered for in church services across the region. There are also Hindu and Buddhist temples tucked away in small suburbs of the region’s big cities and travelling missions visit expat camps in rural areas to bring comfort to those separated from the familiar props of their home communities. Small enclaves of Jewish people who have lived on the Peninsula for centuries are given private latitude in Yemen as part of the Muslim culture of religious tolerance.
Saudi, as keeper of Islam’s holiest shrines, is the exception: no religious observance is permitted other than Islam. That said, a blind eye is turned towards pockets of private worship among Christians.
Despite the trend towards greater liberalism in most countries of the Arabian Peninsula, it’s probably fair to say there is no less faith involved. The mosques are still full on a Friday; students still interrupt their studies to pray; kindly friends still attempt conversion to ‘the one true faith’ among their non-Islamic acquaintances, and driving continues to deteriorate in Ramadan as the overwhelming majority observe dawn to dusk fasting with the resultant lack of concentration on the roads. In modern Peninsula cities throughout the region, men still keep company in one place, the women in another, enjoying public company but coming together for family, intimacy and private time. This is the age-old pattern of Arab communities, indulging human passions but reining them in with the ­unconscious guidance of religion and culture and looking forward to the spiritual renewal represented by the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca.

BOOKS
Infidels (Andrew Wheatcroft; 2004)
The Crisis of Islam – Holy War and Unholy Terror (Bernard Lewis; 2004)
Covering Islam – How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (1997), by the late Edward W Said, examines the way in which the media portrays the Islamic world.

WEBSITES ON ISLALM
Al-Bab (www.al-bab.com) Comprehensive site providing links to information on and discussions of Islam.
Islamicity (www.islamicity.com) Good reference for non-Muslims interested in Islam.

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I would like to think of myself as a full time traveler. I have been retired since 2006 and in that time have traveled every winter for four to seven months. The months that I am “home”, are often also spent on the road, hiking or kayaking.
I hope to present a website that describes my travel along with my hiking and sea kayaking experiences.

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