This year I have a fabulous opportunity to be a teacher’s assistant for one of my good friends, Professor Linda Strouf. Her First-Year Seminar class is entitled: “Who am I? and Who are the others?”. The focus of the course is for first-year students to think about finding the “other” within themselves and to wrestle with the contradictions of identity.
The first “module” of the course was about Islam. Being a private, Christian college in the northern midwestern United States, the Islamic population of Hope College is fairly small. Though Muslims do attend Hope, their numbers are not great. To learn more about Islam, we read the book The Muslim Next Door, which I highly recommend for anyone beginning to explore Islamic traditions. For most of the students in our class, it was a brand new experience.
We wrapped up the content by taking a visit to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, MI. Just a short, 3-hour trip for us — we took a Saturday and went!
I, personally, learned a lot about Islam, though I feel I had a decent understanding of their religious traditions to begin with. Our tour guide, Eide Alwain, was ever-gracious and welcomed us and our Christian traditions with open arms. He called himself a “Sushi” – a self proclaimed mix of Sunni and Shiite Islamic traditions, so as to show others that he does not judge based on your sect of religion. He encourages interfaith discipleship and works closely with the churches in his area to learn more about other religious traditions.
Of course, my bestie Marv came along for the ride, as Linda, Marv and I are all BFFs. It was really eye-opening for him as well. Marvin happened to be the only male along for the trip (a coincidence I swear), and part of the Islamic tradition is for the two genders not to touch. Men and women do not shake hands, do not brush up against each other, etc. This was VERY hard for us to get used to inside the mosque, as (being besties) we push, shove, laugh, brush, kick, etc each other ALL THE TIME. I practically had to tie my hands down. PLUS. I really was used to the tradition of shaking hands after a visit. So as Eide wrapped up his talk, I ALMOST extended my hand to shake his. Thankfully, I caught myself in time.
Our discussion of Islam and our trip was very interesting from the perspective of a Hope student. Though we live in a very diverse city (Holland), we too often get stuck in the Hope bubble. Though we have have some diversity here, the majority of students are from the same background. It is comfortable to hang out with people of your same race and religion, simply because they are VERY LIKE you. But guess what. Everyone is like EVERYONE. Look at a prime example in my story: My bestie Marv is a Philipino, and I’m as white as they come! I joined a multicultural sorority where white is the MINORITY, and I absolutely LOVE IT. It doesn’t have to span across races, religions, sexual orientations or genders though. Coming up, I’ll talk about my trip to Wisconsin with my roommate, Hannah. She is Irish (pretty white!) though her childhood experience in Wisconsin was completely different from mine in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
OK OK OK. A long blog story to wrap up an easy point: GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU. They may look the same or different from you. They may think the same things, or maybe they have different ideas. Learn about them, absorb their culture and their traditions, and GROW. You will become an exponentially more interesting, well-rounded, and HAPPY person.
I mean, look at all the fun we had in these pictures: