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Monday, February 07, 2011

Muslims

I've been pondering a great deal about the average people of Islam; their reality versus what those of us "outside" think about them.

The recent stories from Cairo, Egypt have given us some snapshot; such as all the average men and women who rallied to protect the Coptic Christians as they celebrated Christmas after the attacks by Muslim extremists. The return favor of the Christians banding together to protect the Muslims from similar attacks (from their own Muslim extremists) was beauty to behold.

I've gone on record in various places stating that I am opposed to the Mosque being built at Ground Zero, especially considering the Orthodox Church which was stymied even though it existed long prior to 9/11 and was destroyed on that day. I protest the injustice and the imprudence of the Mosque there...which is not the same thing as saying I deny Muslims the right to build a Mosque somewhere else. Somewhere more prudent and more respectful.

I don't want this post to be about that political issue however and I won't get into that topic in the combox.

Rather, I wanted to discuss my own limited connections with people who profess Islam, and where the stereotypes end and relationship begins.

Relationship

There can't be a relationship with dialogue (conversation) and without connection.

I do not personally have any Muslim friends as they simply are not near me and as I work in a Catholic Church, of course my co-workers are mostly Catholic.

When I worked in Insurance, however, I had customers from all over the globe, of every system of belief. Usually faith was not a topic of conversation, although I knew that my Somali customers were Muslim, religion did not affect their claim; our biggest problem tended to be communication and sometimes...culture.

Because I handed thefts and fires, I had some very interesting interactions. One woman's claim was that she'd had an engine fire, and she described for me what had happened. I suspected over the phone that it wasn't really a fire, but wouldn't know until I saw the car. My heart sank when she gave me the name of the shop and the address...a Somali shop.

I admit here my own fears, my own prejudices, and I admit them as a woman.

I'd "learned" years prior that "Muslim men do not respect women" and of course, I know that as a Christian woman, I am an infidel. So be it.  That latter label has no real meaning in my local area. But I knew the Somalis in my area were tight, they seemed like a very closed group and I feared not only that this woman, my customer, might not get a fair shake, that there would be a double whammy because I, too, am a woman outside their Somali and therefore Islamic community. 

But I went in to work and I dutifully went to the shop where the woman's car awaited my inspection. I'd called in advance in case they were very busy and also to get more specific directions. The men on the phone were kind and although a bit difficult to understand at times, were gracious. When I arrived one of the mechanics, maybe the shop owner, stepped out with me to the car, lifted the hood and told me very directly that what the woman claimed was a fire...wasn't.

He pointed out with a light and a pointer something I'd seen many times over: a hole in the engine block. Her car had thrown a rod. Indeed she'd seen flames and smoke, but only from that one point of massive mechanical failure. He looked me in the eye and told me that he knew her claim was not covered by insurance.

He also helped me to get the photos I needed for the file.

I thanked him for his help and told him I would call our mutual customer to explain things. We were both sorrowful, for the lady was in a bad spot. He told me to call him with any questions.

I walked away surprised, for my encounter with this shop, being the minority there, was far more positive than I'd expected; he was honest both with me as the representative of what universally, everyone recognizes as the "evil Insurance company" and with the woman, our customer. He wasn't taking sides; he was interested, as I was, in truth.

Accident

On another occasion, I handled a claim for my customer, who had liability only, and was not at fault in an accident where the other party, a Muslim man, I believe he was also Somali, ran a light and struck him. The other party kept asking me what I was going to do about his car. I kept explaining he was at fault and owed my customer. He didn't seem to understand at all...I believe it was simply a failure to understand the laws.

As it was, he took my client to court, so I went with him, provided him the documentation he needed and listened during the hearing. Both drivers were honest about what had happened. I knew we'd won when the hearing officer told the other man that he was in the wrong and explained the law and what it means. He nodded his understanding. A week or so later we received the judgment...in our favor.

I saw in the notes that on that day, the other party took it upon himself to contact the subrogation department to set up a payment schedule; he didn't have insurance on his own vehicle.

I sat back, shocked at his honesty; it was a trait I rarely saw...anywhere.

More Honesty

On a recovered stolen vehicle, I had another female Muslim customer, not sure where she was from, but she, too, was an immigrant. My relationship with her was a bit troubled for some days she liked me, other days I seemed to be Satan Incarnate. Again, I believe this was much a matter of her not understanding the laws, and me not doing a very good job of explaining them.

In any case, she brought her car to a shop owned by a Muslim, and I went there with the same trepidation as with the other shop; expecting to be "taken in".

Instead, he showed me where the car was, he had his mechanics lift it for me so I could see the undercarriage and the damage being claimed, and later returned to answer my questions.  He told me, in all honesty, that much of what the lady was claiming was simply not related to the fact of loss. He stated outright that she was trying to claim damages that were long-term wear and tear versus something a thief would have done in 30 minutes of road driving.

I have several customers' cars go to that shop and always...he was honest. His workers, all from various places (many Mexican and Guatamalan mechanics) were also very helpful and it came to pass that if a customer's car was going there, I knew I could relax - all would be treated fairly and honestly.

Why do I bring this up?

I don't really know. Perhaps to reveal how limited information and prejudices we don't intend often may lead to misunderstandings. Maybe to reveal how simply being a professional goes a long ways towards understanding another.

Perhaps I write it to shine a light on our own inconsistency and where we get our information. To direct us to look to the integrity of the source of our knowledge.

Or perhaps I'm just writing so I can hear myself think and bore you all to tears with it as well.

There's one big question, though:  Where do we get our information?

We Catholics, we complain that too many people get their info about the Church from disgruntled Catholics who got mad and left, taking all their misinformation and grudges to spread around with impunity. We do indeed have a right to protest that, yet I know so many people who will accept the testimony of a disgruntled ex-Muslim or ex-Baptist or ex-Buddhist or what-have-you as the be-all and end-all of their religion.  Double standard much?

I did not learn much about Islam in my professional relationship with Muslim auto body or mechanical shops, nor did I learn much about the Somali culture by getting a few recorded statements regarding vehicle mishaps. I learned about individual people and about individual businesses but what I did learn taught me to put my prejudices aside for the sake of a greater good. Because of that, I saw honesty where I expected to be distrusted and I experienced a good business relationship where I expected to have problems.

Perhaps in the end, this post, like most of my posts, doesn't really say anything at all. Maybe it's just an exhortation to integrity with regard to our fundamental questions about the beliefs of others.

It is good to ask questions, to learn about one another...and to do so in security, knowing what we believe ourselves and holding on to that while still respecting the beliefs and differences of others.

My ponderings tell me I must begin to ask questions, for I want to understand...but I also want objective truth and not the twisted thoughts of a disgruntled soul. That latter helps no one, and least of all..the soul originally affected.

If you have any thoughts, please share them below:

7 comments:

Angela Messenger said...

Good post. In fact, living in Canada one could insert "American" instead of "Somali" in the piece. That's how prejudiced most Canadians are over Americans as a a group. Individually it's a different story. I guess you could say the same of Muslims.

Adoro said...

Angela ~ Wow, really? I didn't know that. I know that we Americans in many places are hated but I had no idea our northern neighbors hated us so much.

Although I didn't mean to pick on Somali's here, we have many refugees, a huge Somali population and most of those Muslims I met through my work were specifically Somali - so of course some of what I know of them is religious, some is cultural.

And there are some here who hate them. And some of them who hate us.

Thanks..your comment gives me even more food for thought.

Angela Messenger said...

Hi Adoro,
Well hate might be putting it a bit strongly but there is certainly an element of distrust and also disdain for American "loudness." Also, please note that this refers to groups, not individuals.

I like Americans, I have spent many holidays in the States and my stepfamily, who I love very much, is American. But when you are travelling - you ALWAYS know who the Americans are in any group in an airport!

Adoro said...

Angela ~ LOL...well, at risk of offending another group, in 1996 when I went back to Puebla, MX, with a friend, we stayed in a hotel. And there I saw a group of French men and women wearing weird colored shorts and lugging huge cameras and being rude to Mexican hotel staff.

And all I could think was, "Wow, so those stereotypes of the French are TRUE!"

From that I developed a theory; it's not about the country, but about the rude tourists who leave that country; it's a personality type, not a country type. And yeah...that respective part of all of our homelands makes the name for all of us, and we're all embarrassed because of them!

Don't make me tell you about the Canadians I met in Mexico. Learned they were from Toronto, hoped to God they didn't represent everyone from that city..and country... lol

Angela Messenger said...

They were from Toronto - that makes them a different breed than the rest of Canada!!!!

Adoro said...

Ha!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Adoro, I love this post. You really dismantle the myths of stereotypical Muslim people. Much of what you said rings true of the Muslim people I have known.

I think it's important to understand, that just like in Catholicism, there are levels of orthodoxy ranging from the ultra-liberal to the ultra-conservative with radicals at both end. We hear mostly about the radicals, the criminals and the prejudiced because those are the people who get the press. This is true of all religions. In fact, we could argue that this is true for all institutions and organizations. It's always easier to spot the bad than the good, the radical than the moderate.

I have been very fortunate in that I have been around Muslim people in an interfaith setting and a professional (educational) setting. I have worked with women who wear the full Burka, women who wear a simple veil and jeans and women who don't wear any identifying garb. I have also worked with their husbands who really promoted their wives' education.

On a theological note, many Muslims will tell you that the Koran is not so different from the Bible in that it teaches acceptance, peace, love and the basic golden rules. Most don't see Christians or Americans as infidels. They see us as different.

That said, I have never met a terrorist. But much of our perspective comes from our experiences. We can't be limited to those, though, or we risk dismissing or judging an entire people.

Your post shows that most of us know little about Islam, and indeed, we are often afraid to learn because of the stereotypes. Thank you for your hard work!