My Dearest Muslim Friends,
Assalaamu Alaikum. Today around the world, people are turning a campaign of hate into a catalyst for healing and relationship-building as they observe “Love A Muslim Day.” But for me, every day is “Love A Muslim Day,” because of you. Because I could not be who I am without you, because I honestly cannot imagine my life without you in it. So today, I want to say, “Thank you.”
I want to thank you all for the joy and comfort and faithfulness of your friendship, for your support and kindness. I want to thank you for long, profound interfaith theological conversations and for bursts of laughter and energy. I want to thank so many of you for the hospitality you have given me. Some of you have welcomed me as a sister, some of you have listened to my deepest secrets and vulnerabilities with complete acceptance and compassion. I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
And I pray that no harm comes to any Muslim, or indeed, anyone mistaken for a Muslim, because of this vicious campaign. I pray that love so overwhelms the specter of hate and bigotry that a cultural shift away from the disease of Islamophobia and toward acceptance, understanding, empathy and love starts today. And I pray that whomever started this heartless campaign is brought to justice – restorative justice. Those who encourage this kind of hatred and violence are already broken by fear and lies that can only be healed by love.
More than anything, I want those who do not have the joy of knowing Muslims like you to see you in all of your beautiful, wonderful humanity. Years of war and Western imperialism have painted the false image of Muslims as backward, veiled or bearded terrorists in the minds of those who would call for such violence. Civilians like these merely crudely echo, without the veil of diplomacy, the violence that they cheer on in their government. Endless war is in itself a form of propaganda. As the United States and her partners in militarism fuel cycles of violence in Afghanistan and Iraq and launch drones in Syria, Muslims treated as enemies by governments will be perceived as enemies by their citizens. The “Punish A Muslim Day” campaign is simply a domestic expression of a foreign policy that revolves around continual enmity. So, while I pray for my Muslim sisters and brothers in the countries torn apart by Western imperialism and Muslims in the West who face the backlash of their own nations’ enmity every day, I pray also for those who harbor such enmity toward Muslims in their hearts, for are deceived by fear and cannot see the truth. They have not been blessed as I have with the gift of phenomenal Muslim friends.
They don’t know the 11-year-old Muslim girl who smiled at me on the first day of 6th grade and offered to let me sit beside her on the bus when everyone else teased me, or how we became such fast friends as we shared rides to and from school. They don’t know how she became as a sister to me and welcomed me as a member of her family as we grew together, how she encouraged me to recognize my intelligence and abilities. They do not know the countless nights I spent at her home, eating delicious food and studying and laughing into the night.
They don’t know the Muslima who became one of my best friends instantaneously as we worked tirelessly on a physics project that turned out to be a spectacular failure. They don’t know how she introduced me to some of the music that continues to feed my soul. They don’t know how we geeked out to Star Wars together, or how much I admired her incredible artwork, or how we could talk and laugh for hours on end about the most serious or ridiculous topics.
They don’t know the Muslim friends I met on an Arabic language scholarship who helped me to feel at home when we spent the summer in Jordan, so far away from everyone I had ever known. And they don’t know the many Muslim students with whom I shared a passion for interfaith dialogue when we studied together at Hartford Seminary. Our respect and admiration for each other only grew as we shared our thoughts on God and accepted each other for exactly who we were even when our theologies diverged.
People who hate Muslims don’t know Muslims as people. But, my dear Muslim friends, because I know you, and have been so enriched by you, I want so badly for the world to know you too. I want everyone to know that you are regular people like everyone else, and then again, you are extraordinary people. I want those who see Muslims as caricatures and stereotypes to see your unique beauty, your kick-ass intelligence, your quirky humor. I want them to see you in your full, rich, vibrant humanity, and in seeing you I want the all the dehumanizing hatred and bigotry to dissolve.
And moreover, I want people who may be inclined to think you are cool in spite of your faith to know how your faith makes you the wonderful people that you are. I want everyone who thinks of Islam as a violent, intolerant religion to know how Islam has fueled your compassion. I want people to know how your faith has always encouraged you to see the best in everyone, because the Most Gracious, Most Merciful God created all people with worth and dignity. I want people to know how your faith has motivated you all to strive to become the intelligent and successful women and men you are; how Islam has encouraged you in your growth, your education, your careers. And I want people to know how your faith in Islam has rippled out to touch everyone you know. Because Islam has shaped you so much, it has reached out and shaped those you know, those with whom you have been in relationship. I want people to know how Islam, because of your embodiment of it, has shaped me.
The Islam you embody is faith in the One God who is the Creator and Sustainer of us all. It is a faith that welcomed me when I was seeking my own path, and taught me structure and balance through prayer, solidarity with the poor and hungry through fasting, and how to live a life of modesty, humility, and pursuit of justice. It was a shelter from my doubts and confusion when I questioned the violence of the cross and the confusion of the Trinity. But, when it turned out that Islam was not the end of my faith journey and I made my way back to Christianity, that’s when I saw the full beauty of Islam, because you continued to love and accept me unconditionally. Your unconditional love mirrored the unconditional love of the one God we both worship. Despite my divergence from the path you walk, dear Muslim friends, know that Islam, and you, will always be a part of me. I know that our roads, running parallel much of the time, will re-converge one day in the embrace of God.
I hope that one day those who hate can come to know the Unconditional Love that dissolves hatred and rivalry. I pray this not only for the people who launch hateful bigotry-based campaigns, but also for the governments that launch missiles and drones into Muslim countries. For “Love A Muslim Day” means nothing if we don’t love all Muslims everywhere. Without repenting of the violence and imperialism that fuels cycles of enmity and obscures the humanity and dignity of Muslims abroad, we can expect cycles of vengeance and ignorance to continue, creating a constant threat to our Muslim neighbors and ultimately to us all.
My dear Muslim friends, who have given me so much love and support, who have awed me with your wisdom and compassion and passion for justice, who have shared the joys and challenges of life with me, know now and always that I love you. And I pray that the evils of Islamophobia, bigotry, greed, imperialism and violence are drowned out by compassion and mercy, so that Muslims around the world know that they are loved every day, and all humanity may be reconciled, to the glory of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.