“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” ―Martin Luther King Jr.
Thank you for introducing yourself to me on the school yard when I was new to the community. Had you not, I don’t know if I would have extended a hand.
When I first saw you in the neighborhood, I avoided eye contact. I couldn’t see passed the hijab. Your headscarf represented to me a religion of negativism and extremes, a culture of anti-Semitism, and a stifling of the modern woman. I passed judgment, was ignorant and afraid. I quickly concluded that we were from different worlds, and hence unable to find common ground; until we did.
Our sons’ fast friendship, much to my surprise, led to ours. Several conversations, a few workouts, and a shared hookah later, I learned some things.
First, your commitment to Islam is rooted in a spirituality that transcends all religions.
When I recently asked, “What did you learn from making pilgrimage to Mecca?” you shared with me along with the young people at the local mosque that in light of the experience, both positive and negative, you returned grateful for the gifts God gives us as free, healthy human beings and with an understanding that He loves us, imperfections and all.
At home, modesty, daily prayer, study, and diet are the tangible rituals you choose to demonstrate your love for God, but that love is also deeply evident in the thoughtful way in which you respect yourself, interact with others, approach parenting, nurture relationships, and care for patients.
Your words and actions remind me that we are all connected; Muslim, Christian, Jewish or otherwise.
Second, you have an open, accepting, and generous heart.
As a Christian woman raising Jewish children married to a man with a strong connection to Israel, I was worried that friendship might be tricky. I was wrong.
From day one, you welcomed my family into your home. You share your culture, answer questions, appreciate our traditions, and join us for holidays. When my son swallowed a marble, you were at my door despite having worked a full day to help out and offer advice. When I had jury duty, you spent the afternoon with my boys even though your children had busy schedules of their own. You think of my family whenever you cook or travel, and thanks to your charming sweet tooth, my children affectionately refer to you as, “The Candy Fairy.”
The goodness that emanates from you inspires me be better.
Third, you are an advocate for women; a role model for your son and daughters.
Your dress might be traditional, but your ideas and actions are progressive, willful, and strong. I was moved when in an effort to understand practices, question inequities and evoke change, you approached Muslim women in the streets of Mecca and asked how they felt wearing a khimar, a long garment covering their head, neck, and shoulders, ran errands in pants to encourage dialogue, and questioned local leaders about the sanitation of the city.
Every day I watch you work tirelessly to support your family, use your education to help others, handle conflict and struggle with grace and perseverance, tackle new adventures with uncanny energy, act zany, be fun, and simply love life.
You are an exemplary, modern American woman who I am proud to call my friend.
Connection and communication helped me to confront prejudice, challenge stereotypes, and understand a culture that I knew only through media, politics and hearsay. I have renewed hope for future generations when I see our sons playing, laughing, and treating each other as brothers.
The hijab is not a symbol, but a frame; for the beautiful person you are outside and within.