How do you identify a Muslim? A Jew? A Christian? Is it the color of their skin? Their country of origin? The career they chose? The place that they live? Probably not. It’s pretty hard to place someone in a religious category based on that criterion alone. Now, what if the Muslim woman wore a headscarf (hijab) and the Jewish man grew payot (long sideburns). What if the Christian donned a cross necklace? Would that make a difference?
As a human, you’re programmed to judge a book by its cover. (Whether you judge correctly is another issue). You have to be able to determine who’s a threat to you and who is not at a moments glance. It’s a matter of survival. When you see someone, you take in all the information you can. Clothes have a huge impact on your perception of the person. When you see a woman in a hijab you think Muslim. A man walking down the street with long sideburns, and a kippah (a small brimless hat worn by Jewish men), you think Jew. When we see a woman with a long dress and a cross necklace, you think Christian. Harmless right?
The next thought that comes into our mind might not be as harmless. The next thought will be based on our knowledge, or lack thereof, about that specific religion. Terrorists, oppressed, greedy, missionaries, goody-two-shoes, and extremists are some of the thoughts that may have popped into your head before. Let’s be honest. I’ve had those thoughts before. Even as a child. As a child, I used to run down the block trying to escape the “monster” coming towards me. Now today I laugh as I am one of those “monsters” (Muslims).But here’s the thing. Nobody wants to be judged unfairly. We want others to have an opportunity to get to know us before they make such a negative assumption about us. How is that possible if others let their prejudices interfere? How can you even begin a conversation with them if they run away in fear? How can you show them who you really are if they don’t even look your way?
The answer is simple. Remove your religious identifiers. That way you can be judged by your personality and not by your religion. That’s what many of us do. We try to assimilate into society because we fear what others might think.
Here’s the thing. It’s really not that simple. The internal battle between societal acceptance and religious affiliation will remain. So my question to you is, will you be amongst the brave to stand firm through religious persecution? Or, will you allow the ignorance of a few people shake your religious foundation? Will you hide who you truly are to please the masses? Will you continue to live in fear? What about to the non-religious people? Will you be brave enough to look in the direction of those who differ from you? Will you be brave enough to exchange a smile and a kind greeting?
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is your strength.”
Banjeree, N., (2007), Wiccans Keep the Faith with a Religion Under Wraps,
Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/16/us/16wiccan.html
Amina is a contributing writer for the Boss Muslimah-Preneur blog, mother of four, wife, life coach and recent revert. She is dedicated to helping muslimahs around the world live boldly. Through her online blog, AminaChronicles.com, she shares her personal journey and gives advice as she embraces Islam.