A couple years ago, Maryam Amir was leaving a store and there were 3 men sitting outside a nearby cafe. As she walked past them, one yelled out at her about loving Jesus and living in a free country. She debated if it was worth doing anything about it or if it was better to just ignore them. Here is what happened next in her own words:
I was concerned about safety and I also know that some people's hateful words are not worth recognition, hence the Quranic statement:
".. and when ignorant folks talk to them (the servants of The Merciful), they say, "peace!"
I decided I would go back; I have a second degree black-belt for a reason, it was broad daylight, lots of people were walking around and most importantly while taking the means, I put my trust in God. But I wanted to do this in a way that would actually leave a positive impression. I don't know their life stories as they don't know mine, but I hoped that perhaps, even years down the line, they might remember the Muslim woman who responded as the Qur'an instructs:
"Good and evil cannot be equal. Repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend" (41:34).
I went into the cafe, bought them some lemonade since it was a really hot day, and went back to introduce myself. As I walked past, their raised voices spoke of freedom yet again. Clearly, my presence inspired passionate conversations. I approached and the man who had called out at me immediately got quiet. I said, "Hi! I brought you all lemonade. I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Maryam- I was named after Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ's mother."
After his surprise, he immediately started talking about how in Muslim majority countries, they oppress women and they don't have rights and freedom. I was about to say something when he then said, "My cousin was serving over there. He just got killed."
And then it all clicked. This man may be uneducated about the beauty of Islam, the empowerment of Muslim women, the LOVE, LOVE, LOVE we have for God and God's creation. He may only have heard negative info about Muslims and maybe have had no personal interactions with Muslims.
But what he does know is he lost a loved one. And if I had walked away, or chose to yell back at him or just blast social media feeds with my frustration at his ignorance, his pain may have simply been solidified with his misjudgments on who Muslims really are.
It isn't my responsibility to shoulder the burden of educating every person who chooses to be angry or ignorant, especially when another is the aggressor. But in making the decision to engage, I gained perspective on where his pain stemmed from- and, I hope, he also gained a new perspective on Muslims. Our conversation ended with, "God bless you." It was a heartfelt, kind prayer said from his mouth and felt with my heart.
In today's divisive political climate, we are hearing of more and more hate crimes against Muslims. We are understandably afraid and we should be smart about security and protection. But in the midst of the fear mongering, remember: there are so many people who love and want to spread love. And even those who are loud with their own racist vitriol (obviously not violent- that's a different situation) sometimes aren't simply hateful. They're hurting. And afraid. Perhaps they've lost someone. Perhaps they just need a glass of lemonade and a vulnerable conversation.
"Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well - you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong - you will do wrong. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong if they do evil." Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
“The most complete of the believers in faith are those with the best character, who lower their wings and are kind and gracious, for they are not one of us who is neither kind nor gracious.” -Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)"