Walking a mile in another’s shoes
In an effort to understand her Muslim students’ faith and lives, a social studies teacher at a diverse high school in Fairfax Country, Virginia donned a hijab, prayed five times a day towards Mecca, fasted, and attended classes at a local mosque during the month of Ramadan last year. Rebecca Watt, who drifted from her Catholic faith in college, found that being “Muslim for a Month” (the name of her blog: http://www.muslimforamonth.blogspot.com ) was more enlightening than just talking.
Like participants in dialogue, she learned a lot about Islam and about the similarities and differences between it and Christianity, but she also experienced what she learned. “There were times during prayer that I felt closer to Allah, but there were times when I was just reciting the words and did not feel a connection to the universe or the Almighty,” she wrote in an email interview. “If my memories are accurate, I felt the same way during Catholic Church services.”
Having been pushed away from the Catholic Church primarily because of the position of women, she could not grow accustomed to the segregation of women and men at the mosque either.
Although she was affected deeply by the month, she feels she has remained true to her beliefs, Catholic or otherwise, especially because she saw so many similarities between Islam and Christianity. People “are much more alike than they may initially believe,” she says.
Noting that dialogue has yet to bring peace, she thinks others—and the world—could benefit from walking in another’s shoes. “What better way to understand than to live someone's life and beliefs?”
Although her Muslim students and the Muslims she met along her month-long journey supported her honest effort for understanding, some Muslims say Watt could never understand what it is like to be a Muslim and are insulted by her experiment. The church would not likely condone her activities either.
Watt doesn’t claim to have all the answers after a month though, so despite critics, she may repeat the experience again next year.
Megan Sweas is assistant editor of U.S. Catholic.