Three Cups of Tea Reflection
As I delved into Mortenson’s personal saga in Three Cups of Tea, my understanding of both this region of the world and Islam increased - Three Cups of Tea Reflection introduction. Several themes in these chapters caught my attention. The themes I was most interested in were the position of women, the importance of education in this region, and the true meaning of Islam. Three Cups of Tea showed me the true roots of Islam and the cultural practices associated with this area. This book made me withdraw my prejudices and form a new opinion about the inhabitants of this region.
As a woman, I was extremely interested in the status of women in both Islam and the Middle East. I had some preconceived notions about women in the Middle East, especially about the way they dressed and their positions compared with males in society. Several passages about women stuck out to me in this book. One of them was after Mortenson’s closest friend and one of the most honored leaders of Korphe, Haji Ali’s wife Sakina passed away. Haji Ali lovingly proclaimed, “I am nothing without her, nothing at all” (259). Mortenson remarks that for such a respected Muslim man to say this about a woman took a great deal of courage.
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This passage showed me the depth of respect that Muslim men have for their partners, their wives. The next section that interested me and pertained to women addressed the issue of the American women’s perspective on the traditional burkha, or covering around their face. As a modern, liberated American woman, I was most interested in this cultural practice. It was both this section of the book and our speaker on Muslim women that opened my eyes to the idea that burkhas were intended to liberate women instead of enslave them.
As opposed to showing skin to free themselves, Islamic women wear burkhas to protect women from themselves from the oppression of a chauvinistic society by concealing their most noticeable gift, their beauty. It was the comment of an Afghani woman that caught my attention, “We women of Afghanistan see the light through education, not through this or that hole in a piece of cloth” (289). This surprised me because it seemed counterintuitive. An Afghani woman who certainly had less educational opportunities compared with an American woman, claimed that she held education above all else, above fashion and above judgment from others.
Reflecting on this, I found that this was similar to the reason I chose to go to an all girls school. I would be free to study without the stress of having to look or act a certain way, and most importantly the boys I wanted so badly to impress would not judge me. Thinking back to my previous prejudice that dressing conservatively meant that women were not as respected in the Middle East, I understand now that this is false. I even found similarities in the motives for wearing burkas and attending a single sex school.
Both this book and the first hand experience of our speaker on Muslim women altered my opinions on women in the Middle East and in Islamic culture. I briefly touched on how important education is to women in Middle Eastern countries. Now I will share my reflection on the importance of education in general and Mortenson’s work. Though I knew that countries in the Middle East were severely impoverished and lacking education, it was not until I read Mortenson’s saga that I realized how vital an unbiased education is to these people.
Through his personal experience, Mortenson found that “the difference between them becoming a productive local citizen and a terrorist? I think the key is education” (268). As Americans we are often quick to point out that terrorism stems from the Middle East. However, if we looked into this discriminatory statement more in depth we find that not everyone in the Middle East is a terrorist and most importantly that these that are terrorists are lacking an impartial education. People are not born as terrorists, they learn it.
The countries that Mortenson works in use their institutions like schools to breed nationalism and racism. I now agree with Mortenson that terrorism stems from ignorance. I can even personally testify to this. Before I knew little about Islam and the Middle East I generally feared anyone from this region. My prejudice came from ignorance and ingrained racial discrimination in my socialization. Extremists in the Middle East are socialized into this way of thinking through their schooling. If more people in this region attended schools with an unbiased curriculum, there would be less terrorism.
I think the biggest tool we have to combat terrorism is not a gun or a bomb, as our foreign policy has shown, but instead simple education. The final theme I found both interesting and learned a lot about was the way of life through Islam. I have talked about my previous judgments of Muslims and how Mortenson’s book has changed or eliminated almost all of these opinions through examples. I now believe that the root of Islam is peace, not terror. I saw this exemplified repeatedly through Mortenson’s book.
One passage that stands out to me is when Mortenson is in Pakistan shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. A conservative Islam leader, Syed Abbas provokes this statement from Mortenson, “I wish Westerners who misunderstood Muslims could have seen Syed Abbas in action that day” (219). Syed Abbas, like most people in this region was truly sorry for this wrong doing against the United States. Thinking about my prejudice, I realized that others could judge me in the same way for the past mistakes of the religion I was raised – Christianity.
The historic and brutal Crusades can be contrasted against the Jihad of Islam now. The only difference is that people no longer judge Christians for this mistake, while we continue holding racial prejudices against Muslims for previous mistakes of their culture. Islam means peace, and I truly think that most of the people Mortenson met wanted unified peace, like Syed Abbas. I also think that the extremist groups that come out of the Middle East are not a result of religious devotion. Quite the opposite they directly disobey they Koran’s somewhat pacifistic call for peace unless provoked.
Now that I know more about the Islamic way of life it is easy to see the falsity in common prejudices held against them. After I finished Three Cups of Tea I had a better standing of both Islam and the culture of the Middle East. In the end, all my previous assumptions about this region and its inhabitants were inherently false. I learned a lot about the status of women and their reasononing behind specific practices such as wearing a burkha. I am extremely grateful towards Mortenson and our guest speaker for bringing me out of my unnecessary ignorance about Islam and the Middle East