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NORMAL - Wearing a cream-colored cap with no brim, Tyler Burns didn't look like much like a person displaying a religious symbol.

Essentially, he looked like a white guy with an unusual hat. The senior college student at Illinois State University supposes that explained the reactions: Nothing more than strange looks and passing curiosity.

Classmate Joshua Schukar is mostly German in heritage, but has Cherokee ancestors. He has a darker complexion. And he supposes this explained a reaction to him wearing the same hat.

Four people in a car passed him on a Wednesday afternoon on University Street. One of them, he said, yelled an anti-Arab slur.

Schukar was "more surprised than anything" by the slur, and noted he also was approached in a friendly manner by someone who wondered about his religious beliefs.

For a Muslim, the hat signifies that a person took a journey to holy sites in a pilgrimage called a hajj.

ISU philosophy and law teacher Thomas Simon received the hat as a gift while teaching in Kosovo. For the students in his Meaning and Religious Beliefs class, wearing the hat is a way to experience Islam, if only on the surface.

Burns and Schukar were the only ones in their summer school session to wear hats out of five students who immersed themselves in study of the faith's tenets and Muslim customs.

For their final class presentation, they led students through a basic Muslim prayer and then had the entire class of 17 recite the prayer while going through standing and kneeling poses.

"There's so much to it I didn't realize," student Jackie Baertschi said during a break. "Typically, it's not a violent religion, which I didn't realize before this class."

Prayers five times a day, plus numerous traditions and dietary restrictions, give the practicing Muslim a constant mindfulness of the faith, she said. "You can never forget your faith."

Another class group presented a polar opposite. They acted in roles of Muslims, Christians and an atheist engaged in militancy.

In what was portrayed as a grade-school "career day," two of the group members played militant Islamic leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, based in Egypt and from al-Qaeda. Another posed as Yasser Arafat from the secular Palestine Liberation Organization.

Others portrayed Western militants, from the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the anti-abortion group Army of God and Matt Hale's racist atheist group The Creativity Movement.

As Shannon Kelly started her "career day" talk about The Creativity Movement, she told classmates, "They call it …" She stopped and forced herself back into a first-person script. "We call it a white religion."

Earlier, she apologetically passed out the movement's 16 Commandments. She admitted she had trouble getting into character.

"It's hard to put yourself in that mindset," she said after class "It was important for the class to see it, even if it creeps me out."

One aspect of The Creativity Movement, Simon said, is a relentless attack on Jews. But people continue to blame Jews, collectively and individual, for the death of Jesus.

He's written a skit portraying a trial on the question, which he asked the students on the first day of class: Who killed Jesus?

One group chose to use the script. Students portrayed Jews and Romans and concluded Pontius Pilate was responsible for the crucifixion.

It segues into another of the professor's teaching points: Over the centuries, Jews have been attacked by mobs over the matter. "Throughout Christian history," he said, "you don't find any hostility toward the Romans."

None of the students were Muslim, Jewish or any faith that, in America, is a minority. The class counts toward general studies requirements, meaning students from majors with no relation to religion and world conflict get exposed to both.


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