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.