Over the semester, my Intercultural Communication class had to choose one culture to observe, write down our observations, and present them. We also had to back up our observation with research. As a Christian, the one culture I did not want to study was the Islamic faith. I tried to look for cultural events that were happening in the DMV, specifically about any Asian culture, but I found nothing. Time was passing fast and I had to find something; so, I gave in and decided to observe my friend, Dahabina, who is Muslim. I had some major struggles going into this project; I did not want to be influenced by their religion, I was afraid of what other Christians would say, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted among into the Mosque. I didn’t want to be associated with Muslims at all. But after remembering what my professor said about if a person’s faith is so strong they should be able to step outside of their religion and come back as if nothing ever changed, I decided to let go, and become a Muslim for a day. Below are my findings:
Through this Cultural Observation project, I’ve come to realize that the Muslims are probably the most misunderstood group of people in America. However, they don’t let that get to them. It takes a lot of courage to stay in this country, The Land of The Free, and fight for what they believe in. I spent about 2 and a half, or more, hours with Dahabina, wearing the Hijab and having a great conversation about what it means to be a Muslim, and discussing some of the myths, such as Muslims not believing in Jesus. This is absolutely false, and I have known this for some time, but I wasn’t sure how he was still significant to Muslims. To Muslims, Jesus is an important prophet named Issa, instead of the son of God as Christians know him.
I didn’t want to obtain information from Dahabina in the form of an interview, so we just had a casual conversation. She told me about her opinions of Donald Trump; she said that “Donald Trump is ignorant and racist.” She feels that “instead of attacking all Muslims, [Donald Trump] should try to get to know [them] as a whole.”
Muslims celebrate Ramadan, which is a special time for “inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control.” Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims fast by “abstain from food, drink, smoking, and marital sex” (“Islamic Holidays and Observances”). Dahabina said that dates (fruit) are eaten during Ramadan, along with samosa (fried pastry) and a lot of fruit juice. Muslims commonly break their fast at sunset with these foods, specifically dates because it was the custom of the Prophet Muhammad (“Islamic Holidays and Observances”). I also learned that Muslims can celebrate birthdays and Thanksgiving, but they cannot celebrate “Easter, Christmas, or any religious American holidays.”
I mentioned that I wore a hijab during my observation. When a women walks into the Mosque, they don’t need to have the hijab on, they just need to have it on for prayer. Dahabina explained that in Islamic countries, the hijab is required at all times. The hijab is a part of the dress code for Muslim women, and it serves as protection for women. It is important for the women to “cover their heads when in the presence of non-mahrem men,” potentially marriageable men. Wearing a hijab is not meant to degrade or oppress women, it is “a sign of purity and dignity” (“Hijab’s Protection”). When I wore the hijab, I felt respected by the men and the women. Everyone greeted me with “Assalamu Alaikum,” which I’ve learned a while ago means peace be upon you; it’s basically used to say hello.
Although I felt respected among the other Muslims, I did receive nasty stares from other people. When women wear hijabs, it singles them out to all the crazy and dangerous people in this world, the true terrorists. One incident that I will never forget is when I was walking into the mosque on The University of Maryland campus with my friend and other girls, and there was this White guy outside holding a sign that said “Jesus Saves.” He was shouting, “You are all going to hell” at the top of his lungs. I was terrified; I didn’t know if he was planning to burn the building down or not. I asked my friend if the guy was doing this because we were going inside and she said that he probably was. She said not to worry because this happens all the time, and that Allah would protect them. This is why I said that Muslims are brave; I can’t imagine going through things like this every day.
During the prayer, I observed things that were similar and different to that of a Christian church. One difference is that you must take off your shoes when entering the Mosque. Everyone sit on the floor on prayer mats, with the women sitting directly behind the men. Women who are on their menstrual cycle are not allowed to pray because it is considered unclean. Dahabina explain that it’s not to single women out, and it doesn’t mean that a women is unclean. I still don’t have a clear understanding of this. Just because a women is not allowed to pray on their cycle, it doesn’t mean that they are excluded from the message. They are allowed to hear the message, and observe the prayer, just not participate. I was able to witness them bow and pray; they did this several times before the prayer was over.
The similarities were a little shocking to me. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the Imam, Muslim priest, to deliver the message that he did. The Imam talk about letting situations go and letting Allah take control. He said that worrying will not make anything better, that why they should trust in Allah. Allah would will take on all of your problems. He also talk about confessing sins, and praying and asking for forgiveness. This is a message that I hear all the time at my church, so I was able to understand and agree with what he said. This was also a major turning point for me; I realized that, although Christianity and Islam are two different religions, they are similar in many ways.
This project provided me with an experience that I’ll never forget. Although I had my worries, I let go of my personal feelings and beliefs for one day to step into the life of someone else. It wasn’t easy to do at all, but it had to be done, and I realized that it wasn’t so bad. Through this experience I learned that Muslims still believe in Jesus, but not as the son of God. I learned about Dahabina’s personal feelings about Donald Trump and his statement towards Muslims, and that during Ramadan Muslims have specific traditional foods that they like to eat. I was able to experience wearing a Hijab, and although some people were not as welcoming with their stares, the Muslims welcomed me with opened arms. And, despite having that terrifying incident outside of the Mosque, the actual prayer was great. I observed many things that were different and similar to what I would do or hear in my church. I feel that this experiences will help me in the future to not be so judgmental against people who are different from me, and I have grown to respect those of the Islamic faith, “a person who submits to the will of God” (Difference Between Islam and Muslim).
Difference Between Islam and Muslim. (2009, November 27). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-islam-and-muslim/
Hijab’s Protection. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2015, from http://www.iupui.edu/~msaiupui/hijab_protect.html
Islamic Holidays and Observances. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2015, from http://www.colostate.edu/Orgs/MSA/events/Ramadan.html