Tuesday 25 October 2011

Making the First Move

I was teaching a review session for my chemistry students the other day when one of my students (a post-bacc in her late 30’s) approached me.

“Lisa, I don’t mean this to be offensive so please don’t take it as such. But I really wish there were more Muslims that do what you do.”

With a half-smile and some confusion, I replied, “What do you mean?”

“It’s just refreshing to see a Muslim going out of her way for me.”

She proceeded to tell me the story of how her brother was a victim of the 9/11 attacks. I cannot even begin to attempt to paraphrase the complexity and emotion of her words so I won’t.

At this point, she was almost in tears, and said

“I mean, I see a lot of Muslims every day who aren’t terrorists, but I don’t see them as anything else. It’s just nice to finally have a relationship with a Muslim.”

She then apologized for ranting, changed the subject, and proceeded to ask about the titration question we had just gone over. But I couldn’t seem to focus on that.

As a convert, I often wonder if I am, in fact, being a “good Muslim.” For so long, I took that to mean praying five times a day and fasting during Ramadan, but it has grown to mean so much more. Having left the comforts of MSA-life behind, I now often find myself as the only Muslim in the room. Whether I’m doing experiments in the lab or teaching a group of first-year chemistry students, my responsibility to be an example on behalf of all Muslims has recently become more evident. I mean, it would certainly be easier if people did not directly associate my actions with my Islam, but I am well aware that this isn’t the case.

Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.

The Muslim community needs to step up its game. We want people to stop having issues with us, but we don’t want to do anything to engage them. (And no. Shoving dawah pamphlets in people’s faces does not qualify as community engagement.) We are such multi-faceted people with unique talents and skills that, theoretically, we should be able to connect with a large, diverse population of people. But instead of making the first move, we sit and wait for “the other” to come to us. And when they don’t, we hide behind this fact and blame them for their lack of willingness to learn about our religion.

As part of our respective communities, we need to do things to connect with all people, Muslims and non-Muslims. And this doesn’t even need to be done on a grand level- some of the simplest things we do can facilitate the beginning of conversations that really need to take place if we ever want to be understood. Community service and random acts of kindness are a great place to start. People notice when you do something for them because, regardless of how big or small you may think your actions are, you put their needs ahead of your own. Actions like these speak much louder than any pamphlet ever could.

We shouldn’t be content with simply being recognized for not doing something bad. We should strive to be known for the good things that we do for the benefit of others. May Allah give us all the courage to make the first moves in reaching out to those with whom we come in contact and may He allow for us to foster a sense of understanding and acceptance of all people in our respective communities. Ameen.

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