How do you change the perception of the world about people of the Muslim faith? I guess I just do it one person at a time. Living here within what I believe is a totally Muslim community, I am impressed with the openness, friendliness and welcoming nature of these people. They have strange customs that I do not understand but I am trying to figure them out.
First up is the “Hijab.” It is simply a head and neck covering. (In countries other than Eastern Europe, you will find people who will also cover the face.) I have seen exactly one person in burqa and two or three others who cover the face. Some people use just a square scarf to do this and many of those scarves have lace added to the edges. They only wear it outside the house. When visiting another home, many of the women remove them for the duration of the visit–but these are usually households consisting of relatives. The hair is usually pulled up into a bun and has a small scarf wrapped around her bun. In my household, only Nazifete wears it. In my PST family, Hanife and gyshe wore it all the time and Mirlinda wore it when she prayed. I never saw Mirdita with one. Here, I have seen Sevime wear it once but that was around the time that her grandmother died so I imagine that it has something to do with that. Other young women in the village wear the full long cloak and head covering. I have two students who wear it to school. Wearing of the hijab in public, if it is going to be worn, is usually done after a girl has gone through puberty and is therefore “a woman.” A couple of my students wear the hijab when they leave the community but don’t generally wear it here in the village. I believe they are headed to Koran school when they are wearing it. I know that Mirlinda has indicated she will wear hijab once she is married this coming August. But it is very interesting to see how many women wear nothing on their heads. Sevime and Lumnije don’t routinely wear it. Most of the girls in my school don’t wear it. I have seen them on the bus and they don’t have it on. So I don’t really understand it. According to what I have read, the hijab predates all of the major religious groups of the world and was actually a status symbol that indicated upper class women. Mohammed only called for it for his wives as there were so many strangers that would come to his home/mosque. He never ordained the need for it for all faithful women. So there you have it! I don’t think there is anyone who can give an absolute answer. I have seen some absolutely exquisitely done hijabs and you can find tutorials on how to do them on You Tube. One of these days I will try one out and see if I can put one on correctly. Maybe I’ll wear it in Mount Pleasant and see what kind of reaction I get.
Again with the food. Yes, pork, shellfish and alcohol are verboten in the Muslim world. But here are a few little tidbits–vanilla! Vanilla extract has alcohol and therefore is not a permissible ingredient in a Muslim home. Next up? Balsamic vinegar–it has alcoholic content as well. Dang! Gelatin! Has pork products in it. Who knew? And meat needs to be slaughtered a certain way which I assume makes it more expensive. I don’t see any prohibition against garlic so I can only assume the reason my family does not use it is that they don’t like it. Darn it! Thankfully I live close to Skopje where there are lots of restaurants offering every kind of food imaginable–Mexican, Italian, Indian, Thai, American, Irish and even Sushi!
I am really quite curious about the religious beliefs and practices of these amazing people I live with. They are kind, loving, family oriented people. They really don’t believe in violence. I could not feel safer than I do here. As I learn more, I will share.