By Roxie Steward | email@example.com
They kept thanking us.
They kept thanking us for asking questions.
At the beginning of the semester, a classmate and I decided to do a video about the Islamic Center on State Road 207 in St. Augustine, which happens to be placed right next to a Baptist church. We wanted to find out the story of their relationship. Did they get along? Did they speak at all?
First, we interviewed the pastor of the church who spoke highly of the members of the Islamic Center. He told us the women had baked cookies for his entire congregation one Christmas. He even helped us get in contact with them to interview them. They were having an open house on a Saturday night, and we decided to go.
Even from the parking lot, we were greeted warmly. A man named Sam walked with us until he found a woman named Leena in front of the doors. “Will you take care of our guests, sister?” she asked her. She welcomed us and led us into the women’s side of the building, placing scarves around our heads.
“People think we are separated because we are oppressed, but really we just like our privacy,” she giggled.
The concept of the open house was to welcome the public in to learn about Islam, to break down any walls, to allow people to ask questions without fear of being offensive. There was food and talking at first. A woman stood in front of the visitors and dramatically reenacted parts of the Quran while her fellow Islamic sisters giggled and rolled their eyes friendly behind her. “She’s always like that,” they told us after. “Even when we’re all just eating dinner together. And we know the Quran!”
One thing became abundantly clear to us as we sat there, though. These women wanted to break down the misconceptions.
As a journalism major, I’m not used to people willingly sharing information with me. I tend to have to track them down and annoy them until they give me an interview, and even then, they do so reluctantly.
Everyone at the Islamic Center was different, though. They needed to be heard. They wanted to talk.
After dinner, we all gathered together, men and women, and listened to the history of Islam for several hours, after which we were able to interview the Imam about their relationship with the church next door. By the end of the night, I turned to my classmate and said, “We just spent five hours in a mosque. What other major pushes you into something like that?”
After finishing the video, we weren’t done at the Islamic Center. We wanted to give them more chances to be heard and did two more segments.
The first one was about the misconceptions about women in Islam. We had three women volunteer to speak to us, in front of the camera, about the things they felt the rest of the world misunderstood about women and their role in Islam. At first, they were adamant that they were camera shy, but once the question was asked, they had plenty to say. It was as if they had never had the platform to explain before. They kept thanking us for asking the questions others were afraid to ask.
In the last video, we decided to focus in on one couple: Pam and Gary. They had us over to their home and allowed us to film them in their yard. After the interview, we sat at a table in their front lawn and ate fruit and egg salad sandwiches Pam prepared for us. We talked religion and politics and all sorts of other things you aren’t supposed to discuss around the table. As we left they hugged us and thanked us once again, all for asking questions.
It wasn’t the pride I felt in my work that stuck with me, it was the people who changed me. I got to poke my head into a world that lives in subjected isolation, and it left me with a sour feeling in my stomach. The beauty was that they never acted “subjected.” They knew they were misunderstood by society, and wanted to be heard, but they continued to live with laughter, and with heart. It made me want to amplify their voices all the more.
They made me laugh and they made me sandwiches, but more importantly, they made me see things differently.