Last week, an online friend of mine shared this article about Sonja Power, a girl who felt degraded by the treatment she was given by her Aikido sensei at the behest of a new student, because he was strictly adhering to his religion. I was a bit dumbfounded by the article, to be perfectly honest, and I shared it on Facebook to see what kind of reaction it would get from other martial artists.
|The top of a mosque, where the crescent moon of Islam is mounted|
The new student in question was a Muslim man–that, in and of itself, is not a problem at all. The problems came when he insisted that, in order to be true to his faith, he must not have any contact with women, or bow to anyone. This resulted in classes being divided by gender, with women on one side and men on the other. Following that, the man began bringing booklets on Islam to the dojo and handing them out to everyone, and these booklets contained content that strongly offended Sonja.
|An illustration of an Aikido technique|
This article describes a very complicated situation, but one that tends to evoke strong, knee-jerk reactions that make it seem simple. Generally, I found that most people immediately felt that the Muslim man’s requests and behavior were not appropriate for a dojo–particularly a dojo that teaches a martial art that requires close contact with a partner–and that he should not be accommodated. I also noticed some reactions to the contrary, however, with people feeling that Sonja was overreacting out of a misunderstanding of Islam, and that martial arts should accommodate everyone. In reality, I don’t think this issue is as simple as that, but it’s easy to see it that way. Honestly, I’m not sure what the right answer is–I can only say how I feel about it. Personally, I think the best course of action would have been to have the Muslim man only work with other men (and sit out, in situations where that was not possible), keep the rest of the class integrated, and either set a policy prohibiting all religious materials, or allowing all religious materials. That seems the most fair, to me, but as I am far removed from the situation, I can’t say that my view is the right one, either.