Saturday, April 28, 2007
Went to a mosque earlier today.

I live in an apartment building where across a busy street and past the 7-11 is a mosque for the community. They put a flyer on my door saying there would be an open house on Saturday.

Since ignorance of any group or culture leads to misunderstanding, and because I'm sure that many Americans look on the clothing of a Muslim in America as strange and since 9/11, vaguely threatening, or worse, I thought I would go just to say that I'm not one of those who thinks every Muslim is a terrorist.

I learned a lot about their beliefs and practices. It took a lot of the misunderstandings where I had thought the religion to be rigid and intolerant, or at least heavily unchanged and traditional.

I learned a bit about how easy it is to think that however I was taught to do things is the normal way in an Anthropology 101 class. They called it ethnocentrism. I saw it in action in my own life when I went to Europe as a twentysomething youth.

In a grocery store in Germany, there was a petite lady in the produce section who you could ask to get you a pound of this or couple of that. I was born in Los Angeles, and know how to pick out a good orange most of the time, and would prefer to pick out a few for myself, so I dismissively indicated that I didn't need help and picked out the oranges that looked best.

I thought I would also be teaching them in their hoighty-toighty [sp?]society, the egalitarian way we in America have self-service and don't need the antiquated idea of services performed by an extra layer of someone to do it for us as something that would be helpful to show them our way (the better way) of doing things.

It was only as I was leaving the department with my oranges that I saw the horrified look on her face that I later reflected that this was not a convenience service that the store offered, but a hygienic practice so that not everyone would be handling all the produce. She probably thought I was an uncouth lout.

Another practice that seems unusual to Western eyes is when Muslims bow down together in prayer. I don't think anywhere in the Bible instructs people to grasp their hands together and interlace their fingers as the "proper" way to pray. It's just that we've seen it so often that we take for granted it's the normal, right way to do it.

We tend to look at the covering clothing of Islamic women as strange, and an indication of a patriarchal (male-oriented) society that inherently oppresses women by its ingrained traditions.

One of the people at the Mosque said when he was in the Middle East with his kids, they saw a group of Catholic nuns and his kids asked if they were Muslims because of their clothing. I for one though not Catholic have never questioned whether a nun's clothing is oppresive or restrictive. It just looks normal and appropriate because I've seen it often.

I remember once working a few days before the Christmas break, when many of the full-time workers had already begun their vacations, that a fellow I worked with who was from Israel brought his two little daughters into the office and they were going around room to room giving out treats to those who were still there.

His youngest daughter couldn't wait to get back to tell us what she had seen. She reported that in one room, someone had taken a sock and taped it onto the door of the office. She thought it was the oddest thing she had ever seen.

One final eye-opener for me was the day I landed in London. I was walking in a spacious green park and asked an elderly lady where I could find a bathroom. She looked at me puzzled and asked with a smile, "You want to take a bath in the park?" I realized they must have another word for it. I suppose I would've gotten a similar reaction if I would've asked for the restroom.
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