80 nationalities, 1 community
Living in a boarding school for two or three years at a young age with people from 70+ countries means encountering people who think, live, and believe differently. The fantastic work that Maryam (UK), Danish (Malaysia), Parizad (Bangladesh), and others did during Ramadan this year is a testament to students’ commitment to UWC’s mission of deliberate diversity.
Danish and Maryam organized a “no stupid question” Q&A about Islam towards the end of Ramadan. Parizad (Bangladesh) then organized a trip to Tokyo Camii, one of Japan’s most famous mosques, to celebrate Eid (the break of the Ramadan fast). In addition, several faculty and students joined the fast for a couple of days. A student from Norway, Marcus, even fasted for the whole duration of Ramadan and joined the Muslim students at the mosque to break the fast.
Breaking the taboo around Islam
“This idea stems from realizing that a lot of peers, even my housemates whom I am close to, didn’t feel confident to ask me basic questions about my religion,” explains Maryam. So she started an anonymous form where students could ask questions without fearing judgment. “Still, people wanted a formal presentation on the topic, so we organized a Q&A in person.”
Dismantling clichés and sharing unknown truths
“Most of the questions were about the hijab and gender equality,” Maryam recalls. There were also questions about the Coran. The audience was surprised to learn that Muslims represent about 25% of the world’s population and that South East Asia represents the most significant share of this global community. Danish and Maryam shared their religious practice, such as praying five times a day.
A deliberately diverse community
During the Q&A session, Maryam explained her own choice to wear a hijab, which started after coming to UWC ISAK. “Back in the UK, I felt uncomfortable wearing it since I feared being judged and discriminated against. Wearing it was not something that was requested from me by my family and community there. But here at UWC ISAK, the community is so welcoming that I feel I can freely express and practice my faith. I’m not sure I will ever experience being in such an accepting place again.”
Maryam appreciates living in a boarding school where it’s easier to pray five times daily and access halal food, which is difficult in Japan. Also, she enjoyed our kitchen staff’s flexibility in providing students who fasted with special bentos. Finally, she thanked the school for providing a day off for students to celebrate Eid in Tokyo and Mr. Badiane for chaperoning them on this trip. “Everybody is so supportive here!” Maryam concludes.
Celebrating the Muslim community
“My first Ramadan at UWC ISAK and going to the mosque in Tokyo with my Muslim peers enhanced my love for the community that comes with Islam.” In Tokyo, Maryam and her friends met coreligionists from all over the world. “People were so generous. They offered us food and tea, and I felt welcome and at home in this environment. It reminded me that Islam is first and foremost about values such as solidarity.”
“This experience solidified my values. I’m not wearing the hijab or practicing my religion because everybody does but because I want to. Being here clarified that.”
Maryam hopes to do more of these activities around Islam and continue educating the community about her religion.