“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”
― Kofi Annan, Where On Earth Are We Going
Today I have been facing a lot of anxiety. The news reports are not pretty (when is it ever), and there seems to be so much violence and anger in the world as of late. 600+ deaths in Egypt yesterday, murders, rapes, kidnappings, etc stateside, and who knows what else that isn’t being widely reported. The most widely reported news as of late are the events in Egypt, the bombings in Iraq, and other unrest among the Muslim world. With all this negativity, it’s no wonder there is such a negative view of Islam around the western world.
I have always took pride in being accepting of other people’s religions, culture, etc. I love learning about how other people live their lives, and why they do the things they do. I used to want to major in Anthropology before I realized it was a dead-end field unless you had a PhD. With that pride in acceptance came anxiety and guilt today as I tried deciding what religion I wanted to use for my project in my Sociology of Religions course this term.
In this course, we have been asked to choose a religion, and attend a religious service. We must interview members of the service, and/or religious leaders of said service. We must also study their religious texts, and write a ten page paper on the sociology of whatever religion we choose.
Now, I am not a religious person. I do not agree with organized religion really, but I am very intrigued by it. I have attended a Baptist service once, and have been to a number of vacation bible schools with friends. However, I have never really participated or learned much about other religions, such as Judaism or Islam, at least outside of what Wikipedia or the media offers by way of knowledge. I want to choose a religion I am unfamiliar with, and that I would imagine most Americans are unfamiliar with. So I chose Islam, and from the moment of that decision, I have been racked with anxiety.
It is not unheard of in this country to equate Islam with terrorism. After 9/11, many Americans put the two together, and never separated them again. The word terror has become synonymous with Islam, even though terror can be brought on by anyone, like Timothy McVeigh for example. Regardless of this fact, when one thinks of or hears the word terrorism, Islam or Muslim is usually the first thing I hear come out of people’s mouths.
So, regardless of the fact that I know not all Muslims are terrorists, that fear is still in my mind. I have always pushed it back because of the pride I carry of being an accepting individual. When that fear came to surface today, my anxiety worsened. How can someone who is so open-minded and compassionate feel such fear and anxiety towards a religion or people? I found myself feeling disgusted with myself, all while battling the anxiety of having to put myself into this experience.
As the day went on, my anxiety dwindled for a few reasons. One of those reasons is my reasonable mind. I know not all Muslims are evil, so the chances of running into someone who is at this service are not very high. Being in America, the chances are also not as high. Sure, there are extremists everywhere you go, which can be said of any religion or culture, but since Islam is not as major in this country as it is in the Arab world, the chances (at least in my mind) are not as great.
Another reason is because I love the saying “Knowledge is Power.” Part of my fear is the unknown and ignorance. I only know what the media has told me, and what is portrayed. In order to obtain a true understanding, I need to study and experience the religion for myself. I need to meet the people, read the texts, and immerse myself in order to gain knowledge that will free me from the fear. I was concerned about how Islam treats women, and worried for my safety or about being respected. I understand women will be segregated from the men during prayers, and that I have to wear Islamic attire in order to attend, and that has given me some comfort. I know what to expect now, and the man I talked to at the Islamic Center in Washington DC was respectful and understanding. My mind has been put at ease by also discussing attire with a friend who has experienced it herself (Thanks Brooke!).
Brooke also gave me some good advice. I should not be so concerned with being respectful that I would let the real experience pass me by. I should relax, and completely put myself into it. I should enjoy the experience, and learn what I can from the people around me. My anxiety and fear got in the way of that at first, but now I am really happy with my choice, and looking forward to the experience.
I contacted the Islamic Center of Washington DC today in order to find out about times for prayer service, and if it would be acceptable for me to ask questions of the members. He was welcoming, gave me the information I needed, and put my mind at ease, even if it was unintentional. They seem welcoming of outsiders looking for clarity on Islam, and a letter on their website reinforces that. This will definitely be an experience to remember, and I will share my experience after it happens.
Just remember, you can’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from doing anything. Educate yourself, and that fear and anxiety will diminish. Open your mind, and that is when you are truly free.
Knowledge is Power!