I attend my writers group to encourage other writers and to develop my skills. My intention is not to have my worldview challenged. But that is precisely what occurred recently. I confronted how neatly I compartmentalize my world, something I don’t particularly like.
I divide my world into “Us” and “Them.” I separate the people in my world into groups based on any number of criteria: politics (Republicans and Democrats), ideologies (Liberal and Conservative), economics (rich and poor), religion (Catholic and Protestant), and recently culturally (Muslim extremists and Western Culture). That which disconcerts me most about this tendency is that by dividing my world into Us and Them I convince myself We are right and They are wrong. We are good and They are bad. The worst part about this tendency is that it allows me to dehumanize Them and lump all of Them into one category.
Thus, dismissing them, I am free to continue as I am, comfortable in my superiority. I can not only avoid seeing myself and possible inconsistencies in my outlook but I also don’t have to engage Them because They aren’t worth the effort. Perhaps the most obvious example is the tragic world situation involving Muslim extremists. Because this group of Muslims commits egregious acts in the name if Islam, I have found it easy to lump all Muslims together as unworthy of consideration.
That was my perception until a few months ago when I moderated my local writers’ group meeting. In came Rania, a vivacious enchanting articulate Egyptian Muslin woman. She attended to improve her English writing.
I knew she was Muslim from her hijab head scarf. Instead of distancing myself from her I felt empathy. I, too, lived in a “foreign” country for four years. I struggled to communicate in a different language. I kn0w how much effort (and courage) it takes to immerse myself in another culture. Yet, Rania seems almost effortless in her interactions in our group. I admire how clearly Rania expresses herself not just verbally but also in writing. As a member of the writers group I willingly offer suggestions from my intuitive knowledge of English, but that is merely to tweak her communication.
That is not all. I have received from her as much, if not more, than what I’ve given. As Rania has shared her observations of my North American culture, I have seen with new appreciation some of the positive aspects of my culture even as I reexamine some ways I’m used to doing things.
She also shared her background and her life as a Muslim in America. At the writers group Rania recently shared a blog about the reaction to her hijab. Surprisingly I found common ground with her as she shared her rationale for wearing this traditional head scarf. I’ll let her speak for herself:
“In any relationship in our life, we usually go through different levels of feelings. First, you know someone then, you feel him in your life. Then, you like him. After that, you believe him. Finally, you love and trust him. I went through all these feelings with people in my life. I’m sure you did with someone in your life also. However, my husband is a normal person. He doesn’t have any super powers. He is a human just like me and you, but I still trust him because I know what his strengths and weaknesses are. He is amazing with road directions. If I go with him anywhere, I’ll never think about the way, because I trust him in navigating more than I trust myself. I myself usually get lost on my way to any new place, and sometime to old places too! I trust that he will take me safely to the right place.
“Now let’s use the same philosophy about God, who created me. I was nothing. He made me. He knows me more than I know myself. I felt my God. I knew my God. I believed him, I loved him, I trusted him, and I felt all his strengths. Through these steps, I learned more about my religion. I understood the reasons for how and why I worship God, by reading the Quran, the prophet’s words and some good books.”
Until reading this I never considered the possibility a Muslim could grow in their understanding of and trust in their God. This desire to love God more deeply and follow Him more fully is the heart of my spiritual journey. I long to develop this attitude and desire to help others develop deeper trust in God. Because Rania joined the writers group I can no longer combine all Muslims into the collective “Them”. Rania is a “You.”
My interaction with Rania shattered my monolithic perception of Muslims. I deeply appreciate her vulnerability and insights. I may not affirm the tenets of Islam; nor do I know how many other Muslims are like Rania but I cannot deny her kindred heart beating as mine.
For that I am grateful.
To read Rania’s blog go to mymindflowers.wordpress.com/category/life/