Yesterday we talked about religion, terrorism, and why they think their particular town is the best.
We talked about Islam for a while. They asked what Americans think about Islam. It is beyond them that many Americans think that Islam is a violent religion (it's beyond me too), but it was particularly interesting to hear them talk about it since Islam for them is more cultural than religious. They said some people might do the dawn prayer but nothing else, like wearing long sleeves. I pointed out that long sleeves aren't necessarily a sign of a good Muslim and that there is no right way to be a Muslim.
I asked about Kyrgyz converting to Christian churches and they all thought that was fine. Most seemed to think it was more a family thing- if your family allowed it, then a person could convert. One of the Russian students said of course a person should convert if they wanted to be a Christian. I also asked if a person would still be Kyrgyz if they weren't Muslim, and they said of course.
They were shocked when I told them that some American scholars think that radical Islam would go to Central Asia soon. They completely disagreed. These weren't just students from Bishkek, but also Batken, Talas, and also Osh and Jalalabad in the Ferghana Valley. We decided to talk about terrorism next week. I hope they will bring some news articles with them. I think it could be a very interesting discussion.
To give the students practice writing thoughtful and persuasive papers, my husband assigned them to write about why their town is the best place in Kyrgyzstan (or not). I asked them a bit about that. I'd like to read the papers when they come in. The students from Osh and Jalalabad were the most outspoken about their towns being the best.
I love to talk to these students. Several of them sit quietly most of the time, but I hope that they are listening carefully. I usually prefer to sit quietly so it doesn’t worry me very much. They were surprised that my husband and I can speak some little Russian. We make an effort to only speak English to them. It’s hard sometimes to not try to practice Russian with them, but they have so few opportunities to talk to a native English speaker and I have Russian around me all the time. I think that they would be surprised how much someone can do here who doesn’t speak Russian though, like my American friend.