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Back in early 2015, I (Jenia here) wrote an article for Venn Magazine called “On Loving Your Neighbors.” It’s late June 2018 and the Supreme Court has just upheld what’s being oft referred to as “Trump’s Muslim ban.” It feels like a high time for a re-write on why one should love their Muslim neighbor.
One day, I saw an article entitled “Why You Need More Muslim Friends.” While a little saddened by the fact that such an article was even necessary, I thought it was worth sharing on my Facebook wall. The response came quicker than I expected. An acquaintance of mine wrote that I could love Muslims all I want, but he would keep hating them.
His response caught me off guard. I wondered how many others felt the same way. And that led me to ask a few questions.
When you say you hate Muslims, do you really know who it actually is you hate? Do you hate the Muslim women in Saudi Arabia who were only recently allowed to drive? Do you hate the Muslim children who are maimed or killed by the bombs sent by non- Muslims? Do you hate the Muslim laborers who move to a foreign country to work and live in very harsh conditions for $3 a day and send 90% of that money back to their family, whom they don’t see for years at a time? Or how about those Muslims in Egypt who formed a live chain around the Christians to protect them during prayer?
Do you hate the perfect stranger who stopped when our friend’s car broke down, called a tow truck, paid for the tow truck, and offered to let the guy borrow his own car while the garage was sorting out the problem? Do you hate the Bedouin lady who gave my crying son one of the toys she was selling and insisted my husband took a seat in the shade to calm the boy down? Do you hate the man who practically ran to our car when he realized we were looking at the map, gave us directions and invited us over for tea? Do you hate my friend’s principle who gave him money to help pay his son’s hospital bill, or my other friend’s vice principal who showed up at her house a couple days after the new baby arrived with a box of beautiful baby clothes and so much food they had to invite people over to finish it? Do you hate the Saudi couple we met at a hotel breakfast and who made us laugh till we cried with the stories of their 3 boys?
These are the faces of Islam that you are not likely to see in your everyday life – or ever. I, however, spent 3 years in a Muslim country. These people were my neighbors in the most literal sense of the word. They have welcomed me into their homes, and I have welcomed them into mine. We broke bread together. We laughed together. We talked about religion, and women’s rights, and travel, and education. They kissed my baby and called blessings upon him, and I kissed their babies and said they’d been willed by God. They even walked with me through my son’s birth.
It’s rather obvious that we were not Muslim. Even our visas stated we were Christian. Yet, this has never been a problem. This particular Muslim country has quite a few churches, and, ironically, we found a more vibrant, dynamic, and welcoming church community here than we ever did in the Bible Belt. We felt safer there than we ever did in southern Georgia. Around there, when it is time to go back to their home countries for the summer, expat moms worry about giving up the safety of their children running around freely and their purses being left in their unlocked cars.
Do not misunderstand me – there are some barbaric traditions carried out in parts of the Muslim world. The things ISIS does cannot be justified. Yet, judging all of Muslims by ISIS is like judging all the Christians by the Westboro Baptist Church. The man who kills his unmarried daughter because she was seen with a man represents all of Islam no more than a man who says he hates Muslims represents all of Christianity – or even all of the Southern Baptists.
I wonder if we hate people not because of who they are, but because of who we are – humans. Faulty, messy humans who have such a hard time forgiving, letting go, or much less loving a group we do not understand. We can come up with dozens of excuses, but in the end hatred, like love, is always a choice. It is easier to hate and fear than to use critical thinking and do thorough research. It is easier to be enslaved by these powerful emotions than to break their bondage, but since when is easy slavery preferable to hard-earned freedom?
Maybe we break away from hatred when we know people, real life people, rather than mere headlines. In fact, maybe that article was right after all. Maybe we all need more Muslim friends.