Stop Acting Like Muslims Have Rabies.

Disney movies have been teaching me lessons since I could prance across the living room in a diaper and my mom’s high heels. As a five year old swooning over Cinderella, I’d dance around and believe maybe someday, I, too, could meet a prince charming. Thankfully, in recent years, Disney has started giving their lessons a little more heft than “Wait around for your Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo moment”. Today’s lesson was “Stop acting like Muslims have rabies.”

I know I’m almost a year late to the party, but I watched Disney’s Zootopia for the first time today. Aside from having some hilarious modern-day references and a lot of heart, I found the film very poignant.

In the movie, the city of Zootopia is a melting pot of different types of animals. Some are classified as predators, and some prey. Of course, they’re all far too civilized to act as predator or prey; instead they drive cars, have careers and go about a very metropolitan city. That is, until a few select predators, with no rhyme or reason, begin going “savage”, and attacking whomever is in the vicinity.

A fear grows among the citizens of Zootopia. Who knows which predators will grow savage and which will remain civilized? Soon, ALL predators become the subject of fear and scrutiny, because of how random the attacks seemed to be. A scene shows a mother on the subway clutching her children and moving away when a lion sits down in their vicinity. The jovial, donut-loving Cheetah receptionist at the police department is told that his face probably shouldn’t be the first one seen in the lobby, and he’s moved downstairs to “records”. A fox at the center of the story divulges that his whole life has been negatively affected by the stereotype that foxes are predators, sly, and not to be trusted.

The lesson unfolds when we find one of the “prey” is actually the sinister mastermind behind these savage attacks, and those labeled as “predators” are perfectly normal, kind, contributing, individuals.

I have a Muslim friend with whom I spent some time during the holiday season. She told me she went to the Brea Mall and did some shopping. She said she spent over three hours there, shopping in several stores and looking at kiosks. In that entire time span, not a single person spoke to her. No one asked if she needed help, no one said a thing. She said she’d look people right in the eye with a friendly demeanor and they’d turn their eyes away. Finally, at a department store, one employee asked if he could help her, and she began to cry and say, “You’re the only person today who has looked me in the eye and said a single word to me.” The man was taken aback that such a simple gesture would be met by my friend with so much gratitude.

Fear. Fear drives our actions, delivers coldness, and “warrants” our unnecessary judgment. And it shouldn’t. Especially those who believe in Christ — whose perfect love casts out fear. It is sad and wrong that my friend should have to get up in the morning and debate wearing hijab because she wonders what kind of coldness or judgment she’ll face that day. When we as a community respond this way to loving Muslims, we are the predator.

Now please don’t take this silly Disney analogy too deeply. I hope you can see that by no means am I labeling Muslims as “predator” — I am clearly trying to do the opposite. Nor am I labeling non-Muslims as “prey” — while I’m not trying to do the opposite, I’m saying that whether or not one wears a headscarf or attends a mosque is not an indicator of danger, nor a representation of the condition of their heart.

The Muslims with whom I am friends — literally ALL of those I know personally — are some of the warmest, most loving people I’ve ever known. While some of you may read this and think, “Uh yeah, Miriam, of COURSE they are,” I still feel that I need to say it, because apparently an entire mall can be full of people who divert their eyes when they see someone in hijab. Also, yesterday a friend told me she knows zero Muslims and has no idea what type of people they actually are. So I told her then and I’m telling you now: They’re regular people who happen to pray a few times a day. Therefore, I think it’s a good idea I write this down, so that anyone confused, or labeling all of these people as dangerous or “wanting to take over the world”, can understand that when I’ve sat down in conversation with my Muslim friends, they denounce violence, terrorism, and extremist groups with the same vigor that I, as a Christian, denounce the Westboro Baptist Church.

Let’s not allow our world to adopt the caricatured discrimination on display in a Disney movie. Lions can be saints and lambs can have hearts of malice. Now, more than ever, we must keep this in mind, and be propagators of kindness to everyone, be they wearers of skin, wool, fur, yamaka, hijab, or Make America Great Again hat. Because Disney said so, and so did Jesus.