I hesitate to write this as 1. I feel there is no way I will be able to fully articulate my feeling and 2. nothing alienates people faster than politics. But I have a degree in political science and ended up with a lot of friends from theMiddle East, so this is important to me.
In the next week or so we are going to elect a president. And in the midst of what I think we can all agree has been the most disgusting and insulting version of American politics that we have seen in a long time, I will not attempt to argue one side or the other.
What I want to talk about is something that has been brought even further into the light in the midst of this chaos. And that is America’s profound fear of Islam.
Most people’s relationship with, and perception of, Islam begins on September 11th 2001. And that is completely valid. What happened that day was hideous and will scar the collective american psyche for the foreseeable future.
I was in 2nd grade. I remember my teacher getting a phone call then breaking down into tears. I remember seeing buildings burning on TV and my mom telling me I didn’t need to worry.
But now I also have another memory. I sat with my friend from Saudi Arabia in a Burger King and forced him to try an ICEE as I felt it was an important part of his American experience. He hated it. It was about 11:00pm, we were the only two people there, covered in sand from playing volleyball for hours. I asked him if he remembered when it happened. He was only 5 then.
I understand why we are afraid, it is human to fear things we don’t understand. What I don’t understand is the hate.
A student of mine once came up and asked me, “Why did someone in the grocery store shout ‘Jesus hates you’ at me?” I have never been at such a loss for words in my life. How do you respond to that? ‘Well, it’s probably because you wear a hijab.’
No! Jesus doesn’t hate you, he loves you, and I love you, and I’m sorry. I am so so sorry.
One of the people who could be our president said that, “Islam hates us.”
The Islam that I know doesn’t hate us.
The Islam that I know sat across from me in that Burger King and took the time to have a conversation about one of the most painful things that has ever happened between our two cultures.
The Islam that I know went with me to a tattoo parlor and tucked her hijab behind her ear so she could get another piercing.
The muslims that I know have shown me a love for religion that doesn’t exist in the US. They have made me a smarter Christian by forcing me to explore the intersection between our two faiths and they have given me an example of devotion that I can only hope to emulate in my own life.
We went to the beach, we talked about God, we had parties, and we cried when we said goodbye.
I am proud to be an American but I am deeply saddened by the discourse surrounding immigration. For a nation that claims to be built on religious freedom we are doing just about the opposite of what that should entail. Religious freedom is not just the separation of church and state. That is simply the infrastructure. If we really believe in religious freedom as an ideology, it should mean that my student can walk comfortably in this country wearing a symbol of her faith and not worry that people are going to yell at her in the grocery store.
I don’t care whether this changes the way that you vote, I’m sure that it won’t.
I just hope that maybe we could stop for a moment and examine why we feel the way that we feel about the Middle East. We have these irrationally strong feelings about a religion and about people who we have never met.
You cannot condemn someone until you have tried to understand them. You cannot speak for what someone believes when you have never even asked them.
Terrorism is real and it is as terrifying to most muslims as it is to us. We demonize them for not speaking out against the injustice that a few are doing in their name. But they are killed for that. According to a 2009 report published by the Counter Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Al-Qaeda kills over seven times more Muslims than non-Muslims. (You can read that article here.)
This is not a political issue. Being afraid is not an inherently republican or democratic thing to feel.
This is an issue of the heart. To harbor has much hate as we seem to have against this religion is a problem.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27. We are not called to fear. And especially not to fear the way that the rest of the world does.
I am proud of my country. I am proud that this is a place where people from all over the world come just for the possibility of a better life. But I hope that it can always be that, for everyone. Not just for people who look, think, and pray like us.
Thanks for reading.
(This is a photo of a gift from one of my close friends before she left to go back home. She carefully found out what my favorite color was and then had this shirt custom made with my name written in Arabic on it. When I wear it I hope that people ask me what it says and I hope that I can tell them all this.)