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Cross Cultural Paper

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For my cross cultural experience, I will take you on a special journey on my recent religious experience of an Ismaili funeral I had the opportunity of attending. A colleague of mine lost his father due to cancer and the funeral services were held at the Burnaby Lake Jamat Khana, (JK) which means house of prayer. Ismaili’s are mostly of Indian descent that emigrated to East Africa hundreds of years ago. Due to political instability, many of them had to flee the country because of targeted violence.

Ismaili’s are part of Islam, they are a member of a branch of Shiite Muslims that seceded from the main group in the 8th century because of their belief that Ismail, the son of the sixth Shiite imam, should have become the seventh imam.

When I arrived at the JK, I was greeted by another friend who was also Ismaili, who would act as my ambassador for this religious and cultural experience. I was not that nervous as I thought how different could this be from Sikhism, same country, mostly likely shared practices so I would see and feel some familiarity that would make this feel like home.

Well from a religious point of view it wasn’t. When I entered the JK entry, I saw people sitting on the ground, like they would in a Sikh gurdwara (temple). Even though I had an ambassador, Karim, who walked right in, I froze, thinking I had to remove my shoes. Seeing Karim make it half way through the lobby, I needed his reassurance I was not breaking any rules. He reassured me that I was not and I walked through, still very uncomfortable having my shoes on.

I made it over to the area where we were to take off our shoes and placed them in custom made shelves. Once our shoes were off, we proceeded to the area I crossed with my shoes where people had been sitting on the ground and went to the very back where there were chairs set for anyone who was not comfortable sitting cross legged. I found this very progressive and non-hard core as this would never fly in any gurdwara, and for no apparent reason.

I waited for Karim to seat himself before I would dare, as I was again out of my comfort zone. When we sat down, I asked Karim if we should perhaps sit on the ground, he reassured me to not worry that it was ok to sit on the chairs. I kept comparing this experience to the gurdwara and was finding it difficult to first of all be sitting on a chair in a prayer hall, and secondly sitting on a chair while others were sitting on the ground. In Sikhism this would be considered rude and disrespectful. Karim advised me that the chairs were for elders or those who had difficulty sitting on the ground, this made me even feel more uncomfortable, however he did say if we needed to get up for someone we would, for the mean time I should just relax and sit in a comfortable chair.

It was very quiet and I noticed there was another room that seemed to be the main prayer hall. I asked him if I was allowed to enter, he said normally you cannot during prayers, but for the funeral it would be okay as I was there to pay my respects. I found this very odd that I could not enter the prayer hall, as I have visited many other religious temples and churches and this was never the case, however I would respect their customs and abide by the rules.

After sitting there for a while and getting the occasional smile from the elders as they walked in, I would return a gentle smile back in their direction. Even though we were all of Indian descent, I felt like an outsider, and had my guard slightly up. My movements were slow and thought out, I did not want to misstep and offend, there was an underlying unease about this experience.

I was intrigued about what was happening in the main prayer hall, curious to what it looked like and what was happening in there. I could here women praying out loud and the men were quiet. I wondered how different or similar it would be situated to a Sikh Gurdwara. After about 30 minutes, everyone rose to pay their final respects to the body. I was at first taken back that the body would be brought into the prayer hall, but compared this to other funerals I have been to in a church setting and the body was also in the main prayer hall.

The funny thing was, being in a church it never felt odd to me about this custom of having the body in the main prayer hall, as this to me was expected to be very different than my own culture and religion. However with my experience at the JK, I kept reverting back to how it is done in the Gurdwara and kept losing focus that this was a completely different religion than Sikhism.

As we proceeded inside the prayer hall of



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