Heaven or Peter Pan

by Laura Boushnak


I walked out of school that day confused about a piece of advice given by my religion teacher. She had decided to come up with her own fatwa, or religious edict, and informed the whole class that a Muslim should not shake the hands with a Christian. I was just nine years old and her recommendation troubled me greatly, as it made me think of my mother’s beautiful German friend, Tante Mimi. The advice was forcing me to choose between heaven and Peter Pan. You see, Tante Mimi worked at a local movie store in Kuwait, where I was living, and used to bring me cartoon films every time she visited us. So, if I were to follow my religious teacher’s advice, how should I react next time I saw Tante Mimi with a much-awaited new movie? Perhaps I could tap my hand on my chest twice. I’d seen other women doing this to avoid shaking hands with men. Or maybe I could put a piece of cloth over my hand so there would be no direct skin contact! Luckily I was still young enough to fall under the influence of my parents, who had lots of friends who were Christians. My acceptance of what some tried to describe as “the others” had even grown further more during my years at a school run by Catholic nuns, where I did my studies with many Christian classmates. The only time we had to separate was for the religion lesson – at my school it was compulsory to teach Islam but teaching catechism to Christians was banned. I envied my Christian classmates for the free hour they would get, while I had to listen to yet another lecture that didn’t allow any sort of argument to take place.

My point is that some of my teachers permitted themselves to irresponsibly invent their own Islamic behavioral rules without really thinking of the huge damage they might do to impressionable young students. Such advice given by my teacher many years ago must have left some of the students intolerant towards ”the others”, or the minority groups in the Arab world, who are usually attacked and forced to leave when a conflict arises.