I maintain a professional license (social work) that requires thirty hours of continuing education every two years. Half of that may be accomplished through training over the Internet, but the remaining fifteen hours must take place in a regular classroom setting. Of those thirty hours, a minimum of three must be in ethics and another three in cultural diversity.
Yesterday I drove across Phoenix to take those two specified classes. The ethics class never changes much - just a standard litany of things you can't do with clients scattered through several small-group and other time-consuming activities. But the cultural diversity training is usually interesting and makes up for the monotony of the ethics class - and it can cover any one of a multitude of topics.
Our cultural diversity training yesterday focused on how to work with clients who are Muslim. The instructor was a Muslim lady who had grown up in a Christian home in the United States and converted to Islam as an adult. She was a retired college professor who has lived in Phoenix many years. She also brought along a young man (college student) who was the son of a Palestinian refugee father and an American mother who had converted to Islam. The young man had attended a Muslim elementary school (K-8) in Phoenix.
Although I don't currently know anyone who is Muslim, I have had a few Muslim friends in the past and had a smattering knowledge of the religion - Islam. I also had a college course in Middle Eastern history many years ago and knew some of the primary terminology related to the religion of Islam.
I entered the training with the knowledge that there is a strong bias against Muslims in our culture, and a feeling that many nativist Americans see being a Muslim as synonymous with being a terrorist.
(That terrorist malarkey comes from a few well publicized attacks - primarily those of 9-11. That notion was intentionally fanned by politicians like Dick Cheney who wanted to turn "mosques into cathedrals." Certainly there are Muslims who also happen to be terrorists, but of the billion-and-a-half Muslims worldwide, the terrorists within the religion are a tiny, tiny minority. And lest we forget, Christians also have a very minute subset of terrorists - Eric Robert Rudolph, Jim Jones, Timothy McVeigh, and the Ku Klux Klan leap to mind - and those are just some of the ones from America. Adolf Hitler also considered himself to be a Christian.)
What our two very articulate speakers shared yesterday was an overall view of Islam. It is like Christianity in that it is a monotheistic religion (one God) that was brought forth through the teachings of several prophets - including Moses and Jesus - and with Mohammad being their final prophet. His works and teachings are in their holy book - the Qur'an.
Perhaps it was because our primary speaker was a Muslim woman, and almost the entire class was female, but there did seem to be a distinct emphasis on the roles of women in the Muslim culture. Many of us associate the head scarf and veil with Muslim women. (Our speaker did have her head covered - but wore no veil.) There have also been recent news stories about women's struggles to be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Life outside of Saudi Arabia, it turns out, is better.
The picture that our speaker painted of the life of Muslim women in general was much more positive. Some of the surprising things I learned was that Muslim women secured the right to vote within the religion over 1,400 years ago. They have the right to dispose of their earnings and property as they wish, and they are allowed to keep their family name after marrying. Neither Muslim women nor men may be forced into a marriage
But the religion does still have a fundamentalist tinge to it - much like fundamentalist Christianity. Men and women living together outside of marriage is unacceptable, and, although there are gay Muslims, the rite of marriage is accorded only to male-female couples.
We were given so much interesting information, material designed to foster an appreciation of a culture that has been very misrepresented and maligned in America's halls of power and in the press. Ordinary Muslims, like ordinary Christians, live ordinary lives and do their best to raise their families and live in peace through the blessings and wisdom of their one God.