Can you imagine, a blond-haired blue-eyed girl, from a mostly white community in Minnesota, you probably wouldn’t guess that one day she would be wearing the hijab (the Muslim head covering) and devoting her professional life to interfaith work and yet here I am.
I want to share my ongoing journey with you because I have learned some important lessons about religion in multi-faith America today.
I grew up as the daughter of a pastor, and I come from a lineage of pastors and lay leaders from Norway and Germany on both sides of my family. So doing religious work is in my genes growing up.
I was highly involved in the Christian community. I served as a Sunday school teacher, went on mission trips and used to sing solos in church. However, as I grew older I started questioning my faith. There were concepts in Christianity which didn’t make sense to me.
Over time, I left my hometown to attend college and ended up studying major religions of the world.
I took an Islam class to learn about a new part of the world. Learning about Islam or any world religion was simply an academic endeavor. But on a personal level at that point in my life, I decided maybe it was the best choice for me.
So I continued my educational career and went to a graduate school to study higher education. In my first year in grad school, I was looking to make new friends at the university. They had a large international student population and I became friends with some Somali and Pakistani students.
The level of hospitality and generosity I received from those students was amazing, and I noticed that they had this inner peace and happiness that made me curious. So I decided I should look into this. Long as I wanted inner peace and happiness too. It changed my whole academic paper I was working on in grad school.
I learned about Islam and its core beliefs and I knew that Islam was right for me, but I didn’t know when the right time would be to officially accept that. At this time I was in summer school which is stressful and I was going through so many struggles. One night matters got really bad and decided I needed a break.. so I went out on a walk and I talked to God for the first time in eight years. It was wonderful to have God back in my life as a resource that I could turn to. This was one of the happiest times in my life.
I spent my second year of grad school navigating my new identity as a Muslim woman. When I graduated I’ve looked for my dream job but wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Instead, I focused my efforts on the goal of finding a job with paying off my student loans.
As a Muslim, I had to pray several times a day and at my new workplace, they didn’t have a place for me to pray which surprised me. As they had them in so many places I’ve worked in the past, so I decided it would be best to organize some diversity training so people could learn the basic information about Islam and Muslim culture.
Doing this training is crucial because there’s so much misinformation about Islam that needs to be corrected especially Since Islam is the second-largest religion in the world and it is the fastest-growing religion in the world and in the United States as well. It’s important for people to know about such a large population of people on your planet so that they can be a good neighbor to them.
Building The Quiet space
When I first realized there was no place for me to pray I started talking to my friends then my supervisor next our VP of HR and finally our CEO and president about it. Everyone I talked to agreed to be a positive ally and supported me. I thought I could benefit people from every background by building this space, so I intentionally chose a secular name for that space.
I used to be an atheist and at some point in my life, and I did not want to practice any religion at all. So I wanted to honor and respect people don’t want religion in their life. I wanted a safe place for atheists to use the room to reflect or just have a quiet place to escape and we also needed it to pray and meditate so I called it “quiet space”.
There was one hurdle and that was figuring out where the space would be located. It did take some time to research finding a space that is ideal for Muslims to pray, which includes being clean private and quiet. Eventually, I found a space that fit all those criteria. It took me two years to build, but now there is a designated place for people to pray, meditate and reflect.
Unfortunately, culture is used to limit leadership opportunities for women. This is true in the secular world as well as in religious contexts. However, through my research, I found that Islam actually encourages women to be leaders.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) celebrated many strong women during his time including Khadija (r) and Ayesha (a). I found my life’s calling of doing multi-faith work with my unique background. I used to help people understand that Islam is a positive religion and that Muslims are normal people.
Zan Christ is a multi-faith speaker for collegiate programs and community events. She has an undergraduate degree in World Religions from Hamline University.