My Friend Wears a Hijab

My daughter and I, with a good friend and her daughter, recently visited a mosque to learn more (OK, to start learning) about our Muslim neighbors. A local mosque had extended this invitation in light of the plaque of ugliness and falsities spreading throughout the media. It’s taken me a couple of days to let this fully sink in.

Being born in America, you assume that “liberty and justice for all” means all and not all*. We heard tearful stories of Muslim women being threatened by people in the car next to them, charade-like gestures of slashes across throats. It was disturbing to know that these are people in my community, my neighbors: both the ones threatening and being threatened. No, not acceptable.

My daughter understands bullying; she had her first encounter at the age of 6 (yes, that early). And while she can empathize with being mistreated, the Muslim women’s experiences were far more reaching. My daughter comes home to a safe and loving environment. She can go with me to the bookstore or the grocery with no fear. She could pinpoint her bullying to one troubled little girl in her class…not an entire community moved out of ignorance to act upon their hatred.

What was most impactful for me were the stories of the women that were nothing more than ones I’ve heard from my own girlfriends. As we sat around in our socked feet and plates of snacks, the vibe in the room became more like the real purpose of a Pampered Chef party: an excuse to hang with your tribe. We chatted about the joys and trials of taking care of kids. Hoping our children will grow up in a world that becomes more tolerant of differences. Why there are times when it’s good to just hang with women and leave men in another room. :-)

They emphatically explained that they were open to any questions. So as a journalist who was born with a curiosity rarely satisfied, I asked about the significance of the separation of the men and women. One woman’s explanation completely caught me off guard. She stood up from her metal folding chair, walked over to a large patch of empty carpet, and showed us how they maneuver down to pray.

When she came back to standing position, she had a sly smirk on her face. In her colloquial inflection, she said “Now, we decided we would rather not have all of those staring us in the face.” Laughter immediately rang through the room as we realized that “all of those” meant the rear-ends of their male counterparts. It was as simple as that. No oppressive rationale, no superiority classification, just the transparent logic that they would rather not punctuate the end of their worship with such a view. Who could blame them?

It became stunningly clear that ignorance of their culture is what stokes the fire of hate. Before I went in, I was prepared to be exposed to the rules (and in my mind, the injustice) of the Muslim faith. But as the discussion continued, one woman made it crystal clear that the inferred battle of the sexes in the Muslim world is completely fiction.

“This is how it works in the household,” she began. “The husband is the provider for the family.” (Oh boy, here it comes. The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” started running through my head.) “All of his money goes into one pot to take care of the wife, the children, the house, all of our needs,” she continued.

Then came the plot twist. “Now, if I want to work, all of the money I make is mine. If I inherit any money from my family, that is mine as well.” Translation: what is mine is mine and what is yours is ours. My daughter and I laughed about this all the way home. My husband would have a hard time swallowing that! Heck, maybe I’m the one oppressed! (jk honey.)

They graciously answered our questions, offered explanations behind some of their other cultural norms; they had hugged us upon arrival when we were just strangers …and upon departure when we were friends. And friends take care of each other, stick up for their beliefs whether they’re the same as our own or not. I’m grateful for the invitation to bring my daughter and share in such a safe and welcoming environment. Now, to make sure our new friends experience the same.

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