Monday, November 2, 2015

Conversation, Instead of Condemnation

Monday greetings on an amazingly beautiful Autumn day here in Chicago.

A few days ago, I read a "conversation" on Facebook that began with someone posting that they had seen a Muslim woman in line at a grocery store wearing the burqa, which is the garment, usually black, that covers a woman's entire body, with only her eyes showing. Many Muslim women wear the hijab, which is the garment that covers the head and chest. One of the persons in the "conversation" had some harsh words for a woman who would wear the burqa, something like "If you want to be one of us here in the US of America, act like us!"

Now remarks like this are all over social media all the time. I am always taken aback by them, mainly because we are a country made up of immigrants from all over the world, with different religious backgrounds, cultural expressions, and customs. Tolerance and acceptance are highlights of this country's roots, but sometimes intolerance and hatred take their place.

While I was visiting my family last weekend in Boston, many of them told me that they were worried the entire time I was in Turkey a few months ago, fearing that I would be caught up in some kind of terrorist act. Since September 11, 2001, there is a feeling inside many people that anything or anyone having to do with the Muslim world, is somehow to be feared. This is certainly understandable on some level. I told my family members that, while in Turkey, I never felt a hint of danger anywhere. And when the flight from Istanbul landed at Logan Airport in Boston, my eyes were drawn to the CNN news feed on the screens in the airport, reporting on that day's shooting on the community college campus in Oregon, where so many were senselessly killed. Safe? Where?

Before going to Turkey, I had never been in a predominantly Muslim country and had never stepped foot in a Mosque. While there, I saw women in the hijab everywhere and women in the burqa as well. The burqa is a little unsettling at first. There is that part of me that thinks this is demeaning of women and sexist on the part of the husband, but I have done lots of reading on the various reasons and viewpoints about the covering, which has been helpful for me. While in Turkey, I kept cautioning myself to remember that my Western views need to be in conversation with other views, not condemnatory of those views and beliefs. Travel has a way of teaching like nothing else can.

While in Ankara, I was at the tomb of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. In the museum, I was walking around and enjoying the paintings as a young couple was doing the same. They were admiring the artwork and the various collections, as was I. I took some photos.

It just all seemed so regular to me as I made my way through the museum and mausoleum. I have to admit that when I used to see women dressed in the burqa on the television news, there was some fear that crept up inside me, but that was all melted away during my trip to Turkey.

I guess I am writing this today in the hopes that somehow we can, little by little, open our eyes to the differences that make this world such a wonderful place.

Thanks for listening.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Tom Strickland said...

Thank you for this post. I had much the same experience when I visited Istanbul quite a few years ago. I thought I should be scared or at least wary of this very-foreign-to-me culture. But friendliness and hospitality do not require speaking the same language, and staying for prayers when most of the tourists had left a mosque showed me that nothing strange was going on. In time, I was not startled by the burqa; I now live in a community near a mosque where women in headscarves are a common sight. Standing in line at the post office during Ramadan, I had an interesting conversation with a woman about the challenges of explaining fasting to her young children.

Travel has done so much to open my mind and challenge my thinking. "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (still a favorite carol as long as all five stanzas are sung) has a very different meaning to me now that I have been behind the modern walls of Bethlehem. When I hear of people being barred from the Haram/Temple Mount, I am pained because I was allowed to pray there--after showing a passport and going through airport-like security--but others are not.

Why is it that the same places are sacred to different peoples, cultures, and religious groups? In the next life, this mystery may be revealed, but until then, I pray that the Holy Spirit will allow me to converse with others, and share the awe we have for these places, and respect differences in our cultures we do not yet understand.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello All. I received this response and inadvertently deleted it:


On the other hand, differences are not always wunnerful; often, they are deadly. Turkey - especially in its tourist meccas (pun intended) - is easier than other areas of the region. Those areas have had several generations to absorb modernity, for good and for ill. Other areas, much less so.

While it does us no good to work from our fears and overamplify them, it's merely an inversion of that to underplay and discount real differences, which at best is a form of condescension, and at worst a delusion. Diversity is a reality, but part of that reality is that it tends to weaken bonds of social trust and cohesion; by contrast, communities that have a strong tribal identity may have high bonds of trust and cohesion, but deal with outsiders or dissidents in appallingly harsh ways. We should not assume there is a long-lived (many generations, not just a few) happy medium. Americans lack a tragic sensibility (our culture prefers melodrama), and may be acculturated to resist reality in this regard.

Scott Pluff said...

For several years our offices of the Center for Liturgy at Saint Louis University were next door to the Islamic Center. I became quite used to seeing women wearing the hijab as well as a full burqa, sometimes even with the mesh-cloth covering over their eyes. The kids would play soccer on our front lawn, the mothers would sit in the shade watching the kids, the men would congregate nearby to visit. They were always pleasant and it all became quite normal to us.