Jewish Journal

Pious Muslims serving Western sinners

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 8, 2007 | 1:15 pm

Jeffrey Fleishman writes like a master:

SHARM EL SHEIK, EGYPT—The men hurry down the narrow road to the whitewashed mosque, waiters, janitors, busboys, cooks; they peel off their shoes, wash their hands and pray. Then they return to the glittering resorts, hoping that serving alcohol and glimpsing topless women will not push them too far from God or their families back home in the Nile Delta.

They are at once ubiquitous and unseen, a service industry army of matching uniforms and smiles, cobbling enough English, German and French to charm the tourists lying on beaches and lingering in polished courtyards. They move briskly in the moonlight, bowing their heads and speaking in perfected cadences:

          “Good evening, sir. How are you, sir? Have a nice time.”

Learned phrases stretch only so far and much is left unsaid along the coast where the desert meets the sea. This poor country relies upon the tourist dollar, and Islam resides cordially, if uneasily, with a sunburned, thong-wearing, whiskey-tippling West.

“I pretend I don’t see what’s happening around me,” said Hossam Helmy, a janitor in blue coveralls and a ball cap that read: Staff. “My religion protects me. It has kept me from sin. When I see a half-naked woman I feel guilty and I feel this is not my country anymore. But work is scarce and I need this job. What can I do except get used to it?”

It sounds like a parallel to the devout Catholic who works as a nurse at an abortion clinic. This is, of course, a very different kind of Ramadan struggle then the one I wrote about two years ago, not long after Sharm was bombed by Islamic radicals trying to hurt the town’s tourist economy.

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