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Muslim 101 Part of the Cultural Diversity Series for Investigators


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Imagine that there are five people sitting around a table in Anytown USA.  The first person is a short, squat New York cabbie. He has a somewhat dark complexion, probably of mixed Italian and Greek heritage, and he's a third generation American, born and raised in the Bronx. His name is Joe.


Next to him is a large-boned, broad-shouldered Wisconsin farmer named Lars. He is light haired and a second generation American of mixed German and Norwegian ancestry. He's wearing corduroy pants  and a plaid flannel shirt.


Next is Billy Bob, hailing straight from a small Texas farming community called Lockney. The population of 2,345, soon to be 2,346 when Mary Jo Bently has her baby, is spread out over an area of 15 square miles. Billy Bob’s people have been around since long before the Alamo. His boots, belt buckle, and hat scream "Texas."


Then there is Buffy, a California Valley Girl right out of 90210. She’s got long blonde hair, big blue eyes, and an annoying habit of cracking her gum. Buffy has no clue where any of her four grandparents were from, nor has she ever asked. She's dressed in Hollyvogue style, complete with the funky shoes.


Finally there is Tyrone, a 21 year old shrimp boat worker from the Mississippi gulf coast. He knows that his maternal great-grandmother was originally from Ghana because his Grandmother told him that whenever she cooked a big pot of hot pepper soup.  


Joe: Aaaaye. Good to see youse.


Lars: Ya. You betcha.


Billy Bob: Hey, y’all.


Buffy: Like, really dude. You know.


Tyrone: Yo. What it be like?


Five Americans. Five different languages.  Five different kinds of body language. Each speaks a dialect of English, but they are only vaguely able to understand one another. Their appearance and mannerisms provide volumes of information ... even before they have said a word. 


Now think about the Middle East.


Not only is a Syrian a very different Arab than a Palestinian or a Jordanian, but there is also a vast cultural different between a Syrian from the northern part of Damascus and a Syrian from the southern part of Damascus. And, speaking of Damascus, approximately 20% of the women are Christians and do not wear any head coverings at all. It's not unusual to see them dressed in short skirts and high boots -- and they do indeed walk around like that.

Time was when I rode an SIU desk. If a MVA file came across my desk that had four Jordanians in Car Number One and three Saudis in Car Number Two, my immediate response was "Aha, they are ALL from the middle east and at least half of them are named Mohammad. That's a Red Flag file if I ever saw one!" 

Wrongo, Binky.

That assumption would be the same as seeing a file with Joe the Cabbie driving Car Number One (with four of his buddies inside)  and Buffy the Valley Girl driving Car Number Two (with a few of her own friends in it) and saying, "Oh oh, they all speak English and are all from the USA. It must be fraud."

While there are many things that are "all Muslim," there are just as many things that are wholly regional.

Manner of Dress

Just like Lars and Billy Bob might as well be from different planets, so are Mohammad the Afghani and Mohammad the Palestinian if they are adorned in their native dress. The Koran dictates only "modesty," and the rest is interpretive to the sensibilities of the individuals/family/tribe. The Koran does not tell an Afghani woman that she must wear a black burka and cover every inch of her body and face (the most devout sects of Afghani women are completely covered; even the eyes are veiled -- the most extreme of Islamic dress.)  Female coverings range from nearly 100% of the entire body ... to a scarf that covers only the hair. Head coverings are mostly a sign of respect to elders.

The majority of Islamic women in the USA opt to embrace Western styles (although modesty is still a  concern), but retain the head cover. At home with family, they remove it. They also remove it if they are somewhere with only other women.

Note: If you are a male investigator and you knock on the front door of a home where there are Islamic women, the fact that you must wait on the front porch while they scurry around inside DOES NOT mean that they are hiding things or getting stories straight -- it generally only means that the women in the household are redressing in a manner that is acceptable for being in view of a non-family member male.

Family Values

Muslim families have strong ties. It is a tribal mentality, one in which the family group has a better chance of survival than does the individual. It is common to have many children -- rather than the 2.2 average that occurs in the US. Large families are a show of strength.

Children are taught respect for elders from infancy. If an adult male tells a 12-year old male to go and get something (e.g. fruit or bread from a store located many blocks away), there is no argument. There is never a "Go get it yourself, you lazy booger" uttered. The same is true if an 80 year old male tells his 60 year old son to do something. It's done. No questions asked. It's a matter of respect.

Male/Female Roles

Islam is a male-dominant society, but the severity of that dominance varies from region to region. In some areas, however, Islamic women are becoming far more westernized. While it is rare that they would ever be disrespectful to a male in public, interaction in private is quite another story.

Women are revered as mothers. They rule the roost, their roost, with iron fists. She is queen inside of her own home.


Even in the less structured branches of Islam, marriages are more often than not arranged. it is generally the mother who searches for and finds an appropriate wife for her son. Mom may see/meet her future daughter-in-law at a baby shower or a ladies get together. She may here about the young lady from another mother. She may have even picked out the girl many years before ... even at birth. In some cases, a 15-20 year old male may watch his future bride grow up.

It is most common that the male is significantly older than the female; usually at least 10-15 years older. He is expected to have completed his schooling and be in a position to care for a family -- then he gets a wife. Interestingly, until the wedding night, he never sees her hair, he has no idea if she is an A-cup or a D-cup, or if she has long thin legs or short heavy legs. Marriage among Muslims is far more sacred than it is in the US, possibly because the entire family becomes a unit through the marriage.


(Hah. Got your attention.)

The answer is NONE prior to a marriage. Almost all of the woman,  and nearly as many of the men, are virgins when they get married. So, you ask, how does either of them know what to do? What goes where? What should one expect? How does either of them know?

Ah. That is the job of the mother. The mother of the groom will tell her son what is expected of him. The mother of the bride (and her sisters and female cousins) will tell her what to expect and openly discuss what physical feelings she should anticipate. (You are NOT in Kansas anymore, Toto.) After the wedding night, the bride tells her mother what happened ... or what didn't happen. If she did not "enjoy" herself, the groom needs more lessons on how to satisfy his new bride. So, the bride's mother goes to the groom's mother, reports that things are not yet as they should be, and the groom's mother then has another talk with her son. Remember, the men are also virgins ... and have never had acknowledged lustful feelings for the women prior to marriage. Islamic households do NOT have Playboy Magazines or Hustler Magazines laying on the coffee tables. To be caught peeking at an Internet site would bring instant shame to the male AND to his family. They just don't DO that.  (All of this, by the way, is how it is "over there." Once the young people are Americanized, things change.) Because of the history and customs, however, women are far more looked upon as chattel than what occurs within the American culture.

Left Hand, Right Hand

When meeting with, interviewing, or interacting with a Muslim, investigators are well-advised to simply NOT use their left hand. Just put it in your pocket. For instance, one should never hand a paper or a pen to a Muslim with the left hand. That is the "butt wipe" hand and it is considered dirty, and it signifies a grave insult to use it in any social capacity. Anything you do in the social sense is ALWAYS done with the right hand. The right hand is clean; it is for sharing food and for polite interaction. If you are offered a soft drink, you accept it with your right hand; NEVER your left hand.

Criminal Behavior

Things within the criminal genre are more accepted here ... than they are there. The reason (and this is my own opinion) is that the family structure changes here. One never shafts a family member or someone who might be close to a family member. It brings shame, and that is simply unacceptable. Shafting an insurance company falls outside of the moral boundaries -- as it does with many ethnicities (even Americans.) Any tribal mentality considers FIRST what is best for the unit; victimization becomes purely secondary. If there is any way to suggest that illegality can bring shame to the family unit (e.g. prison sentences or other family members being drawn in to the criminal behavior), that may be an investigator's best weapon.

It is difficult for the American mind set to accept that an individual who will put life on hold, five times a day, to kneel and worship -- would then stand up and do something that we consider to be moral turpitude. The two are not related in many cases. Toto died a long time ago.

Body Posture

Perhaps the most offensive thing that an investigator inadvertently does is to assume a relaxed posture in which he crosses his legs. In American it means simply that the environment is relaxed and without stress or formality. It says "I feel good enough about this discussion to NOT be formal." Yet this same stance, to a Muslim, can be deeply offensive. To show the bottom of the foot roughly translates to "I consider you lower than the dirt on the ground." Amazing ... but true. It is best that you keep both feet flat on the floor; your body language speaks volumes.

Muslim Burial Rites

Embalming is prohibited in most Muslim cultures. The body of the deceased will be refrigerated, and burial will take place within 24 hours of death. There is a  final ablution  performed,  similar to the daily ablution Muslims perform on themselves before prayer, prior to burial. The face, hands, feet, legs and torso are washed three times with warm soapy water, starting with the right side of the body and then moving to the left. Once the washing is finished, the body is wrapped in three layers of cotton, called a caftan, and the ends are tied with a string. Then the body is buried in a grave facing Mecca.Griving is done in two groups. Men in one room. Women and children in another room.

Naming Traditions

See the article that addresses this in the archives of The John Cooke Fraud Report. There are two things that are important to be aware of. First, how prolific the name Mohammad is. In almost all families, the first born son will be named Mohammad. It doesn't stop there, though. It is also common to have a second son named similarly, although the middle name will be different. And the third, and so on and so forth. The second thing that investigators should keep in mind is that the Arabic letters and sounds are not like English letters and sounds. One example of this is the "h" sound that is best described as deeply clearing ones throat. Chhhhhhhhh. When an immigrant "Americanizes" his name, Mohammad might alternatively be spelled Mohamad, Muhamud, Mohammod, etc. A last name beginning with that chhhhh could start with a J, a C, a K, a Kh, a Ch, a Q, a Qu or most anything else. Mohamad Khabbaz may indeed be the brother of Mahmood Qabas. If an investigator can get the Arabic transliteration, it can sometimes be helpful in determining a similar family name.

Robin Hood Syndrome

In all but a few of the Middle Eastern Countries, the average monthly income of an employed adult is miniscule compared to even a fast food fry cook. In fact, that fry cook probably makes as much money in less than one day ... than an educated family man makes in a month in his own country. (Another reason that the tribal mentality of large families with many contributors makes sense.) Ten or twenty grand from the US, even achieved from criminal behavior, can support a group of "back home" family members for many years. Robin Hood is alive and well in Chhhhhhhherwood Forest.

Looking Under The Rocks

If you find yourself immersed in an investigation involving Middle Easterners (sigh), it might be revealing to make friends with a Financial Crimes investigator. Seldom is insurance fraud a primary crime. On the contrary, it is generally secondary to either credit card fraud or bankruptcy fraud. There are manuals, written in Arabic, explaining how to make enough money off of the American "system" in a year to enable the individual to return to the Middle East and live like a king for the rest of his natural life. Authorities are also wise to check public welfare records, disability records and social security records. There are tens of thousands of cases where people who only occasionally visit the US to spend time with sons and daughters who have immigrated here ... and receiving monthly government checks despite the fact that they long ago returned to their own area of the world.

Those instructions, too, are written in the manual.

For additional information, or more in depth specifics on this topic, contact AlikimMediaTraining@johncooke.com 


© Copyright 2007 The John Cooke Fraud Report