I recently took a trip to the island Turks and Caicos, and to my surprise, people were always asking me where I was from because I had my hair covered. I was taken aback by the amount of people who didn’t know what Islam was and who Muslims were. I wouldn’t call it ignorance–I would call it an unfortunate lack of exposure. Imagine if you lived on an island that had no mosque and the only contact with Muslims was with the ones that vacationed to your region. The more I began to meet people, the more people I met people that knew what Islam was, but they didn’t exactly understand the fundamentals of Islam.
One particularly beach-y night, my friends and I decided to head out to an ice-cream shop. The lady behind the counter started talking to us when my friend asked her if she was British. The lady, Dede, said ” Don’t judge a book by its cover–I’m Irish,” and that’s how our conversation about ethnicity and religion started. When she found out I was Palestinian, she really wanted to tell me something–she said she had waited 40 years to meet someone and say a specific phrase she had learned to someone that knew the Arabic language.
“Give me a kiss,” Dede said in the cutest way possible. Then I asked her, “Do you like Muslims?” “I love them,” she answered. Afterward, she got up on the counter and gave me a hug.
She gave me hope. Love from a stranger regardless of race or religion is priceless. The lack of judgment and her high spirits gave me hope that no matter what, Muslims can be accepted as they are.
I was fortunate to meet Dede, and I carried her reassurance with me back to the States. At that moment she made me feel happy and loved because she did not pass judgment on who I was and what I chose to believe, instead she accepted me for who I was: a Muslim.