I was searching for lasagna noodles and wasn’t paying attention. I bumped carts with someone, and I laughed and said “sorry” as I glanced up. The woman whose cart I bumped smiled back and kept walking. I found myself admiring her headscarf as she walked away. She had on a lovely blue and silver scarf tied in a way I had tried to do many, many times, but was never able to succeed.
Over the next few aisles, when we passed each other, we glanced at each other with those polite smiles we’re so good at these days. You know the ones—the “I’m a nice person, but don’t talk to me because I don’t want to get into a conversation” smiles. Finally, in the baking aisle, I broke.
“I love your scarf. It’s so beautiful! I’m so jealous you can get it to lie so smoothly,” I said. “I always mess up when I try to put one on.” She looked up, startled, and let loose a smile that started tentatively then blossomed so her whole face was lit with happiness.
“Oh, it’s easy!” she said.
I responded that no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t do it.
“Here, I’ll show you!” she offered.
So, right there, in the middle of the baking aisle, she started unwrapping her scarf and removing pins to show me. She demonstrated, step by step, how to tie the scarf sleek and smooth. As she tied her scarf, we stopped laughing, and I looked at her and asked, “Where are you from?”
“Egypt,” she answered.
Then I asked her, “Are you Muslim?”
Her eyes grew guarded while her smile slipped slightly, and she nodded. “Yes, I am Muslim.”
I looked at her, and she looked back at me, and something happened that surprised me. My eyes filled with tears.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you are hearing so much hate right now. I’m sorry you are being judged by many for something that you shouldn’t be judged for. I’m sorry that you have to feel afraid when someone asks you a question.” Then tears started falling. I asked her if I could hug her.
She looked surprised. Her eyes welled up with tears too. She said yes and hugged me right back.
Her name is Eman, and we had a long conversation in the grocery store about what’s happening in the world. We talked about how there is good and bad in everything—everything.
There are good and bad Jews.
There are good and bad Christians.
There are good and bad Muslims.
There is good and bad in everyone.
I’ll admit, this is something I’ve been struggling with. I’m nobody special. I’m a mom who is trying my best to raise my children in today’s world. I’m scared for my children’s future. I’m worried about who will be our next president. And yes, I won’t lie—I’m scared of ISIS. I’m terrified by ISIS. I think they are some truly evil people who will stop at nothing to reach their goal. Their goal is to rid the world of people who do not share their beliefs. But they are not what every Muslim is about. I let my fear nearly take over.
I’ve been struggling with how to feel about these new threats that face America. I’m not sure what to think about letting a lot of refugees into our country without being able to fully vet them and ensure our safety. I’m a firm believer in my right to bear arms, but I think there should be oversight of gun sales. I think we need to secure our borders and take care of the people here, the Americans here, who need help, especially our veterans. We have so many threats facing America, but one of the biggest threats we face, I believe, is letting fear change our country. I think we need to work on not letting fear change the United States.
I know that my actions are something my children are watching closely to learn how to live in this scary new world. I teach them to always be aware. I teach them to listen to their gut feelings. I teach them that if they see something, say something—no matter what. I teach them how to protect themselves. I also teach them that most people are good. I teach them not to judge others because of their race, religion or background. I teach them to first, and foremost, choose love.
I remembered something my friend Carla had written on Facebook, and I asked Eman about it. I told her I couldn’t remember how to say it and asked if she could help me.
She taught me how to say it. The words rolled off my tongue and into my heart. As-salam-u-alay-koom. It’s a greeting that many Muslims use to greet each other. It means “peace,” or “peace be with you.” There are many different ways to say it:
Peace be with you.
That’s what most of us want. Peace. It doesn’t matter what religion we practice. Most of the world wants peace. We won’t get it through fear. We can only get it through love.
Choose love. Love wins.