It is no secret I come from a highly monocultural background. Raised in rural Missouri, educated at a Southern Baptist university, and being a white, American protestant means my understanding of culture and diversity was fairly limited from birth.
However, I have always been a lover of people. Ergo, I picked a career path that was guaranteed to give me a strong shot of culture shock. Which turned out to be just what I wanted/needed.
I started my master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (TESOL) in August of 2014. Since then, I have worked with and taught people from 20+ different countries. It has been an eye-opening experience and as a result I have begun to question many of the stereotypes I’ve held within for many years. However, this post isn’t about me. I’m still learning about the world and about people in general. Actually, I hope I never stop learning! I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I do have something to say because I feel I’ve been given a unique opportunity to be surrounded by so many different people. All with different cultures, identities, and religious beliefs. I find myself in situations the typical Midwestern Christian doesn’t encounter and because of that I am writing this post. My life has become a metaphorical stile over a long-standing fence that I would love to see ripped up. The barrier I’m referring to — that barbed and rusty structure that separates Christians and Muslims.
Now, before you think this is a post where the culture-collecting, white girl talks about her token Muslim friends and claims to be “like so progressive” just listen. I’m not coming at this issue like an expert with something to teach. I’m coming at it as a student who is eager to learn. I recognized that there are many out there with a deeper understanding of this than me. However, I’m writing this because I’m one of the few that I know of amongst my Christian friends that has ever met a Muslim person outside of a news report. So yes, I am reporting back. But don’t let this be seen as an observation piece on some rare species to be remarked on with curious interest. This is personal. These are my genuine discoveries, thoughts, and reasonings and hopefully they will dispel some of the stereotypes, ignorance, and disregard I see so prevalently in the Christian culture of the United States.
And now, the list.
#1. Abrahamic Religions: A simple Google search will tell you there are three. Here is a list: Christianity, Judaism, and (oh my goodness)… Islam. Remember that song from church camp? Father Abraham, had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham, I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord! That’s basically my viewpoint in 6 lines. Yes, Father Abraham had many sons (and daughters) as God promised. And that extended family still exists today. (Even if we don’t all get together at Christmas.) Of course, there are fundamental differences in beliefs and styles between these groups. But I think it is important to remember that Muslims also see many of the Old Testament bros as important figures in their beliefs. We are different, yes. But we are also “all connected to each other / in a circle / in a hoop that never ends.”
#2. Who Do We Worship? : Think of this like a question from your English Lit class…there are multiple right answers. If you answered Yahweh, God, or Allah…you are correct. It might surprise many Christians to know that Yahweh, God, and Allah are all names for the same deity. Honestly, this shouldn’t be a shocker. Much like how there are different words for hello in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, three different languages came up with three different names for God. That’s kind of how languages work, and it is beautiful! Again, there are differences in how each group views Allah/God/Yahweh and his prophets/sons/messiahs. But I think it is important to realize that at the end of the day we all recognize the same monotheistic idea of the God of Abraham.
#3. Oppression of Women: As a feminist, I struggled with this one a bit myself. The hijab, the burqua… How can a religion treat its women this way? Before you get your judge-y pants in a bunch, let’s not forget our own Christian stereotyped version of this. Do these sound familiar?
- The Bible says, “Wives submit to your husbands.” Wait, what do you mean there is more to that verse?!
- Your worth comes from your purity. Don’t have sex!
- Your worth comes from your womb. Have all the sex! #FullQuiver
- Those yoga pants are causing your Christian brothers to stumble…*shaaaaade*
There are a LOT of issues regarding the oppression of women within the Christian faith. Before we start looking at others we should be dealing with our own messes. See Matthew 7:3. However, this is not to say that what we view as the oppression of Muslim women is truly oppression at all. I’ve discussed this with some women I know; women who identify as both Muslim and Feminist (Yes, that exists). They see covering themselves as the truest expression of their faith and humility/modesty. To that I say, “You do you, ladies!” We tend to see things that are different as worse because…well, we are humans. For a plot twist, I’ve also learned that Muslims get upset at Christians for not respecting women enough because they do not strive to treat them with the respect that Muslim women receive. “Wait, what? But they’re the ones….” No. Don’t pull a Radcliffe. There are a lot of issues surrounding this one, but my bottom line is that just because something looks different in another culture doesn’t mean it is worse or better. It simply is.
#4. Violence and Fear: I will spare you the history lesson so let’s just sum up with the statement that since the beginning there has been conflict between groups. Yes, atrocities have been committed on both sides and much like the gif on the left, it seems to be an unending cycle. This is perpetuated by the lack of education, fear mongering media, ethnocentrism, and old wounds being constantly picked. Again, from both sides. You may recall John Smith’s words, “You see, once two sides want to fight nothing can stop them.” To that I say, “YOU KNOW NOTHING, JOHN SMITH!” If all you ever learn about Muslims is based on what you see on TV you are doing it wrong. Like many things I’ve listed, this goes both ways! Imagine the perspective Muslims get of Americans when the picture they have is also shaped by the negative media. I mean, does it even need to be said that we should be moving past the propaganda? Yes, unfortunately, it does. Imagine if America was viewed based only on people like the Charleston Shooter, Westbourough Baptist Church, or the morals of Hollywood. How would you view us? Chances are, not very highly. As the saying goes, if you walk the footsteps of a stranger; you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.
#5 Everyone is Religious….Right? : Wrong. Would you agree with me that it is ridiculous to assume everyone living in and representing the United States is a Christian? Even if they call themselves Christians, do you disagree with them on some fundamental points? Yeah, I thought so. So, why do we insist on viewing ALL people from Middle Eastern countries as religious? While you think about that, here’s another surprise, they are viewing us the same way! We see groups of terrorists and conclude that all Middle Eastern people are Muslims and that all Muslims are violent. From the other side, they see media representations and think all Americans are Christians and all Christians are murderers and imperialists. I think we can all agree there are some major misconceptions going on here. Let’s all agree to stop and learn to listen to more than the media.
All in all, these are just a sampling of the things I’ve learned over the past year and a half of questions and discussions. Through talking with both Christian and Muslim friends, the glaring misunderstandings and ignorance that perpetuate the conflict began to be too much. I’m not a historian, theologian, or conflict resolution specialist. But I do value people and education. I hope this post has at least made you think a bit about these issues. Maybe you don’t agree with me, or maybe you do, but at the end of the day/post I hope I have at least heightened your awareness and made you think about caring. People are just people no matter where you are in the world. Learn about them. How much can understanding accomplish? If we cut down the communication, then we’ll never know.