“Never assume,” my mother used to say, “Because all you’ll do is make an ass of ‘u’ and ‘me’.”
Good old American girls and boys make a lot of assumptions about Islam, Arabic and Persian culture, and what it means to be a Muslim. People who travel extensively would tell you that our assumptions trap us in a box that leaves little room for reality. We’ve been bathed in Media images of beggar women in full burka, of grim faced Afghani activist women and arrogant gun-toting men. It’s easy to assume that those images portray the whole of the Muslim experience- easy, but to be honest, also ignorant. Islam is one of the Big Three religions, and we know better than to picture every Christian like Pat Robertson and every Buddhist as wrapped in an orange robe.
These are the images that first come to mind when I think of Muslims:
And it’s no wonder with these images in my head that there is some small part of me that believes Islam is an oppressive faith. But, then I pause, and realize that there is (as always) more to life than what my emotions and the Media tell me. There is the fact that when I think of Muslims I also think of American Islamic faith, something that is highly different than the Afghani experience. After all, in America Muslims are not governed by the Taliban. They are not subjugated and abused. In fact, there is only a single Muslim man in government. (No, not Barack, he’s NOT Muslim! I’m talking about Keith Ellison.
But there is so much more to think about. My church is closely affiliated with an organization that is ministering to the Wolof people of Senegal. The Wolof people are largely a Muslim population, but they also carry African tribal traditions. So instead of the Arabic Muslim culture (which many Americans falsely assume to be ALL Muslim culture) there is a new breed of Muslim, the vibrant African faith that is not dour and oppressive, but generous and community based. Instead of somber gray and blue tones, the women dress in vibrant colors, they laugh largely and smile loudly. This is the picture of Islam that I want to retrain myself to see, not one of quiet desperation but one of life and love, one of big expressions.
I am realizing more every day that I simply need to be more educated about the other religions around the world. Not just I, but all people. So many people use the words “Arabic”, “Muslim” and “Middle-Eastern” interchangeably, as if all people in the Middle East are Arabic Muslims, as if all Muslim people are in the Middle East and as if the Muslim faith is a purely Arabic phenomenon. This language assumes things that it has no right to, as not all Muslims are Arabic, and the Middle East is home not only to Muslims but to Jews and even ancient colonies of Christians.
It is most disturbing to Christians to discover that the American war in Iraq is unseating one of the oldest Apostolic colonies in existence, one that dates back two thousand years. Not to mention the fact that what was once a secular society, one in which women could attend universities and pursue careers, is now in danger of becoming a country under Islamic law.
We must leave our assumptions.
The Wolof People: wolof.org
Afghani Women’s Liberation: rawa.org