Muslim for a Month

I teach Social Studies in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area at a very diverse high school. In an attempt to better understand a significant portion of the student population, I have undertaken the idea to become "Muslim for a Month"; hence the title for this blog.

Location: Fairfax County, VA, United States

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I have been telling more people about the endeavor on which I am about to embark, and I have received mostly positive feedback. The several Muslim women in my school whom I consulted prior to my official decision were so generous to me todaythat I am overwhelmed. One, a student of mine who is president of our Muslim Student Association (MSA), had previously offered to procure several scarves for me. Today I was presented with a bag of four beautiful and varied scarves, and was also told that I would not be allowed to pay her for them, that they were a gift. Not much later I was talking to the teacher who sponsors the MSA, asking her questions regarding prayer times and procedure, and I queried her on the appropriate rug to use for that purpose. What I was looking for was a description in terms of dimensions, and whether it had to be made specifically for that purpose. She offered me one of several prayer rug s that she keeps in her classroom for students to use to pray; then she opened a cabinet and offered me a robe to wear during prayer. Lastly, a fellow teacher who is a relatively recent convert to Islam willingly spent her entire lunch break answering my questions about the varying levels of modesty that women in Islam adhere to, further clarifying for me the role of women and men in Muslim society, as well as her own thoughts and feelings prior to and after her conversion. This willingness to welcome me into their faith, even temporarily, has amazed and inspired me. I always intended to do my best to be faithful to the teachings and practices of Islam as I am growing to understand them more fully, but now I have the generosity of these women to aspire to as well.

Today was a wonderful counterbalance to several comments (directed at my intentions rather than my mission) that I received earlier this week. I was talking about my upcoming journey during lunch with several fellow teachers when one asked, seemingly offhandedly, "doesn’t my plan seem hypocritical since it involves praying to a God I do not believe in?" I replied that I do believe in God, and while I was raised Roman Catholic, I believe that the God I grew up believing in is the same God (Allah) that I will be praying to during the month of Ramadan. I was disappointed that a colleague, who also teaches Social Studies (including classes that involved instruction on world religions), would presume to know my religious feelings and/or that I would consider dishonoring a religion by taking it so lightly or treating the faith in such a manner. Then the following morning I had to attend a meeting with the administrative staff at our school for an entirely unrelated reason, and the Principal (who I had talked with just the day before) asked that I explain to the rest of the assembled group what I would soon be undertaking. I did briefly, and one of the people present asked if my actions would be offensive to anyone in the building , because he felt that my plan might, in fact, be offensive. I explained that I was very concerned about that possibility, which is why I had already consulted with teachers and students who are Muslim to be assured that I would do no such harm by my actions. I understand where the concern came from, but I was honestly hurt. I feel that I am trying very hard to understand better, and that because of the respect I feel, I would surely have addressed that issue previously.