As I stepped into the home, I immediately began to feel welcomed. I entered the home of the parents of one of my wife’s students to learn about their culture. Having an interest in learning more about Islam and Muslims, I had arranged to meet and sit down for an evening in an open discussion about both our cultures and religions. I wanted know how they were the same, and how they differed. This was the start to a long, deep, and one of the most interesting conversations I have had in a long time. We started with the exports of Morocco, its neighboring countries, and who had controlled it. Our discussion expanded and evolved to include topics such as the beginning of slavery and how it related to the Bible, the 5 pillars of the Islamic beliefs, and the origin of the name America. As well as many more topics that twisted, turned, came back, and seemed to take on a life of their own.
As I met Saliem at his door the first thing I noticed was he didn’t fit the “typical” Muslim profile as represented in the media. The main difference being he was African-American. I knew that many Muslims and people of the Islamic faith were not all Arabic but this still caught me a bit off guard. He greeted me and took my coat and hat before inviting me to the living room to meet his wife, Manana. Sitting down I opened with the basics of the assignment and what I was hoping to learn. I wanted to learn, and experience as much of their culture as I could in this one evening. I let them know that I knew a bit about their religion from talking to a trainer I had had a few years back, and a few quick Google searches I did to get the basics. We started with discussing Morocco, where Manana is from, and how they met. I was surprised to find out that Saliem met Manana’s father on his Hajj, a religious pilgrimage that is one of their five pillars. When he mentioned he was looking for a wife, Manana’s father said he had a daughter at home for him. Saliem did not take him seriously but deciding to look him up on a return visit. On this return visit he ended up meeting his lovely wife.
At this point in our discussion I experienced one of our culture differences and one that almost clashed with my religious beliefs. Manana served us tea that she had prepared along with some biscuits and small chocolate cookies. In my religion, often referred to as Mormonism, it is forbidden to drink tea. The exception is herbal teas. Do I risk offended them so early in our meeting by refusing the tea? She had just explained that in their culture you never let a guest leave without giving them something to eat. Even if all you have to share is a piece of toast. The tea smelled lightly of mint and after a bit off talking she confirmed it was made with mint leaves. With an inward sigh of relief I took my first sip, thankful to have avoided having to refuse her offer.
Our discussion continued and soon I had gotten even more then I had expected. Having expected to come over and learn only about the Islamic culture, I was also treated to learning about black culture. With this being Martin Luther King Day, there could not have been a better day for it. We begin to talk about how religion played a role in slavery. Most the slaves brought over were Islamic and later converted to Christianity and then told that it was God who said they were inferior. This was a means to control the slaves, unable to read or write, they could not seek out the scriptures for themselves. The discussion continued along these lines for a long while before being tied back into the Koran and their beliefs. We spoke of how Mohamed taught that all men and women were created equal. This was almost 1200 years before the United States declared it in there constitution. It would be many more years before the United States actually put this into practices.
We talked long into the night. As we spoke I learned a many great things about their culture and religion as well as expanded ideas about my own. I learned how, like my own religion, they have a great sense of community. Muslims actualy respect women, instead of how the media portrays them subjugating them. I learned that at its core, Islam is a religion of peace. It is a religion of balance and not of extremes. The Muslims we often see on the news and read about in the paper are those that live in those extremes, and as such, are not following their beliefs. The Muslims respect other religions; they owe their start to Christians, who gave them safe harbor when they were persecuted. They believe in one God, fasting, prayer, and charity. These along with Hajj are the five pillars of their faith. They believe many of the same things my own religion teaches. There is a passage from some of my own scriptures known as the Pearl of Great Price which states “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” This passage not only sums up the basic beliefs of my religion, but theirs as well, showing that we are not all that different after all.