Culture and World’s Religions

Religions worldwide hold love and peace as tenants central to their core. And yet, we manage to have identity-based conflicts seeded by fear around the globe, especially divided across religious ideologies. I find that confusing because I believe all religions hold love in common. Therefore, I assume that when armed conflicts or hate-speech exist, especially in the name of religion, some form of identity-based “togetherness” has been threatened by some form of “otherness.”

While living in the United States, I rarely feel identity-based otherness; white Christians still comprise the mainstream U.S. narrative of identity (a group that shows all signs of feeling threatened by otherness – but I set that aside for another conversation).

Al Akhawayn students return to classes this morning after a four-day holiday weekend celebrating the Muslim religious holiday, including all of the associated cultural traditions, Eid al Adha. More than 20% of the world’s population has been honoring Eid this weekend. This nation (and the Middle East region) was solidly in togetherness.

I have enjoyed the weekend…and also noticed my otherness.

Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World’s Trade Centers in New York. It was indeed an attack on America, while also on the world’s financial center – people from over 80 countries died that day. I found 9/11 paradoxical this year, an identity-based since of loss and tragedy and yet also a symbolic testament to the needs for increasing trust, empathy and inclusion. Peace, as an increasing ingredient in the world’s social-fabric.

On Sunday evening, I attended a small Christian service in this 98% Muslim country. Through the service we acknowledged the strange simultaneity of being both in togetherness and otherness among our peaceful neighbors preparing lambs for their Eid religious sacrifice; in part because we were also in togetherness and otherness dislocated from our home-country’s pause to honor those who fell during the 2001 terrorist attacks. My identity-based self felt as if I was walking in a house of mirrors – my cultural and religious identities out of place while my physical identity enjoyed a beautiful and peace-filled long weekend.

On Monday evening, I enjoyed togetherness with other ex-pats who were also outsiders to this particular culture on this particular holiday – it was called a “Left Behind” hamburger cookout. We who attended are accustomed to being insiders in our home cultures. One person told the parallel story of seeing a Chinese restaurant sign in New York that read “Thank you to our Jewish patrons who have stayed loyal to us during Christmas for decades.” Oh the irony that so much otherness exists every year within the U.S. on a holiday that I always assumed brought togetherness!

I am an insider for Moroccan students looking to faculty for guidance, yet I was an outsider last week when students wanted to reify their norms about not turning someone in for cheating by telling me “you don’t understand our culture.” I feel incredibly welcomed in Morocco, a gorgeous country, among warm hospitable people, and as part of the university’s diverse campus community. And yet I feel confused being here instead of “at home” on culturally significant days…like an anniversary, or an election. This year I notice how I am both insider and outsider as the context or ritual changes.

Muslim-Americans have my compassion and empathy, especially this year. They are as affected by the 9-11 tragedy as any other American, plus they have caught an identity-based backlash of otherness tainting their entrenched American-ness as society lets religion fuel Islamaphobia, one fear of otherness.

We are all in this world together. Perhaps we can increase our comfort with simultaneity – simultaneously holding our global world in togetherness even as we honor our multiplicities of otherness.


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