Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The USA and Religion: Pew Research Survey--Knowledge vs Faith

Religions are on the blackboard, and religious believers should be at the blackboard, in this illustration for the highly respected Pew Research Center's U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. The results show that most Americans need teaching about aspects of their own religion, despite being strong in their faith, and about other religions. Agnostics, atheists and Jews scored the highest, with Mormons outscoring Protestants and Catholics. The full report is worth reading, or at least the Executive Summary.

I was surprised by the comparative results by religious group, Who Knows What About Religion?. "Race" plays a role in shaping religious knowledge for White, Black, and Hispanic Americans, even within their respective religions, ie Protestantism and Catholicism. Not only are the rituals different, the knowledge base is. This is consistent with impressions gathered about "The Black Church" from its adherents, and with the historical circumstances of these groups and their religious evolution in the USA.

Then again, religious knowledge scores increased with higher educational levels so perhaps the results reflect more on socio-economic status and access to higher education. Higher Education was the single most important factor, of the Factors Linked With Religious Knowledge, independent of age, race, gender (men scored higher than women), religious studies, or political affiliation (Republicans scored higher than Independants, and Democrats scored lowest).

Interestingly, Jews, atheists and agnostics were survey along with White, Black, and Hispanic Protestants, Evangelicals, and Catholics, but few Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. The latter are included individually in the projections from the sample population to the total population, but the number of interviewees from each group was too small to report on these religious groups. More methodological details are available here.  I am surprised that more interviews weren't done with these groups to include their results independently, given US demographics,: Christian (82.3%); Unaffiliated, including atheist or agnostic (11.6%); Jewish (1.2% to 2.2%); Muslim (1.0 to 2.0%); Buddhism (0.5% to 0.9%); Hinduism (~0.5 %); other (1.4%).

How well would you do? Interactive quiz.
If you take the quiz, and you want to tell, what were your results, areas of strength, and areas of knowledge gaps?
Were you surprised by key tenets of your own religion?
If you are American, how good is your knowledge of religion and the Constitution?
What are the implications of having strong faith in, but poor knowledge of, one's religion?
How meaningful is one's faith if one has little knowledge of other belief systems?
Should Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist Americans also been surveyed sufficiently in your opinion? Why/why not?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brother-Sister Sibling Relationships in Saudi Arabia: Some Saudi Women Bloggers Share Their Perspectives

Saudi Bedouin brother and sister playing with their father, October 2003, Photograph by Reza for National Geographic

Sibling relationships have long interested me in terms of both the impact they have, as my patients attest to, and the relative neglect of their importance in psychotherapy research, teaching, and practice. This is one of the reasons I was struck by an initiative of blogger Hala Al-Dosari, of Hala_in_USA, to invite a number of Saudi women bloggers to do a post on their brother-sister relationships. Another reason was, of course, the insights these particular excellent bloggers bring to the relationship, including from a cultural perspective.

Saudi children at a Ramadan celebration, Al-Faisaliyah Mall, Riyadh, 2009

I have no brothers. My parents agreed prior to marriage to have 2 children only, no matter the gender. This was a direct reflection of my mother's being the youngest of 12 (10 living; 6 boys and 4 girls; 2 girls deceased in toddlerhood) in an immigrant Italian family struggling financially; and of having 6 older brothers who had the entitlements of boys in a traditional Italian family.

Her oldest brother was a father adjudant of the disciplinarian type; the next 3 were a "band of brothers", into mischief, and with little tolerance for the "young kids" (the last 4 children). The 5th brother--4 years older than  my mother--was wonderful, and protective as the oldest of the "young kids". He was a bright student, excellent swimmer, and a waterpolo player for the high school team, who sadly contracted nephritis and died at the age of 19. My mother was "sick" for a year, her mother never fully recovered.

The 6th brother was the closest in age to my mother (2 years older), and they were the closest in all things, with shared interests, hobbies, and secrets. He was the best man for my Dad at my parents' wedding, as they had become best friends too. He was my favourite uncle, and the one I was closest to growing up. Sadly, despite being slim and appearing fit, he had a massive heart attack and died--age 42. Smoker! (also male, and genetic loading) That death probably finished off my grandmother emotionally, as he was her favourite of all her children, and the one who took care of her always, before and after marriage and children of his own.

I have often wished I had a brother, especially when I am more than usually perplexed by Y chromosome people. Fortunately the hub and male friends step into the void with explanations and guesses, for which I am grateful. I recognize that not having brothers in a more traditional society would be a more significant difficulty--at least in the eyes of the traditional members of the society, and perhaps in the laws. In Saudi, where having a mahrem is more necessary, brothers, and many of them, may be more of an asset.

From the WHO site on Public Oral Health programmes, this one part of the Saudi programme for primary public school children

When I think of patients' stories of their brothers, I think of 2 extremes. One woman in her 20s had been raped in a particularly sadistic, perverse, and life-threatening manner. Her sanity was probably saved in large part by having 6 very supportive and normal brothers, who stepped up on this issue too, including attending a family meeting, and coping very well, with the news for some that the "assault" was sexual assault, and for all, that it was by someone of a similar psychopathology to that of convicted serial rapist Paul Bernardo. They encouraged her in her therapy, schooling and career, and gave support to her fiance as well. She later married him. He had been an exemplar of "I don't understand this, but I'm willing to help no matter what"; and had helped get her into therapy initially, and to stay in treatment.

The other extreme was a woman, also in her 20s whose one brother was "difficult", not frankly abusive, but beyond the normal sibling torments of childhood, and totally distinct from the oldest brother, who was already out of the house for much of her childhood, and certainly her teen years. I used to stew over how common it would be for a teenaged brother to reply to his teenaged sister, "Suck me dry!"; what it really meant; why she was so convinced he would sexually abuse children, including his own; and what she wasn't telling me about their relationship. She always denied any sexual abuse, but she was frantic when he got engaged, and felt she had a duty to warn his future wife, to protect future children. Maybe it was her overactive imagination at work--maybe.

The passionate kiss of Angelina Jolie and her Oscar date, her brother, combined with her gushing Oscar speech about him, led to rumours of an incestuous relationship

Some of the themes alluded to above are addressed by the Saudi women bloggers participating in this theme of "Brotherly Love": importance of order in the sibling line; shared interests and secrets; social pressures; protectiveness, companionship and encouragement; and, sadly, abuse of different types. Some aspects of brother-sister relationships are more specific to Saudi.

In addition to the preference for sons in many conservative patriarchal societies, male privilege is encoded in Saudi law, where women are more disenfranchised officially than in many countries, including other Muslim and Arab ones. The mahrem system as constructed in Saudi, where the mahrem is not just a woman's representative for the marriage contract, but the legal guardian for a woman at all stages of her life and in all formal social and legal interactions, exaggerates this privilege and power differential. In addition to giving a brother--whether simpatico or not--inordinate power, gender segregation in Saudi may make sibling relationships even more likely to have a greater impact on each one's impression of the opposite sex. And last, but not least, this may be an unwelcome role for brothers, and give their wives inordinate power too.

To learn more, and to gain insight about the sibling relationships of some Saudi sisters and their brothers, I highly recommend reading the participating posts:

Hala of Hala_in_USA, Brotherly Love
A much anticipated younger brother, overly feted and disproportionately loved by mother; background information on sibling relationships, including studies of sibling relationships in Saudi.

Wafa' of My World and More, My Brothers and I
3 brothers, in a home rife with domestic violence and addictions, including mental, physical and sexual abuse by brothers

Najla, of Najla, "* أنا وأخي " ["My Brother and I*"]
2 loving supportive brothers, family and education played a role in making them open to their sisters' full participation in society. This makes them distinct from many brothers who can be domineering, always monitoring their sisters to prevent "shameful" behaviours

Omaima Al Najjar of Saudi Woman Speaks Out,  "The Forever Bond"
3 loving brothers with distinct personalities and with whom she is close despite geographical distances growing up. In some ways they reflect age relationships: the older brother Super Hero, the peer Rival, and the younger "Terror".

Eman of Saudiwoman's Weblog, pending
Feda of Feda's Blog, pending

The theme included an open invitation for others to join in, and I am aware of the following:

Naz of Somalianarab Princess, Me, My Brothers, and the Rest
On the death of her father, Naz' Somali mother learns that she is the second wife; the first is a Saudi and has 2 sons, while Naz is one of four daughters; the 2 wives decide to form a bond rather than curse their deceased husband, and the children do as well; not exactly "The Brady Bunch Saudi-Style", but generally positive.

If you have written one, decide to write one, or know of others, please add them in the comments and I will include them here.

If you are a Saudi man and blogger, perhaps you could start a similar theme on Saudi brothers' perspectives on their relationships with their sisters.

Dr Mona Simpson, UCLA English Literature Professor, and novelist, giving a reading

Steve Jobs, full biological brother of Mona Simpson; the first born of their parents, then graduate students;
they traveled out of state for his birth, gave him up for adoption, then later married and had Mona;
AKA CEO and co-founder of Apple

Was has been your experience of cross-gender sibling relationships?
How much does family, and/or culture impact on your sibling relationships or sibling relationships in general?
If you are Saudi, how much does the mahrem system impact your sibling relationships?
How much does Arab culture, as one of the collective and shame-based cultures contribute to the power siblings have?
What do you see as common dynamics across cultures, and what ones are unique?
Do you have cousins you feel as close to as siblings, or prefer to your siblings?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

The Jackson 5 with sisters Rebbie, La Toya, and Janet--missing, older brother Jermaine, and Joh'Vonnie Jackson, a half sister, from father Joe's earlier liaison

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Little Yellow Mosque That Could--Arab Muslims in Inuvik, NWT, Canada Now Have a Place of Worship and Community

There is jubilation for a small community of Sunni Muslims (immigrants from the Sudan, Egypt, and Lebanon) above the Arctic Circle, in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, as their mosque arrived (September 23) by river barge, and truck trailer from Winnipeg, Manitoba (4000km away). The mosque is a tribute to the growing population of Muslims in Inuvik, now at 80 men, women, and children, but also to the generosity of a Muslim charity that provided funds for the mosque as the congregation is too small to raise sufficient funds on its own. The mosque also is a tribute to interfaith community spirit, as much of Inuvik turned out for the arrival of the mosque and to help with it.

Inuvik, on the northwest corner of the Northwest Territories (blue grey), near the border with the Yukon (steel grey); the mosque was built in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba (light green), then transported by truck and barge 4000km

The AFP article copied below, is just one, but it summarizes well. The Globe and Mail article, Little Mosque on the Permafrost, captures some of the perils of the journey, despite its inaccuracy about it being the most northerly mosque (see end of this post). The CBC article, Arctic mosque lands safely in Inuvik, has an excellent slide show of community members greeting the arrival of the mosque. An earlier CBC article, shows the challenges of land transportation as the mosque is pictured teetering over a bridge.
Little yellow mosque arrives in Canadian Arctic

OTTAWA — A small mosque has arrived in the Arctic to serve a growing Muslim population in Canada's far north after travelling 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) over land and water, the project leader said Thursday.

"The entire Muslim community of Inuvik went to the dock to greet the mosque -- men, women and children, about 80 people -- when it arrived Wednesday afternoon," Hussain Guisti told AFP by telephone.

"It was the first time there were no taxi drivers in all of Inuvik," he quipped. The few cabs in town are apparently all driven my Muslim men.

The number of Muslims in Inuvik, a town of 4,000 inhabitants in Canada's Northwest Territories, has grown steadily in recent years to about 80 and they no longer fit in an old three-by-seven-meter (10-by-23-feet) caravan used until now for prayers.

The congregation could not afford to build a new mosque in the town, where prices for labor and materials are substantially higher than in southern parts of Canada, local project coordinator Ahmad Alkhalaf said last month.

But they found a supplier of prefabricated buildings in Manitoba that said it could ship a structure to Inuvik for half the price of building a mosque from scratch on site.

A local Muslim charity -- the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation of Thompson, Manitoba -- also offered to pick up the costs for the 140 square meter (1,500-square-foot) facility, Alkhalaf said.

And so, at the end of August the tiny yellow mosque's voyage began on the back of truck, winding through the vast prairies and woods of Western Canada toward Hay River on the shores of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories.

There it was transferred onto a barge and floated down the McKenzie River to Inuvik, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of the Arctic Circle.

It must still be unloaded and moved to a parcel of land purchased by the congregation in a residential part of the town, and topped with a minaret before it is ready on November 5 to welcome worshippers -- largely Sunni Muslim immigrants from Sudan, Lebanon and Egypt who moved to Canada's far north in search of jobs and economic opportunities.

The facility will also double as a Muslim community center.


~200 km (120 mi) north of the Arctic Circle
~56 days of continuous sunlight every summer; ~30 days of polar night every winter
~7 months of the year frozen in; air access only
economy based on petroleum industry and nearby Canadian Armed Forces base

Population: 3,484 (2006)
Peoples: Inuvialuit (predominately Uummarmiut), 38.9%; First Nations, 18.4%; Métis, 4.7%; other Aboriginal, 1.2%; non-native, 36.7% [80 Arab Muslims]
Languages: Inuvialuktun, Gwich’in, English

The Interfaith Neighbours

Our Lady of Victory Church, "Igloo Church", Inuvik

Igloo Church, in summer, at midnight, Inuvik, 
from Guest Article – Driving Canada’s Dempster Highway by Bruce Pollock

Inuvik Society

Inuksuk ("inuk" person "suk" substitute), stone marker or cairn, Inuvik

Inuvik Regional Hospital

Inuvik Community Greenhouse, in a former hockey rink

Midnight Sun Recreation Complex, including Family Centre, Pool, Fitness Centre, Ice Rink

The Great Northern Arts Festival

More Northerly Mosques: Tromsø, Norway; Norilsk, Russia

Alnor Senter (formerly Masjid Noor) in Tromsø, Norway, the world's most northern functioning mosque. 
Image from GEC is by Tychee

Al Masjid al Rahma, also in Tromsø, Norway (Muslim population 700-800), the world's 2nd most northern mosque.
 Image from GEC is by Tychee

The Nurd Kamal mosque in Norilsk, Russia [50,000 Muslims, mainly from Azerbaijan, and Dagestan]. Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

The Nurd Kamal mosque, residential buildings and smelters in the arctic city of Norilsk
 last month [April, 2007]. Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

What do you imagine life is like for the Arab immigrants to Inuvik?
What part of being a new immigrant there would be culture shock, and what part climate shock?
Have you been to the Arctic? What time of year? What was your experience like?
Have you lived as a Muslim in a place with no mosque? How did you or the community adapt?
What name would you suggest for this as yet unnamed mosque?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

 A minaret will be attached before the Inuvik mosque opens November 5, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

One Woman's Personal Essay--A Universal Story

I read this personal essay, and was very struck by it. I would ask you to please read it all the way through, and form your own impressions, before reading my comments, and commenting yourself.

Teaching north of 53
Doris Muise
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Sep. 23, 2010 5:52PM EDT
Last updated Friday, Sep. 24, 2010 1:49PM EDT

“Teacher, go back to town,” the children told me.

I was north of 53, three plane trips from Toronto. A Cessna bush plane had flown out over miles and miles of evergreens and lakes, over land so vast we seemed to not move forward at all but hang in a space somewhere outside an earthly realm.

We had landed on an airstrip on the edge of a river surrounded by wilderness, so that my arrival momentarily felt like the first day of summer camp. People milled about beyond the chain-link fence that ran along the outdoor baggage kiosk. A little girl chased a black puppy through the scattering of people. A young woman lumbered off the plane behind me and looked around with scared, doe-like eyes. In her long black tunic and white blouse, complete with open-toed sandals, she looked like a missionary set down amongst the heathens. We had arrived at a remote, fly-in-only Cree reserve in northern Manitoba.

I had been hired to teach a Grade 4 fast-track class to 12 children. The idea was to take a group of 10-year-olds who were academically at a pre-kindergarten to Grade 1 level and focus on literacy and numeracy, with the goal of pulling them up to grade level and reintegrating them into the mainstream classroom.

My first week on the job, I had my doubts. What was I doing in the middle of nowhere, trying to teach children who told me daily to go back to where I came from, children who, when they sat, sat in my chair and refused to budge? They spun and swiveled and smirked at me. They regularly refused to work, refused to sit in their seats, refused to stay in the classroom – those who did show up for school. They jumped each other and wrestled on the floor, easily offended, easily brought to anger and tears.

I stood my ground, read them stories, shared the fact that I was part Mi’kmaq from a place in Newfoundland not unlike where they were from. And somewhere along the way, between a paper-bag puppet re-enactment of Where the Wild Things Are and their first fragile attempts to read, my students learned to trust me, to trust that I was not going to run off back to town before the year was over. They no longer put up with my hugs, they sought them out. My smallest student began to tell me regularly in his quiet, halting voice, “Teacher, I wish you were my mother.”

He didn’t often come to school, and when he did he couldn’t sit still. He dressed in a long black blazer and fedora and walked with teenage attitude. His attention wandered and, when I tried to get him to stop drawing pictures and focus, he would rhythmically slam the lid of his desk every time I tried to speak.

I followed administration’s advice and kept him for detention. He stormed around the classroom overturning desks and knocking books off shelves. He hoisted himself up onto the blackboard ledge and moved in Spider-Man fashion along the length of the wall. He hurled himself back down, his fists clenched and his entire body shaking. A pronounced lisp prevented him from verbalizing his pent-up frustration.

He came to school on the last Friday before Mother’s Day. He showed up in the afternoon and missed the greeting I’d sent out over the announcement system in the morning to wish him a happy birthday. We had 15 minutes left in the class when I stopped the word games we were playing and told the children they could finish their Mother’s Day cards. He immediately pulled out the bookmark he had been colouring from his desk full of drawings.

Shortly after, he came up to where I stood near the sink and showed me the back of his card. On it he had written “To: Mom” along with his name. Below the dedication, I could make out the faint remains of the letter S.

“Teacher,” he said quietly, “how do you spell stop?”

“S-T-O-P,” I carefully enunciated and off he went to his desk.

Moments later he was back, holding up the bookmark again. “Teacher,” he said, almost a whisper, “How do you spell please?”

“Do you want me to write it lightly so you can trace it?” I asked. It was the method we regularly used to make his work manageable for him. He placed the bookmark down on the counter beside the sink.

“Write it there,” he said, pointing to where the word stop had been erased.

I lightly printed the word please and handed the bookmark back to him.

Just before dismissal, he came and stood at my desk. His hands landed heavily on the veneer and he leaned his small body in toward me. A heavy sigh escaped him. A shudder pulled across his shoulders.

“Teacher,” he said, “I don’t like it when my mother drinks.”

I looked into his eyes and whispered the only thing I could think of: “I know. I know.”

“That’s what I wanted to write on the card to my mother,” he said, “but it was too hard.”

Doris Muise lives in Toronto.

Cree boys in a city classroom (Chris Schwarz/Canwest News Service)

Some of the things that struck me reading this personal essay include:
-how well written it is;
-it is reflective of social problems on reserves, but also in other places;
-mothers and motherhood are very difficult to critique, but some mothers, through addiction or major difficulties of whatever type, leave little ones desperate for love, structure, and life solutions;
-most child physical abuse is done by mothers;
-mothers who drink through their pregnancy can give a child "fetal alcohol syndrome", which includes small size, low IQ, neurological and behavioural problems;
-teachers and classrooms provide safe havens, and possibilities for a new self-image and better relationships;
-this 10-year-old loves his mother, and is working really hard to make a better life for them both;
-"but it was too hard" sums it all up.

Your impressions?

Cree children in a bilingual Cree-English class (Chris Schwarz/Canwest News Service)

* the opening photo accompanied the personal essay; the classroom ones are from a National Post article.

Further Reading:
On the Canadian Cree Nation
On Canada's First Nations
On the Province of Manitoba (17% First Nations and Métis)

The essay is set in Northern Manitoba, among the Woods Cree (right-hand side of the dark green patch), or the Swampy Cree (left-hand side of the adjacent deep turquoise patch)


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