I saw a male Muslim with a head covering pass by me on the street today and I subconsciously noted his backpack. I had just been reading an article on BBC where a professor had been tasked with listening and describing the cassette tapes found on the premises of the Taliban headquarters after Osama Bin Laden had fled. It sort of creeped me out, you can’t hear the cassettes but a quick scroll by a photo of his infamous face and lots of memories, videos, articles and fear flashed through my mind.
So I’ll blame my recent reading of this article and not racism for my judgment of this backpack wearing man and my visions of suicide bombers as I watched him walk in the building and wondered what he might do. It's a whole other level to note that exploding the Quik Mart in Orange California most likely isn't a high priority target, but I don't know, it's where my mind was. Then I thought about my thought, it was prejudice, but it happened and even though the thought might be normal, it’s not ok, it's a blanket bias and it does nothing in the fight for peace.
When I was in Jerusalem we had the privilege of meeting with the teaching Imam at Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is located next to the dome of the rock and is the third holiest site in Islam. He was gracious enough to speak with us and take all of our questions. He had just returned from a trip to Belgium with his wife and he mentioned the eyes that he felt followed him down the street as he passed by. It was as if the people were expecting him to detonate a bomb under his shirt, and he was just trying to enjoy a vacation with his wife. It was a little jolting to hear him talk about the prejudice and assumptions that I myself unknowingly held and the way it felt to be on the other side of them. This was right during the time of the Kosher Market attack in France in January so everything was very fresh and tense and I’m sure being a traditionally dressed Muslim in Europe was uncomfortable.
In the telling of the Arabic perspective of the history of the Holy Land he mentioned the crusaders in Europe. He made a point to pause and say that these crusaders were not really Christians, they were doing violence to gain power in the name of a religion. In that moment he had a perfect opportunity to take a shot at Christianity and say, “See! You were violent too, the name of your religion and your God was used to slaughter thousands of people, don’t forget you have blood on your hands too”, but instead, he side-stepped that opportunity and saw our faith beyond our past and gave a dignity to our history and to our people that we’ve never given to him. He said to kill one man is to kill them all, and that they do not condone violence, just as the crusaders were not Christians so these extremists are not Muslims (Obama and I know this is a sticky comparison, but the only point I'm making is that we both have violence connected to and done in the name of our religion).
The Islamic State is terrifying and that’s real and fear is a normal and appropriate response to their actions, but extremisms is the threat not Islam, so is there a way to respond with kindness and grace to our peaceful Muslim neighbors? I'm talking to myself here because even though I had this peaceful interaction with a gracious man of faith, I still saw a man with a head covering and noticed his backpack. Maybe I can’t immediatley fix the knee jerk response, but I can work on remembering that the loudest is not the voice of them all.
Not everyone has the opportunity to directly hear a peaceful voice of a Muslim but I would encourage you to do so. Because in my interaction with a man of faith who gave his Christian brothers and sisters a chance to drop our stained history and claim the peace that together we aim for, he reminded me to see the faces among the crowd. So, maybe we can extend the same grace to him that he extended to us and release him from the baggage of a small but terrifying section of his religious community and join him in the quiet but growing choir for peace.