Sunday, May 29, 2011

Living with Islam

Many people have loads of questions when they discover that I live in a Muslim community.  Due to events throughout the past several years many Americans have a misconception of this demographic of people. They relate Muslims and Islam to Terrorists. This is not true!  This ignorance is fueled by fear and a lack of understanding.  People who practice this religion are some of the most spiritual, accepting, and kind hearted souls I have ever endured.  Yes, it is true that terrorists also claim to follow Islam and thanks to this association many Americans make such an unfortunate connection.  It is also correct that many claim to be a muslim yet go through the motions in such a way that they never truly experience the peace that is possible to obtain. This is a truth that all religions seem to share.  Anywhere in the world you will find people who practice because they truly worship a powerful entity and understand the power and importance of love, you will find people who want to believe but struggle, you find people who claim to believe and use it for power, hate, control and to manipulate others, and you will find those who practice out of routine or culture.  All of these are true in any religion just as they are the same in Islam. 

 One of the most amazing things about Senegal and the people who reside here is the incredible acceptance of everyone.  The community members where I live are predominately muslim.  They pray 5 times a day; go to the mosque every Friday; and they claim Allah is the one true God with Muhamad as his prophet.  Based on my observations I would say there is a mix of those who practice because it's their culture and those who truly are spiritual beings and understand God in an incredible way. It is also interesting to see the correlation and mix of Islam with traditional African practices. 

I asked a dear friend who spent time in the Untied States (and whose english is perfect) what it meant to be a Muslim.   His response was:  "A muslim is someone who submits themselves to the will of god, that's it! that's the key! All the other stuff does not matter because if every day you wake up and commit yourself to following God's will, and you do it with your whole heart, than you can't go wrong".  My response of course followed up with questions about God's will, what it was exactly and our conversation flowed for more than two hours as he described his life and his beliefs.  It was one of the most amazing conversations I have ever participated in. After it was over I felt something in me change and for the first time I truly related to this person (a follower of Islam)  on a spiritual level.   I don't make claim to a particular religion and I can't put my beliefs into words, but the connection I made was one I know we all  have the potential to experience.  We are all humans and our souls seek the same answers. We may interpret this process differently but the core of our inner workings speak the same language.  If we could just stop, let go of all the misconceptions, lies, misunderstandings, and fears then we could spend our lives creating good, loving and fulfilling the purpose of our being. 

In Senegal, there are many national holidays that are celebrated throughout the country such as Easter, Christmas, Tobaski, and even some indigenous ones. It is truly amazing how accepting everyone is. You are who you are and you will be loved for that.  It doesn’t mean people won't gossip and call you crazy, or get into arguments over the most ridiculous and petty things, but a general love for humans exits in a way that  I have never before experienced. One thing is for sure, whoever you are you will always have a place at someone's table  (or bowl) you will always have a place to sleep and people, once you acquire their loyalty, will stand by you. 

There are also things that drive me crazy about this culture and its often times related to old religious traditions, but learning empathy and accepting differences is (in my opinion) the best lesson you could ever learn.  It is one that takes constant effort and diligence, but if pursued has the potential to radically change your being.  So I challenge you to practice love, practice acceptance, and practice empathy. They are true virtues that will make our world better.

Until next time
Fatimata <3 

p/s  I wrote a bunch more about the death of Bin Ladin and how the people here interpret it here.  I will post that soon, along with my visit with the Ambassador and her thoughts on Peace Corps as an excellent part of our foreign policy. Super interesting stuff....  I would love to encourage you to listen to Obama's latest speech about the Muslim world. (If you have not done so already).  He discusses some valuable information! Here is the link: