In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the mass media have supposedly been informing American about Arabs and Muslims. Published reports show that a certain amount of demonization of Arabs and Muslims has occurred on the part of "'experts' and polemicists on the Middle East" (Akram, 2002, p. 61). On the other hand, one Arab journalist describes as "absurd" the idea of not being vigilant about the ethnicity of "those who board their planes" (Mansoor, 2002, p. 33). Controversy over these issues is unlikely to die down easily, partly because Muslims in general and ethnic Arabs in particular are "other." Where counseling of people who fall within the "other" category might be a real possibility, therefore, it is important to bridge the gap of knowledge with reliable information.
What must be first understood about Muslims is that Islamic culture is not unitary. Nation-state differences are part of the reason, as the Iran-Iraq war or first Gulf War showed. Some nation-states, such as Turkey and Iraq, are secular, while Saudi Arabia and (especially) Iran are Islamic theocracies. There are three major modes of worship in Islam: Sunni, the orthodox/conservative mode, which has the greatest number of adherents; Shi'ite (Shia), associated with militant or "anarchic" Islam; and Sufi, which is a mystical faith strand (Campbell, 1978, p. 440). And there are further sectarian differences. For example, the Ahmadiyya Muslims, like the Sufi, are contemplative but also pacifist; they are persecuted in Pakistan (Jones, 1996).
These general facts came about as a result of library research into Islamic culture. However, this project was gradually narrowed to a study of Shia Islam, through exposure to members of a local mosque that has a Shia congregation. However, this "exposure" was not a result of my attending a worship service. Why that is so will shortly become clear.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in beginning to explore Muslim cultu...