Turning ignorance into respect: recognizing all religions

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By Jessica Doran

I was raised to understand that people of all faiths and religions are equal, and therefore should be treated with respect. My parents taught me that although people look different, or celebrate different practices, they should not be treated any differently or subjected to negative attention. I believe this is a value that is instilled in many people at a young age, so why are we forgetting it now?

Last Wednesday, Feb. 13 was Ash Wednesday, a holy day of particular importance to Christians, particularly Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist faiths. As a practicing Catholic, I have always received ashes, which commemorate human morality, on my head on this day.

While attending Union, I have been met with much undue attention and scrutiny because of this practice. This year, in particular, I was met with questions such as “What is that shit on your head?”, “What’s that for?” and “Oh, you must be really Catholic.” In all honesty, I am not a conservative or overly pious Catholic, but I do observe certain holy days and I attend church on a regular basis. I am secure in my faith and I am proud of that. Ash Wednesday is the one holy day that Catholics make an outward bodily showing of their affections to God.

When a Southeast Asian woman wears a bindi on her head, is she asked, “What’s that dot for?” I have been taught, as a matter of respect, to never ask such things in such a degrading manner. Of course, there is a difference in the way that one asks certain questions. One inquiring person asked me for an explanation of what Ash Wednesday is. This struck me, and comforted me, because after a day of harassment and misunderstanding from my peers, one person was curious and willing to learn something new about my religion, instead of judging it or pushing me to the side as being “overly religious.”

My experiences were also compounded by the fact that Hijabi for a Day was put on by the Inter-Faith Youth Core on the same day. The mission of Hijabi  for a Day was a great one: To show that the traditional wearing of the Hijab by Muslim women is a sign of free choice for women, rather than of oppression. It is a statement of liberation rather than one that people often take as cruel and repressive. Truthfully, I would have loved to participate in Hijabi for a Day, but it became a conflict of interest, since it was planned on a day I celebrate my own religion.

This planning was neglectful. When asked if there was a specific reason that Hijabi for a Day was on that specific day, the core admitted that the concern regarding Ash Wednesday was recognized but no one spoke up about it being a problem. I believe the concern could have been taken more strongly into account. If it had been a Jewish High Holy Day, would it be considered appropriate to have a celebration of a different faith on that particular day?

Working with a 10-week trimester, I can recognize that this is an understandable decision, but I do think that it says something about the ways we have failed to respect and understand others. As a display of cultural diversity, Hijabi for a Day was spectacular, but it should have been separated from Ash Wednesday, simply for the reason that people became confused. I was asked if my ashes had anything to do with Hijabi for a Day, and certain people that I know believed that the wearing of the hijabs was some other way of commemorating Lent. They both deserve their own day of commemoration, and should have been afforded that.

Ash Wednesday resulted in me, and other practicing Christians, feeling thoroughly undervalued. The measures we took to portray our faith were met with confusion, rather than respect. I did not question anyone wearing a hijab. I do not think that anyone went up to someone celebrating Hijabi for a Day and told them to take it off. So why were people pointing at my head and trying to rub off my ashes? This is not meant as a diatribe, but as constructive criticism.

Turn your ignorance about other religions into respect; ask questions in order to learn more about religions other than your own. We should do this in order to better ourselves and to become more accepting of others in our campus community.

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