On December 7, 2016

CSJ discusses Middle Eastern Culture

College of St. Joseph hosted a Conversation on Middle Eastern Culture on Nov. 28, where four panelists, including three former residents of various Middle Eastern countries, discussed a range of topics from religion, clothing, language and more.
The Rev. Bruce Bishop, a faculty member at College of St. Joseph, discussed the influence of mainstream Islam on individuals’ daily lives.
“Religion is part and parcel of their mindset,” he said, noting that the responsibility to pray five times daily can foster a deeper spiritual connection than with those who practice other religions.
Bishop also discussed how terrorism and Islam are not interchangeable words, noting that, “terrorism is not reserved for Islam.”
Rabbi Doug Weber, who teaches courses in philosophy at CSJ, lived in Israel for two years and stressed the notion that like other Middle Eastern countries, Israel is not monolithic. However, unlike other countries, Israel is the only true democracy in the area, with a 40 percent secular population.
Panelist Dr. Erika Berner spent 16 years in the Middle East, teaching and holding administration jobs at universities and colleges in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Berner is currently a business instructor at CSJ.
Dressed in a traditional black Abaya and Hijab, she began by discussing the dress code and common misconceptions regarding women’s rights.“Nothing in the Koran says that women need to cover themselves,” she said. “It is a tradition stemming from the desert, but Saudi Arabia has said that this is what women have to wear at this time.”
She also discussed education, especially of women, and their reasoning behind pursuing an education. Berner noted how surprised she was when she was receiving the same answers from various women.
“They all said that they wanted to delay marriage, to make more money, and to make things easier for their grandchildren,” she said, highlighting that they were already thinking forward two generations.
Berner’s husband, Bruce Dobbins, is a senior security consultant for the Kuwait Security Decisions follow-up committee. Dobbins is a former resident of the Middle East and still routinely travels there for business. In his presentation, he discussed dress code for men, and briefly touched on media misconceptions of the area.
Dressed in a traditional Thobe, Dobbins explained the reasoning behind the garb, sharing that the Ghutrah, or headdress, helps protect from sun, dust and sand. The Agal, or the black cord used to keep the Ghutrah in place, can be wrapped around a camel’s leg to prevent it from standing up.
“If you think losing a Horse is inconvenient, you have no idea how inconvenient it is to lose your Camel in the desert,” Dobbins said.
There were roughly 80 individuals in attendance, and many asked questions of the panelists including the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam and more.

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