Meet Coley Marie who is an American Christian. Coley Marie took on a teaching position at an Islamic school several years ago and much to her surprise, her experiences have helped shape her view on what it really means to be a Muslim.
Coley Marie has been kind enough to share a little bit about her experiences with Verona Collection.
Interviewed by: Marwa Balkar
I'll be honest; it took me some time to feel comfortable as a Non-Muslim at myschool (I am one of four, by the way). At first, I felt more like a foreign exchangestudent rather than a teacher. I had to assimilate into a new culture, immersemyself in a new language, and adjust to my new surroundings. I alsohad reservations about sharing details with others regarding teaching at anIslamic school. In fact, I just recently went public with my workplace after keepingit under wraps for the past five years. As a result of putting my secret out into theuniverse, I’ve now opened the door for my family, my friends, and even strangersto have an interfaith conversation. This, to me, is the best thing that could havecome out of my decision to teach at an Islamic school – I’ve been empowered!That’s why I would encourage open-minded individuals, who are willing to stepoutside of their comfort zones, to teach at religious schools different than theirown - appreciating other religious beliefs is a key element of tolerance. I’ve alsolearned that Islam and Christianity share a lot of commonalities. For instance, Ihad no idea that Islam actually recognizes Christ as an important figure. We allcan learn something from one another – I’m so honored to be a light for others.
3. Is there anything interesting that you've learned or gained from teaching
at an Islamic school?
I’ve gained an appreciation of Islam and what it stands for in a time when there is such a pervasive anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States and beyond. I’ve built some wonderful relationships with my colleagues, students, and families, and I’ve become a better and more confident person as a result. My experience teaching at an Islamic School has also led me to begin writing for a digital magazine for modern Muslim women called Miss Muslim, which has been such an amazing opportunity! I’ve learned from being a part of this online community that there’s a spectrum in Islam just like there is in Christianity as it does a really great job at dispelling stereotypes about Muslims. It’s certainly been eye-opening for me.
4. Have you faced any discrimination from parents or students for being a Christian teacher at an Islamic school? If yes, how did you break down that barrier, and what was the outcome?
I’ve never once felt discriminated against or judged by any of my colleagues,students, or parents. In fact, I’ve always felt very accepted and embraced by myschool family. The parents value my teaching and the relationship that I have withtheir child, not my religious background. In a way, we’re all kind of intrigued byeach other. This past December, I participated in the "A Day in Her Hijab" eventin order to show my solidarity with the Muslim community. The moment mystudents finally saw me in a hijab for the first time was incredibly powerful. Itallowed them to know that despite all the hatred and discrimination their religionmay face, I am truly on their side.
5. Do you participate in any Islamic holidays or practices?
If yes, which one is your favorite?
I was able to witness my 5th and 6th graders fast for the first time duringRamadan this past May. I was in such awe of my students and felt morespiritually connected to them. After five years of teaching at my school, I finallyattended my first Ladies' Iftar at a colleague's home. It was such an unforgettableexperience, and I was able to gain more insight and learn more about theirtraditions and rituals during Ramadan. It was an honor to be a part of such asacred moment when they broke their fast, and it allowed me to connect with myschool family on a deeper level. I plan to attend an Iftar every year now! I’m alsolearning Arabic from a former student, which has been super challenging for me,to say the least.
6. From your experience of being a teacher at an Islamic school, can you
understand why there is so much animosity toward Muslim communities in
For the many Americans who have no personal experience knowing Muslims ashuman beings like I do, I can see why they may fear the religion due tothe overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Islam in the media post9/11. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t fully grasp the teachings of Islam;rather they are obtaining their information from biased and fear-eliciting newsprograms. As a result, they paint Muslims with a very broad brush, which is veryunfair. The Muslims that I know are some of the most insanely beautiful peopleinside and out, so I take it very personally whenever I hear anti-Muslimsentiments being expressed.
7. Being a non-Muslim who has existed within a Muslim community for a
while, what would you say to someone who fears Islam?
I’d urge a person who fears Islam to turn off the news and take the initiative tolearn more about Muslims and Islam from fair and accurate sources. I’d alsochallenge them to rise above their unfounded fears by taking the time to engagein some dialogue with a Muslim – maybe attend an interfaith event in theircommunity. If only they would look beyond the hijab and stereotypes, they wouldsee that they fully embrace the American values of family, freedom, andopportunity. I’d also tell people that Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims trulyhave the desire to help make this nation a great and safe place.
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