Connecting Faith with Fieldwork

July 22, 2016
Mayan Sewing
Micaela (one of our collaborators) taught us how she sews scarves and blankets for herself and others.

By Noor Tasnim '18

As my teammates and I approach the end of our program, we have begun to reflect on how we have grown as individuals during the past two months. However, in addition to acknowledging my personal growth, I could not help but notice how much the world has drastically changed within the past few weeks.

The towns we have been working with near Lake Atitlán have been some of the most peaceful sites that I have visited in my travels. Strangers greet one another with smiles and no altercations can be seen on the streets. Hence, it has been difficult to believe that so much violence has occurred throughout the world recently. It has been just as difficult to cope with the discrimination that my Muslim brothers and sisters have faced as a result of these events.

Honestly, it’s been hard to keep in touch with my religion while being in Guatemala. The only mosques in the country are in a city that is on Duke’s Restricted Regions List and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan in the highlands while doing fieldwork proved to be impossible. Therefore, I have tried to reflect on aspects of my fieldwork through Islam, and one key principle has helped me acknowledge the burden our research participants undergo to support their families. As a result, I figured I should shed some positive light on Islam as the media and politicians continue its negative portrayal.

The team has been conducting semi-structured interviews on indoor air quality and sexually transmitted infections with women of all ages. Through this manner, we have been able to learn about their daily activities. Many of them spend most of their days at home, cooking, cleaning, and taking of their children, while their husbands leave their homes early in the morning to work and come back later in the evening. Now don’t get me wrong, the men in these communities put in hard work to earn money for their families. However, it is also important to acknowledge all the hardships mothers face to take care of their children. I’ll leave you with two notable quotes that I’ve used to connect my faith with fieldwork.

  1. “And We have enjoined upon man, to his parents, good treatment. His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him with hardship. (Quran 46:15)

    This quote highlights the struggles mothers must face to ensure the well being of their children well before they are born! It has been admirable to observe participants’ children aiding their mothers during our interviews. While walking down the streets of Santa Cruz La Laguna, it is normal to see small children carrying firewood and older children washing clothes. These children have acknowledged the effort their mothers have put in to support their families, which are often large, and have provided her with “good treatment” to return the favor.

  2. A man came to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." The man said. "Who is next?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." The man further said, "Who is next?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." (Sahih Bukhari)

    All things considered, Islam emphasizes that we treat our mothers with utmost respect. Our research participants, like most mothers throughout the world, work day and night to support and nourish their children. It has been beautiful to see how much love and care mothers provide their children throughout their whole lives, even after these children become adults. The least we can do is provide our mothers with company, reciprocate their affection, and thank them for all they have done for us.

Noor Tasnim is a rising junior majoring in Evolutionary Anthropology and Global Health