Who are the Muslims we fear?

I’ve always thought that it is hard to maintain hate in the face of actually knowing someone. You know. Saying hello, learning a name, maybe having lunch together.

That’s why I’ve always been very open about being queer – it’s not always been easy or pleasant to be out, but I like to think it helps others who might not be ready to be open about who they are. It’s one thing to hate an anonymous person or group – but once you know them? My, it’s hard to hate that nice fellow you chat with every day.

So for my family and friends that fear Muslims, let me tell you about a few I’ve known.

In London, I worked in a very diverse team. I always felt happier sitting with the black and/or Muslim crew, and it wasn’t until a friend pointed out that I was probably happier there as I was also a minority (albeit with white privilege and able to pass as a heterosexual). So, here are some scary Muslims I met.

One was one of the smartest people I’ve met. She was very serious, thoughtful, and insightful. She studied for her MA at the university where Suzy would attend for her MA the following year, and gave us the lowdown. She was always someone to have an interesting, smart conversation with. She laughed easily and had a gift working with young people.

Another spooky fearsome Muslim was a woman who had a dirty laugh and loved any excuse to use it. She was so authentic and funny and irreverant, and I knew any time I was working in close proximity to her I’d almost wet myself from laughing multiple times.

While I worked there, I also had a lot of young Muslim clients, some male, some female. One particular young woman I supported emotionally for eighteen months. I saw her three times a week, sometimes more, and she was a gift. She was in her late teens, an adult really, and she was exploring what it meant to be her in this world she lived in. A year after I stopped working with her, we saw each other on a random London street. She ran across the street to embrace me, and I squeezed her so tight…if only to let her know, in some way, how much I had cared and still cared for her.

Now I live in a different city, which is also marvellously peopled with people from around the world. Our home education community is large, and we are lucky enough to know (and be getting to know!) Muslim women and children …who oddly enough, haven’t threatened us or made me fear for my life.

One of these women, my children refer to as ‘superhero _____’ because early on in knowing her, one tripped over a brick on the pavement. He fell and ripped up his knee quite badly. I was rather far away in the park and heard the screams. I also heard when they stopped. She’d stopped to comfort him, and that small act of kindness has impressed itself deeply on my children.

Another woman we’ve only just met was deep in the woods with us earlier this week, and some of the adults and children were talking about ISIS. Cue a great opportunity to talk about racism, stereotypes, judging other people.

And on Tuesday nights at gymnastics? My bestie there happens to be a Muslim woman addicted to ice lollies. We’ve chatted occasionally over the last year, and she’s often seen rolling her eyes at her children, smiling and chatting with whoever she’s sat next to, etc. We’ve not talked every week, and we’ve never talked about deep issues – but do we have to? We are both tired mothers waiting for the day to be over so we can go to bed.

Sure, you may say, my friendly misogynist. These are all examples of women. Women aren’t scary.

What about the guy who entertained my children today while they waited for a Christmas present for their other Mummy to be ready? He laughed and joked and made them howl with laughter.

Not all people are good. I get that. But a lot more people are good than bad. A lot more people are here to say hello, to make connections, to help each other out rather than to hurt each other.

And I can say that while I’ve got a lot of shit from (mainly American, not UK) Christians about my sexuality (not all of you, not at all, but perhaps more broadly from the Catholic church I no longer belong to….and yes, some people I know who send long emails about my sins), I’ve never got shit from my Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, or Pagan friends (and of course, some Christian friends!). Not once. I’ve been met with grace and kindness and friendship.

I aspire to meet others in grace, kindness, and friendship. I’m thankful that I moved abroad, that I had a chance to meet people who were different (and yet so similar) to those I left behind. My horizons have been expanded, I (usually) challenge racism and the like immediately, I am living with two children who don’t comprehend disliking someone because they are brown or wear a head scarf.

All these terrifying Muslims I’ve known, they’ve given me friendship, lots to think about, laughter (and once, some AWESOME bread that I can still taste now. Thank you, superhero!). These women (and men!) have been beautiful, smart, sunny, angry. They’ve been naughty partners in crime, colleagues in study, someone to gossip with in the playground. I don’t hesitate to be openly horrifed by policiticians or ordinary people who spew hateful language and ideals.

Once, at the university where I gained my first degree, we had a rally. A rally where everyone ‘other’ was welcomed. We stood in the darkness, holding candles, and listened to each others’ stories. Stories of gender, of religion, of sexuality, of race. Sometime in that evening, looking at all these other magnificent and gorgeous people, we all realised how much stronger we are together.

I was nineteen when I learned that, really felt it to be true, and it’s not stopped being true yet.

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Adventure’s burning.

Earlier this week, we had our grand return to gymnastics after a big summer break. It’s all a bit hairy, as S loves gym and would go every week – M has fun while he’s there, but realistically he probably wouldn’t care if he never went again. Luckily, we met some friends there and afterwards dutifully trooped across the street to the little playground and park. We had the plumber coming that afternoon, so when we finally went to leave, we walked back to gym, turned the corner, and were presented with the sight of thick grey smoke flooding out the upstairs window of a house.

A house we were sort of parked directly across the street from.

A group of young people were on the corner, and I thought I overheard a girl say she was calling the firefighters out. I double checked she’d called, and then had about a million thoughts zoom through my head in two seconds. One was phoning the plumber – and that’s when I realised my phone was missing. That is a long, dull story in itself; suffice to say, an older man was just approaching me with concern when I plucked my phone out of some long grass, thrust it into the air, and yelled, ‘YEESSSSSS!’

My next thought was trying to very quickly run up the street and get in the car before the fire engines appeared, because I knew we’d be trapped in. We started up the street, and my paranoid thoughts kicked in – what if the bloody house exploded? Was it really worth the risk?

Luckily M took charge. When the smoke hit us, he turned away and went back towards gym. S and I followed. Well, I thought, that’s okay.  This will be a little adventure.  We can watch the firemen, maybe see if there’s some way we can help the people who’ve been evacuated. That’s when my dumb, adventure loving ass noticed that S was physically shaking.

‘Are you scared?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I’m not scared. I’m terrified.’

We went back round to the front of the gym and had a seat and a cuddle. Then I thought maybe we could get into gym and buy something with sugar in – good for a shock, no? The lovely older man who saw my phone triumph happened to work at the gym. He let us in, we got some chocolate and juice. Then we went back outside, where he brought me some tea. He urged us to come back in if the rain started.

At this point, the smoke was spreading. Fire trucks had arrived, police, ambulances. Roads were being shut off. And both kids started just sobbing. Like losing your mind crying. We kept moving further from the smoke, which by now was so thick it blocked visibility and police had red eyes, tears streaming down their faces. At one point I left the kids in front of the gym and peeped round the corner – flames were shooting from the upper windows, visible even through the solid wall of smoke that made the people fighting the fire look ghostly and unreal.

I’d been texting with Suzy, who arranged for her mum to come collect us ASAP, since it was apparent this little ‘adventure’ would not result in us having our car free any time soon. M lost his shit. He was so scared the car would burn, the car would be lonely, etc etc. He kept scream asking, ‘Is this a nightmare dream or is it real? Is it a nightmare or real?’ S was asking if this would happen to us. She was quietly weeping the whole time.

We actually had people come up to us to ask if it was our house burning, if we were okay. The older guy came back and looked concerned (we looked like tear stained, slightly dusty refugees from the fire), and again told us to come back inside the gym. Eventually my mother in law arrived and order was restored.

Except for the questions. Did the fire have our address? Would it happen to us? How did fires start? If we had a fire, would we rescue all our toys first? Was I careful to make sure our house didn’t burn?

They had a very unsettled night. Me…well, I was fine while we were there, aside from the worry of the fire spreading and burning our car. But once home I felt a little shaky (which still strikes me as somewhat ridiculous). The stress and fear of the children – well, I contained it fine while I had to, but once they were asleep and I didn’t have to stay super calm and reassuring, I just felt tired.

We got the car back about nine pm that night. The kids have seemed pretty fine since then. But it was a harsh reminder that my view of things can sometimes violently clash with how the children view it – and in this case, I think they had the more humane view. It wasn’t an adventure for the man who’s house burned down. For the firefighters that had to stay there ten hours to make sure the fire didn’t restart. For my children, who cried and cried and cried.

I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad no one was injured in the fire. I’m glad life has returned to normal.

Still, I sit, watching my children and wondering. What will it be like to return to gym next week, to drive past that poor house? Should we do more about fire safety in our house? Should I just drop the topic for awhile, having already reassured them that if they wanted to talk about it more, I was ready to listen?

Mostly, though, I marvel at the deep empathy of children, and their stunning ability to house more resilience than you’d think.

Creative communities of women.

I made (correction: am making) a list of 100 things I want to do this year. Some big, some small, some silly, some far fetched.

One of the far fetched ones was to find a circle, a community to safely explore myself/others/life on a more philosophical, spiritual, creative level. A place to learn, a place to grow. It’s been something I’ve wanted for awhile, but didn’t have any idea how to go about it.

Most people see me as exceptionally confident. I suppose, to a certain extent, that is true…especially the older I get. That being said, I’m not confident enough to rock up to a moot, random meetup, etc on my own. I feel more confident staying home and watching social documentaries about grown men who love My Little Ponies (have you seen Bronies? I found it surprisingly touching!).

A few weeks after writing this down as a goal for the year – in a few forms – wanting a training circle, wanting to find teachers/mentors, wanting to create more, wanting to help form a supportive community – I was sent a Facebook invite to a select, small group of women. I’d met none in person before, but had been FB friends with one for awhile (who I ‘met’ on a pagan parenting group….again, a place I had wanted to go many times but had never done so). I felt privileged to have been invited, and even more so when I read the posts and saw the images these women shared.

Truly creative, caring, intuitive, generous, beautiful women. And so when one of them suggested an actual meet up, I surprised myself by saying yes. Enthusiastically.

Last night was the meet. Five of us gathered in a warm, safe space to eat cakes, get to know each other, and share information you wouldn’t normally share with strangers (outside of a therapeutic space, anyway!) It felt surprisingly easy. It was good to laugh. It was good to voice thoughts that had been swirling in my head for weeks, it was powerful to hear others voice thoughts I agreed so strongly with. The fragile threads of trust were already being spun, and I just felt so grateful.

Grateful I was asked to join, grateful I said yes. Sometimes all you have to do is say yes, to live the yes and just show up, to give something new a chance and see what happens. I can’t wait till next month, when perhaps the creating will shift from verbal to physical. I suspect having a place to bring my heavy manuscripts will be powerful – even if they just sit in my bag and soak up the healing, supportive, creative, powerful energies of potential.