Thursday, June 08, 2006
On Being Muslim (This Post is for PR)
Yesterday I had my teeth cleaned. I, as usual, promised the hygienist that I would floss on a regular basis. It’s very difficult for me to floss. It hurts and in the evenings, it takes everything I have not to pass out with my shoes on, let alone floss. I did floss last night, so everyone, wish me luck.
The Dentist, Hygienist and I had an interesting exchange on Afghanistan and Islam. Perhaps I’m just more sensitive to it now, but these days, I am interested in others’ attitudes to Islam and Muslims.
The Hygienist asked me what I was doing and I said I just finished law school and am starting work next week (Yes, next week!). I attempt to avoid telling people what and where I’m going as it entails a much longer conversation – but I also don’t like to lie. So, I told her (don’t ask me what, I’m not posting it on the blog, and no, it’s not the CIA) and she was super, duper excited.
It seems that she has been recently interested in world events and was absolutely fascinated about my trip and new job. She LOUDLY announced to the Dentist.
This is where it became uncomfortable.
The Dentist started talking about Iraq, cutting off hands and heads in Saudi Arabia if I wore T-shirts and going on and on about religious police. Do I speak Arabic? Do I speak Afghanistani?
I just didn’t know where to start and they were also poking in my mouth, checking for cavities (none found!). I was irritated and defensive. The Hygienist didn’t know that much about Afghanistan but she had a completely different approach. She just seemed genuinely curious, while homeboy wanted to spout off his spiel. And I don’t mind people not knowing about Afghanistan. It’d be nice, but I couldn’t tell you too much about East Timor and its politics either.
Even the stuff that was correct got on my nerves (low female illiteracy rate & etc).
Then he said, are you, Islam? I said yes, I am Muslim.
“You don’t veil then, that’s good.”I just didn’t know what to say.
Perhaps he thought that I was what some label as secular Muslims. I’m not, I consider myself a practicing Muslim. The hijab is something that I respect. And I immediately wished I were wearing a head scarf, just to prove that Muslims who veil are okay. My friends who veil are such good people. I know that its not what makes a good Muslim, but they truly represent the best of Islam.
But I’m not ‘Islam’. I’m just part of the ummah (Muslim community), trying to figure out how to best serve Allah. It’s a lot to ask of a person, to speak for the religion and I don’t think the Dentist or the Hygienist realized that is what they expected me to do. Well, not the Dentist, he wasn’t really listening. But we have to let them know that we are Muslims, to break down at least some of the stereotypes (even within our own community).
My friend, H, and I had discussed this about a Belgian friend of hers, who once told her, ‘You’re cool and open-minded, not like the other Muslims.” H is a practicing Muslim, doesn’t veil and truly, is really cool. But she is like other Muslims.
They, and the Dentist, think that we are ‘cool’ in spite of our religion, not because of it.
Whereas if you asked me (or H), I would tell you that my sense of right and wrong, tolerance and my attempts at being kind – are all because of my religion.