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A Conversation with Two Muslims

In my life, I have had a number of experiences that have truly altered/shaped the way I think. After reading a couple of things in the news, I felt the need to share one on here.

A few weeks after September 11th, 2001, I was riding a bus in Toowoomba, Australia. It was a gorgeous Spring day.

A few stops after my companions and I entered the bus, I watched as two ladies with hijabs made their way to an empty seat only a few feet away from me. The seat in front of them was positioned so that if anyone would sit there, they would be facing toward each other. While the bus was becoming more and more crowded, those seats were still empty.

I don’t know why I decided to sit down with them. I’d never spoken to someone who wore a hijab before, in fact I don’t think I had spoken to any member of the Islamic faith before that moment – at least not to my recollection. I grew up in a small town south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I knew lots of Catholics and Protestants. I knew plenty of Mormons and a couple of atheists. I even felt somewhat sophisticated as I had attended a Seder - once. Yes, I considered myself quite cosmopolitan.

So, I approached the seat in front of the two ladies and asked if I could sit down. While I could see the apprehension on their faces, they conceded and I sat. I distinctly remember that the conversations around us had gone silent as many of the people seemed to take an interest in our conversation.

As I sat there, I realized that I was most likely speaking to a mother and college-aged daughter.

I remember asking if there were a lot of Muslims in Australia. The younger of the two did most of the talking with me. She explained that there was and that many of the Muslims were traveling to Toowoomba. As a result of what had happened back in the United States, a number of Mosques in Queensland had been vandalized and many Muslims had been threatened. She explained that many of her family and friends were coming to Toowoomba where they felt safer.

I was genuinely interested in learning more about them. I asked what they did for fun. To my astonishment, I learned that the younger lady liked playing soccer and watching Adam Sander movies. She even proceeded to quote lines from Happy Gilmore. To this day, Happy Gilmore is still one of my favorite movies. I remember looking at the older lady and asking if she liked Adam Sandler movies. She explained succinctly that she liked Star Trek. I asked if she meant the original or the Next Generation. Her response, almost smiling, was, “Jean-Luc Picard.”

One of my companions motioned to me that we were approaching our stop.

So, I explained to the two women that I was from the state of Pennsylvania, which was next to New York. I remember explaining that I am sorry for how they were being treated and, for what it was worth, I didn’t blame them for anything and that I felt they shouldn’t be blamed for something that happened on the other side of the earth from them.

I asked if I could shake their hands, but they explained that they couldn’t. I understood and I thanked them for talking to me, we said goodbye and I left.

It would have been easy to just not speak with them, but I can honestly say that my life is better because I did. In my life I learned that it is extremely easy to find the worst in someone, or a number of people, and project that onto the whole class of people. It’s so easy to place blame on people.

It is so easy to hate. For example, I don’t know how it happens, but when someone cuts me off while I am driving, my adrenaline starts pumping and I hate them for at least two to three days. I think of various scenarios of how to make that person’s life horrible. How does it happen that within five to ten seconds I can go from being in a great mood to wanting someone to suffer a horrific fate?

There is a quote from C.S. Lewis that helps me when I am upset with someone.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” (Weight of Glory)

I know that I harp on this subject too much. It’s just that I am still naïve enough to believe in a better world and that I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

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