Faces of Faith
Many people consider themselves religious, but it takes a special level of devotion to literally wear one’s faith on one’s sleeve.
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Many people consider themselves religious, but it takes a special level of devotion to literally wear one’s faith on one’s sleeve. Here are seven Islanders for whom religion is so important, it’s central to the first impression they make.
“I started wearing it when I was 11, and for all the wrong reasons,” says Shereen El-Kadi of her scarf. “There was this little Egyptian girl who was 10, and she was wearing it. And everyone was saying: ‘Wow, isn’t she amazing! She’s so grown-up, she’s already wearing it!’ I was like: ‘Dude, I could do that.’”
El-Kadi moved to Honolulu as a youngster and has always been connected to the Muslim community here. As an adult, El-Kadi wears the scarf as an expression of individuality. “It’s important for me to fight the stereotypes,” she says. Working full time in public relations, with a master’s degree and an undeniable confidence, her scarf doesn’t symbolize oppression.
“It means ‘respect me.’ I’m a woman who has chosen to wear this as a form of modesty. It’s supposed to create a boundary.”
Not every rule is hard and fast in El-Kadi’s book. Tugging at the sleeve of her light sweater, covering to her mid-forearm, she explains: “This is supposed to cover to your wrists, but I hate that. I’m human too. And I’m not supposed to be wearing makeup, but obviously I do.”
Despite her abundance of good cheer, there are drawbacks to wearing traditional Muslim clothing in a non-Muslim country. “I get stared at all the time. I wear sunglasses a lot because I don’t want to deal with it,” says El-Kadi.
“One day I was walking, and a guy stopped on his bike and pretended like he was going to throw something at me.” El-Kadi seems matter of fact, but not resigned, about a stranger feigning violence against her. “All I say is: ‘Just get to know one Muslim.’ That’s all you can do.”
Stephen Williams and Jacob Moncur
Elder Jacob Moncur is sitting on the edge of a couch, The Book of Mormon open in his lap. Along with his assigned missionary companion, Elder Stephen Williams, he’s dressed in a buttoned-down shirt and tie. Black nametags dangle from breast pockets. They don’t look at all alike, but there is an undeniable sameness about them.
Today they’re are on a home visit, teaching a new convert. “We’re here representing Jesus Christ,” Moncur said, “and I’d describe what we wear as conservative.” It stands in stark contrast to their surroundings; but they seem unfazed. Later, they’ll do a service project in a hardscrabble part of town, gently asking their hosts to switch from rap to religious music as they paint.
Moncur is days away from flying home to Utah. His thoughts are focused, linear, on-message. It comes as no surprise his college major will be in engineering. Williams is just as enthusiastic; he wants to be an artist and is eager to talk about the street-art documentary Beautiful Losers. But he’s only been three weeks on the job.
The point, Moncur explains, is to separate from their familiar world of home, friends and family for two years, during which they’ll work six days a week, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., bouncing from appointments for teaching, doing service projects and knocking on doors. The schedule is meant to be all-consuming.
“Things like talking to our family distracts us from the things we really need to do,” Williams says, “so we only talk to them on Mother’s Day and Christmas. We get to email once a week and that’s it.”
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