Where Do We Learn About Each Other? Interfaith Dialogue and the Media

Hanan reflects on the role of popular media in the public understanding of Islam.

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I feel like the media is what people see and then they take what they hear from the media and then that’s how Muslims are reflected. And I’m like OK so you believe everything you see on the media, you believe everything you read online. I’m like, why don’t you guys, you know, put yourselves in our shoes. How would you guys feel if someone said something about your religion, your culture, and you knew that it wasn’t the truth? You knew that it didn’t apply to every single person in your culture or in your religion. I feel like people know better but they’d rather just go along with what’s happening [in the media]."

 Learning about Islam in Faribault High School

How do students learn about religion in Faribault High School? Where does information about Islam come from? In reflecting on the conversations around Islam in the Faribault High School community, three students spoke to us about how students talk about faith. Hanan, Ikra, and Haley sat down in the SPOTS office to chat about their experiences with — or rather without — interfaith dialogue in Faribault. The three women agree that there is very little significant or constructive interfaith dialogue between students. Hanan, a Somali student, reflected that because the student population is so separated, not many students ask about Islam. Haley, a Caucasian woman, explains:

“Well, and the ones that are have already asked… already know. So once the initial conversation is done, there is not a whole lot left to talk about unless, if I have questions, I ask. But other than that, we don’t talk about it much. Because it’s not necessary, we’re friends and that’s it.”

Hanan remarks that the students who need to be educated the most don’t ask, and that conversations often don’t get past what Somali students are wearing. Otherwise, she explains, students will reference images of Islam from the media. In the audio clip adjacent, Hanan comments on how many of these assumptions are made blindly.

To learn more about how some Somali Students speak and think about religion, see The Matter of God (And How God Matters).

Haley and Hanan talk through their reactions to Captain Phillips.

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Haley and Hanan: “Captain Phillips” (laughs)

Haley: It’s a really good movie but the ability of people to just harbor hate after that movie just blew my mind. I watched it with my parents and I’ve never seen my dad that angry in my whole life. The way that it was portrayed, like I don’t know like, the ability for like, it made me feel hate. And I don’t feel hate towards groups of people but I felt it in this movie and it blew my mind. There should not be movies that can make people feel hate like that. It made me feel sick to my stomach that I could feel these feelings because of something I was seeing. I’m like why is that something that happens and why is it allowed to happen and why would people want to watch this crap? I don’t know. It was a good movie but like it just blew my mind.

Hanan: I think you should be able to differ from reality in a movie.

Haley: Definitely. Definitely. It was so crazy. I just couldn’t believe that like…

Hanan: Cause you have to know that it’s just a movie…

Haley: Right.

Hanan: At the end of the day they made it for Hollywood, it’s a Hollywood movie.

Haley: It is.

Hanan: It was for people to watch and enjoy.

Haley: Right.

Hanan: So I feel like if you, I feel like it’s something that kind of, I don’t mean (intend) to be mean but I feel like it kind of reflects who you are, if you…

Haley: No, I totally understand.

Hanan: And plus you know Somalis so…

Haley: I know and that’s why like it scared the crap out of me. I’m like why do I feel like such intense hatred toward everyone, not just Somalis but everyone in this movie, I’m like ‘You are all stupid’.

Captain Phillips: Extricating Myth from Reality 

The three students talk about Captain Phillips, a box office hit and academy award nominated film about Somali pirates. The film, directed by Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks, is based on the real story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking, in which merchant Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean took hostage of Captain Richard Phillips. The Somali cast members who played the pirates were chosen from a group of men who auditioned in Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis. The young women discuss the film, and its possible implications.