New Age Islam
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Interfaith Dialogue ( 25 Apr 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Reflections on Multiculturalism and Its Imperatives

By Sylvain Muckenhirn,

A New Age Islam Reader

I am not Muslim. I cannot comment on the Quranic details and interpretations, by lack of knowledge.

But I spent part of my childhood and teen years in Muslim countries (7 years in Morocco, 4 years in Tunisia) where I have seen women dressing with or without partial (hair coverage) or full (hair and face coverage) veils.

I spent 18 years of my life in North Africa and Africa, 10 years in France, 10 years in Switzerland and 15 year in United States. And I am French, so I am somewhat in between multiple cultures.

In my original culture (France), although I was brought up outside France, among other things, I was taught not to keep a hat inside a building, not to keep sun glasses when speaking to someone, and to look at someone eye to eye when speaking to him/her. At the same time, my siblings and I were taught to respect local rules: never go in the praying sanctuary of mosques (reserved to Muslims), never wear short skirt or small tops, remove your shoes when entering a house / tent, never go in the women room, etc...

I never felt it as a constraint.

As another example not connected to France or Muslims, I will share this story. I lived in Zaire during 4 years. Some people there were Kimbanguist ( I was once going off road and visiting the country with friends, and we stopped at the entrance of a village. We asked if we could enter the village and stays there for the warmest hours while eating in the shade and close to water. We were greeted with a nice welcome and settled there for some hours. At one point, we took a Bocca game out of the trunk, and began to play under the most beautiful tree of the village, deep shade, a bit of cool in the African heat. 5 minutes into the game, and old man came to me, as I was the one having made the request to stay, and told me very gently that our activity was not respectful of their hospitality... as we were playing in their church... We immediately wrapped up the game and moved where he told us we could play.

The old man was not aggressive, and understood it was an honest mistake, by lack of knowledge. We did not make fun of them for considering a piece of dirt and some shade a church, as we fully understood it was not the environment, but it was their hearts that were there, close to the most beautiful piece of nature they had. A wonderful church, indeed, which in my mind can rival with our built up cathedral or mosques.

So my final advocation will be the following:" just respect native / local customs", and add tolerance. In France remember that showing your face and your eyes is polite and customary. Remember too that women religious of numerous religions other than Islam are also wearing a veil, not just a full face one, so covering your hair if you want to is perfectly understandable.

And there is a reason why one moves to another country than his birth country. It is usually because things are better there. Not all things as I learned from my travels, but enough for you to want to stay. So go with local customs as they are part of your new country.

Another example (OK, I take a risk here): I am living in US, and still eat at home like a Frenchman (as one can find good products in US to cook from). But when I am outside my home, I can eat American food without any problem!

Thank you,

Editor’s Note: The above comments were posted as a response to columnist K. Itarwala’s article: French Veil Controversy: Muslim rethinking of Islam is overdue. We are posting it as a separate article so that it can reach more readers and probably inspire some more reflections along these lines.