Friday, October 26, 2012

Happy Eid!

Today is one of the two most important Muslim holidays - the Festival of Sacrifice, known internationally by its Arabic name Eid al-Adha, and in Bulgaria by its Turkish name Kurban Bayryam. So, happy Eid to all who celebrate!

Some time ago, Highlander wrote a post wishing that, as Muslims like her remember other people's holidays and greet them, other people would do the same. I think she is right. Indeed, I do not feel a need to write special posts congratulating Eid, because I do not do it for Christmas, either (I only send e-mails to relatives, friends and colleagues). I just happen to have an Eid-related post, and unfortunately it is not as pleasant as I hope the holiday will be.

After human populations first disseminated, diverged, and then remixed, there is no escape of diversity. And, to say the inconvenient truth, it is a burden. I am not saying that we must destroy diversity - it should be accepted in most cases, but accepted as the liability it is. Mistaking a liability for an asset is a recipe for disaster, and not just in economic life. This is why most people of all cultures equally resent multiculturalism. By insisting that diversity is a blessing, multiculturalists make an assertion that contradicts the everyday experience of everybody and so make fools of themselves.

My worst multiculti-related problem was three or four years ago, when I had practicals with a group of Turkish students on Friday from 11.30 to 13.00. I rarely had more than half of the group in the lab, because, as they said, they had to go to the mosque and pray. Because practicals are mandatory, it was quite difficult to me to finish the semester successfully. To be honest, I also felt uncomfortable trying to teach young people to whom, by their own admission, prayer was more important than study - I thought we all were just wasting our time. Incidentally, the next semester this group had its biology practical on Monday, but the attendance rate did not improve. Students are first-class swindlers, an older colleague of mine often says, meaning students like these. And I bet that the same people who (ab)use their religion as an excuse to indulge in laziness will be the first to accuse others in Islamophobia.

The Eids are days when you cannot realistically - and should not - expect attendance by Muslim students. However, while Bulgarian Muslims leave just for a day or two, the foreign students disappear for at least a week, and then we must think how to compensate. Anyway. So, when on Oct. 11 a group of Muslim students from different countries said they would not be here next week because of Eid, I said OK, we'll have a longer practical in two weeks, and they agreed. Because Eids are determined based on the lunar calendar, their dates change every year, and I had no idea about when the Eid would take place.

The popular Gloria Gaynor's song I will survive says that you stay alive as long as you know how to love. This can be extended far beyond erotic love: your soul is alive as long as you meet your fellow humans with trust and goodwill triumphing over experience. Unfortunately, interactions with people too often bring experiences that, as Bulgarians say, "ubivat vsichko detsko v nas" (kill our inner child - actually, our inner human). However, even when we are brought to the point of treating others with suspicion, we are still obliged to show the appearence of trust because good manners require it. So I resisted my first knee-jerk impulse to leave the lab, go to my room and make a quick Web search about the date of Eid.

I did this search five minutes later, when the practical was over. And I found that Eid al-Adha in 2012 would be on Oct. 26, that is, not in the week of Oct. 15-19 for which my students had asked a permission to be away, but in the next week when they had promised to come. In other words, they had just arranged a nice 2-week vacation in the midst of a semester, "by permission" of their teacher, at least as far as biology was concerned.

I tried to find them in the cafes around, but they had left the area. Next day, I went to their lecture, but only one student from the group was there, and she seemed not to understand me. Several hours later, I managed at last to find the group - at a cytology practical. I said I had checked the date of Eid and I was very angry. They apologized and said they had make a mistake about the date and they were about to call me to correct it. I openly said that I don't believe Muslims could mistake the date of Eid, but let's leave this alone, I am expecting them all the next week. And they came.

Maybe it had been a misunderstanding after all? I hope so; I generally like this group. And, as a teacher, I must blame myself for not checking the date beforehand. Let this be, as we say, an earring on my ear - i.e. a good lesson for me. As soon as I am supplied with a calendar for 2013, I intend to find out when the Eids are and to highlight their dates on the calendar with a thick, red, permanent marker, to avoid similar situations in the future.

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