Pictures Courtesy of Seth Brady
Islam - What is it really all about?
We started out the day learning from former NCHS student, Wali Khan. Mr. Khan is a trauma nurse at Stroger Hospital by night and educational speaker/author by day. He was definitely a "force of nature" as Mr. Brady referred to him. Mr. Khan related how the religion of Islam helps him to cope with the stresses of his work life as well as his daily life. He explained how he didn't not fully commit himself to Islam until he was a Freshman in college. Prior to that, he said that he "cherry picked" in Islam by choosing to pray, fast and act with positive intention when he suited him and the environment was conducive. He alluded to leading somewhat of a double life as a Muslim at home and rambunctious teenager with his friends outside the home. Throughout high school it was important for him to blend in with his peers and not stand out for religious differences. Given Mr. Khan's ability to relate this personal story, I can understand why he has such a large Instagram following and is motivational for teenagers.
Mr. Khan said, "faith is synonymous with hope" and I found that to be an interesting and powerful insight. In thinking about the 3 Bs, faith and hope intertwine belief and behavior. A person who has hope in times of struggle is usually able to summon the courage to continue on and persist. Mr. Khan reviewed and explained in further detail the 5 Pillars of Faith in Islam. He shared helpful examples of each of the five pillars and how they apply to daily life. He likened prayer to soul food as well as an opportunity to break free from the rigors and monotony of every day life to make adjustments so that life doesn't pass by without working to improve oneself. This reminded me of the lessons from our visit at Watt Dhamma yesterday and how daily meditation helps us to escape pain and suffering as well as an opportunity to clear our mind and find peace. Praying and meditation are behaviors that can help to reaffirm one's faith.
Mr. Khan also explained the intent and obligation of fasting. It was interesting to hear that he interprets it to be an opportunity to get closer to God as well as an opportunity to remove distractions and to gain insights as well as to develop empathy for those who suffer from hunger all the time. I hadn't ever heard of this opportunity to gain empathy for those who are less fortunate. This heightened sense of empathy may help to reinforce the fourth Pillar of Alms/Charity and the obligation to donate 2.5% of each year's profit with those who are in need, starting with family. Again, I was surprised by this focus on thinking of the needs of others as a foundational belief in Islam. Mr. Khan mentioned numerous times that "actions are based on intentions" and that God is all knowing and therefore knows the intention of each person's actions and whether or not the intentions are free of selfish desires. For Mr. Khan it seems that his religious identity is nearly equal parts belief and behavior with belonging following closely behind.
Next, we had an opportunity to hear from a student panel of two girls and two boys who are open about their Islam faith. They each welcomed dialogue with others about their religion as long as the desire to learn was sincere. Again, these students were impressive in their ability to speak in front of such a large group of teachers and to carefully articulate their thinking. The girls were the more outspoken panelists and they each stressed that the way that they expressed their faith is a personal choice. It also seemed that they had grown a bit weary about being questioned about the level of modesty of their clothing. I would think for the girls that it's somewhat a tug-of-war in deciding how they would like to express their faith while also blending in with their peer group at high school. It's a possible added layer of stress that I'll never be able to truly empathize with as I did not experience anything similar when I was a teenager. The word "courage" kept running through my mind in thinking about these four students. Courage to express their faith, courage to endure possible negative, biting comments or racist remarks, courage to live the 5 Pillars of Faith. Tough stuff for a teenager!
Pictures Courtesy of Seth Brady
Our last stop on this bus tour was the Turkish American Center. I had no idea what to expect and to be honest I was quite nervous about observing the Jummah as a woman. As we entered the building, we were guided into a big banquet room filled with round tables and comfortable chairs :) One fear cast aside at least for a while - that I would be sitting on the floor for an extended period of time this afternoon. As we settled in, we were greeted by a representative of the Niagara Foundation and it was explained that we would have an opportunity to learn a bit about the Turkish culture over the next 40 minutes or so. I was in the half of the room where we had an opportunity to drink a small cup of Turkish coffee, enjoy Turkish Delights and learn a little bit from a Turkish immigrant woman named, Ikbal. Ikbal was such a kind and gentle soul and was so open to answering any question asked of her as best she could. She helped me to realize that I had been holding onto a misconception that most Muslim women were quiet, reserved and not allowed to lead. Ikbal was very definitely a leader and was not reserved in sharing her opinions and understandings.
Next, we went into the worship room and sat in the back corner on chairs to observe the Jummah service. The room quickly filled up with men and boys in the front and a few women in the back, besides the women in our group. It seemed that the women who were tasked with making sure that we were settled in and comfortable were themselves uncomfortable. I noticed that at the beginning of the service, most women settled in behind the moving lattice walls to physically separate themselves from the men. The service was fascinating to listen to and to watch. It began with the congregation repeatedly reciting prayers at their own individual pace until the worship leader began his chant. The worship leader chanted a prayer to begin the service and then shared a sermon with the congregation about the need to move beyond the shallow desire to acquire objects and instead focus on the 5 Pillars of Faith. The service ended with the worship leader leading the entire congregation in prayer again. Islamic prayers are so different than any prayers I've observed before because of all of the changing of body positions during the prayers. It's a workout and to think about how followers are expected to pray 5 times a day by reciting the same prayers 40 times altogether.
After the Jummah we were served a tasty lunch and had an opportunity to sit amongst Turkish immigrants. It was during this time that I was able to get more "why" questions answered and to identify that these Muslims were really no different than me. They loved their family, were proud of their children and wanted to be good role models for them. They were hard workers and proud of their efforts to make the world a better place through their faith. Finally, we ended our time at the Turkish American Center with a seminar led by the President of the Niagara Foundation. He basically reviewed all that we had learned from our learning experiences earlier today with Mr. Khan, the student panel and our lunch conversations. I'll admit it was refreshing that he shared the "stage" with Ikbal at least half of the time as he deferred some questions to her to answer. Also, Ikbal was at ease in adding in her thinking and understandings all throughout the seminar and at times would interrupt the Niagara Foundation President to add her two cents. She appeared to be equal to him despite being behind a screen during the Jummah.
Overall, if I consider the most prominent B of the 3 Bs for Islam, I would have to choose behavior. All of the people that we encountered were welcoming and kind and were quick to take action, whether it was to help one of us or to say a prayer. They seemed to very much be a doing people. They attempted to separate out their culture from their religion but I would say it's quite difficult to do so beyond sharing foods and talking about work. Islam is very much an influence on the Turkish culture. And, it seems that Turkish culture is also an influence on Islam because of the opportunity for people to make choices for how they worship (at home or at a place of worship for prayers) and for how they express their faith (modesty in clothing and head scarves).