Monday, February 25, 2013

Reaching out in the name of faith and understanding

I've been teaching in a Catholic school for the past seven years and to this day, one of my most vivid memories from my time here is when, during my first year, the junior high visited a mosque. It is so vivid in my mind because, while I like to think of myself as quite an open-minded person, that experience really helped eradicate a great number of prejudices and misconceptions I (and I'm sure a majority of non-Muslims) had about the faith of Islam.

Today I was lucky enough to attend a field trip with our school's seventh graders to the same Islamic Center we visited seven years ago and it was just as moving of an experience. Our students asked questions, took a tour of the center, met a student from the Muslim American Youth Academy next door, as well as the mosque's Imam.

As the kids asked questions about the Islamic faith, three thoughts kept going through my mind 1) How alike our faith traditions truly are 2) When it's not being sullied by the media and popular culture, Islam is a truly beautiful faith. 3) I wish more people could see and be open to what a beautiful faith this is. I'm grateful our school has a pastor who works with people of other faiths and is open to reaching out and helping to heal wounds and prejudices.

I always say that the reason I love to travel is because it is an education in and of itself and that my favorite quote about travel comes from one Mark Twain:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness... Broad, wholesome views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

After an experience like today, I think that quote can apply to our own communities as well. Don't vegetate and fester in your own prejudice and bigotry. Reach out and find the beauty in everyone, even those you don't understand. You'll be amazed at the commonalities you find when you do finally make an attempt to better understand.

Entering the sanctuary

Inside the mosque

The Imam shows the Koran - and the skylights give it a Heavenly glow

Need to find Mecca? There's an app for that. The Imam shows the student his app to find the direction of Mecca on his iPhone so no matter where he is, he know which direction to pray.

Explaining the prayer on the wall

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