According to Ali, Islam is the name of the religion and is derived from two words meaning “Peace and Submission”. The teaching is that Peace is only found by submitting to God (or Allah) in heart, soul, and deed.
And Muslims are the people who practice Islam. Muslims live according to Five Islamic Pillars: declaring Allah as their only God, performing five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, donating 2.5% of their earnings, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). If you think about it, it’s probably pretty much the same as your own religion.
Still, there was a sense of fear that shadowed me as I entered the Middle East. How could there not be with the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the media? But I soon realized the ignorance that had veiled my thoughts.
The Muslims that I worked with and met on a daily basis were kind-hearted and welcomed Westerners with open arms. They are as curious about us with our exposed hair as we are about them with their covered face.
Are there Muslims that you can encounter that you think are sweet, but underneath lies an evil and demented terrorist? Of course. But growing up, Father Chris was the most liked and charismatic priest at our school, and turns out he had been molesting innocent boys for years. So believing that every Muslims is a terrorist is believing that every priest is a pedophile or every Mormon is a polygamist. It’s stereotyping and racist…and like I was; ignorant. There are people in every race and religion that are bad seeds; but it does not define the whole and it should not shape your beliefs.
The first time I encountered a Muslim woman in the bathroom, I was standoffish and closed. I will admit the full black abaya and hijab revealing only her eyes was daunting for me. But after numerous encounters, I learned that smiling and greeting with a “Salaam Alaykum” always warranted an “Alaykum Salaam” and a huge smile (with her eyes, of course).