Group Influences on the Self Essay
In an attempt to understand the dynamics that come to play in group settings and the effect a group has on a person’s character, I set out to explore the different cultures that define our society. Group in this context refers to Martin Shaw’s definitions of a group, where he describes a group as “two or more people who interact and influence one another” (1981). According to Shaw, the people in any setting that can be defined as a group have one common denominator; they get to interact. Another psychologist, John Turner described a group as “a set of people that refer to themselves as us rather than them” (1987). These give people a sense of belonging and assist us to fulfill several human needs such as affiliation and achievements, and to acquire social status. According to Shaw, people who are merely sited in one room, for example, a classroom cannot be referred to as a group because they are not interacting. To sum it all up, therefore, the existence of a group is determined by the interaction of people for some time, though time here is not quantified, that their operations affect each other in one way or another and they also think of themselves collectively.
In my quest to understand the dynamics that influence the characters of people within a group and the factors that influence their behavior and the perceptions around them, I choose to investigate one aspect that has hugely affected our lives, curved a peoples’ culture for centuries, and has greatly affected societal landscape; Religion. I refer to them as a group since the people share a common interest and have interacted with each other for some time. I was anxious to know whether group influence affects the choices a person makes in his life, and the general effect crowding has on the self. I set out to investigate one religion; the Muslims.
Armed with the Christian outlook of a Muslim and the stereotypes that prevail about their religion, I set out to find what they feel about other religions. These perceptions are that Muslims worship a false god, a wrong god. This I derived from my local neighborhood and my own culture, in that I have grown up to believe that they are true. This stereotype asserts that almost all their doctrines are wrong; they worship Allah, an Arab idol. Other stereotypes about religion are that they don’t perceive Jesus as the son of God. To them, Jesus was a prophet of God, a mortal and in no way was he divine. Other stories are that Muslims are Jihadists, in that they believe Islam to be the only religion, that they should spread the religion through all means, even by the sword eliminating non-believers. They tyrannize their women, and that it’s right in the Koran to do so, they are violent and cannot tolerate people from different religions. They cannot stand people who question their religious ideals, more so those who are not affiliated with their religion.
To find out more about this and other myths, I visited a mosque close to my place of residence; it was a Friday noon at a time when they assemble for their weekly prayers. I was sure to find Muslim believers then and join them for prayers before confirming or investigating whether whatever I had heard out there was right. I also wanted to know how the average Muslim feels when he is with the whole crowd of Muslim brethren, and when he is alone? In the face of all these religions at play, how does one feel connected to the real world out there? What about the applicability of the doctrines the religion stands for? What does the Muslim faithful feel when he is the center of all accusations ranging from terrorism to being a criminal suspect whenever anything absurd happens? Bound with all these questions about their personal beliefs and stereotypes surrounding their religion, I entered the mosque. To be able to be non-partisan about my thought and let the liberal flow of questions, I had to adapt a different approach to religion. I had to act like I know nothing about this religion, and pretend that I wanted to be part of them.
The whole idea behind it is that I was to acquaint myself with the place and the people, to facilitate my interaction with the people; also it would set them at ease to share with me what I enquired from them. I chose to spread the whole exercise over four weeks, over which I would interview several of them and come up with conclusive results. I intended to work on a good percentage of the worshipers to get a fair representation; this would mean that the data I would collect would be representative of the general opinion.
After the mass, the congregation broke up; I took the opportunity to approach one of the Muslims from the Service. He gave me a cold shoulder and called on the other faithful to listen to me. They were all very suspicious and instead of helping me, they referred me to their Imam. The Imam was adamant and could not take in my explanation, he claimed that I would use the information I obtained to victimize the people I interviewed. I left but then he encouraged me to attend more of their services, this way I would build trust among the Muslim brothers. He acknowledged the fact that there are notions about his religion which he has heard and wants to dispel the stereotypes but quickly added that I am not the right channel through which he could lament. Anyway, he allowed me to attend more of their services if I so wished. Even then, there were some observations I made about the faithful in the mosque. The cold nature and the negative reception they gave to me was also a result of the crowd. This is because being in crowds “increases the degree of positive or negative reactions” (Schiffenbauer & Schiavo, 26). This implies that the crowd facilitates the extremities, in that lovable people are loved even more within the crowd setting while people who are considered unfriendly are hated even more. Others within the crowd would never have done a thing or would have answered me, but the crowd consumed all these characters, only exposing the rude suspicious inquisitive part.
The Muslim Brotherhood had a specific code of conduct; they had specific terms they used within the vicinity of the mosque. Everybody had a religious zeal and a certain manner in which they carried out their activities. Mullen and others attribute this behavior to the “mystery of social facilitation” (32). These researchers investigated and came up with the solution that the presence of others arouses some dormant responses. This, applied to the setting that is the mosque, arouses the need to associate in a brethren-like manner. The principle of social facilitation simply states that when people operate within a group, they tend to perform well on simple and easy to learn tasks. Mullen asserts that the presence of others strengthens core responses. The result is that the ritualistic bending and touching the ground with the forehead, it is a simple task in which Muslims pray; the hard part comes when they have to say the prayers in unison. It’s hard for them that don’t know to read between the lines and pray along, and so they either mumble some words or they remain silent through the whole ordeal.
I frequented the place for their religious services, gathering information from the members. By the second week, I had already accustomed myself to the place. The people too were friendlier and were more willing to share information. That is when I chose to carry out the interview. The feedback I got was that these people had fears of their own. They hated being branded terrorists, arguing that just because the few around who happen to be terrorists are majorly Muslims it does not mean every Muslim is a terrorist. They believed theirs’ to be the one true religion, and they do not dispute Jesus’ existence. Their only bone of contention lays in their claim that Jesus (referred to as Isa). There are many stories in the Qur’an about the life and times of Jesus. It recognizes his phenomenal delivery, how he taught, and the miracles he performed. All this, they claim only happened because God allowed him to. They claim that in the Quran, one chapter of it is named after Jesus’ mother. Jesus, according to them was fully mortal and had no divine powers.
These people had such conviction and commitment to upholding their practices to the extent that neither would accommodate it when I tried to question the foundation of their faith. They claim that their religion is not oppressive to women and neither does it promote polygamy. On polygamy, they claim that their holy book only permits the man to marry many wives and only if he cannot manage to love them both equally. In this context, it means giving them equal attention, loving them with the same propensity, and providing for them equally. Since it is hard for the heart of man to love two women equally, their holy book forbids it. On oppression, their religion does not oppress women. It is the woman who chooses to stay in the house to stay out of temptation. These reasons left me with a second thought about this religion, I was feeling as though it was just any other religion and that there beliefs and systems are not so bad after all. What with all their similarities to my holy book the bible, their only difference being the dispute about whom the son of God is.
Mullen, Bradley Walsh.” Group attitude and mentality.” Journal of experimental psychology.21.3 (1978) 24-27. NY: New York.
Schiffenbauer, Arthur. Mediating effects of invaders apparent need. 1st ed. Bradford: Oxford university press, 1976.
Shaw, Martin. (1996). The psychology of small group behavior. London: Oxford university press. 2011.