Thursday, 19 February 2009

What I learnt last night

For those of you not in the know, TSC and I lead a church small group at our home every week. This term our group decided to investigate other world religions to try an gain insight into the different beliefs and find any common ground. Last night we invited K, TSC's Muslim friend, to talk to us about his faith. Here is what I learnt:

  • I can cook Halaal! K enjoyed my chicken roast, and aside from the slight awkwardness in the beginning (he's definitely not used to chatting to women), I had a good time.
  • K is a Shi'ite Muslim. He prays in a different way to people from other Islamic sects, and although he says there are many similarities, there are also differences in the interpretation of the Qur'an and in various religious practices. It's kind of like the way that within Christianity there are various denominations... Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans and so on.
  • In Shi'ite law and religion, women and men are equal although different. K was quite funny about this - he's been living in Saudi Arabia, and when I asked him about why women there wear burkas, aren't allowed to drive and are treated as inferior, he said something along the lines of, "That's not in the Qur'an. They are overreacting to what is written." He believes the teachings have been misinterpreted and "stretched too far".
  • In K's culture, "love marriages" are permitted, although arranged marriages are also common. K will have an arranged marriage and says he prefers it this way. When asked why, he replied, "If you saw the girl my father has found for me you would agree!" He added that women are allowed to veto the marriage if they don't want to wed the man chosen for them, and that they can also disagree with the bride price that has been suggested. He has known the girl he will marry since childhood. He is currently 19 and she is 17, and discussions have begun, although the marriage will only take place once he's finished studying (in three years time). K stresses that this is a cultural rather than a religious practise - both arranged and love marriages are allowed in Islam.
  • Polygamy is also allowed in Islam - a man may have up to four wives at any time. K's great grandfather had a total of seven in his life, and K explains that this was because, in a religion where family and community are of vital importance, men may marry widows or vulnerable women in order to assure them of security and shelter.
  • There are different types of Jihad in Shi'ite Islam. Jihad is a religious duty and means "struggle". K says that he is required to "struggle" against those who try to hinder him from practising his faith; against those who assault him (for example, if someone breaks into his house and threatens him or his family he is entitled to defend himself through violence) and against a state that is attempting to force its religion on its people, as people should be free to choose their own faith. In the third case, he notes that Islam retains respect for the Jewish and Christian faiths, as they are based on some of the same holy books as Islam.
  • Muslims believe that your kismet (fate, destiny or luck) is predetermined by Allah. In other words, your life is already written and you are following along a pre-planned path. Your kismet can, however, be changed according to your behaviour - if you follow the will of God and do good things, you will be rewarded.
  • K finds aspects of our culture unnerving. He had many questions for us, especially about how women dress and the use of alcohol in our society. Our group had some nice debates going answering these. It was great fun.


Saaleha Bamjee-Mayet said...

I'm considered a Sunni muslim and I agree with every single one of your friends views.
Inter-sectarian violence really upsets me, especially when there's so much common ground to build on.
Good on you and your group to take the time out to get a new insight:)

Thomas said...

Wow that sounds really interesting! There's a lot there that I never knew, I wish I was there so that I could have listened in:)

Congrats on the success of the meal btw!

phillygirl said...

Wow, that sounds really interesting. I don't personally follow any religion, but I do think that since religion is important to so many people in the world, and influences their decisions and actions, everyone should be educated about the different religions. Personally, I also think people should not be "born into" a religion, but rather, after this education, be able to choose (or not) the one they most identify with. I definitely think what we used to simply call Bible Ed in primary school or RI (religious instruction?) in schools should definitely focus more on the differences and similarities between the world's belief systems ... rather than pushing any specific one.

Forever Feline said...

This was a very interetsing read. I really enjoy your blog!

Being Brazen said...

Cool - I didnt know alot of that stuff.

Anonymous said...

Now I've learned lots of new things too - great post!

Shania said...

I think it's wonderful that not only did you listen to the young man, you took the time to try and make him feel welcome and comfortable. That speaks volumes about what a great person you are.

Helen said...

That's really interesting, thanks for teaching me something new!

po said...


Of course not all Muslims are so strict, many don't wear the burka at all, and some drink alcohol!

Today I was told by my Chinese colleague that regarding the one child policy, if your first child is a girl, then after 6 years you are allowed to try for another one. If your first child is a boy, then no more children for you. Hectic how different cultures do things hey?

Steve Hayes said...

I'll be following your blog to see if you report on any more interesting interreligious discussions. Some of us have started an internet forum for such discussions, so if you are interested in continuing discussions online, please have a look at Notes from underground: Interfaith dialogue and Religionrap, or refer anyone else who may be interested.

Tamara said...

Saaleha: Thanks very much for your comment - I think that the Western world tends to lump all Muslims into one category without really understanding anything about Islam. That really upsets me.

Thomas: Thanks. Well next time we'll invite you along ;-)

Philly: I agree - people should be educated on different religions and free to choose their own. My school didn't do too badly. We were supposedly a Christian school, but seeing many of the girls were Muslim or Hindu, our RE (religious education) teacher would teach us about all the different faiths and ask girls to speak on their beliefs.

Forever Feline: Thanks. *Blush*

Brazen: That makes two of us.

Reeder: thanks - I had fun writing it.

Tamara said...

Shania: Awww... you're too kind. He's a cool guy - glad I've met him and hope to get to know him better.

Helen: It's a pleasure - I love sharing new things that I've learnt.

Po: There do seem to be varying degrees of strictness, and I guess it's like that in most faiths. and I think you're right - a lot of the time, things we interpret as religious rules may actually be culturally dependent. To us, the Chinese one-child policy is hectic. To many Chinese people, it's the norm.

Steve Hayes: Welcome! I can't promise that it will be a regular topic on my blog, but it is something I'm interested in, so it does come up from time to time. I'll be sure to check that link out.

Gill said...

Interesting! So nice that you did this - anything that can foster better understanding and respect for other views has got to be good!

acidicice said...

This was very interesting! I often speak to my Muslim colleagues because I do find their religion and their dedication to it fascinating! Thanks for asking these questions. It's cleared up a few things for me even though I thought I knew quite a bit!

angel said...

very interesting indeed.

Poetry Sue said...

I wish I could come and speak to your group about Wicca... They sound like very open minded peeps.