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Posted by arrianebrahimi on February 10, 2016 at 11:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Today, millions of Catholics around the world are celebrating Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. The ritual of being anointed with blessed ash in the shape of a cross is a central ceremonial part of this holiday, and my school, Saint Francis High School, observed this day by holding a school-wide liturgy. There were many great speakers during the service and, at the end, our school Campus Ministry began the Catholic anointment ritual. The priest invited anyone who wished to be anointed to walk up to the ash bearers with their hands to their sides. Those who did not want to be anointed were asked respectfully to cross their arms and reverently pass.

Last year in my freshman religious studies class, we did a similar ceremony in class. We all prayed and those who wanted to be anointed walked up to our teacher who gave them the ash cross. I chose not to receive the ash because -I told myself- I am a Muslim and this is not something I should do. It was no big deal. Saint Francis is home to a great diversity of faiths so there are always many people who choose not to receive the ash. I must make it very clear before continuing that students at Saint Francis receive no peer pressure to assimilate with Catholicism. The Saint Francis community is very accepting.

This year was different however. My religious views have grown and matured a lot over the past year and I still hold steadfastly the belief that God is real; however, I now believe that different people and different cultures all have different ways of seeing and communicating with the same God. I believe that they are all “right” in their own way because they are all seeking ways to understand the message of a God that humans -in my opinion- can never understand. I believe each faith has its own aspects that are unique and relay a certain interpretation of God’s command that people have thought about for millennia. As such I decided this year to take part in the anointment ceremony. I admit I was actually very nervous. I was not sure how well a non-Catholic being anointed would be perceived. However, the meaning behind the ash that the priest described touched me and I decided that no harm could come out of anointment, so I might as well take it and maybe feel the emotion that Catholics who take it get.

The first person who took notice of the ash cross on my forehead was one of my teammates and a good friend. At first he was confused because he knew I am a Muslim and was wondering why I would take part in a Catholic ritual. I told him, “Why not? There’s no reason I shouldn’t.” He then gave me a strong handshake and said with a nod of approval, “I respect that.” I got similar reactions throughout the day where consistently people were confused then supportive of my action.

My overall message is that I am not saying that people need to throw away their beliefs or that they must do whatever the majority does -I certainly did not. I just personally believe that all people have unique points of view to share, and that these points of view all have the potential to enrich our lives. Today was fun. I discovered the beauty of a part of Catholic faith that I had not truly known before. Better yet, I discovered that people are very supportive of diversity and curiosity. Today, simply by a strengthened confidence to be curious, many doors leading to new world-views have been opened to me.

Pray For Everyone

Posted by arrianebrahimi on December 22, 2015 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (1)

On Monday November 16, 2015, I decided to do an act of social non-conformity by being outspoken about a prejudice in our society brought to light by the recent terror attacks in Paris. On Friday the thirteenth, last week, approximately one hundred and twenty-nine people were killed in a series of terror attacks carried out by IS. After the attacks, in a beautiful show of solidarity, peace and community, many people (myself included at the time) did actions such as adding the French flag filter to their Facebook profile pictures or by posting various French pro-peace photos on Instagram. I felt very touched by this act of solidarity and asked my step-mom why she was not doing this also. She told me that the support for the French is great and well justified but that no one is discussing the other two major terror attacks that happened as well last week in Beirut and Baghdad. That affected me. I decided that I wanted to stand out in my message. While the general societal message was "Pray For Paris," I decided to make what I believe is a better message, "Pray For Everyone." My purpose was to highlight the prejudices in our society that manifested in a selective sorrow for the French, who being a western, white and Christian culture are understandably more relatable to us, and attempt to replace that selective sorrow with a more universal humanity. I did several things. For my main act I wore a large sign on my chest the whole day that was a picture I made of the flag of Lebanon with the French flag filter used on it displaying the phrase, "Pray For Everyone," in French, English and Arabic. I also made that picture my new Facebook profile picture and posted it on Instagram with an explanation of my message with it. To anyone who asked about my sign, I responded saying I am trying to raise awareness and care for all humanity, which also made the hiding of the fact that this is for a project much easier. I also emailed my school anouncements speaker, Ms. Hagg, over the weekend asking that during the Monday prayers the attacks in France, Lebanon and Baghdad be recognized all together. (Father Tony did mention all three, however I am not sure if it is because of my request or not.)

Before doing the experiment, I expected several responses: that I am only doing this because I am Muslim and thus am fueled by my own ethnic nationalism, that the French attacks were more shocking while the ones in the Middle East are not anything new, and -one I unhesitatingly and absolutely reject- that I am justifying the terrorist monsters who killed scores of innocents. I was pleased that across the board people were very open-minded. Most either flat-out said they agree with me, or calmly posed me legitimate arguments that I answered likewise. I feel that my actions had a very positive effect in that they raised awareness. They did not necessarily make everyone agree with me, but people generally thanked me for giving them another point of view and a message of love. I learned through this project that, so long as one is not overly aggressive or alienating toward others, people generally are open-minded to individuals who step out of the norm to send a message. Unfortunately however, people do for the most part fall into the wave of society without thinking of what the wave is as even I did when I first used the Facebook French flag filter. Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay, "Self-Reliance," put it very well saying, "Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not." In this case, the societal "wave" was the lone support of France with the French flag filter and symbols. The "water," us, just moved with the wave without "mov[ing] onward" at all by coming to new understandings through the process of independent thinking.

Overall, I am very pleased that I was able to spread awareness of an issue of ethnic bias by not conforming to the societal norm. I am even more pleased that I did not perceive anyone's reaction to be influenced by bigotry to my being Muslim. This project has renewed some of my faith in humanity and, I feel, has enhanced it.