Since moving away from India, I sadly don’t see many Sikhs anymore. Today I happened upon a fellow traveller in the Kuala Lumpur airport, and just the distant hint of his turban made me smile. I could see the small little escaping hairs at the nape of his neck as I drew closer and knew he hadn’t recently used that slim silver grooming tool that my Sikh mates in Bangalore were always popping out from their pocket to replace the escapees! Somehow, that too made me smile and reminded of fun times with great friends in India.
Then as I made my way up to the gate, I was happily stuck behind a group of about 15 Muslim solo (well, unaccompanied by a man) female travellers. By the look of their carry-on bags they had come from Thailand, and they were all giggling and having a grand time … obviously on a fun-filled chick-trip and in high spirits. Like always, no two headscarfs were the same. Everyone looked lovely, a few more trendy than others, a few were bedazzled, and a few more traditional … and again I smiled.
Then I passed a single woman walking around the duty free shops dressed in a burka and it made me pause and think. I had smiled so instinctively when I spotted the turban and the hijabs but my reaction to the burka was different. Partly because I never see them anymore. Malaysia is a truly modern and liberal country that embraces diversity and accepts that everyone is different (well, except that it is illegal to be gay here, and punishable by 20 years in prison and whipping … and no gays, bisexuals or transgenders are allowed on television either … none of which is okay with me). It’s not as conservative and repressed as India is, so just the sight of the burka gave me pause. But I realised that while I’m not a personal fan of the burka, I respect it now.
Back When I Was More American
That single traveller reminded me of how far I’ve come as a human being. Back when I lived in the USA, I remember having hella-strong feelings and opinions about burkas. I mean VERY strong. I felt that they repressed women and that burkas inherently made women subservient to men. I absolutely, 100% believed that Muslim women were brainwashed from a young age and that they had no free will of their own.
I believed all of that, wholeheartedly. I had never read a single page of the Qur’an. Had never studied their religion. I didn’t have any Muslim friends nor had I probably ever even spoken to a Muslim. But somehow I felt confident enough about the subject to have some very sharp opinions about them.
I moved to Spain at the age of 22 and I started realising quite quickly that my American views were short-sighted, ignorant, and closed-minded. In Spain, they literally border two very different cultures, and you can literally see a Muslim country from the southern tip of Spain. Over time I became much more European than American. I realised that it’s ignorant to have an opinion about something – or a whole culture or race – with zero education to back up my thoughts.
Then I Moved to India
I had no idea that India had such a large Muslim population when I moved there in 2011 but that turned out to be one of the biggest gifts I could have asked for in life. I also didn’t know that the first flat I rented for a year was located just two blocks from the city’s most iconic mosque. My ‘floor’ neighbours were Muslim and were wonderfully kind to me, teaching me about their culture when they realised I was curious. At work, the girl who sat directly in front of me was Muslim, and she helped further my education when I showed curiosity about wearing a burka (I won’t go into that again but I would love it if you read my post about the day she took me burka shopping, taught me to pin a hijab, and bust all the stereotypes I had ignorantly stored in my head about Muslim women).
Realising how monumentally wrong I was about something that I knew in my soul I was right about was a big life lesson. And it has served to open my eyes to so much more in our world … to be accepting and never assume that the American way is the right way … or to judge a single soul before having all the facts in front of me or at least taking the time to educate myself a little.
With so much hate coming out of the U.S. at the moment, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see some of that come back one day. I’m thankful that I’ve never been judged (or attacked!) the way that many Americans today are judging Muslims and refugees and minorities – both domestic and foreign. I’m doubly thankful my daughter hasn’t either. She sounds very American although she only lived there as a little girl.
Exploring new cultures and countries has become my favourite hobby, especially Muslim countries and non-first world nations. It’s a pleasure to learn just how small we are in the world by opening our hearts and minds to the vastness of our human race.
© 2016, Angela Carson and Angela-Carson.com. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.