Dr Sania Hamady (Arab scholar and authority on Arab psychology) states that the three fundamentals of Arab society are shame, honour and revenge and the following issues are important to consider.
- group mindset – the extended family is the key unit and all relatives are part of the tribe and are defined as ‘near’ or ‘far’. Marriage and adoption can bring someone ‘near’ and a foreigner adopted as a son of the tribe is greatly honoured. For those who are ‘near’ a high level of conformity is demanded – it brings honour, social prestige and a secure place in society, those who do so receive support against outsiders and help to further his own interests.
- relationships – Arab society is permeated from top to bottom by a system of rival relationships and there is great value and prestige placed on the ability to dominate others. Rivals will seize on any ‘shame’ to destroy the other’s influence and picking off individuals and targeting them will often be a successful ploy with the whole tribe responding on either side of the situation. Arabs fear isolation as one on his own can be overcome and enslaved by others while there is protection in the company of others – knowing who to trust is a matter of family/tribe ties.
- shame – failure to conform leads to shame for the wider community – a damning indictment. Westerners with their high value on individualism fail to understand that the meaning of Islam is conformity to the point of submission, with public prayers and universal fasting as powerful means to that conformity. Few things are right or wrong – those that are acceptable or unacceptable being so defined by society. Contravention may result in acting shamefully but not necessarily wrongfully in God’s eyes. Muslim men living in western cultures will use this to justify sexual escapades and indulgence in alcohol as the new society does not define these things as shameful. So ‘where you are not known, do what you like’ is the order of the day.