Saturday, May 24, 2008

West/East dichotomy present in Cairo Hyatt controversy?

The recent decision by the owner of the Grand Hyatt hotel in Cairo, a hotel which enjoys five-star status, to cease immediately the sale of alcohol has infuriated many, the bogeyman of Saudi "radicalism" in an otherwise "moderate" Egyptian Muslim society has been invoked, seemingly by both Muslim and Non-Muslim commentators. What has been even more disturbing is that some of the responses to this decision has brought to light many of the illogical fallacies and outright racist and ethnocentric views that are held by many whenever it comes to Muslims, Islam, and specifically the desire to live in accordance to certain values of religious origin. Our prior article about Polygamy emphasized the hypocrisy of seizing children allegedly from Polygamous unions, while at the same time having no problems with the "hook-up" culture that leaves far more problems, social, emotional, STDS, burden on the American taxpayer's etc..

First, I should clarify that I have no problem with a Non-Muslim wanting to consume alcohol. This is their business. Many strands of Christian practice use Wine in their religious ceremonies to represent the blood of Christ, whom they believe died for mankind's sins. I am not in a position, especially in such a post as this, to address the legitimacy or lack of it with regards to their tradition. That is the job of their scholars and intellectuals. As a Muslims, I must remember what the Qur'an has taught in its own declaration of religious freedom when it has asserted that "There is no compulsion in religion..'' [Q 2:256]. Therefore, I cannot force my own religious choice on a reluctant population.

That being said, it should also be acknowledged that when in someone else's house, the wishes of the owner should be respected. If I ask my visitors to remove their shoes when they come to my house, then out of respect the visitors should. They should not even ask me for an explanation. They will do so because I have asked them to. The owner of the hotel, a Muslim, operating in a Muslim-majority nation, has decided to ban alcohol from his place of business. He chooses not to have that as part of his business. He should be commended for this action, as so many of us are driven by financial considerations alone, unwilling to act upon our better selves, the part of our soul that pushes us to what is right.

An example of the thinking pattern that I take very strong exception to is the following quote. I found it to be very racist and arrogant. I ask the reader if this makes sense to you:

"But critics say just as Muslims expect to be served Halal food on international flights, they should be prepared to respect the desires of their Western guests." []

I have been on international flights in the Muslim world many times, as well as in other regions. I have never asked for Halal meat. On flights in Muslim areas, it only makes sense that the airline would have available Halal meat, but to compare that to alcohol? Besides, if a Muslim does not wish to consume Non-Halal meat, he or she can easily eat fruits or seafood, etc.. that is available on the flight. Moreover, do "Western guests" consider Halal meats to be immoral? To be against their religious values? The Qur'an has clearly stated that alcohol is a distraction from spiritual pursuits, that it is harmful, and that it is actually a tool of Satan to bring forth inappropriate behavior [ Q 2:219, 5:90-91].

To compare Halal foods to alcohol is to also bring into question drugs such as crack cocaine, etc...! Should I serve my guests these simply because they may like it? Should I have such available in my home? It would be foolish for me to do this, because it is against my own values, the laws of my state and nation, and would bring many more problems to my doorstep. In other words, it is best for my own interests to keep these items at distance. That is exactly what the Cairo Hyatt has done.

The argument that it would harm the Egyptian tourist industry also seems illogical to me. Egypt is one big museum, with artifacts from many culture and civilizations. The reader already accepts this as an axiomatic truth. I need not provide evidence for this. Can not the tourist, if they really want alcohol, either wait for their trip to conclude or find their desired drink outside their hotel?

I wonder aloud here, in this brief post, if the Egyptians cited in the BBC article as having concerns about this recent move by the Cairo Hyatt have internalized a view that their values, influenced by Islam, are antiquated and useless, while those of fun-loving tourists are "civilized" and "modern"? I also wonder if the Non-Muslims on the international scene see themselves as the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong, if they have adopted, knowingly or otherwise, a paternalistic attitude towards the "third world"?

In any case, what has been shown is that even in business, there has to be morals, ethics, and standing for one's conscious, even if it hurts politically or financially. This does not naturally equate confrontation or conflict, but nonetheless it is my honest view that the owner, Sheikh 'Abdul 'Aziz Ibrahim bin Ibrahim, should be congratulated by all people of conscious, Muslim and non-Muslim. He should be seen as an example of standing up for what is right and true.
I also recommend reading this perspective