Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vacation time

Okay everyone, Ramadan is almost at an end. Thanks to the 3-day holiday to celebrate Eid I've turned it into a two week vacation. This summer's destination...


I'm going with Abdulla, a Qatari friend of mine. He always wanted to see Japan, and I always regretted not going to Kyoto when I went there back in 1995, so we decided what the heck, let's go!

Qatar Airways flies direct from Doha to Osaka, from the airport we go straight to Kyoto and are staying in a traditional Ryokan for six nights, then we train it over to Tokyo for five days before returning to Osaka for a day before catching the plane home. It should be a great time. My friend Serdar lived in Tokyo for six years so gave us a number of great tips about the city.

I'll post when I return, see you in two weeks.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Islam & Marriage

Everyone knows that under Islam a man can have up to four wives. Not surprisingly, most don't. As one Bahraini taxi driver told me, "*groan* Don't do it!! Big headache!!"

Under Islam if a man has more than one wife he has to treat them equally. If he gives one a gift he has to give the other a gift, if one has her own house the others have to have their own houses and so on. The man also has to pay a dowry to a woman that he marries, and pay for the wedding, so that gets expensive. These days, at least in the Arabian Peninsula, one generally has to be wealthy to have multiple wives. (I'm also still not sure how a man breaks the news to his first wife that he is going to have a second wife. In the West you would likely "accidentally" fall on a knife in the middle of the night with that kind of news.)

But most westerners do not know that there are other types of Islamic marriages as well. These are not as well known as a traditional marriage we are used to but certain types of marriage are occasionally used in some areas of the Islamic world:

1) Mu'tah marriages. This is practised amongst Shi'a Muslims, under Sunni Islam it is forbidden. It is in essence a temporary marriage. Marriages in Islam are a contract between a man and a woman, and in some parts of the world such as the Gulf the contract to be quite specific (is she allowed to work? How much bride-price she will receive and so on). In a Mu'tah Marriage the marriage contract has a specified ending time, once that time is reached the marriage is over, no divorce proceedings required.

Now I believe such a structure could be used for very temporary marriages, such as a day or a week, but I'm not sure how prevailant that is. The bride still gets a bride-price of course. Sunni Islam forbids Mu'tah because they believe the intention of a marriage contract is that the couple intends to be together forever and putting a fixed end-date on a marriage violates that principle.

Wiki has a good articleand there is a huge paper on Mu'tah here.

2) Misyar marriages. This type of marriage is practised amongst some Sunnis. In a misyar the woman gives up the right to be treated equal to the man's other wives and may give up other rights such as reduced bride-price etc. Unlike a Mu'tah marriage there is no time limit. Apparently some women who are widows or divorcees agree to this type of marriage to get some companionship, in other cases it is used as a means by which a man can get to better know a woman without violating any religious prescriptions -- they will be able to go out together and he would be able to see her without a veil. By being able to "date" so to speak the misyar could lead to a standard marriage. Apparently you can even have a misyar where the contract stipulates no sexual activity will take place between the couple.

A friend forwarded me an interesting article from the Guardian on misyar. There is also a wiki article. Misyars can be controversial, some imams frown upon them as they believe many just use them as a way to have a boyfriends/girlfriends without really being interested in a long-term marriage commitment. A Qatari friend of mine said misyar was not usually practised there but it is not forbidden.

3) Bride exchanges. This occurs in Central Asian countries such as Turkey and Pakistan. Two families, who usually don't have a lot of money to be paying bride-prices for their sons to get married, agree that Family A will marry their son to Family B's daughter in exchange for Family B's son being allowed to marry a daughter from Family A. So a brother and sister from Family A marry a sister and brother (respectively) from Family B. The agreed bride-price paid to each bride is exactly the same so in the end the families are no worse off monetarily.

Exchanging brides can be problematic if the two marriages are treated as a linked-exchange, which means that if one couple divorces the other couple has to divorce, even if they were happy together. There can also be retribution consequences. If one man abuses his wife, her family might take revenge by abusing his sister. Authorities in Turkey are trying to encourage people who enter into bride exchanges to make them "unlinked" so that if one couple is happy together they do not have to divorce if the other couple divorced. I am not sure how common is types of marriages are in Central Asia except for Pakistan were about 10-15% of marriages are due to bride exchanges.

Al Jazeera had an interesting documentary on this type of marriage a while back but I do not think it is available online.

4) Bride kidnapping. I saw a documentary on this and it is apparently common in Kryzgystan (sp?), mostly in rural areas. Bride kidnapping is exactly that -- when a guy wants to get married his best man and a group of guys goes out and finds a woman that they think is suitable and kidnap her. This is not some cute custom, the woman has no idea what is going on. She is kidnapped by a bunch of strange men and brought to some house where she is married to a stranger. From what I could tell in the documentary when the bride is brought to the house a couple of ladies just wave some pieces of white linen over her and that's it, she's married. Some of them are resigned to their fate, others flee back to their families anyway even though they are "spoiled".

Now while these people profess to be Muslims from even my limited understanding of Islam bride kidnapping is not in any way Islamic. Under Islam it is quite clear that a woman cannot be married against her will. I also cannot see how kidnapping people is justified anyway. There is also no contract, and I don't think there is any bride-price paid. I suspect this is some cultural tradition in Kryzgystan that predates Islam and the people shoehorn it into their beliefs somehow. It was a really sad documentary to watch, a Kryzgystan group trying to get rid of the practice estimates that up to 50% of rural marriages occur in this way. Ugh. The sooner this type of practice is gone the better.

That about covers it. One day I hope to be able to attend a Qatari wedding (which will be a standard traditional marriage, not one of the ones mentioned above).

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Annoying things

Since I'm in an annoyed mood this afternoon (long story that I am not going to get into) let's entertain the internet world at large by going over 10 weird things that annoy me:

1) Stores that sell chess sets and the displayed sets are not set up properly, like having Knights where Rooks should be or are putting the Queen on the wrong colour square. If you are going to sell chess sets at least learn the proper way to set up the pieces!

2) Speedos, you can search through this blog for the whole story on that. I will reluctantly wear them if for some reason I am swimming somewhere where they are standard issue (like some public swimming pools in France). Thankfully that hasn't happened yet and I doubt you'd want to see me in them.

3) Having two news anchors sitting side-by-side giving the news. It always seems to be a man and a woman. When did this trend happen? It seems to me about six or seven years ago the news always had one anchor, nowadays so many seem to have two and they annoyingly exchange witty banter and finish each other's sentences. Thankfully Al Jazeera hasn't succumbed to this annoying trend.

4) Tomatoes. Sorry, just don't like them. I inevitably pick them out of sandwiches.

5) Bluegrass country music. The twang sound grates on my ears.

6) Aerosol deodorant. I had one once and as soon as I'd spray it I had to leave the room as I could feel myself breathing in some of the mist. Blah. Why do some people prefer aerosol over stick?

7) Slush. Not a problem here of course but I always considered trying to walk along slushy roads and sidewalks to be one of the most depressing times during winter in Canada. I was never in a good mood after walking on slushy sidewalks.

8) People who write or use highlighters in library books. If you want to do that to your own books I have no problem with that -- it's your book -- but it always annoys me when I open a library book and someone has circled/underlined/highlighted parts.

9) Pieces of fruit on a chocolate desert (this is just a minor annoyance though). Sorry, I like my chocolate "pure". I always pick the fruit off and eat it before starting in on the desert.

10) Movies that contain scenes with really bad science or a gaping hole in logic. Yes I realise that these are just movies and some elements are fantasy but that does not excuse blatant ignorance of science and it really irks me. I probably annoy my friends when I point these things out during the movie. Examples: Twister (surviving an F-5 Tornado by using a belt to attach yourself to a small pipe), Armageddon (pretty much everything in the entire movie), the Core (ditto), the Saint (the e-mail scene), any scene involving computer hacking where security systems are bypassed simply by the character randomly typing on the keyboard for a few seconds, and so on.

How about you? Go on, let it out.

Monday, September 07, 2009

That ol' H1N1

A few days ago the Health Ministry, in an article regarding whether schools should be closed, noted that the number of cases of H1N1 in Qatar was around 450 with about five new cases being reported every day. That would mean at this time there are around 470 cases, averaging 33.6 cases for every 100,000 people. I believe there has still only been one death though, which is good news as it means that the virus is still relatively mild.

33.6 per 100,000 is starting to approach the rate of cases in most western nations:

In Canada that would represent around 10,700 cases,
In Britain that would represent 23,400 cases,
In the United States that would represent around 100,000 cases

One can hope that the rate of new cases in Qatar will peak soon and start declining. I am assuming it will be a couple of months before a vaccine reaches here.

As for school closures the Health Ministry advised that schools should remain open. The Ministry did issue an order that all barbers/hairdressers must wear masks while working, and when I went for a haircut yesterday sure enough all the barbers were wearing masks.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Okay, I'm back safe and sound.

I hate Switzerland -- in an envious way. It's green, pretty, clean, nice scenery, excellent Metro and train systems. Shame I don't live there but I'd need to be a millionaire to afford it. Switzerland is probably one of the most expensive countries on earth. Yep, more expensive than Paris I found. Just to give you an idea a super-sized Big Mac combo would cost you about US$13, and a 75 sq metre apartment is around $450,000. Lunch in a regular restaurant would be $30 at a minimum.

I spent my time in Basel for the seminar. I had heard that Basel was more of an industrial city so was not as impressive as other parts of Switzerland. Well if it is I wonder what the other parts of Switzerland are like because the city was pretty impressive to me. The old city, with its 14th and 15th century homes overlooking the Rhine River, was great to wander around. It reminded me somewhat of Bratislava.

I landed at the airport in Zurich and the train station was on the bottom floor of the airport so it was easy to catch a train to Basel, which was a little more than an hour away. My hotel was across the street from the train station and only about 150m from where the seminar was being held so it was really convenient. Even more surprising when I checked in they gave me a ticket which allowed me free use of all buses and trams in the city for the length of my stay! Does anywhere else in the world do something like this?

Whether was generally cool, in the mid-20s, and it rained a number of times which was great. I hadn't seen a decent rain for at least six months. The seminar organiser was a little amused that I wanted it to rain while I was in Basel. Even better, when it rained I was always in a cafe, bar, or in my hotel, so I was able to enjoy rain without being caught in it and getting soaked. English was widely spoken and in the occasional place where it wasn't my limited French was fine. I hope they pay waitresses and store clerks well because as far as I can tell you need to know at least three to five languages to communicate with most people who come into your store/restaurant: German, Swiss German, French, English, and Italian. I popped into a bookstore and was looking at their directory trying to decipher the German when a clerk walked up to help me and immediately shifted to English to point out what I was looking for (their English-language science fiction books).

I also found it amusing that local beer was around the same price as bottled water. Hmmmmm, should I have water or a Swiss beer? It was a tough call.

So I had a chance to wander around, took some pictures, and had a nice dinner in a Swiss restaurant in the old city courtesy of the seminar organisers. I bought some chocolate and cheese for home (no alcohol of course) and had an uneventful flight back. I miss Switzerland already.