Sunday, May 01, 2005

Growth through Isolation or Immersion??

by guest contributor

Sakina Dewji

I often meet parents who are afraid of the negative influence the west will have on their children and therefore try to protect them through isolation. Does growth come through isolation or immersion? Having lived both ways, I share my experiences and hope to hear your thoughts…

When we immigrated to Canada, my parents like many others feared the influence of society. They tried to protect us by limiting our contact with the mainstream. While I might have memorized the rituals and was comfortable among my community, I was at a loss when I was out of this comfort zone or when my views were challenged.

Ironically life changed when I met another Muslim who challenged much of the dogma that had become part of my life. It was through dialogue and self reflection that light flowed into my cocoon and pulled me out! As different people, Muslims and Non Muslims, walked into my life and we shared with one another, this growth increased further. Now I felt closer to the creator and more comfortable in who I was and in respecting others for who they were. This I believe is the Islam lived by the Prophet, his family and companions.

The desire to share and meet people of different backgrounds led me to apply to a project where I would have to work with other Canadian teachers in training teachers in developing countries. Excitement filled my world when I found out I was going to Sierra Leone with 3 other teachers. However I have to admit having not lived or traveled with Non Muslims, I was anxious. How would they react to my hijab? How would they feel when I had to stop and pray or eat only certain things? I could not let this get to me; this was an experience that was bound to help me and those around me. So I took on the challenge.

This indeed was one of the most powerful experience of my life. When my colleagues and I first met 3 days before our trip to Sierra Leone, they realized they were traveling with a Muslimah. As we got more comfortable during the trip they shared their thoughts of who they were expecting…one thought I was a Sikh from my last name! Another thought I was this tall African girl since I was born in Africa! They told me this was their first “up close and personal” meeting with a Muslim and I had managed to break all their stereotypes!

Unlike my parents’ fears, these colleagues respected and supported me for who I was. They would remind me it was prayer time and would look for halal places to try out shawarmas with me. Our team leader insisted that our evening outings be at restaurants and not in bars or clubs. We had many discussions of our practices and learned from each other. They wanted to learn all about hijabs and habibs!! I learned a lot as well. Sadly I had to travel to Africa to find about my neighbours’ culture.

This was the first time a Muslim was part of this project. Our Sierra Leonean team was initially shocked to see me. I didn’t fit their image of a Canadian being blonde and blue eyed! Upon arrival, the driver blurted out what probably was going through many minds, by asking, “you are not a real Canadian, where are you from??” I didn’t’ know what I was in for but at the time of departure we had bonded and they showed their appreciation at having a Muslim sister born in Africa in the team. They let me lead the Muslim prayer at the closing…the first woman who had done this! They felt empowered realizing that they too are important and did not have to give up their identity to be successful.

Now I face similar anxieties as I find out I am heading to China this summer. Again, I am the first mahjubah to apply and they had to check if this was going to be an issue. Alhamdullilah it isn’t and I begin yet another challenge.

Does growth come with immersion or isolation? Await your thoughts and experiences.

5 comment(s):

  • Great post - I wish you would do your own blog, too, so we could learn more about your travels and your work.

    I didn't realize that was your first time really being with non-Muslims in detail; I guess because of my background I have to do it every day.

    One thing I wonder, is there a right time or way to do immersion and yet still protect someone from too much challenge/corruption then she/he is ready to handle?

    By Blogger otowi, at 5/01/2005 07:25:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Julaybib, at 5/02/2005 04:51:00 AM  

  • Salaams

    You know, I sometimes find myself wishing I had grown up in a Muslim community instead of in Godlessland! Then perhaps I'd know the Qur'an by heart instead of the script to Monty Python's 'Live at Drury Lane' and the lyrics for Dead Kennedy's 'Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables'!



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 5/02/2005 04:53:00 AM  

  • Assalaamuaalikum, hi all

    I agree with the article... but there's a balance to be struck since its only natural to learn and pick things up from the people we spend time with. I feel when we're a bit older some people do have the sense to be able to avoid that we should with a bit more confidence.

    By Blogger Bargain Hunter, at 5/02/2005 06:40:00 AM  

  • I'm growing in a muslim community its great you learn arabic and about your culture aswell as other peoples you always have at least one freind from a different background and you learn to respect them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/06/2007 12:06:00 PM  

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