Despite living on the East Coast, and in a location situated between two major cities, I’ve had surprisingly little contact with Muslims. Don’t get me wrong; I see lots of Muslims around, we pass each other walking here and there. I see lots of people around. It’s a crowded area. I mean that in my day-to-day life, we don’t talk or hang out, really.
When I heard Donald Trump and friends describing, on a variety of occasions, the desolate hellscape that is our United States, I began to think. I began to think about how I have never once seen my country, for all its problems, in that light.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the interactions I’ve had with the Muslims in my area. Just a few interactions, as I said. Just a couple memories.
1. I took my kids to the park, and as we walked in I saw a large group of Muslim people. Easily identifiable. Each woman wore a black abaya and niqab. The men’s clothes looked more Western. My boys were there to ride skateboards, and they went off on a path. I sat down on a swing to wait for them, idly kind of swinging gently, and wondered how long I had to stay before gathering them to go home, the shortest period of time I could spend without the park trip not really counting or having to hear lots of complaints. I get they need to go to the park, but oh, it is so boring to sit there by myself. I feel I need to keep an eye (they’re skateboarding, after all), so I don’t like to read or knit, and if I have no friend to talk to it is torture.
I’m not sure how long I was sitting there before one of the ladies was approaching me. I couldn’t imagine what in the world she would want with, specifically, me. Did one of my boys push one of hers? Was one of my sons hurt, and she could see from her vantage point? Had I done something to bother her? My mind was racing because people around here often keep themselves to themselves, and if you do talk it’s so casual, no walking across the park directly to speak to someone. Maybe it’s like that where you live, too.
So she was standing there in front of me, walking to the swing didn’t take that long, and this is what she had to say:
“Would you like a push?”
You all, when I hear people going talking about how the Muslims need to leave this country, how the US shouldn’t let them in anymore, and even worse things than that, it makes my heart hurt. She wanted to push me on the swing. She wanted to be a friend.
2. My kids used to be part of a play group and there was a Muslim woman who was also a member of the group. She is funny, kind, lovely, an attentive mother, and an active member of her religious community. I won’t say her name for privacy’s sake, but she has one. I think that’s important to remember.
3. There is a Muslim group which comes to my husband’s workplace for retreats. They are gracious guests and the kitchen looks forward to buying halal food for them, because it tastes better than the food the kitchen usually gets.
No one in the kitchen has ever been poisoned, turned into Muslims, or harmed by eating it. They’ve just enjoyed some delicious food.
4. I see lots of Muslim people at our local shopping mall. I have to say, in all honesty, I do fear there will one day be a shooting, but never once have I feared the shooter would be a Muslim. I’ve seen enough crime statistics to know it’s extremely unlikely.
Anyway, I see Muslim people there. They’re doing the same thing I am: shopping and seeing the sights. Wheeling strollers, as I once did. Walking together, having a day. Once in a while I see my worried eyes mirrored in their own. I bet they worry a whole lot about violence in public, too. We all worry together quietly as we walk around the mall.
So, this is my experience, living on the East Coast of the United States in close proximity with Muslim people. The key word is people. There are a bunch of us here, and we can, should, need to live together. Each life has value, every single one. Do you know? Each one of us was made in the image of God.
I wonder if those who are so afraid of Muslims they feel they must banish them realize that if our Muslim citizens and guests are gone, there will still be people who are different. We all have differences. Guess what? YOU are the different one. YOU are “the other,” too.
I’m sorry the United States feels desolate to some, but if you are tempted to take that view, have a look at some numbers, some statistics. A diverse population is a beautiful thing. We’re so blessed to live in a time and place where we can experience it.
Donald Trump does not speak for me. He does not describe a US I recognize. I hope people of all kinds will continue to cross our borders, to make a home here. People who will do great things, and people who are tired, poor, the “wretched refuse” of their lands, people whose spirits desperately need to rest. This is the United States we all need. With the help of God, it’s the nation I will vote to have.