Harriet Pasca-Ortgies, who lives in Bay Shore, New York, USA, joined five learners in the Islip Bahá’í community’s study group for the Islam for Deepening and Dialogue 2016 course (faculty: Susan Maneck, Necati Alkan, Lil Abdo Osborn). When she began the course, she explained that she had “wanted to explore Islam in depth for a long time” but had not “been in a position to do this.” She went on to say that, although her “time is still limited,” she “decided to make the effort to delve in to the history and belief of Islam on a deeper level.” And delve she did. Let her tell you in her own words what she gained from the course—reflection; outreach; new insights, skills, attitudes, and beliefs; and a commitment to continuing to apply what she has learned. Moreover, she contributed a section to the study group’s PowerPoint called “Islam: An Exploration,” her section being called “Misconceptions about Muslim Women.”—THE EDITORS
by Harriet Pasca-Ortgies
Meditation and Reflection. I meditated regularly on the course material and continue to do so. I found the readings and other materials extremely informative and evocative. Learning and reflection are ongoing processes. I have been keeping a reflective journal since the beginning of the course and plan to continue making entries.
Engaging in Conversations. I regularly engaged my husband in conversation about the materials I was studying. Although we watched My Name is Kahn [a 2000 Indian film about religious and racial prejudice] at our study group leader’s home (Sanjida Cabot), we also viewed it again at our home, continuing our discussion about prejudice and fear, and the need to speak up about it. I also had several conversations with other Bahá’ís and friends about the Qur’an and some of the misconceptions about it.
Outreach. I, along with three of the other members of our study group, was invited to a mosque during Ramadan to celebrate an interfaith Iftar [the evening meal with which Muslims end their day of fasting during Ramadan]. We deepened our relationship with several of the worshipers and were given complimentary copies of the Qur’an. We compared our individual perspectives at the following study-group session.
Devotionals and Study Circles. I incorporated quotations from the Qur’an in our monthly devotionals and shared insights and information during our weekly study circles. Our study group discussed the relevance and importance of the course at Feast and at an Assembly meeting.
Formal Presentation. Our study group gave a PowerPoint presentation called “Islam: An Exploration” at the Bahá’í Center in Valley Stream, New York. Approximately forty people were in attendance with about seven seekers. Each of the members focused on a specific area—mine was misconceptions about women in Islam.
New Insights. I was raised in a Jewish home and had friends from a variety of Christian backgrounds. When I embraced the Bahá’í Faith in my early twenties, I had no difficulty accepting the oneness and truth of all religions. However, I realize what a profound difference it is to actually study a religion than to merely “accept it.” Mohammad, may peace and blessings be upon Him, has become a real presence to me now that I have learned about His life and teachings. I have developed a deep reverence for the Qur’an and the historical and spiritual impact of Islam.
New Skills. I improved my knowledge of the Qur’an and how to converse about its principles. I have a better understanding of how to speak with people who are hesitant or afraid to become friends with the Muslim community. I also have developed a much deeper understanding of the connections between the Bahá’í Faith and Islam.
New Attitudes. I developed an admiration for those who deeply believe in their faith and practice it, despite threats from an unsympathetic public. My understanding of Muslim women became deeper when I was able to tear away stereotypes and misconceptions. I became aware that honor killings stemmed from a cultural tradition rather than from the Qur’an. I have also developed an appreciation and love for Arabic chanting.
Changes in My Beliefs. This course has inspired me to appreciate how vital it is to understand Islam and its relationship to the Bahá’í Faith. I realize that this is just a beginning, and I plan to continue to delve into some of the suggested optional materials and books I haven’t read yet. Because of this course of study, I feel more confident speaking up about Islam during conversations. I am encouraging other Bahá’ís to become more familiar with Islam as well. I also seek to continue building friendships with the Muslim community. Our study group was invited by a local mosque leader to his daughter’s pre-wedding festivities, which was a wonderful and educational experience.
Applying What I Have Learned. I have developed a better understanding of Islam and feel comfortable visiting a mosque and sharing friendships. I hope this will lead to increased interactions and understanding. I am regularly incorporating quotations from the Qur’an into our monthly devotions, which demonstrates to Bahá’ís and friends alike the threads of unity of the various faiths.