Maybe I’m jumping on this a little too quickly, but I think that this is 100% worth talking about as soon as possible.
Yesterday, on January 13th, a middle school in the Douglas County School District sent a class of students studying world religions to a mosque in the area to learn about Islamic tradition. Part of the mandatory dress code for the trip was that females had to wear a headscarf, in keeping with the traditions of the culture. Naturally, some people didn’t like this, and it resulted in a community-wide aneurysm. Most parents had four things to say about this:
- The school district is forcing students to abide to sharia law, which should not be tolerated in a public school in America.
- In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack last week, this trip should have been cancelled.
- It is a travesty that the school district appears to ignore Christianity in other school activities, and
- Feminists should be outraged by this decision for the young women to wear hijabs.
I don’t agree with how this event has been reported. Mostly because (and I say this being very aware of my political bias) one of the first articles I read was from the Tea Party News Network, and I haven’t heard of them being entirely moderate with their politics as of late. There are other reports as well that are equally as unhappy about the proceedings, and make it very clear to their online audience.
So let me be clear, in response.
Religious tolerance is not a bad thing. This trip could not have better timing, in my opinion. If the school district had decided to cancel the trip to the mosque in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack that occurred last week, it would have perpetuated the misconception that Islam is an inherently dangerous religion. Instead, this school trip introduces the reality of the world to its students: Islamic terrorists are the minority of practicing Muslims in the world, and the traditions of Islam are unique and representative of a culture that is beautiful and peaceful. We cannot continue living in a country paralyzed by the foreign. Do you remember World War II, when Japanese Americans were placed into internment camps because they were Japanese? We may not have done that to Islamic traditions in such a tangible way, but Anti-Muslim sentiments are just as good at creating division within American society. Educating America’s youth is a brilliant step in the right direction.
Wearing a headscarf in a mosque is no different from wearing a modest dress to a Conservative Jewish synagogue (which I have done on multiple occasions). Participating in communion at a Christian service without being a baptized believer is a pretty not okay thing to do, either. There are rules in each of these religions, and as a guest in their sacred place, it is our responsibility to follow them. If you can’t follow the rules, then you get in trouble, as you would in any other social situation that demands an ounce of social awareness and respect.
As for the absence of Christianity in the school curriculum? According to a report from the PewResearch Religion & Public Life Project, 78.4% of American adults are Christian in some way, shape or form. This doesn’t mean that everyone practices on a regular basis, or that every person is an expert at their religion. But it does mean that the majority of the adult American population already has some background in Christianity. Taking the time to talk to children about other religions that they may not experience at home or in their communities is crucial to creating an informed and respectful society. I can respect the frustration that the adult community may have felt, but I fail to see the harm in focusing on other religions as a means to understand their importance in a larger social context.
Speaking as a feminist, I do not feel threatened by this mandatory dress code at all. This is cultural appreciation, not a brainwashing exercise designed to rewire the brains of the young women attending the mosque. In fact, in other parts of the world, the hijab is being used as a symbol for the Muslim feminist movement. I think that it is about time that everyone, including feminists, should sit and try to understand these traditions from the perspective of someone who lives it everyday, and not just apply our moral code and standards to their lives. It can be enlightening, entertaining, and an opportunity to connect to women and their struggles around the world.