Cultural Immersion – Islamic Culture Preconceptions, Observations, and Dialogue Steven P. Malm, M.A.June 7, 2013
Part 1: Preconceptions of Muslim People
The Chosen Group • For this cultural immersion project, I identified the Islamic cultural group. • Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions • They follow the teachings of the prophet, Muhammad, and believe in the One God, Allah • While they acknowledge the existence of Jesus, they believe he is a prophet, not the son of God. • The term “Muslim” is often used to refer to people who follow Islam
The 5 Pillars of Islam • Islam is based on 5 key rules, called “Pillars” • 1: Believe that there is but One god, Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger • 2: Muslims must pray 5 times per day • 3: Observe Ramadan • Fasting from sunrise to sunset • 4: Muslims will practice charity to help those less fortunate • 5: At least once, Muslims will make a pilgrimage to Makkah
Additional information about Muslims • Millions of people practice the Islamic faith • Their holy book is the Qur’an • The language of Islam (In the Qur’an and spoken in prayers) is Arabic. • The “churches” of Islam are called Mosques • Their religion condemns homosexuality (like the other Abrahamic religions)
Stereotypes about Muslim People • They are all either Middle Eastern or Black • Terrorists are Muslim (definitely false, but it’s a known belief held by people) • By extension, Muslims are violent • There has been war between Muslim tribes in the Middle East for thousands of years • The Qur’an preaches death to non-believers (I don’t know why people believe this, but I’ve heard it before) • They are patriarchal and oppressive to women.
My Perceptions of Muslim People • Islam is a religion, not a race • An individual from any race can be Muslim • That said, many Muslims I know are from the Middle East • In general, Muslims are very peaceful and moral • They have extremists, but so does every religion! • Their religion teaches love and respect. • There is a power differential between men and women that I do not fully understand • It seems that women are beneath men. • I really do not know much about this group going into this project!
Prior Sources of Information • TV and News (Not the best source for accurate, unbiased information) • Psychology of Religion class in my undergraduate work at Bradley University • Discussions at Church • I am a Missouri Synod Lutheran • Growing up next door to a Muslim family • They are good friend of the family • The mother of the household explained some features of Islam to me • My parents – to help me respect other people, regardless of religious beliefs
Why this Group? • I chose this group for a number of reasons: • It is one of the Abrahamic religions • There is already some similarity between my religious upbringing and Islam. That makes it more accessible to me while allowing me to understand the differences • Of the 3 religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), it is the one I know the least about. • There are a lot of negative stereotypes that I want to investigate • I know they’re not true, but I want to know what the truth is in these areas. • The Muslim group is very large and I am likely to have Muslim clients in the future. • Religion is a very impactful type of culture with specific opportunities for observation
Part 2: Observation
Cultural Observation • Location: Muncie Islamic Center • Date: May 24, 2013 • Time: 1:30-2:30p • Activity Observed: Prayer service • The Muncie Islamic Center functions as a mosque for the Islamic community in/around Muncie
Walking In… • Everyone took off their shoes prior to entering the prayer room. • The room was moderately-sized • Clear of chairs and pews • Except for a single row of chairs along the back wall • In the front, there was a pulpit
Before Prayer • There were some people in the room. • Everyone was seated on the floor • Some of the older/larger members sat in chairs • Some were reading from the Qur’an • Others prayed silently near the front • These people would occasionally bend forward and touch their forehead to the carpet • People greeted each other warmly with a handshake (and the occasional hug) • Several approached me and asked me about who I was and why I was there. • Very polite and accommodating
The People • Incredibly diverse • Several appeared of Middle Eastern descent • Several appeared to be of African descent • Some Caucasians. • One thing did seem strange: • They were ALL MEN
Prayer Begins • Due to my limited understanding of the terminology used in the Islmaic faith, I will compare what I saw to what I experienced growing up as a Lutheran • Prayer began at 2:00p • A member stood up and began chanting in Arabic • Occasionally, the congregation would chant back a few words • Quite unlike Christian hymns
The Message • Led by a man who appeared analogous to a priest or minister. • Much like the sermons I’ve grown up with • All about love/respect for each other and giving to those less fortunate. • Very similar to Christian teachings • Discussed the recent terrorist attacks in England • Denounced the “Muslim terrorists.” • “They are not Muslim!” • The Qur’an teaches only love and good deeds, not violence • The “Muslim terrorists” are enemies of Muslim • Pointed out that every religion has terrorists
After the Message • Everyone stood up, shoulder-to-shoulder • The “priest” began praying in Arabic • Congregation chanted responses quietly. • Then, they fell to their knees and touched their foreheads to the carpet • Repeated this a couple of times before rising • The service was then over • People approached each other and said something in Arabic while shaking hands • Seemed like the point in the service when everyone would say “God’s Peace” or “Peace be with you.”
Comparison to My Religious Experiences • Differences • Shorter service • Did not seem to include multiple scripture readings or hymns • Prayer seemed more personally driven • Similarities • Core messages (belief in One God, love and respect, do good deeds and give to charity, etc.) • Racially/Ethnically diverse within the culture
Why did I choose this service? • Because the identified cultural group is a religion, I believed a prayer service would be the best representation of the general practices of this group. • Also, the times for observation were easily identifiable and concrete. • Furthermore, this activity would allow to more easily approach someone to engage in a discussion about Islamic culture. • Finally, since I was raised as a Christian, I would have something with which to compare what I observed.
Feelings and Reactions • I was confused about the absence of women from the service and made a note to ask about it (see Part 3). • I felt really awkward when everyone else stood around me and started praying. • I wasn’t sure if I should stand or remain seated • It was really beneficial for me to listen to the message and hear the denouncement of the terrorists’ actions. • I’ve come to realize that, at their core, Christianity and Islam are not all that different • As far as teachings and morality. • Some of the rituals (i.e., pressing their foreheads to the ground) seemed a little strange to me • I was also not used to conducting services partially in another language • It made it really difficult to understand what was going on. • Overall, I felt this experience was very beneficial for my understanding of Muslim beliefs and how Muslim prayer is conducted
Part 3: Dialogue with Group Members
Setting: • Location: Muncie Islamic Center • Date: May 24, 2013 • Time: 2:30-4:00p • Members present: • Myself • Caucasian Muslim revert (will explain) • Middle Eastern (I believe Saudi Arabian) Muslim man active at the Muncie Islamic Center
The Caucasian Man • Appeared to be in his mid 40s • Vietnam Veteran • Raised Christian • “Reverted” to Muslim after returning from Vietnam • Muslims believe that all people are born Muslim but that some fall off the path. • As a result, coming into the Muslim faith is called reverting instead of converting
The Middle-Eastern Man • Appeared to be in mid-late 20s • In the U.S. while his wife studies at Ball State • Is still learning to speak English • His English was very good and generally understandable • Had trouble finding words for some concepts
Why Were No Women Present? • As I noted in the observation section, I did not see any women at the prayer • They were there! They were behind me, in another room watching/listening through a window • This is due to space constraints at the Islamic Center. Physical barriers between the genders is uncommon • Women sit behind the men during prayer • To avoid men staring at the women during prayer • Supposed to be focused on Allah • Reduces temptation • If she is not your wife, why are you looking at her? • NOT an attempt to oppress women
Men, Women, and Family Structure • Men and women are equal but different in Islamic culture • They share equal responsibility, but in different areas • The man is the head of the family • Responsible for providing and protecting the family • The woman is the head of the household • Responsible for raising the children and teaching them to be good people • The mother is one of the most respected family members • Do not disrespect the mother! • Women are not to be alone with another man other than her husband. • A male family member must be present • Elderly family members are seen as wise and are sought for advice.
Marriage • Islam looks down on divorce • The family needs both parents to function correctly • When you get married, you are bonded for life • Homosexual marriage is strictly prohibited • Inter-racial marriage is not an issue • All people are equal in the eyes of Allah, regardless of race • Inter-religious marriages are a little more complicated • Muslim men can marry a non-Muslim woman • Muslim women can not marry a non-Muslim man, unless he reverts to Islam
Education and Working • Islam teaches that education is everyone’s right. • Girls and boys both need to be educated • While the man is traditionally the provider for the family, women are allowed to work • As long as it does not interfere with her duties of raising the children.
Resolving Conflicts • Men are NOT to beat their wives! • Doing so is a perversion of Islam • Women are not the property of the husband • Conflicts are to be handled through the inclusion of a neutral third-party who mediates and helps resolve the conflict • Usually the local religious leader, if available • Supposed to maintain respect for all parties involved
Coping • Pray about it • The Islamic community is very close and offers each other guidance, advice, and support through difficult times.
View on Physical/Mental Health • Pray for people with physical or mental ailments • However, these people do need to seek help from trained professionals • They are encouraged to get help! • All acquaintances should visit the ill individual to show support and to pray for them
Food • No pork! • Meat should only be consumed if the animal was slaughtered in a certain way • Often not the case with food sold in restaurants and stores
The Role of Religion • Given that the culture selected is defined by its religion, the role of religion is critical in understanding this culture • The 5 pillars of Islam are very important
View of Other Groups • Everyone should coexist in peace • Muslims have good relations with Jews and Christians • All races are equal under Islam • Less was said about Eastern religions, but they assured me that Islam teaches love for everyone, regardless of religion • In short, they stated that there were no specific groups that Islam has a problem with
Feelings of Discrimination • Caucasian Muslim Revert • Caught a lot of flak from friends and neighbors for taking a “foreign” religion • Makes people visibly uncomfortable when he says he is Muslim • Has difficulty with the de-emphasis on nationalism that Islam teaches (especially since he is a veteran) • Middle-Eastern Muslim • Occasionally feels outright discrimination based on his looks • Hears a lot of anti-Muslim statements • Says he copes by reminding himself that these people are ignorant of the truth
Personal Feelings on Culture • Both members believe they are doing well living up to the expectations of their culture • Both have trouble from time to time, but it “is expected” • The Caucasian revert mentioned he wished he could eat bacon • Otherwise, both held that they wished to retain all of the foundations of their culture.
Part 4: Conclusions and Clinical Implications
Conclusions • A lot of my preconceptions of Islam were corrected through this experience in addition to shattering many of the negative stereotypes • Islam teaches that violence in any form is bad • Men are NOT supposed to beat their wives • Though filling different roles, men and women have equal responsibility in Islam culture • Anyone can be Muslim. • There are no key physical features of this cultural group • It is a group defined by religion • Islam is not so different from the other major monotheistic religions • Definitely not enough to warrant the animosity towards Muslims often seen in the media • Though Muslim extremists exist, so do extremists from every religion. • This project was extremely helpful for my own knowledge about Islam and also gives me some ideas on how to interact with future Muslim clients (to be discussed on the next slide)
Clinical Implications • When working with children of Muslim families, I should address the father first (as head of the family), but he will likely have me talk to the mother about the child • As a male, I cannot be in a room alone with a Muslim woman. A male family member must be present. • I will be unable to do personal therapy with Muslim females • May have to stick to couples or family therapy with this • If interviewing about a child, either a son or the husband would have to be present. • The Muslim community is very supportive of its members in regards to seeking mental health services. • Encourage the client to reach out to community for support
A special thanks to the Muncie Islamic Center For allowing me to come and observe their prayers and to help me better understand Islamic culture.