Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Does She Still Eat Bacon?

written by our Communications Intern, Sahra Kaboli-Nejad

“Don’t bring a bomb to school and blow us all up!” Those words have rung in my ears for almost ten years now. I had a notion, growing up, that bringing Persian food for lunch and speaking Farsi at home was different than what my friends did. I was in middle school when I realized, however, that my ethnicity and perceived religion were going to affect people’s perceptions of me in the post-9/11 world.

Let’s clear something up here. I am a first generation Persian-American. Neither of my parents were raised in religious households, but if a choice had to be made, my mother was technically Muslim and my father, Zoroastrian. I went to a Catholic high school and currently attend a Jesuit University while working part time at a daycare under the Jewish Federation. Long story short, religious diversity isn’t something new to me. I don’t identify with a particular faith, as my exposure to so many has led me to see the beauty and truth in all. I am 21 years young and I firmly believe that religion is an integral part of one’s self; therefore I am taking as much time as I need to form and understand my beliefs.

One dilemma I have faced when attempting to define my faith is the unfortunate negativity and misunderstanding that is associated with the word “Muslim” in today’s world. Throughout my life I have gravitated somewhat toward Islam. I cannot count the number of times I have told someone that I’m Persian and questions follow like “Why aren’t you covering your hair?”, “Do you pray five times a day?”, or my favorite, “So do you still eat bacon?” While I don’t have concrete reasons for some of these questions I can firmly say, yes I still eat bacon.

The question then arises in me: Is there a reason that Islam is viewed as a strict religion with no liberal sectors? Not all Jews are Kosher and not all Christians attend Church weekly, however it seems as though their faith and belief are rarely questioned. In high school, I started habitually stating “I don’t practice my religion,” prior to any questions being asked due to the stereotypical and sometimes, negative comments that would follow.

In college, I had a history professor who once said, “The beauty of Islam is that Muslims can make what they want of it.” It was this statement that sparked my interest in the Muslim faith and I began to critically evaluate my beliefs and faith again. Religion of any sort is not something that should be blindly followed. One is not a believer just because they follow general guidelines that, let’s face it, were created long before our time. The way I see it is that you must truly believe in the basic morals and values of the faith. Once you identify with those it is your choice whether to call yourself a “Muslim”, “Christian”, “Buddhist”, “Jew”, etc. Your religious identity is yours, not something that is cast to a vote by the rest of society on whether it is practiced correctly.    

As of today, I haven’t gotten to the point of specifying my faith in a particular religion. However, because of my involvement with organizations such as Project Interfaith, the Muslim Student Association, the Jewish Community Center, and Creighton University, I am a step closer. I strongly believe that their messages and programs help many people, like me, on their quest to find an essential part of themselves as well as educate the community. Through these learning experiences, I have become an advocate; encouraging my peers to find where their identities lie. I hope that my hard work, along with the dedication of others, will play a role into creating a world where nobody has to hear the ‘joke’, “Please don’t bring a bomb to school!” again.

Sahra Kaboli-Nejad is the Communications Intern at Project Interfaith. She currently attends Creighton University where she is pursuing her degree in Psychology, with a focus on Cross Cultural Industrial/Organizational Psychology as well as a minor in History. Her interest in interfaith and cross cultural interactions comes from her various experiences around the world – including visits to Italy, Switzerland, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Iran. In her spare time, Sahra is currently working on improving her fluency in Farsi and Arabic.

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