For my Cross-Cultural Field Experience, I attended an event called “Raising American Muslim Children with Healthy Self-Esteem” at the new Islamic Society of Greater Dayton Mosque in Bellbrook, OH. I chose this event because going to a Mosque seemed to be the event that made me most uncomfortable. My education has only occurred at Christian education Establishment (i.e. First Baptist Christian School, Portersville Christian School, and Cedarville University.) During my high school education at PCS, one of my favorite Bible teachers taught my class that Muslims are taught to kill Christians in the Quran. He warned of Muslims coming to the United States. One of my extremely rich classmate’s father flew in a man from Kenya to convince my classmates and others old enough to vote that President Obama was Muslim and was essentially the anti-Christ. I having no reason to doubt my Bible teacher and this Kenyan man, believed every word of it. When President Obama became the president, I initially believed that he wanted to be sworn in via the Quran rather than the Bible. All of this set me up to have a great deal of anxiety as I simply thought about going to a Mosque.
As I arrived at the Mosque, I was talking on the phone with my mom. She asked me “Does it look like a Mosque?” I responded that I have no idea what a Mosque looks like. I brought a scarf with me in case I needed it, but I did not put it on as I got out of the car because I saw a female not wearing one. Walking toward the entrance of the Mosque, I found myself wondering if there is a separate entrance for females. Was it ok for me to go in this entrance? Was it ok for me to be wearing jewelry? Was it ok that my hair was braided and had a flower in it? Not knowing what to do and being too shy to ask someone, I just tentatively opened the door and walked in. A man looked at me and I softly said “Hi.” I’m still not sure if men are allowed to talk to women. I waited to sign in and when I got to the sign in sheet, I asked the woman sitting at the table if I should be wearing a scarf around my head. She said no, so I kept the scarf in my bag.
In the gym, where the event took place, I stood awkwardly by myself. I became keenly aware of three things: 1) I was not wearing a headscarf and everyone else was, 2) I do not speak Arabic, and 3) My sleeves were only three quarter length. A few people said “Hi” and looked away. One woman asked me how old I was. When she found out that I am 24, she followed up with “Are you from Wright State?” This reminded me of a previous cross-cultural experience from my undergraduate education. I went to a black church in Dayton and they asked me if I went to Cedarville (University). Last night, I went to a Mosque in Dayton and they asked me if I went to Wright State. It made me smile a little bit. I met this woman’s daughter who graduated from Wright State last year. I explained that I was at the Mosque for my Multicultural Counseling class. I felt when I said that people kind of seemed a little turned off. I am not sure if it was because I was not interested in becoming Muslim or if I said the word “counseling” (some people seem to have an aversion to that word.)
When I finally saw a woman sit down, I also sat down. Thankfully, I sat down on the right side. Apparently, women sit on the right and men sit on the left. When I asked why, a lady told me that it was because that’s what they have always done so that everyone is comfortable.
Shortly before the speaker began, I met two white Muslim women. Both of them grew up in the US as non-Muslims. This gave us something to talk about as most of the other women were foreign born, particularly of Arab descent (hence the Arabic.) I learned a great deal from the women I sat next too. They wrote down a cheat sheet of information that would be useful as the speaker shared. They added to it as questions arose. The speaker shared a lot of information that I already have heard about child development. I started to feel comfortable because I started to see similarities between myself, the speaker, and others around me. This does not mean that I was “colorblind”, “religion blind”, or “ethnicity blind.” Rather, instead of seeing Muslim people as entirely other from my life experience, the people became individuals with whom I could relate. I learned a great deal of information. When I asked my new white-Muslim acquaintance if the Quran teaches that Muslim people should kill Christians, her immediate answer was no. However, she went further to do a little research on her cell phone which she showed to me. It described that Muslims are not to be friends with people that hate Muslims. That makes sense to me. I might be respectful to someone that hates something about me, but I am certainly not going to let them into my inner circle.
Probably the most profound impact was the kindness of the white-Muslim women that opened themselves up to me. They were not offended by my questions. They did not scoff when I honestly shared my fears of coming to the event. They encouraged me for coming to an event that made me so uncomfortable by myself. These women did all of these things to help me and they did not know me at all before last night. They went so far as to give me their phone numbers and encouraged me to call if I have any questions so that I can complete my paper or even just to learn more about Islam. The two women I sat by were not the suicide bombers that I fit my stereotypes of Muslim women. No, they were the Good Samaritans that saw a fellow person scared and alone and they stepped in to provide hospitality. It was a very enlightening experience.