We are neighbors, one perspective of an American Muslim
submitted to the NYTimes op-ed page on Monday, April 29, 2013 (unpublished)
by Umm Muhemmed
A month ago, on the cusp of Easter, I was reflecting on ‘Good Friday’ and how American Muslims, living in a largely Christian country, may further incorporate such notion of goodness and awareness of Christ into their congregational sermon and practice—a position I have maintained consistently since converting to Islam a decade ago, and one shared by many others, converts and born-Muslims alike.
Two weeks ago, it was another story altogether. Friday was frightening, with the pursuit of the second Boston Marathon bomber. I stayed home from the mosque that Friday, out of fear—scared of further terror, and of backlash. With my two young children, I made a small camp in a back closet, which we all agreed felt like the safest place in our home.
And now, this past Friday, I embarked on what should have been a simple visit to honor a dear friend, who I have known for twenty years, at her wedding. But it wasn’t simple. Unlike many other domestic travelers, I was unaffected by ‘sequester’, but I felt the stares. There were deep penetrating stares as I walked, alone, through the airport, and down the aisle, unaccompanied by the children and spouse that for many normalize my wearing of hijab and appearance of religiosity.
Are you more scared of me or me of you? Fear seemed to engulf both sides. I am a student of Qur’aan, but I was reluctant to take out a Qur’aan next to my seatmate on the plane. Before starting any journey, I ask for safety, from God. There is a short prayer that I normally utter quietly in Arabic, but even that felt suspicious, not to mention the offering of mid-afternoon and sunset prayers, which I do, when on a plane, by simply bending over in a make-shift prostration, while still sitting. In the past ten years, when I perceived any unfamiliarity with Islam, I generally explained before I offered prayers, but on Friday, there was too much fear. I didn’t want to broach the topic, and so tried to do and say everything almost invisibly.
‘Why aren’t more Muslims speaking out, against terrorism?’ I was asked recently. ‘We are, I am,’ I replied. It feels as though it is all we do, at times, and yet the voices of peace, tolerance, and love are never the loudest in the room. Most of us are also scared, equally if not more scared. We fear the terror and the backlash. The violence in our midst is one which we strongly condemn. It is a sickness, a disease, of horribly misinterpreted and misdirected motives which has no place in any religion. It is akin to finding the definition for ‘murder’ in the dictionary and using the dictionary as a justification for killing. Nothing Prophet Muhemmed did, nor any of the Prophets who preceded him, who are role models for Muslims, and for all of humanity, ever pointed to terror. Nothing.
And so we are all engulfed in fear, but it need not be so. There is hope, faith, and always a new day. To my fellow Muslims, continue striving. And as you strive, please remember to meet your neighbors, all of them, be they your seatmates, your colleagues, your classmates, or the women, men and children next door. This is a fundamental act, and one, I must remind myself of as well, especially when fear-stricken. Though possibly not as heroic as working in a food pantry or donating blood, acts which many of us are already engaged in, it goes a long way in trying to re-establish peace.
And to my fellow Americans of different faith traditions, please look beyond the violence, into your own hearts. Recognize the humanity in your Muslim American neighbors. They are good, and they are striving to be better, always. Peace is possible, and, as has forever been the case, it is the only sustainable way forward. We are united, in so many more ways than we are divided. This is divine truth, and it is also the truth that makes a town, a city, a country and a world thrive.
-Umm Muhemmed is an American convert to Islam, she is a student of Qur’aan, author of ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma,’ and ‘Ya Sin, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan’ (forthcoming)