I should have stated from the beginning if you wish to read the students views you can find them at http://onehumanity.syr.edu.

A slightly slower day and for me a relief that was the case. Jet lag is a horrible thing and I’m just finally beginning to feel like I’ve caught up on my sleep. Anyway, on to the days events. We spent the day in Muslim communities; two very different and distinct communities. The first was the King Fahad Academy, a school founded the “with the objective of providing schooling of the highest standards, equally acceptable to both Saudi and British Authorities for the children of Saudi Diplomats, Arab Muslims and the local community in London. At its inception, the Academy provided a comprehensive education from kindergarten to university entrance.”

We were greeted by our guide and taken to an auditorium to begin our tour of the school. As it turned out what our guide had planned for us, working directly with students, had fallen through. Like in any setting unforeseen issues and requirements of the students to complete exams had arisen and therefore they would not join us. Instead, dialog between our host and the students began. We talked about how the school came into being, what type of community it served, and how current events affected the school within the greater UK society. In turn our host was surprised to find out that America has the same issues and that religious prejudice, conflict and isolation is the same as it is here.

We were given the opportunity to observe/participate in mid-day prayers; unfortunately we had been misinformed that we would not need to cover our heads. Well, the ladies at least; but we made due with what we had and were loaned a couple of scarves in order take advantage of the offer. Maha and Meena, two of our students, helped the rest of us properly wrap the scarves properly. What a different feeling that was, at the same time confining and liberating. Each of us having a somewhat different feeling about what it was like to be covered the discussion ranged from extreme comfort to one of respect for another religions tradition. The reaction of the non-Muslim male students was just as fascinating; they complimented how we looked when covered. For whatever reason and I don’t know what it is, that made me uncomfortable.

After prayers a literal feast was presented to us for lunch. Pita bread, hummus, kabobs, beef, chicken, falafel, and plenty of other things for our eating delight. It was wonderful! As we ate the more relaxed conversation ensued and our host, Sef, and I began to converse. He was curious about pagans and paganism. All he has known is what he has seen in the UK, he wondered if Druids and Wicca were considered pagan and I began to explain to him that yes, they were and that paganism is only an umbrella term. That allowed him to “connect the dots” and understand greater. But he then had several other questions regarding pagan practices and ritual. His curiosity was genuine and it was a delight for me to talk with him about all of this. The seeds of understanding are planted.

Our afternoon took us to the Islamic Cultural Center for London. This is a beautiful center built in an old theater with the main gallery space converted to use for prayer. I’m not sure whether or not to call this space a mosque. I admit I am ignorant on what constitutes a mosque and what does not. This is where we would the rest of the afternoon with time to relax before the end of the day prayers. These prayers we participated in. Once again our heads were wrapped, but this time the experience was different. Not the wrapping, but in how we participated in the prayers.

At the school the women were separated from the men by taking our place in a balcony where we could observe through a heavy screen the Imam and the other men praying on the lower level. Here we were separated by a solid wall. Granted it was a movable wall, a partition if you will, but still a solid wall. There was no ability to even slightly glimpse the Imam or any other male on the other side to understand when we were to do the bows or kneeling. The other women helped us, adjusting scarves, helping us to cover skin, and smiling a lot, but there were no words spoken to indicate when we were to do anything. It was just try to feel or sense movement and then follow suit.

As it turns out this was a Shi’ah center, the Muslim students on our trip are Suni – two distinctly different groups. The prayers are different, the center and its focus are different, and everything else is different as well. Our Muslim students felt the disconnect too; I was not alone. We talked about his later in our reflection group and I must say that it raised my own awareness of the intra-religious differences that we all experience. Not all pagans are the same, why should I or anyone else expect the followers of another faith tradition to all be the same?

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