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The Man Next Door Wears a Dress: Effective Cross-Cultural Communication
A new family just moved in next door to you. To your amazement, the man wears a long robe, which to you looks quite like a fancy dress. How do you react? Do you look forward to getting to know them? Or does the thought “There goes the neighborhood!” cross your mind instead? Many books have been written on the subject of Islam, so why write one more?...
A new family just moved in next door to you. To your amazement, the man wears a long robe, which to you looks quite like a fancy dress. How do you react? Do you look forward to getting to know them? Or does the thought “There goes the neighborhood!” cross your mind instead? Many books have been written on the subject of Islam, so why write one more? First of all, there are still a lot of misunderstandings about Islam, as there are about any other religion for that matter. The fact that adherents of the same religion may differ widely in their views about how their religion should be practiced can make it difficult for an outsider to sort out what the core beliefs are of that particular religion. With this in mind and knowing that most books on the subject of Islam are academic, Raymond Béland wanted to write a book that would be interesting to read and informative. At the same time it had to be a book that anyone with an interest in knowing more about Muslims could read in a few hours. It is not a book intended only for scholars or for people who intend to make a career of working with Muslims. Books on Islam tend to be either vehemently anti-Muslim or unrealistically idealistic about Islam. This book strives to present a balanced and realistic approach. It is impossible to separate religion from culture, so to be able to understand another religion we need to know about the culture of the people who adhere to that religion. We all tend to see things through the eyes of our culture--what this or that would mean in the context of our culture--failing to see that in another cultural context it could mean something entirely different. For this reason, it is not possible to write a book that can clearly define Islam, since Islam varies enormously according to the cultural background of the person who practices it. The same could be said about Christianity. In Europe, Christian worship can be very different than Christian worship in North America, in Africa or in South America. The religious practice of each is tinted by its cultural roots. In this book, Béland tries to bring the reader to a point where he or she can look through the eyes of people from a different culture. Why do they think like this? Why do they react that way? Why are they so easily offended? We need to remember that even if someone is not happy or satisfied with his religion, changing religions is not as simple as changing jobs or changing friends. Changing religion for some can mean being cast out from the family, being ostracized by friends and neighbors, being beaten, losing a job, being separated from one’s children, changing one’s core values, it may even mean death. Those are not things to be taken lightly. Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). The Man Next Door Wears a Dress points out teachings and practices of Islam which, in the opinion of most Christians, are totally unacceptable but it also points out things Christians may do that to Muslims might also seem totally unacceptable and often for good reasons. Many Christians need to remove the “plank” from their eye. Béland asks questions such as: Have you ever thought of changing religions? If not, why not? What makes you think your religion is the best? Why would a Muslim want to become a Christian or why would he not want to become a Christian? What are the things that may attract him and what are the things which may turn him away? The book contains many examples taken from Béland’s personal experience, having lived for many years and still living in predominantly Muslim countries. Although the book explains some of the teachings of Islam, it is not a study of Islam. The book does give examples of do's and dont's when trying to build relationships with Muslims. The book is not a condemnation of Islam or of any other religion. Hopefully a sincere Muslim could read this book and enjoy it, since it highlights good points as well as bad points in Islam and does the same with Christianity. The intent is that, Christians or Muslims, after reading the book, will have a desire to engage in dialogue with each other in a constructive way, not for the purpose of bashing each other’s religion. We need to walk a mile in each other’s shoes before reaching conclusions about each other’s faith and practices.
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