A few weeks ago, a young woman wearing a hijab walked into a fitness class I was teaching. As I got her settled into the class, I noticed one of my regular members staring at her. This regular is a mixed race older woman who, for various reasons, has the social skills of a very young child. The regular looked at the new woman and very bluntly said, “Are you a Muslim?” I watched the hesitation in the younger woman’s eyes as she tried to figure out what level of confrontation she was going to have to deal with, but she still held her head up and said, “Yes, I am.” That answer was good enough for the woman asking, and there was no more conversation on the subject.
I was touched by the Muslim woman’s courage to stand up when she had no idea what the response would be. I realized with a jolt THAT IS HER DAILY REALITY. She does not know from one situation to the next how her decision to follow her religious beliefs, a personal decision that is no one else’s business, will be received by people.
I know this is a simplistic example, but it really hit me that it’s the women bearing the brunt of society’s fears and prejudices towards Muslims. By wearing a hijab, the most vulnerable members of their faith are wearing a symbol that quickly identifies them to both friend and foe. A man may be suspected of being Muslim because of his skin tone or mode of dress, but the hijab guarantees that a woman will be identified by her faith.
Not long after this interaction in my class, our current administration signed an executive order that banned immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries from entering our country. “Spontaneous” protests broke out at airports around the country with people marching to protest the ban. I found out about our local protest the night before through a Facebook group I belong to. After a lot of thought, I attended that demonstration.
As I got ready to go to the airport for the immigration protest, I noticed how nervous I felt. My asthma was really bothering me, which is a fairly typical stress response for me. However, I felt the need to go in order to let myself, and the world, know that I will follow my words with action.
When I went to the Women’s March, late last month, I knew my mother would’ve supported me in attending that protest. For this protest, I wasn’t so sure. I think she would’ve been fearful and concerned. There was no reason to expect violence that day; but my body still reacted as if there were. However, for me, the decision to go is where the shit hits the road; either stand up for what you believe in, or quit talking. The gathering was peaceful with only murmurs of violence possibly breaking out. There was another strong police presence, but they were courteous and the protesters were friendly towards them.
The next week, there was an Interfaith Vigil at a church in the suburbs. There were speakers of many different religions, all of whom gave inspiring speeches which leaned heavily on the concept of taking care of those weaker than you who are in need of help. You know, a pretty basic premise of just about every religion.
As I sat outside on an amazingly temperate day in February, (so many people showed up that they filled three meeting rooms and an outdoor courtyard,) I looked around me at the people of all faiths who had chosen to attend. Sitting just a little in front of me were a group of people sitting on the grass and on the steps. To the right of the woman in front of me there was a Muslim woman wearing a beautiful lavender hijab, the symbol of her faith; to the left of the woman in front of me was a woman with long, flowing lavender hair. I fell in love, right then and there, with the stark symbolism of our differences and commonalities, sitting right in front of me.
Again, there was no violence at that gathering, but I couldn’t help but realize that if an unbalanced soul had walked in, there would’ve been no stopping them from enacting violence on the crowd. It was a church, so there were only open arms and open hearts at the door.
I identify more as a Buddhist than as a Christian, but I do attend a Christian church. I also read books on philosophy from almost every mindset I can find. The thought that I came across recently in my reading is from the Bible, and it resonates through my mind every day now:
34)Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35)for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36) I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’37) “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38) When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39) Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40) And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
So, on that note, I will continue to show up and do what I can to stand up for those who are being singled out for being different. I have said for years that my personal religious philosophy is, “Play nice.” I intend to keep playing nice.