(Disclaimer: I/We do not want to start any form of a religious debate, nor do we intend to criticize or disrespect any religious beliefs.)
Last night marked the end of the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the Islamic lunar month which is marked by fasting from sunrise to sunset. The month is also one of the Five Pillars of Islam; one of the main tenets of the Islamic faith. The end of the lunar month is marked by Eid, the holiday where the fast is broken and the following month begins, I am told, this is quite the feast!
As a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Cameroon, I have had far more interaction with Muslims and learned more about the religion and faith. The northern regions of the country are predominantly Muslim, and I am sure my fellow PCVs in those regions could tell you far more than I could about the faith. But, given that one of our ‘jobs’ as Peace Corps Volunteers is to share cultural anecdotes with our American audience, I thought I would take this opportunity to share what I have learned about Muslims.
Shaun and I live in the grand south of Cameroon. This means, that we are in the predominantly Christian region of the nation, where the Islamic faith is the less practiced religion. The grand south also has the reputation among volunteers of being aggressive, you will get deranged, hassled, and unwanted comments far more often, and there is a general stress present. Whether that stress is just friends yelling to communicate over a beer at the bar, or having to argue down prices at the market for too long, the way of life here is known as hectic. The reason I say all of that is to provide context to saying that the Muslims we know are calm, respectful, and polite; a rarity and reprieve in the grand south.
Through their brightly colored pagne ensembles that the women wear, to the full length embroidered boubous (essentially a long length/long sleeve shirt with matching pants underneath) that the men wear, they are beautiful. With their calm demeanor, and respectful greetings to each other and to us, they are polite.
For whatever reasons, Muslims are incredibly respected by PCVs. Because alcohol is restricted under the faith, when you have a Muslim driver, you know you have a sober driver, a fact that is otherwise unknown in Cameroon. The vendors who sell beef on a stick, the Muslims make the best beef, dried, as jerky or freshly grilled. And, the Fulanis (ethnic group of Muslims spread throughout West Africa) make the best cheese and milk.
Now, some of our very favorite Cameroonians that we work with on a regular basis are strong Christians. We love working with them too, and they have their own set of qualities and attributes that we respect and appreciate. I am not trying to say that one religion is better than another. No religion’s history is spot-free; yes, extremists following the Islamic faith have done acts that we would all agree are devastating, but, here, I am not talking about the extremist, I am talking about the average Cameroonian who is a Muslim. What I am trying to say is that the media portrayal of the Muslim faith can be so far from accurate, and, sometimes, it is important to share stories of humanity. Hopefully stories that will allow us to see those different than us with more peace, respect, and commonalities than we did before.