During this particular “Coffee Morning”, as they are called, Fatiha was telling me that she had shared with her sister that she had a Mormon friend. She said that her sister responded by saying “Your Mormon friend moved to London? And her husband lets her out of the house?” I laughed out loud, I couldn’t help myself. Neither Fatiha or I were quite sure what her sister’s preconceived ideas about Mormons were, so neither of us really knew what to say next. But it broke the ice for a conversation about religion, and I nervously shared some of my own ideas about Muslims. Fatiha laughed off some of the stereotypes I shared, but I could see another friend of mine was a little more frustrated, understandably. It must be discouraging and exhausting to carry the burden of prejudice, stereotype and misunderstanding. Mormons know this burden. Every time a news story breaks about a polygamous sect in the U.S. doing something appalling or disturbing, and the journalist uses the word “Mormon” we throw up our arms in frustration. “That’s not us. That’s not what we believe.”
My Muslim friends are some of the people I relate to most in my community. They understand me. They understand the way my faith guides my decision making, my parenting, my every day choices. They are thoughtful, kind, and principled people. They are involved with the school and generous with their time toward their children. They are disciplined, brave and yet also really humble.
When I read in the news the fear-based accusations thrown toward Muslims back in the U.S. it gives me an uneasy feeling in my gut. All of us, while pondering the Holocaust for the first, second or 100th time have tried to reconcile in our minds how an entire country could be turned against a race and religion. How did that happen? I’m not sure, but I know that it began with fear, it began with leaders blaming an entire religion/race for problems that did not fall on the individuals who made up that race/religion. Then, that fear of “those” people was turned into a hatred for “those” people.
This morning after reading about Donald Trump’s latest assault against Muslims, I was torn between rage and sadness. While spreading Nutella on crumpets for my kids’ breakfast I asked them what they thought about it. Cameron’s immediate response was “That’s ridiculous.”
“WHY?!” I hurled at my poor, unsuspecting 10 year old, misdirecting my anger but really wanting him to understand this.
“Because all the Muslims I know are kind. Because they aren’t terrorists. Because that’s not what they believe.”
Three out of my four children have had a Muslim teacher while at their school, either this year or last. All four of them have Muslim friends in their classes. They know terrorism exists, they know it’s scary, they know that it is sometimes perpetrated by people claiming an Islamic faith. But they don’t feel any fear from the Muslims they know. None.
To be completely honest I feel ridiculous writing this post. I feel ridiculous because if any of my Muslim friends read it, I’m ashamed that I have to say it. But I feel like I DO need to say it. I’m willing to acknowledge that my own ignorance allowed me to believe false ideas about a religion I hardly knew of. And if I hadn’t moved here, and lived in a community with a lot of Muslims, and made friends with them, I would still be in ignorance. I never thought that all Muslims were hateful or violent, but I wish I could say that I knew what wonderful people they are without having to know them. So take my word for it. Don’t buy into the fear. Be wary of stereotypes and generalizations; doubt them, question them. Be informed.
I WANT Muslims in my country. I want them in my life. I want them around me. But even if I didn’t, I could at least respect that my country was founded on ideals of equality, acceptance, tolerance, open-mindedness and religious freedom. And although I find Donald Trump's comments to be shocking and disturbing, I'm also concerned that his attitudes will make less extreme, more subtle forms of anti-Muslim sentiment seem reasonable or acceptable.
This morning while Richard was taking a train to Birmingham we were texting about this and he said something I really appreciated.
“There is this irrational fear that terrorists will destroy our way of life, and so we destroy our way of life, and the things that make our country great, trying to protect ourselves. [And that is how] they win.”