“We don’t wear that around here.” A Muslim woman in Decatur reports that she received this reaction from a woman in the place where both were shopping. The woman was referring to the Muslim hijab or veil.
The strange thing was that the complainer was herself wearing a scarf.
I heard this anecdote on Saturday, March 4, at the Greater Decatur Islamic Center. Approximately 20 people were gathered: about 10 Muslims, and about 10 Christians of various denominations. This was an initial event, with further opportunities envisioned for local Muslims and others to get to know one another and, especially, for non-Muslims to become acquainted with Islam as it is lived by their Muslim neighbors.
I asked what sort of reaction local Muslims receive from people generally in the Decatur area. The incident described above was offered as an exceptional occurrence during a period of approximately 14 years of living in our area; in general, this woman’s experience of people in the Decatur area is of “Midwestern nice.” Indeed, Muslims, both men and women, report that area people are sufficiently receptive of them that they are finding numerous people to “defend” them. “Defense” may be necessary, owing to strong currents of prejudice and suspicion within American society.
During the nearly two-hour question-and-answer session, we did not begin to delve into our shared Abrahamic belief in one God. We did, however, find ourselves discussing at some length the motivation for the distinctive dress of many Muslim women: modesty, a word which should resonate among Catholics. Separation of the sexes during prayer in the masjid or mosque is for the sake of reducing distractions during prayer.
One Muslim referred to the Tibetan Buddhist Dalai Lama, who has remarked that the United States needs the sort of dialogue we were engaging in. It was further remarked that “we all have good and bad” people; that “we must help one another” in being faithful to the practice of our respective religions; and that Muslims and Christians are not in some sort of “competition.”
As we wrapped up this event, the Christians were reminded that the holy month of Ramadan is coming up May 25 to June 24. Muslims fast during daylight hours in this month. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar which “runs backward” in comparison with the civil solar calendar; therefore, with time, Ramadan is celebrated in every part of the solar year. So during the summer solstice, when the days are longest, the fasting is the most difficult. The Christians were invited to participate in the Muslims’ iftar, the evening meal which breaks the daily fast.
I thank Sister JoAn Schullian, OSF, of Decatur, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, for letting me know about this event. Since that time, the Islamic Center has held an open house for the general public, which was covered by the local daily newspaper and two local television stations. Sister JoAn reports: “There was big crowd of women and men. I have not heard of the total. It was a marvelous experience. The women showed their beautiful clothing materials and purses, jewelry, giving away hijabs to the guests, great food from different countries, slides and explanation of hijab, etc., flyers with explanations, and more.”
In our national and world society today, we are presented with much false information about adherents of various religions, especially Islam. No adherent of any religion is happy when falsehoods take the place of person-to-person acquaintance. We must seize the opportunities before us to understand and to be understood.