Thursday, March 22, 2012

Zinedine Zidane as a paragon of Islam in the West

We had this semester's round of student presentations this week. I think it's my favorite week of the year. The presentation prompt is to choose someone successful who you admire, and talk about how they may have used the principles we've learned in class to get to where they are. I didn't have quite as much variety this time as last time, but we still had a good mix of sisters, mothers, fathers, and uncles, as well as more famous people.







The most interesting choice (two of my students, in different sections, chose him) was Zinedine Zidane.
Of course these young Arab kids love him because he's a football star, but it goes beyond that. One of my Emirati students gave a very compelling presentation on how Zinedine Zidane is a good example of living the religion of Islam in the West. I don't know how accurate a representation of Zidane's practice of Islam this is; me fact-checking my students' presentations was beyond the scope of this assignment. In any case, the students in that classroom seemed to agree with what the presenter was saying.

After the presentation, the students continued to discuss Muslims living outside of the Middle East, particularly in France. They talked about how hard it seemed to be for the members of their faith to live their religion fully in countries where the Muslim tradition is misunderstood, or unappreciated, or even legislated against. One of my students spoke of how moved he was to hear of a Pakistani Muslim in France who volunteered to pay the fine levied on any woman wearing the hijab in public. Others spoke of religious discrimination against friends and relatives in the US or Canada. There was a definite undercurrent of a persecution complex running through the classroom.

And you know what? It was so familiar to me. Mormons are good at this, too. It's hard to get made fun of at school because your parents wear "magic underwear." It's hard to know that there are people out there who will look down on you once they know you're a Mormon. No, we don't drink alcohol. No, we don't have sex before marriage. No, we don't practice polygamy anymore. YES, we're weird.

But unlike my Muslim students, I actually find it easier (in many ways) to live my religion outside the land of its restoration. The truth is, the Middle East is a place where no one thinks it's strange that I dress modestly, or abstain from alcohol and premarital sex, or even that during a certain time in a certain place, members of my faith practiced polygamy. They get it. In fact, if they're weirded out by anything, it's by the fact that I do all these things and I'm not a Muslim.

I think the Mormon persecution complex, like the Muslim one, exists largely in the Western world. So who is our Zinedine Zidane? I can think of a few possibilities. Mitt Romney, because whatever you think of his politics, he is taken seriously in the US despite his religion (see also: Harry Reid). Brandon Flowers, maybe? Who is that person we look at and think wow, even with how awkward and difficult it sometimes is to be a Mormon, especially when you're in the spotlight, [so-and-so] is doing it really well.

(Answers such as Christina Aguilera, Keri Russell, Eliza Dushku, Jewel, Tal Bachmann, etc. may not be accepted.)

11 comments:

  1. I don't know, I've never felt particularly persecuted for being a Mormon, but that might be because I grew up in a place where no one knew what we were or cared. I don't doubt that it exists, but I think that A LOT of it is hte result of Mormons who can't quite figure out how to interact with non-Mormons. I found that that was usually the case when I lived in Mesa.

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  2. I wonder if the problem (whether perceived or actual persecution) is worse in areas where there are higher concentrations of Mormons, like Mesa (right?). Was what I saw in class with my Muslim youth kind of what it might be like to hear Mormons students in Utah talk about how hard life is in "the mission field"? (SHUDDER)

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    1. I think you hit the nail on the head here - I agree that it's definitely more discussed in places like Mesa and Orem, where you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who wasn't Mormon. I don't really remember a lot of people outwardly admiring that Kirby Heyborne fellow (the guy from all the Mormon movies), but the OUTRAGE I heard about him doing a Miller Lite commercial was deafening. I think Mitt Romney is a good example of somebody that *most* Mormons really admire for being in the public eye and maintaining his crisp Mormon sheen. I don't think Harry Reid is as admired by the general Mormon public because his politics don't resonate with the majority of them, but I appreciate him for no other reason than showing that there really are Mormon democrats out there.

      Also, my grandmother bought a CD by "The Killers" simply because she heard the main guy was a Mormon. That made me laugh.

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  3. Whatever "persecution" I've noticed is *from* Mormons who think I'm weird because of this or that "non-Mormon" thing I do (i.e. homeschooling, having the "wrong" political opinions, living outside "the Promised Land," etc.). I think it's just hard for most people whose circle of acquaintances is largely homogeneous to feel comfortable or act appropriately when they encounter someone different.

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  4. Haha, the thing is, it isn't hard at all. I have never in my life felt pressure to do something that I didn't want to and everyone I grew up with was really chill about it. I don't doubt that sometimes things happen, but kids will find something to tease other kids about. If it weren't Mormonism, it would be someone's shoes.

    I don't see the point in looking for reasons to be offended and to feel victimized.

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  5. I think that persecution towards mormons is much more in the Southern United States. I grew up in South Carolina, and if I had a nickel for the number of times someone told me I was going to hell (even in elementary school) I would be a very rich woman. On several occasions I had other kids tell me that their moms said they weren't allowed to play with me because I was mormon.

    At one point one of my dad's friends invited him to attend a sermon at the local baptist church because, "Well, I'm worried about you. Being a mormon and all." My dad went and the entire sermon was about how evil mormons are and why the Book of Mormon couldn't possibly be true. I'm sure that can't be the only thing that was preached about there, but that day it was.

    During my Junior High and High School experience, at least once a year, for one reason or another, the subject of mormonism would come up and the teacher would say, "We have a mormon in here!" and point at me. At which point the entire class would look at me like I was an alien and fire off as many bizarre questions as they could before the teacher would shush them and get them back on topic. I think the weirdest question I was ever asked was, "Do you believe that when you die you'll be reincarnated as cats and rule the world?" I'm not making this up.

    People in my classes would somewhat regularly show me anti-mormon literature that their preacher had given them.

    And it isn't because I don't know how to interact with non-mormons. I was one of two mormons in my grade. 99% of my friends were non-mormon.

    I was pleasantly surprised when I moved out of the south and found that people didn't look at me with disgust every time I mentioned that I was mormon. Sorry, this was such a long comment.

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  6. I've lived most of my life in NC and didn't meet a Mormon (that I knew of) until I was 16 and a page for the legislature one week. I met a sweet girl, Stephanie, and we ate lunch together and hung out some during our week in Raleigh. She is the only Mormon I've ever known personally. Five days out of my life.

    For the record, I don't remember making her feel bad despite my Baptistness. :) In fact, LIKE YOU ALL, the Baptist churches I was part of taught against usage of alcohol, cigarettes and premarital sex. (Tea and coffee were OK though!) Not that everyone followed of course, but I highly doubt all Mormons follow all the Mormon rules.

    I think Stephanie and I got along fine because we were two in the group who didn't talk about partying and so forth. She just told me about her family (all the kids had S names..I think there were 8 of them.) Anyway, she was a nice person. I never told her she was going to hell for being Mormon. Besides if you understood our theology, you'd realize people shared those kinds of things because (we hope) they care about your souls. Don't take it personally. Just as you evangelize the world with your Mormon doctrine and want everyone to join your faith, we feel God wants us to share the Gospel with everyone. Sorry if our doctrines differ in some parts, but hopefully most Baptists mean well.

    Hopefully.


    As for your post, maybe Tim Tebow. Haha. Ummmmm. Kurt Warner. I'll have to think more about it. Great post!

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    1. I don't mean to say that every Baptist I've ever met told me that I was going to hell. I apologize if it came off that way. I'm certain that the man who invited my dad to attend a sermon with him had good intentions, and they remained friends even after that. One of my best friends in high school was Baptist and he never told me that I was going to hell. There were people who were much worse than others. Two boys in particular, if I was ever in the near vicinity would never miss taking a jab at "those crazy mormons who worship Jo Smith." I know one of them was Baptist but I'm really not sure about the other one. Anyway, I just meant that I did feel persecuted when I was young, but I never felt that way living anywhere else but in the south.

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    2. I didn't think you were condemning all Baptists or Southerners...even if you were, it's our own little persecution complex right in line with this post! :)

      And really there are millions of Baptists and many of them are in the South. They run the gamut from Bill Clinton to Britney Spears to Brad Pitt to Jimmy Carter to all those hateful right-winger types who probably said those things to you.

      It's kind of like Muslims. You really shouldn't condemn the whole lot of 'em because of the terrorists out there who do things in the name of Islam.

      Same with Baptists. And Southerners.

      Sorry for how you were treated here. Some people just need Jesus to put love in their hearts. Sadly, just because you have a religious label doesn't mean you are His.

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  7. This is months late, but Nancy and Andrew have a friend, Tarek, a Muslim born in Egypt who lived in both the US and Canada and is now a doctor somewhere on the Saudi peninsula--I can't remember which country. When I was taking an Intro to Islam class, I interviewed Tarek for my final project, and he voiced exactly what you said, Bridget: like you, he said words to the effect "I actually find it easier (in many ways) to live my religion outside" of the Islamic world. You might be interested in reading the paper I wrote in which he is quoted.

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  8. Just to inform you that your Pakistani student, who spoke of how moved he was to hear of a Pakistani Muslim in France who volunteered to pay the fine levied on any woman wearing the hijab in public had misinformed you.

    The wearing of 'hijab' (a veil which does not cover the face) is not an offence. In France, a fine will be imposed to those who wears the burka (a veil which covers everything, except for the eyes, and in other cultures, everything).

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I had to disallow anonymous comments because of all the spam I was getting. Sorry!

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