Walk around Egypt with your eyes open and you will be able to take a political poll without saying a word. Simply count the “raisin spots” on the men you see. The zabiba, or “raisin” is what Arabs call the prayer spot on the foreheads of devout Muslims.
Sura 48:29 of the Koran says those with Mohammed are hard against disbelievers and merciful to believers and “The mark of them is on their forehead from the traces of prostration.” (Pickthall translation).
So the zabiba not only shows dedication to prayer, but signals a dedication to Islam strong enough to qualify them as “hard against disbelievers”. To Muslims the raisin spot is like wearing team colors. As I have found, Westerners easily overlook raisins unless they are trained to look for them; but we too should know about them and their significance.
What does the raisin spot look like? Sometimes it is a little sooty spot, but other times there is a thickened plaque-like scar. During prayer the devout touch, or even smite their foreheads on various types of stones in prostration. Some stones leave a visible residue, others have symbolic meaning. Many people barely touch the stone with their foreheads, whereas others hit it with enough force to intentionally develop a scar.
To my eye as an observer of the Middle East, the zabiba is much more prevalent in Egypt than in other “moderate” Islamic countries such as Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, and Palestine, or on the foreheads of Muslims in America or Europe. I estimate about 10% in both in the city and the country of both Upper and Lower Egypt. This indicator is apparently over-looked by the West, and should be professionally measured and analyzed.
Egyptians without raisins say the spots have increased in Egypt, along with Islamic garb, over the past few decades. They claim that the marks demonstrate either a desire to look religious and thus trustworthy in business, or that they reflect the increasing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups in Egypt since the 1960s.
The answers would seem to be related. If it takes a raisin spot to succeed in society, then society has indeed become Islamicised. In comparison, Western cultures require no outward mark of honesty.
Considering what democracy in the Middle East has previously brought - Hamas in Palestine, a repressive Islamic constitution in supposedly USA-influenced post-Taliban Afghanistan, and the emergence of Islamic sectarian violence in Iraq - we have good reason to be wary of what “democracy” might bring to Egypt, a previous US ally.
Throughout the Egyptian revolution the Muslim Brotherhood has kept a low profile. Now they say they are content to wait out democracy. Why? Is this reflective of their mission statement or foundation on promoting individual rights? Or could it be that they have weighed the Raisin Factor and smell success? Perhaps they have counted the spots and realize that they are but a small sampling of those with similar sympathies but less vigor.
Favoring the Muslim Brotherhood is the widespread view held by Egyptians – and the international community – that despite its terrorist beginnings the Muslim Brotherhood is a beneficent organization. The police file raids on March 5 of this year, extensively destroyed background records, conveniently paving the way for Islamic extremists from many organizations to become political candidates.
Together these factors seem to predict that some day soon the Egypt will democratically elect an Islamic government, controlled or at least puppeted by the Muslim Brotherhood. Without strictly enforced substantial constitutional safeguards, the state will be magnetically drawn toward Sharia Law and struggle with respecting human rights, especially those of women and “the disbelievers”. Egypt’s substantial tourist industry will be negatively impacted, it’s economy reduced, and its relationship with the United States increasingly uneasy.