We have almost completed two months of volunteer work and travel through Sumatra and Malaysia. Both areas are "Muslim Majority."
When we first embarked on this journey one of my biggest fears was going to areas where the main religion was Islam. After all, that religion was etched into my mind as the "big bad wolf." I lived and worked in Tribeca, NY on September 11, 2001. I saw what happened in the name of Islam. I felt a need for vengeance against all things Islam starting on September 12th, 2001. That need for retribution subsided as time went on and as I saw too many messed up foreign policy decisions, in the name of protecting us from Islamic Terrorists, cause too many casualties. But it never went away altogether. Throw on top of all this that I am Jewish and was taught from a very young age that Islam is the enemy and you have someone who had a lot of trepidation about the fundamentalism I would definitely encounter.
In "Liberal" Los Angeles, if saw one woman a month wearing any kind of cover on their head, outside of a the latest hipster fashion accessory, it was a lot. I never saw anyone wear a burka. There was no "call to prayer." The only music I ever heard outside our home in Venice, was a "souped up" Honda with its base blasting loud enough to nearly break the windows.
That experience was flipped on its head the second I exited the plane in Medan, Sumatra. Nearly everyone was wearing a cover on their head and I saw more than the occasional burka being worn. Within 5 minutes of checking into our hotel room, I heard the Call to Prayer and I saw these arrows in every hotel room pointing towards Mecca:
We even spent a week on an island, Simeulue, which is under Sharia Law. Kelly was not even allowed on the beach without covering her shoulders and most of her legs. But in general, I received nothing but friendly warm smiles from everyone I met. There was curiosity in many areas because seeing an American was as rare as seeing a positive Twitter Post. But, I never once felt in danger or even a little bit nervous.
And then I thought about the philosophy that was a big driver in this decision to leave my comfort zone and do this life pivot. In my world it seems unfair and undemocratic for women to have to wear head cover and to cover themselves head to toe while swimming in the pool. In my world, when it is 100 degrees outside with incredible humidity, it seems like a punishment for a woman to have to cover herself from head to toe. Why did the men not have to sacrifice? In my world, praying five times a day seems excessive to say the least.
BUT IT IS NOT MY WORLD!!!
So I began to ask myself the tough questions. What do I not know about this situation? Where could my judgments be wrong? It occurred to me that it is possible the women like to wear head cover or do not think twice about wearing a burka. It is possible the men do sacrifice in a way that I do not see. It is possible that people like how they feel after praying five times a day and do not view it as excessive.
The bottom line, is there are infinite combinations of reasons why applying the rules of my world to the world of millions of people who practice Islam are irrelevant or, dare I say, wrong.