Ever since I entered my old school back in Colombia, which the majority of its students were Catholic, all non-Catholic students had the privilege to stay up in the library during mass. Mass: the Holy Communion. Mass is when Catholics or Christians gather up to pray, just like we Muslims do on Fridays, they do it in my old school every once a month or so.
Every time we had mass, I stayed up in the library studying along with my Jewish and Atheist friends. At the beginning of the school year we were around ten non-Catholics. As months passed by, the number of students not attending mass started to increase. Many students started claiming that they were atheist in order to stay up in the library and do their undone homework; they got away with it at the beginning.
Last year during early March, as usual, there was the monthly mass. But this Mass was different; little did the school principal know that what she decided was going lead to chaos.
I was up in the library when all of a sudden the Dean of Discipline walked in saying: ‘from now on, you must all attend mass whether you like it or not, it’s an order from the school’s principal! I bet half of you here are Catholic and are here to do your homework! What a shame!’ I was shocked, we all were. My friends and I went up to her saying that she didn’t have the right to force us to attend, why take our privilege away when it’s not our fault that they were running away from their mass. She forced us to go downstairs with her to the mass and so we did.
Once we were downstairs, the principal was standing there waiting for us. My Jewish friends and I went up to her saying that it was unfair. ‘You’re all bad influence to the Catholic students, they think it’s cool staying up there surfing the web and doing homework, they’re starting to claim that they´re atheist because of your example!’ she shouted. I was furious. Tears of fury and rage started sliding down my cheeks. ‘You have no right to say that we’re bad influence because of our religion! You neither have the right to force us to attend mass! That’s disrespectful!’ I shouted. ‘NO LES VAMOS A METER CUCHARACHAS POR LA CABEZA!’ we are not going to fill your head with cockroaches, she shouted. All the 300 students were staring and listening, so was the priest. I didn’t feel ashamed at all, I felt that what I was doing was right, and it was. She took me to the counselor where I told Ms. Karen (the counselor) everything and let go. That was the principal’s solution; it was poor.
As the academic year started to come to an end, we no longer had the right to stay up in the library, I was still furious. Instead, we had to attend mass but sit at the very end while listening to the Preach do his thing. Since the day of the incident, many started giving me uncomfortable looks of hate, I felt a bit ashamed. I started thinking that those who gave me looks thought Muslims and I disrespect and hate their religion. I was the only one who knew that it wasn’t like that at all.
We were in English class one day when Mr. Omar said: ‘My dear Juniors, today’s class is going to be different, we are going to prepare a special mass in English for the Seniors to wish them luck during their final exams next week! So who’s willing to read the bible?’ I instantly raised my hand to volunteer. All the class was in shock and so was Mr. Omar. ‘Leanah?’ he said with a surprised look on his face. ‘Yes, I’m willing to do it sir’, I said with a smile on my face. That week’s English classes were no study but lots of practice, I learned all the mass songs and practiced reading the parts of the bible I was going to read out loud during mass, in front of the whole school, including the school’s Principal.
The day of the mass came, I felt intimidated by the amount of students in there, and thank god my classmates were there to support me. The mass started and there I was with my classmates singing all the catholic songs we learned during the previous week. ‘Open the eyes of my heart lord, open the eyes of my heart, I want to see you, I want to see you’, I sang. While singing, many gave me looks that spoke for themselves saying: ‘what the hell does she think she’s doing up there singing about Jesus and God?!’. Although it felt uncomfortable, I just smiled and carried on singing.
Once we finished singing, I was up on the platform behind the podium with the Holy Bible right in front of me. I started reading. All the students had their mouths wide open; they were surprised. The principal’s reaction was priceless. When I finished, I felt relieved; I felt that what I had done was for tolerance.
When the mass was over, the school’s religion teacher went up on the platform and took hold of the microphone. ‘I would like to congratulate our Juniors for hosting such an amazing mass. I would specially like to congratulate Leanah for her brave actions. She’s an example of acceptance and culture. Our Holy Bible clearly states that the world will one day end because of wars between religions. This was an act of peace, and we should all look up to her and follow her example. Religions, no matter which one it is, should all be respected. Leanah please stand up’ he said. I stood up and received a round of applause from the whole school. It was the best feeling in the world.
In the end, I stood up for my religion, and I showed them that Muslims and I respect their religion, therefore they should respect ours as well. I changed their perception of Muslims to the better, which was the best part. Wherever you go, remember that you are representing your culture and religion, accept and respect others as well in order for them to accept and respect yours. From that day onwards, I created a new rule for myself, it’s called the RRA rule. Respect, Represent and Accept.
Leanah Al Awadhi