Truly, my new job is fascinating in the people I meet. I’ve always considered myself “culturally sensitive” or whatever the term is nowadays, but I really enjoy talking and interacting with men and women from around the world.
Growing up, my parents made sure they explained their beliefs to me, but made the distinction between their faith and what they hoped I would choose for myself. They also wanted me to stand for people who were misrepresented, unfairly treated and the down-trodden. This family value came under fire after September 11.
Now, I work with many Saudi Arabian students (and their wives) who have come to learn English on scholarship from their king. I must admit–although it is unlikely that these students would purposely work to harm me, I live in a day and age where every one of us is capable of some inhuman crime. That said, I have worked hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even with this fact in mind.
My Saudi friend Najla wears a full burka. She is still learning the basics of English, and is trying daily to improve. I first met her when I began at this job, and helped with Coffee Hour; she and my other Saudi friend Shuruq were the women I was able to speak to. The most curious thing about these women is the fact that they can recognize each other even with their entire faces covered. They recognize each other by their eyes.
I have a long-held belief that in my kinship with others, I am recognizing each person’s imago dei, or what I believe to be the image of God. I may disagree with Najla’s religion (and what, on the outside, seems total hypocrisy in her burka versus her husband’s urban clothes), but that doesn’t erase–in my mind, at least–her right to human dignity, and the fact I believe that God created her.
In a way, it seems as though her dress cleanly divides the people she deals with on a regular basis. Friends look into her eyes and recognize her; others look at her clothing, or her person. I feel like every time she comes into the office, I am acknowledging her soul, her very existence. Isn’t that curious? That, in only seeing the smallest part of her, I feel I have a more intimate understanding and connection to her.
Imagine refusing to look her in the eye; what an insult that must be! How lucky I feel to have others acknowledge me and affirm me as a person worthy of dignity–but in her case, how much more so! In her religion (from what she’s told me) men do not look at her; her closest friends are other women who recognize her in full burka.
Have compassion on others. Work to understand someone else’s viewpoint. Hold tight to your beliefs, Reader, and be courageous to others.