Today I had a moment. One of those moments that doesn’t happen every day. Sometimes those who we are supposed to be educating end up educating us.
I am on the Safe Zone committee for the University I work for. We also happen to have a large Indian student population. I decided to ask my graduate student, Juned, how homosexuality is viewed in his culture. Juned happens to be from India and Muslim. I never expected this conversation to take me on the journey that it did. I should mention that this post is being published with permission from those mentioned.
Juned and I are fortunate to be able to have open conversations between us knowing that we will not judge one another. So I posed the question to him. He told me about the differences that he recognized in the area of homosexuality in the Indian culture in the USA vs. the Indian culture back in India. We talked for a little while about how homosexuality is viewed in India and then he steered the conversation to speak about how homosexuality is viewed by Muslims. This opened up the conversation to go into a completely different direction. I was learning from my student and it was fascinating.
Interestingly enough earlier that day I had posted a video to my Facebook feed of several Muslim people speaking out against Isis with a social media campaign titled #notinmyname. When I saw it, it touched me immediately. I thought about the courage that it took for the people in the video to publicly shame Isis. Could this video potentially put them in danger? So in light of the conversation we were having, I asked Juned if he had seen the video. He had not, so I pulled it up on my computer and we watched it together.
At the end of the video, Juned turned to me and said “Thank you Ms. Sanders”. Thank you? I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that and clearly looked a bit confused so I looked at him and asked “Thank you? What do you mean?” He looked back at me and said “I appreciate that you posted that video publicly. I feel like I always have to defend my religion.” I was immediately struck by his statement. I’m not often at a loss for words, but right at that moment, in that situation, I had no words. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. Sadness for Juned, an amazing, smart, kind and genuine person who is judged based on his religion. Honestly, I felt sadness for anyone who encounters other people’s biases against them for their race, religion, sexual preference, gender identity etc.
Isn’t this country we live in supposed to be the land of the free? Doesn’t the freedom to choose your religion fall under the category of freedom? It saddens me that people are made to feel unwelcome, just plain bad, or even afraid because of the religion that they believe in.
I’m not black but that doesn’t mean that I can’t support the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. I’m not Muslim but that doesn’t mean that I can’t support the #notinmyname campaign. I’m not gay, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t support the LGBTQ community and that my office should not be considered a safe zone. After all, isn’t that what true freedom is about? The freedom to be able to choose who and what you want to support.
I am very fortunate that I work for an institution of higher education where there are people of all ethnicities and religions. I am blessed to have exposure to groups of people and things that many others don’t. I refuse to take this opportunity, this gift, that I have been given for granted.
So I ask you, when was the last time you had an open conversation with someone from a different culture? I challenge you to do that. Just ask a question. Be open to learning. Broaden your horizons. Learn from those around you.
For me, it’s the ones that I am supposed to be educating that I am learning the most from.
Now it’s my turn. My turn to say thank you. Thank you Juned! Thank you for being willing to have open and honest conversations with me about topics that some would consider to be “taboo”. I appreciate you and I thank you for being willing to teach me.