Close Mindedness on Religion

By Michael Hodson, Go, See, Write

At the end of 2008, I quit my law practice in Northwest Arkansas and took off on a round-the-world journey with two rules: no reservations and no airplanes.  Sixteen months later, I finally made it back home, succeeding on the no-planes portion of the challenge and almost making it without any reservations.  Since getting back, I’ve continued with my overland adventures and have been writing about them at Go, See, Write.

One day last summer after getting back from my journey, I was having lunch in town and a friend of mine came in and took a seat next to us and asked the almost-automatic first question I get these days: “Where was your favorite place?”

It is a difficult question, considering how many countries I went to on my trip (44) and the unusual nature of my travels, but I listed off a few of them, including Turkey, which is a truly spectacular place.

When I said Turkey, he frowned immediately, so I asked if he’d been.  He said he had and that he really disliked it.  Upon my asking why, he said that he didn’t like the dirtiness and the Muslim call to prayer bothered him.

Personally, I have no idea how anyone could dislike the call to prayer.  It is haunting and beautiful.  While I find the current American prejudice against Islam, one of the world’s great religions, is generally thoughtless and based on ignorance, I wouldn’t have thought that the negative attitude would ever somehow bias one’s opinion of the music.

Admittedly, the first call is at about 5:15 in the morning, but still, it is one of the true trip highlights for me in my entire journey.  In case you haven’t heard it — here is the best one I heard on the entire trip.  The early morning call in Stone Town, Zanzibar, right next to the hostel I was staying at.  There is obviously nothing visual in this video, but take a listen.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nq5aX7t2PH0

What became quickly clear from talking to him was that it wasn’t the cleanliness (Instanbul isn’t a dirty city at all) or the early wake up to the call to prayer that he didn’t like — he just didn’t like that most everyone in Turkey was Muslim.   I had totally forgotten he was a very conservative Christian — the type that wore it on his sleeve.  I made some comment about loving Syria and all of the Middle East and feeling amazingly safe there and his reply was basically, “but they are all trying to kill us.”

It was time to move the conversation to something else, before I said something offensive.

I do understand that people have different comfort levels in different places.  The crazy hectic pace of Vietnam turns a lot of people off.  The lack of personal space in Africa strikes some the wrong way.  The rudeness of New Yorkers is certainly no turn-on.  And so on and so forth, but for some reason this particular conversation just made me internally shudder a bit.

The world is amazing, and huge, as I learned on my overland journey, but a good bit of the greatness will be missed unless you are willing to check some of your long-held prejudices at the door and go experience a place with an open mind.  You might not like what you see, hear, smell or experience, but at least go into it with an open mind.  I just got the sense that he went there knowing he wouldn’t like it already — for all the wrong reasons.  His prejudice spoiled his trip and ruined his experience in one of the great countries in the world.

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This post was modified, for Religion Nerd, from an earlier post Michael wrote for his blog: Go, See, Write. Visit Michael’s site for more insightful and fascinating blogs about his travel adventure.  You can also follow Michael on Twitter.

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