Wednesday, December 28:
We are a pretty small group today in Voice, the university’s drop-in shop for English conversations. Sometimes we can have 20-25 students in the room, conversing about all numbers of topics, but today, at the outset, there are only a few stragglers who have wandered in.
Suddenly, four girls sweep into the room and one of them tells us this is her first time in Voice. First-timers are usually shy and subdued, but this one is feisty and energetic and VERY vocal. She talks and talks about how she loves to watch films, especially Bollywood films. She loves Korean films as well, but not American movies so much. She makes it a point to say she has no desire to meet Tom Cruise, who is too old. She swoons about several Bollywood actors, whose names I don’t know, and says, clasping her hands together and looking heavenward, that she LOVES these films. “Teacher, teacher, I LOVE these singing and dancing and love story!”
Everyone in the room is mesmerized by this girl, who is adorable and bubbly and enthusiastic about life. We can’t help but laugh, not boisterously as one does at a comedy routine, but in pure pleasure. We are swept up by this girl’s enthusiasm and by her innocence, by her pure joy and her smiling face. At one point she says, very shyly, as if she will retreat into silence if we don’t give her the right answer, “Why are you laughing?” We all say that she is very cute and so excited about sharing herself in English, that we can’t help but just to have fun and laugh. We enjoy her love of life, her high energy.
All this talk about Bollywood films, which are chock-full of music and dancing, makes me wonder about the idea in Islam that music is “haram,” or sinful. Apparently there is much debate about this topic. According to Muslim Access website: In the subject of musical instruments, scholars disagree on the matter. Some of them permit all sorts of singing, be it accompanied with musical instruments or not, and even consider it recommended. A second group of scholars permit singing only when is not accompanied with a musical instrument. A third group declare it to be prohibited whether it be accompanied with a musical instrument or not; they even consider it as a major sin. (Is Music Haram? Is Music Halal? Music, Haram or Halal?) Another website, Muslim Ways, says that music is definitely “haram.” “These people of ignorance listen to and use musical instruments that are prohibited and which lead the hearts to abandoning the Qur’aan. These hearts are indulging in sin and disobedience of Allah. Music, then, is Satan’s Qur’aan and the barrier between one and Allah.” The general belief is that music fuels passion and thus makes people less passionate about the Qur’aan. It is interesting in my conversations with the university students that there are all ranges of beliefs. Some of them NEVER listen to music, while others love it and indulge in listening and dancing as part of their daily lives.
In a change of topic, one girl says that when she tries to speak English outside of the Voice room or the English Bridges Club, her fellow students laugh at her and say, “Why are you speaking English?” She feels they make fun of her, but she is determined to learn English and knows that speaking the language is the best practice.
Somehow the conversation veers, as it often does in Voice, careening from one subject to another, to the boys at the university. The cute girl says she doesn’t like the boys in her class. I’ve heard this sentiment voiced by many of the girls in the university. She says they never do any work, they act up and create problems, they are not smart. She thinks the girls are more clever than the boys. I would tend to agree that the girls are very hard workers and very bright, and since I have only a few boys in my classes, I can’t make a real judgment about boys in general. But in my few interactions, I am leaning toward the same opinion.
There are two boys in the room, one of them with perfect posture, looking so bright and fresh in his snow-white dishdasha. He says, with great certainty, “Men have more power and are more clever. It is the way it is. That is so in our culture.” It’s not my job to cause trouble at the university, so I keep quiet and let the girls talk. Some of them surprisingly say, “Yes, it’s true, men are more powerful. And yes, they’re more clever.” But most of them disagree. They protest, “No! The girls work hard and pay attention and are very clever. The boys just goof off. They think they don’t have to do anything!” I ask them if this idea about men having all the power will change in the future, because I see evidence of restlessness in the girl students. The boys declare, “No, this will never change. This is our culture.”
This is a true thing I observe in Omani culture. There are few expectations for men. They can do whatever they want to do and if they fail a certain class, they will probably be passed by the Omani administration. They shouldn’t be expected to work hard because just by nature, and probably by Islam, they are superior and thus don’t have to prove themselves.
There is much argument between the girls, feisty and argumentative, pushing for what they believe, and the self-assured boys. As my hour is almost up with them, I make a summary point, always making sure that what I say is politically correct: “I don’t think you can say that all boys are more clever than all girls. As with making statements about any group of people, there are all ranges of capabilities. Some boys are certainly more clever than some girls, and some girls are certainly more clever than some boys.” They nod in agreement.
I find this kind of attitude in Omani culture quite often. Omanis I meet often make these sweeping kinds of statements, that all of one culture is very clever or very good or very bad or very stupid. I always point out to them, whenever they make these kinds of judgments that there is much variety within a group, and that you cannot make generalizations about a group of people. Once I point this out, they seem mildly shocked and dismayed, but end up thinking about it and then nodding agreement. It’s almost as if no one has ever challenged these beliefs of theirs or challenged them to think in a different way.
As always, another interesting hour in Voice. I learn something more about Omani culture every time…