All sixteen years of my life, I’ve talked to everyone. One day last summer, I had a conversation with two Muslim women I met in the park.
That day, I had gone through a rather usual routine of going to the library, getting a book, and running down to the gas station to get a drink to enjoy while I read. After reading a bit of my book, I decided to walk through some of the gardens. After finishing my short walk and coming to a playground, I saw some kind-looking Muslim women and decided to talk to them, particularly one who seemed old and sweet. Playing in the playground was a young boy who was probably this woman’s grandson. The older woman wore a beautiful hijab, with one of those long, flowing robes. It had intricate designs and fell almost completely to the ground. I approached her and talked about random things like the weather or something, or the age of her grandson, and my siblings and their ages and whatnot. After a few minutes, I asked if I could sit on the bench next to her, and she kindly said “of course.”
Despite her saying she was not very good at speaking English, she knew pretty much everything I asked, and when she didn’t, I just had to rephrase it. I talked to her about a whole myriad of things, (i.e. Islamic “Extremism”, the Quran, Muslim prayer beads, et cetera), and I even had a chance to talk with her daughter, who was probably in her late twenties.
As we first began to talk more in-depth, I noticed an interesting set of beads that she kept moving through, touching each bead, then going to the next. It reminded me a lot of what the Catholics do with the Rosary, so I asked her what it was. After a bit of confusion and explanation, I realized she had memorized passages from the Quran, and was repeating one at a time to herself as she touched each bead. I was struck with sadness that she had wasted so much time memorizing and digesting in her mind a book like the Quran. But I didn’t say anything like this to her. Instead, I moved on.
I wondered how she felt about Muslim terrorists. So, I asked her, and she obviously didn’t condone what they were doing. She said those people weren’t real Muslims. I also asked how she felt about President Obama, and she replied that he was “a good man.” I had suspected she would say this much, seeing that he seemed to care more about Muslims than anyone else when addressing Islamic terrorism. But I wondered about something. Obviously, Obama was more liberal than a Muslim would be – right? Well… maybe not. I asked her “how do you feel about the gay community? Obama supports them and really supported the Supreme Court decision, but do you?” And honestly, I was really surprised by her answer. She said “The gays… they do what they will, the gods [I chalked the accidental pluralism to being new at English], they made them. I cannot say they are wrong.”
Now, to be clear, you can never completely trust a Muslim. This may seem incredibly harsh, but the Quran spells out that a Muslim can lie to a non-believer if it helps their message. So, using this “loophole”, this woman could have just decided to seem nice and accepting because she thought it would make Islam as a whole seem nicer.
However, I do personally trust that this is the way she honestly felt, despite this belief being in direct contradiction to Shariah Law.
The more I talked to her, the more I felt that “either this woman is not being honest, or she is not much of a true Muslim at all.” And that is the conclusion I brought away from my conversation with her. Her, her daughter, and no doubt thousands of Muslims across the US, are likely only cultural Muslims (just as many Christians across the US are only Christian in culture). While they may not parade across the globe taking over countries, killing men, and stealing wives, they still have Muslim heritage and Muslim tradition that’s hard for them and their family to depart from. And frankly, I’m glad, because a cultural Muslim is much safer than a real one.
Since this conversation, whenever I’ve heard the term “Islamophobia,” I’ve always thought “sure, if someone is afraid of the kind-faced lady walking through a grocery story or a park with a hijab on, then they may be irrationally afraid of Muslims. But I don’t really think you can be irrationally afraid of Islam.”