Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: Diversity

International Coffee Hour

Coffee Hour

My husband normally drops off the kids at school in the morning. Once they’re out of the house, I usually start the day with writing, cleaning the house, cooking, and then it’s 3pm and I have to pick up the kids. Yesterday morning was different. I volunteered to drop off the kids because I wanted to join a new coffee hour event at 8:30am.

Over coffee and donuts, I sat with the principal of the school, Mr. Slancik, and the community’s favorite priest, Father Matthew, along with several teachers and parents. We discussed politics, religion, and community news. I noticed for the first time the flags that hung on the walls of the cafeteria. I counted forty-one flags, each from a different country around the world.

I asked the principal what these flags represent. The principal said that according to what he was told, since Schcuchard Elementary was built, students from that many nationalities had at one point or another attended this school. I was happy to know the school had such rich diversity. The more diverse a place is, the more opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and learn new things. This is precisely what I loved about traveling overseas. I always attained a new perspective and returned home with greater and deeper knowledge and appreciation of the world, as well as my home.

I carefully observed the flags, each distinct in its symbolism. One in particular caught my attention and I asked, “Does anyone know what country that red flag belongs to?”

The English teacher beside me said, “That’s an Albanian flag. It’s from my birth country. The symbol is a double-headed eagle.”

The eagle was used for heraldic purposes in the late middle ages by a number of noble families in Albania. The Kastrioti’s coat of arms, depicting a black double-headed eagle on a red field, became famous when he led a revolt against the Ottoman Empire that resulted with the independence of Albania from 1443 to 1479. This was the flag of the League of Lezhe, which was the first unified Albanian state in the middle ages.

I did not know that like Iraq, Albania was once occupied by the Ottoman Empire. People are always focusing on our differences, allowing our similarities to go by the wayside. More coffee hours would help cure that.

Tea5

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A Perfect Example of Diversity in a Little Town in Jordan

Once upon a time, it was not uncommon for Muslims, Christians and Jews to live together in peace and harmony. These days, such togetherness is rare – but maybe not. Maybe we don’t look for it long or hard enough to find it.

Evidently the filmmakers of “At the Intersection of Faith and Culture” knew where to look. This is part of a short documentary video series that reveals Arab communities where love is what drives peoples’ relationships. For instance, in the small town of Al Huson, Jordan, where there are 7 churches and 6 mosques, lives two lifelong friends of different religions who brought their town together by forming a cultural museum.

“I am a Christian and he is a Muslim, but you can’t tell the difference,” Mazin, who teaches at a university, says of his friend Samih, a local expert in tradition and culture. “By the end of the day, we make one person.”

“Traditionally, when a Muslim bride left her house, one of our Christian brothers would give her hand away, and vice versa,” said Samih. “We are following in our parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps.”

“Our message of love unites us,” said Mazin. “Honestly, we can’t live without each other.”

He is absolutely correct. We cannot live without each other.

Different Religions

Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Mosque

Today I feel as if I visited South Asia for two hours. Last night I received an email from CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) mentioning that its Executive Director-MI, Dawud Walid, was going to give a lecture at the AMDA Masjid about the importance of recognizing and properly addressing extreme religious rhetoric in Islam. I met Mr. Walid a few years ago. He and I have spoken at some of the same conferences and he is part of a documentary that I’ve been working on. We once talked about the possibility of doing a type of forum to open up dialogue between Muslims and Christians here in Michigan. Noticing today’s lecture was going to be only minutes away from home and liking the subject matter, I decided to go. Well, I was in for a big, but pleasant, surprise.

As soon as I entered the masjid, I saw people taking off their shoes at the door, women wearing head scarfs and kurtis, and a gold-colored silk curtain partially separating the men from the women and children. I have been in a mosque, which is similar to a masjid, once before when I was in London, so it was not a real shock. However, given the announcement of the “lecture” I was expecting a different setup. I asked the women who were warmly greeting me whether it was okay for me, as a Christian, to be here. They said, “Yes, definitely. Please feel at home.”

I took off my shoes, wishing I had worn my better socks, and although no one batted an eye, I respectfully put my long hair in a bun. I joined the ladies on the beautiful burgundy rug with beige and light green decorations. A number of the women approached me to introduce themselves and answer questions I had. From them, I learned that many of the attendees were Bengali, but there were others from countries in South Asia. This masjid has been around for approximately three years, but it’s temporary. A larger one is being built a few miles further north. It’s always available for prayer but on the first Friday of every month, there’s a community gathering where everyone brings food and eats together, then prays, then listens to the speaker of the month give a lecture.

The conversations around me were similar to all women topics – nails, weddings, etc. All the young ladies were university students. The food was heavenly, the call to prayer reminded me of my childhood days in Baghdad, and the lecture was something we don’t hear about in non-Islamic media outlets. Mr. Walid talked about the importance for American Muslims having good manners towards differences of opinion.

“In other Muslim communities around the world, each town and village may follow one school of thought,” he said. “But there’s a diverse pluralistic community called America where many different ethnicities live. So we have to open our minds and be flexible to others’ opinions. Just because we don’t understand something does not make it wrong or un-Islamic.”

He encouraged for people to instead give advice, if they’re qualified to do so (he noticed the worst debates on Islam are those who know nothing about it) in the manner the Quran asks for – with tenderness and gentleness so that they do not commit verbal aggression on each other and so no one feels slighted or embarrassed.

“In Islam there are some things that are non-negotiable, but most are flexible. We shouldn’t let our small differences disunite us as a community. Scholars debated centuries ago about such matters as whether the Quran is a word of God or if it the creation of God, and about other matters. They never sorted out those questions so we don’t have to get bogged down about it.”
Another quote he used from the Quran was “Let there be no compulsion in religion because right action is clear from error” – meaning, anytime we use pressure to make someone do something against their will, they will naturally hate it.

I have so much more to say about this experience, but I have already gone over the limit of how long I want my posts to be. So I may just have to pay the masjid another visit in the near future.