This paper examines a cross-cultural interview between a Caucasian Christian person and International Muslim student. The Muslim student interviewed the Caucasian Christian person on issues dealing with differing religions, especially the backgrounds and the viewpoint of marriage as a merging of two spiritual journeys and how the spirituality is often avoided in secular counseling settings. The answers were written down and then interpreted based on readings done regarding Christian and Muslim religions, the awareness model, and Systemic Influences on Mental Health Counseling.
A Cross-Cultural Interview
Religious identity conflicts are among the most difficult faced by the individuals in our society and raise important clinical, ethical, and conceptual problems for mental health professionals. This is why I chose to chose this important topic for this cultural interview. M is a Caucasian Christian male and I am a Muslim female. The interview was conducted on the different points of view about religions; Muslim religion versus Christianity. I decided to interview him because I have some bias towards the Christian religion. I also would like to be more aware about these issues and to be more knowledgeable and to deal with these differences. This individual is my boyfriend’s friend. The interview was conducted at M’s house and lasted about two hours.
I have known M since last year when my boyfriend introduced M to me. M is the middle child of three. He was born and raised in Indianapolis. His family is American with a prominent German background. M’s grandparents came to the United States from Germany looking for a new start. M’s grandparents brought with them part of the German culture, and this was an integrative part of his growing up. M’s family is practicing Evangelical Christianity (e.g., belief in the Bible, Holy Spirit, and Rapture,
During the interview, M discussed relationships, family, and cultural differences. M shared some things about his childhood that I probed into more since I am now writing a paper. One particular story was about his father’s absence. Mike’s father ran away from his family when Mike was 2. From childbirth, he lived with his mother and other two brothers. His mother had three children and worked hard to raise them.
M and I had also an interesting talk about how his mother mixed the American and German cultures together while she was raising him as a Christian. He told me that they were conformed to the American culture, and he considered himself as 100% American. It seems to follow an identifiable sequence.
M added that the family should be an important thing in a person’s life. He has different cultures within his family group, which has a big influence on him. He thinks that living with an extended family is a weird thing, but he can deal with it. M said that he would be more comfortable seeking counseling services within churches or by Christian counselors. He believes that a different background and culture is a bias, and he believes that capable individuals are those who are able to solve their life problems and be able to counsel others with the Scripture.
As we were discussing the cultural differences, M said that the primary difference between American culture and other cultures is the religion. He tried to express that he is open to other cultures by discussing their differences in all kinds of areas such as religion, food, and clothing. He also said that he loves eating Chinese and Mexican food, besides the American food. M also has a girlfriend from Burma, which is located in southeastern Asia between Bangladesh and Thailand.
M classified Christmas and Easter as the important holidays and traditions in his culture that help him to confirm his Christianity and identity as a pure Christian American. Since there is countless dissimilarity between me and him, I wanted to be more focused on his religion which is Christianity. I wanted to try to show the differences and the similarities with Islam, which is my religion.
We started our conversation about his relationship with his girlfriend, who is from another culture and Christian. We talked about the way they met and what are their plans as a couple. The discussion was really so deep in terms of mixed marriage and religious insight. In his point of view, Christian women must be careful about marrying Muslim men. Islam does not give the same rights to women as it does to men. In fact, the Quran clearly says that women are inferior to men. M said that Muslim men are permitted to have sex with their slave-girls, Islam is not the religion of peace, and Islam does not honor women. Therefore, if a Christian woman marries a Muslim; the children would be Muslims. He experienced this with his best friend who married a Muslim male whose wife converted to his religion. He asked me to see the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 7:39 which says that a Christian woman may marry only a Christian man (and vice-versa).
M added that at the first glance, this divine counsel seems to him too restrictive but if looked at more deeply it demonstrates a lot of wisdom. If a married couple starts their walk together with the same faith and theology, then this takes the pressure off of possibly converting the partner to the other’s faith. One partner does not have to “evangelize” the other partner. Neither partner starts off as an “infidel” or “heretic.”
M said that in Biblical Christianity, the man and the woman must have a deep, spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ, individually, through the power of the Holy Spirit before they become one flesh in marriage. This means their spiritual intimacy with the Lord will be shared in the couple’s own intimacy with each other. Also, this true spiritual equality takes away any patriarchy. The woman already agrees with the husband in matters of religion, so what need does he have to control the relationship and lay down religious law? M was holding some stereotypes about Islam which are not true. He said that Islam wrongly demotes Jesus to a mere prophet and the New Testament everywhere affirms he is the Son of God. M stated that the Muslim religion does not receive the Holy Spirit, because they do not receive Christ as Savior and Lord. In fact, Islamic theology erroneously reduces the Holy Spirit to the angel Gabriel. This means that a marriage between a Muslim and a Christian would be unequal. This is risky for Christian; since she would be most vulnerable to a particularly strong patriarchy that may rear its ugly head later on in the marriage. He also was telling me that the Quran gives permission to husbands to hit their wives. In M’s point of view, if a Christian understands the New Testament, then he or she must not marry a Muslim, for spiritual and theological reasons. He added that a Christian couple must keep spiritual unity. They must raise their children in spiritual harmony as followers of Christ. It is especially popular tradition that puts all the weight of the family honor on the chastity of the women.
M was also stated that Islam allows Muslim men to marry Christian women, but it does not allow a Christian man to marry a Muslim woman. He believes that Islam is allegedly using “openness, tolerance, and non-discrimination”. He added that men are in control. It may be true that individual Muslim men may not control things, and they may even be saintly.
When the interviewer was asking about the dissimilarities according to the Christian point of view, M says that a married Christian couple should be equally yoked together spiritually, in Christ. This means that the couple does not have to worry about deep theological differences. They start off in unity. The man does not have to worry about her being an infidel. The man does not have to exert patriarchal control just to keep a semblance of unity. The children are raised Christians, little followers of Christ. The family is therefore harmonious. According to M’s experience with the Muslim community, M told me that he has many Muslim friends and one of them is marrying his best Christian friend who converted her religion to Islam. He also mentioned that a Catholic cannot marry a Muslim in the Church. His best friend was in this situation, left the Catholic Church because the priest would not marry her and her Muslim fiance. But he had no intention of converting and the Church cannot give a Christian sacrament to a non-Christian. M was mad, because he was thinking that his Muslim friend did not respect his wife’s religion and he forced her to convert her religion. He also stated that his Muslim friend was always telling them that he will never marry a Christian woman if she will not be a Muslim, and M did not appreciate that. M said that he cannot imagine being married to and loving someone whom does not also love Jesus Christ, and is ultimately destined for the fires of hell.
M told me about hearing an interview on the radio with a Muslim, a few months ago. As the interview began the host asked the Muslim guest whether he was married. He replied that Islam is so open and tolerant that he is married to a Christian. Islam means equality and no discrimination. However, the interviewer asked him if Islam allows a Christian man to marry a Muslim woman. And the Muslim individual’s enthusiasm dropped a little, because he had to concede that Islam does not allow this. M added that the guy on the radio also said that Islam is the best and final religion for all humankind, and the Muslim man may convert his submissive wife. Then he mentioned that those are the reasons to call Muslim Arabs terrorist and it may be true that they are responsible of September 11, 2001 terrorist.
I was not surprised to hear from M the kinds of statements about Islam, because my boyfriend was telling me about his point of view from the beginning and I prepared myself to be more professional and respect his point of view and awareness. I wanted to interview M in order to have an experience working with the different and the dominant religious and racial community in the United States. According to Sue and Sue (2007), there is an assumption that White Americans who are born and raised in the United States may move through levels of consciousness regarding their own identity as racial beings The reaction I had from the beginning is that I wished to explain to M that marriage holds a major place in Islam as the basic structure of Islamic society, which is the family. I felt so bad and awkward meeting a person that has these stereotypes about Islam. I felt awful interviewing him at times, especially when he was defensive about Christianity. I think that M is one of the people who has these stereotypes in his culture. I felt awful to be limited and do not know much about Christianity, which kept me silent. Some counselors may avoid discussing clients’ spiritual or religious values or experiences due to the lack of their own training (Weinstein, Parker, & Archer, 2002). Therefore, these counselors may not see the need to examine their own spiritual or religious values. As Muslims, I believe in other religions and I respect them. As a professional, it is important to be aware of the other religions’ identity as well as experiences of discrimination and harassment (Sue & Sue).
The Koran and the tradition advise to marry in order to finish our religion’s rules. According to McGoldrick and Garcia-Preto (2005) Muslim man is allowed to marry non-Muslim women, but a Muslim girl is not permitted to marry non-Muslims, because the man is supposed to be the spiritual leader of the home, a girl is thought vulnerable to oppression for her beliefs if she marries a non-Muslim. Quran is equivalent to the Bible in Christianity (Sue & Sue chap 19). I think that M showed some negative feelings towards Islam and Muslims, which made me feel bad and angry. I agree with him that the Muslim woman cannot marry a Non-Muslim man according to Islamic law; while a Muslim man may marry a woman who is from “the people of the book”, who are Christians and Jews who received the God of the Old Testament. Mormons and Hindu’s would not be considered “the people of the book”. I believe that the reason that he revealed such strong attitudes is because of his best friend who got married and then converted her to Islam. At this point I felt somehow better, because there is something true about Islam which prompts her to convert. M related the topic of conversion in upcoming conversations. Each one was trying to convince the other. He stated that he was always praying for his other friends to convert to Christianity, because, in his opinion that they will go to Hell. At this point, I felt so bad that he had those things on his mind and it is extremely sad when people have negative attitude about Islam.
M stated during the interview that he is a spiritual person; M believed that spirituality is a belief in a higher power which allows him to make meaning of life and the universe. It may or may not be linked to a formal religion, but there is little doubt that it is a powerful force in the human condition. Therefore, the spirituality must be seen as an intimate aspect of the human condition and legitimate aspect of mental health work. Sue & Sue (2007). Many groups accept the prevalence of spirituality in nearly all aspects of life.
As a counselor, I can gain more insight into how to respond creatively and effectively to tremendous mental health challenges, even with limited resources. It is impressive how the Muslim counselors have mobilized to proactively deal with emerging mental health problems without the relative affluence of their American counterparts (Paul E. Priester 2008). Counselors could learn from their counterparts’ examples of how to provide mental health services to a population that is unfamiliar with the counseling process. Some of these practices are suggested, but rarely implemented in the context of cross-cultural counseling in the United States (Sue & Sue, 2005).Western counselors could also learn how to better integrate religion with counseling. American counseling researchers and practitioners may endorse the integration of religious issues into the counseling process without consideration for the theoretical presuppositions that they may have to change prior to being able to unify these areas in a nonpathologizing manner.
In hearing M’s beliefs, he thought that the common view is that Christian counselors are the experts or the most qualified to offer solutions to life problems such as anxiety, marital and parenting problems, depression, family conflict, and interpersonal problems. He believes that Christian books explain life problems and offer solutions like self-esteem, self-pity, self-love, self-confidence, my inner needs, self-acceptance, self-control, and self-help. There is an urgent challenge to evangelical seminaries to equip ministers to be biblical counselors, people who are capable of solving their life problems with the Scripture, and be able to counsel others by applying God’s Word to human problems (Adams, 1970). As a counselor, I think it is important to have clients who need help and I would feel proud and competent to work with them. M’s beliefs make it hard to convince him to seek services which made feel me how incompetent I am. I would feel uncomfortable working with him, since we are from different religions.
In M’s beliefs, as well, it is correct that there can only be a Sacrament between two Baptized parties. However, there can still be a valid marriage between the Christian and the non-Christian, who are recognized by the Church, and then the marriage would be “valid” in the sense of being a valid social contract with the children not being considered illegitimate. It is not valid in the sense of being a Sacrament. I think that is what M was saying. He let me wonder how I will be helping a Muslim and Christian couple looking for services, and how I will be the instrument to make them integrate and live within both societies. This made feel how hard and painful it will be and what those couples will be facing. I think that marrying a Muslim has been really disheartening by the negative views expressed everywhere in regards to Catholic/Muslim marriage. The inappropriate and mistaken views of how Muslim men view women made me feel horrible to witness those people who love each other deal with some issues, because of the stereotypes that everyone has. I have an Islamic friend (who converted from Christian) who told me that she had never been treated with respect by any of the Catholic men that she had dated in the past, and she is in awe daily of her Muslim husband’s honesty and devotion to religion and others. This couple discussed religion constantly and had a mutual respect for each other’s religions. M had feelings of sorrow and anger towards his friends, and he showed his fear to the interviewer.
In sum, it appears to me that even if a counselor does not self-identify as a “faith-based” practitioner, there exists a need for a certain level of competency in addressing spiritual matters. Especially, given that all counselors practicing in contemporary American culture will inevitably treat individuals who consider themselves spiritual and/or religious. Additionally, I think that clients are seeking spiritual guidance during the therapy process to a greater extent than ever previously noted (Hagedorn & Gutierrez; Weld & Eriksen, 2007). In fact, Dale and Hunt (2008) and Rowling (2008) both noted clients’ desire for integrated, holistic counseling services that include discussions of spiritual and religious issues. Cashwell and Young (2005) agreed with this assertion when they hypothesized that all counselors, including those who work in secular settings, have an ethical responsibility to “use every approach available that will support a client’s progress, including interventions oriented to promote spiritual development” Cashwell and Young, 2005, p.3).
In terms of terrorist attacks, I agree that it had a negative impact on people who appear “foreign,” Sue & Sue (2007), especially Muslims. It is obvious that these stereotypes of Muslims came from September 11, 2001. People hear so much negative propaganda against Islam, but if people actually research the subject they will find the exact opposite. Islam has also been portrayed as a violent religion.
In our increasingly global and diverse world, counselors need to develop an ability to work with individuals whose backgrounds and experiences are different from their own. Cross-cultural knowledge and skills are a must for counselors who work with culturally different people and their families. Counselors must sharpen their skills in how to listen, how to value different cultural norms, and how to question their own culturally conditioned values (Diller & Moule, 2005).
Sue and Sue (2007, chap. 20), Hines and Boyed-Franklin(1996), and Fuller (1995) discuss the importance of being aware of one’s own culture, bias, and limitation regarding culture. As a Muslim, It is important to be aware of the Christian identity as well as experiences of discrimination and harassment, be knowledgeable about Christian holidays in the same way as Muslim holidays, and become aware of my own biases and assumptions about Christians. After interviewing M, I feel I am more capable to work with Christian people, because I got to understand our differences. It helped me to become more culturally aware. I would never expect to watch someone who hates Islam and stay calm. This interview has led me to examine our differences and realized that they exist.
Sue and Sue (2007, Chp.1) discussed the awareness of self as an important element in learning to work with culturally different individuals whose backgrounds differ from that of the counselor. To work effectively with culturally different people, it is important for counselors to be aware of their own socio-cultural backgrounds, assumptions, biases, values and perspectives with regard to culturally different individuals. As a counselor, I must come to grips with issues such as racism, sexism, economic and social class, and other realities that cannot be ignored if I want to understand diversity and the experiences of other from diverse backgrounds (Baird, 1996). Now, I am more aware of where my client culture is about and where my beliefs and values are. From recognizing this, I can be more conscious of where it is M., along with others are coming from. I am now able to recognize that the difference exists.