Of races, religions, and cultures

religions 2

On Saturday, I went to the Zoo with my family and my niece. While we were there, we met a family from Northern Africa. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them, not because they were Muslim, (though I have been fascinated by Muslims for a while now) but because of the dress of their daughters. I’ve seen many women and children in the hijab before, but this family had a little six-month-old baby in a hot-pink hijab with a matching fluffy tulle skirt. She was simply, beautiful. I couldn’t stop sneaking peeks at her. She had a sister, a few years older in a matching style hijab, only hers was turquoise.

As the day went on, I kept seeing this family, and visited with them a little. I played peek-a-boo with one of the boys, and chatted with the mother about her adorable baby. They probably thought I was crazy, but I actually held back the millions of questions that I was dying to ask them about their lives; where they were from, why they were here, how did they like the USA?

A barrage of ideas that fascinate me in any foreigner (this love of other people is one of the reasons that I wrote so openly about other cultures in my novel, Jake Bowers vs the Firebird). But, I digress …

Finally at the end of the day, we decided to go on a train ride, and wouldn’t you know it, the family was in line ahead of us. I watched as the father lovingly held that baby and played with her, letting her gnaw on his chin, the same way millions of babies and millions of parents have played since the beginning of time. The same way I had played with the baby that was in my arms when she was a few months younger.

A few weeks ago I was in the mall and a couple from Jerusalem who were selling skincare products that featured salt from the dead sea stopped me. We talked about Israel and the things that were going on over there and I kept weeping as we talked of those (both in Israel and Palestine) who were being bombed.

She said to me, “We have a right to protect ourselves” and I assured her that I understood that. I just hate war (funny, that I was in the Army, right?) I know that there is a need for defense and might, I just hate to see innocents suffering. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening all over the world as ideologies clash together and people refuse to let others live according to the dictates of their own consciences.

I couldn’t help but think of a conversation that I had with my sister a few days before. We were chatting about a person of my same race, my same religion, my same culture, but of an entirely different political persuasion. I found myself trying to vilify her because of her obnoxious views. We laughed about the feeble attempt that I had made and then discussed the fact that even our enemies love their children. Even our enemies have to wash their clothes, make their food, weed their gardens, go to the bathroom, and all of the other mundane daily tasks of living. We want to disparage those with other ideas – to make them different, “unlike us”, not in the group – so that it’s easier to shun or hate them. But they’re not that different altogether.

We discussed Shylock’s amazing speech in The Merchant of Venice, Act III, scene 1 –

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means,
warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer
as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

It’s so easy to see the differences, but all we have to do is look and we will find more similarities in each other then we ever imagined.

3 responses to “Of races, religions, and cultures”

  1. Interesting. I am still very uncomfortable with the whole concept of the hijab though. I truly wonder if these women do it out of choice or obligation, and if they decided to not wear it would they be shunned by their families for that.


    • I know what you mean. I’m sure that there are those that are forced – just like those in every religion (polygamist child brides, etc.), but I have met quite a few women here in the US who have openly talked about their love of God and prayer and how He helps and loves them. I had one student and she and I bonded over the way that God answers our prayers and how we didn’t understand how people could live without God in their lives. It was such an interesting conversation.

      I really want to study the Koran to see what the teachings are about conversions, free will, etc. I have a feeling that there are a lot of militant teachings that people have carried over the years that are not necessarily in their Holy Scripture, but I could be wrong. Have you done any study of the Islamic doctrine, Joyce?


  2. No, I have not studied it in depth. And honestly, I have zero desire to.

    I recently found out that my ancestors were Sephardic Jews from Portugal, and were kicked out during the Spanish Inquisition. I’d like to study more about how the Jews ended up in the Iberian Peninsula, than Islam. From a historical perspective, Islam was spread by violence in the 7th and 8th Centuries, kind of how it’s being spread now. (And there is the whole expansion of the Ottoman Empire — and we know from studying our Bulgarian history, it was none too pleasant in the Balkans under the Ottomans either) I have a hard time with the “religion of peace” claim, when clearly the history would indicate otherwise.

    I too wonder, however, how much of what we see in Radical Islam is a projection of Arab values and anger onto Islam, rather than Islam itself. We know that not all Muslims are Arab, and it seems the pockets of Islam in the world, which are NOT Arabic, seem to be less violent, and more “normal” in the sense of living in the world, but not of the world, as they practice their faith.

    A few years ago I was reading an article about the ongoing, and very much forgotten secessionist movement in Chechnya. When they attacked the Beslan School, there was a marked difference in those people. They all were carrying the Black Flag of radical Islam and going on about Jewish oppression of Palestine, whereas before it had been about breaking off of Mother Russia, and just that. The Chechens would have no real reason to have a Palestinian element in their rhetoric, other than then had somehow been radicalized by the Arab Muslims who are affiliated with things like Al-Queida and other similar groups.


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