An interesting conversation

In my post “The terrorists have won” -> I mentioned that this whole fight against terrorism, especially against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism has caused for xenophobia to grow in Western countries. example, the hijab has become topic of many political discussions. It has been banned from public places and/or government buildings in France and other European countries – or there is a discussion going on. But it has also banned from schools and universities in countries with muslim majorities like Syria (though the ban was lifted during the uprising) and Turkey still has a ban for state officials who wear a uniform.

At my school there are many muslim students, but only few of them actually wear a headscarf. One girl in my old class wore a headscarf quite firmly around her head and when she was asked if she liked wearing it, she replied that she wore it because she chose to. Nobody was forcing her to, so yes, she liked wearing it. Another girl who is originally British, so she has quite a heavy London accent, but her family has muslim origins – I think in Pakistan, but have to admit I’m not quite sure right now. She wears a scarf too, mostly black, but she wears it quite loosely and it tends to slip off from time to time. None of them seem to have a problem with covering their hair.

And then today, this was during English lesson, but we were feeling very uninspired during our group project, so our conversation drifted to other topics than Immigration in the US, Canada and UK.

The friend I was working with is originally from Pakistan. When I heard her story during our school play – she told it in her mother tongue, I think it was Urdu, but she never actually said what it was – I got shivers, because it was so moving (It was translated by two other girls during her performance).

Our what turned out to be a highly interesting conversation began when I mentioned that I used to want to wear a school uniform (probably because they do in Britain and I wanted to be more British) and she replied how annoying it had been to wear the uniform in Pakistan, because you had to press it every day and own several of them and polish your shoes and you would always be graded on how disciplined you were. Out of curiosity I asked her about the headscarf and if they had to wear them. She said that none of them, not even the senior students, really wore one.

I’ve forgotten the exact transition, but the conversation proceeded in her explaining many things that people misinterpret into Islam.

She said that it was hard to wear the hijab, but not for the reason that many think. She doesn’t wear it, because her parents said she didn’t have to if she didn’t feel ready.

Because of all of the prejudice going around, it’s hard for a muslim woman to wear the scarf in public in countries where the majority is non-muslim (or a burqa) because people judge you by your clothing and assume the worst.

She said that she didn’t want to wear because she doesn’t want people to see her differently than they do now. To wear the hijab you have to be strong and have a strong faith.

Furthermore she explained that it’s not supposed to be something you wear for society or anyone else, but only for God. Also – and I thought this was an interesting new perspective on things – she said that covering yourself was for the woman’s own protection. By dressing modestly and covering their hair and sometimes their face, it does not awaken the urge in men to try anything funny. It was amusing how she explicitly avoided using the word sex. Apparently in Islam women are seen as higher and are said to have more self-control and to be more religious. So when they see an attractive man, they do not fall for the temptation as it is forbidden to have sex before marriage. But a man does not have that kind of self-control. That’s the original reason for the veil, she said, but obviously different people interpret the Quran differently (like many interpret the Bible differently). Everybody picks the parts out that suit them best. I think that’s the way with almost any religion – for instance the anti-gay laws in various countries like Russia or Uganda that are based on Christian beliefs even though Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. According to my research, the only place that refers to homosexuality is in the third book of Moses, which is in the old testament. So, to be precise, being gay does not mean being unchristian. And this is seems to be a good part to slip in a petition against the anti-gay law in Uganda. Here’s a short explanation before I proceed with the post:

This new bill bans homosexuality (or transsexuality or bi-sexuality) and one can be charged with lifelong prison sentences if members of the LGTB community get married, engage in sexual activity or even try to initiate sexual activity. Also, somebody who officiates a marriage or gives shelter to a LGTB-Ugandan, there are heavy punishments and fines. There is also a rule that can force neighbouring countries to send LGTB refugees back to Uganda to be punished for who they are. You can sign a petition by “Allout” here:

Moving on:
The other day we were talking about globalization in class and I wondered if it bothered her that everybody was referring to the terrorism as “the muslims”. It was not said with any bad intention, I suppose, but it does imply that every muslim is a terrorist.

So I asked her if it bothered her and she said that it didn’t really. It was a shame that people generalized Islam as a bunch of fundamentalist terrorists, because it’s not clear that there are different groups within Islam. Whoever assumes  the opposite should simply inform oneself better. The media often only shows one side of the story, so when discussing the topic of terrorism, we forget that – and this is how she said it – Islam is really a beautiful and peaceful religion.

Another aspect she mentioned was why polygamy is allowed in Islam. She explained that a man can take several wives, but only if his current wife (or wives) agrees to it. Also, he can’t take a new wife just because he feels like it. The additional marriage has to have a purpose, for example if the first wife cannot have children. The only reason it is allowed is because their prophet Mohammed had several wives too. He married for love once and then married other women to free them from slavery, so the story goes. But she also told me that many don’t follow that rule and simply remarry because they want to, the best example being Saudi Arabia.

Personally, I’m an agnostic. I’m not a fan of religious rules or believing some book without questioning its content – no offense. To me, religion started off as a way of explaining the world until it went from explanations to millenniums of a religious movement. I try to be open for many things, try to question what people tell me, but in our conversation I noticed that I had also been taking part in this one-track-mind-thinking that Islam was a sexist religion that oppresses women and maybe in some cases – few or many I can’t say – it is that way. So is Christianity, but there is nothing else to expect from a patriarchical society.

I’m not saying I’m convinced that the rules of Islam don’t in some way keep the women down or that I’m converting to Islam. I don’t think I could ever have a faith strong enough to follow someone else’s rules. But it was very interesting to hear it from the perspective of a bright, young woman who I’ve known for two years now. I’m saying we should do our own research before we blindly believe what the majority thinks or what the media seems to be implying. We might find it hard to understand how someone can so unquestionably follow a religion, but by believing every prejudice and general assumption that goes around, we are no different.

This is also what bothers me when we talk about other people or groups of people in school. We talk about Native Canadians (for example) and are told that they have problems with drug abuse and that there are large tensions between Franco-Canadians and Anglo-Candians (is that a word?), especially within Quebec. But for all I know, the articles and fact files we read could simply be lying or exaggerating. I would prefer to go there and find out for myself.

Ever since a friend took me to a religious youth group (it was scary, because I felt like if I said anything against their views they would eat me) I’ve developed a type of thinking: Why should I believe what you tell me?

But obviously I haven’t been completely persistent in that sense.

Below is a video I found about a social experiment with two actors, one playing a “WASP”-American and the other playing a muslim, then testing the reactions of the people around while the “American” insults the “muslim”. There are quite a few interesting reactions, have a look.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

– Marcus Aurelius


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