AUA Volunteer, Shana Brouder, has returned from her time working in Tajikistan with the Bactria Cultural Centre. She reflects on her overall experience in Tajikistan and dispels common stereotypes about the Muslim World.
The word prejudice is overflowing with negative connotations. If you were to stop a random person on the street and ask them what prejudices they hold, I would bet my life savings that 99 out of every 100 would say they had none because who would want to admit they have an unfounded negative belief against one group? Not many, if any.
Coming from just outside of New York City, prejudice against the Muslim community is not a new phenomenon and for many not without pretense. I think all of us living in this area have just been so traumatized that it’s hard to realize you even have these prejudices until they’re challenged.
My time in Tajikistan has taught me so many things, but the message I think is most important is how being Muslim is not a defining characteristic. It does not make a person automatically aggressive, or bad, or violent, or any of these other words we associate with terrorism. Going on this internship, I knew I would be living in the “Muslim World” but the truth is, when you look past wearing long skirts in June when it’s bordering 100*F outside, it feels just like any other place in the world. The kindness that was shown to my friends and I there was absolutely incredible and truly beyond description. Every goodbye we had the last few days was filled with tears as these people had become, in six short weeks, a family to us. The word “Muslim” was never present. It was not a blockade or a barrier to our relationships – it was just a fact. I am a Christian, you are a Muslim, and after these six weeks have gone by I can truly not imagine making it through my time in Tajikistan without you.
The Muslim world isn’t scary. I think we have this picture in our heads in America that everywhere in the “Muslim world” has terrorists and women covered head to toe against their will, and every time you walk down the street you have to fear for your safety because you never know what will happen. Now I’m not saying that may not be a description for some places, but it certainly is not a blanket statement one can say describes the entire Muslim world. Tajikistan is a beautiful country with amazingly friendly people. In six weeks, I never once felt unsafe, threatened, or in any way insecure. Any feelings I had there in regards to my safety would be justified in New York City, Baltimore, Barcelona, or any other major city I have visited previously. Just because the majority of people there were Muslims did not make it inherently dangerous or threatening. It was just another city located in another part of the world.
We shouldn’t be afraid of making these connections with the Muslim world. Yes extremists do exist, but that doesn’t make every single person bad or responsible. The truth is we need to stop making religion a defining characteristic of a person. When it comes to making friendships, we need to realize something like religion is not as dramatic or important as recent times make it seem. A person is so much more than what god they choose to believe in.
My time in Tajikistan will always have a special place in my heart. I have thought about my experience there so many times since returning to the United States and traveling to Germany. There are many things I miss – the mountains, the food – but most of all I miss the people and friends I made there. I am so grateful for this experience that has changed my life so much, all for the better. So to everyone in Dushanbe, I hope you’re doing great and that I get to see you again sooner rather than later!
Thank you to all these amazing people I met, worked with, lived with, laughed with, cried with, and will never forget.