My light-brown beard with random blond streaks and pale skin color led me to an interesting conversation during a condensed milk expedition at my local grocery store.
It all started when I asked a store employee for directions to the isle with condensed milk. Seeing my beard, he asked if I was Amish. While he was apologizing for the question, I replied that I was Muslim. Our words collided so he asked me, with much curiosity on his face, what I had said. I told him again that I was Muslim.
I could tell from his _expression and gestures that my unexpected answer shocked him. He told me where the condensed milk was located and as he turned around to continue his stocking duties, he asked me, “You’re white?”
Smiling, I confirmed his suspicion. I am white.
He told me that he has never seen or even heard of a “white” being Muslim. I’ve heard remarks like this from the moment I converted to Islam from Southern Baptist Christianity. I recall telling a close family member about my new religious choice, and the confused response I received: “But you are the blond-haired, blue-eyed devil.”
I explained to my grocery assistant that white people convert to Islam, too, and that there were several right here in Dallas. I also mentioned the fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe as well as in America and that London has at least a hundred mosques. Considering the long history of Islam in the Balkans, Islam is not new to white folks.
As I turned to venture to my rejuvenated condensed milk hunt, the employee told me to not let what everyone is saying about Islam and Muslims get me down. He encouraged me to keep my head up and to be strong.
To say the least, I was deeply touched by this stranger’s encouraging words.
I know too well what he is referring to when he mentioned those who were saying terrible things about Islam. I’ve dealt with family members and friends telling me such bizarre misconceptions ranging from it being okay for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims to the idea that the infidels a Muslim kills become that Muslim’s slaves in heaven.
During my seven years as a Muslim convert and as a religious activist, I’ve heard the gamut of misconceptions about Islam. I’ve witnessed the twisting of Islamic verses and concepts taken out of historical and textual context by self-proclaimed experts of Islam who usually have either no clue about the true teachings of Islam or a clear agenda against the religion.
I’ve read the statements by Franklin Graham and watched Pat Robertson as he called Islam a religion of violence. In all my studies on various religions, I’ve yet to come across one that promotes senseless violence. However, these pundits conveniently play on the heightened and often confused emotions of post-9/11 distortions of Islam to spread more unwarranted blows on the religion that is heating up competition for their tithing plates and pews.
These ministers of hate are not alone. It seems that many Christian religious leaders are taking the position of defaming their number one competing religion. To put another religion down in hopes of uplifting your own is not taking the ethical high road, but it does maintain many of their followers’ existing paranoia of Muslims and the spread of Islam.
This misguided need to vilify other beliefs to verify their own only leads to social disharmony and more dangerously to a social atmosphere of hostility towards Muslims. For example, a mosque in Ohio was recently the victim of a hate crime as shots were fired through its windows and into the prayer hall where worshipers gather daily for congregational prayers. (See: http://www.ohio.com/mld/ohio/news/local/4084590.htm)
However, Islam and Christianity need not be archenemies. Islam never intended for such discord between the two faiths. In fact, there are numerous references to everyday behavioral teachings in Islamic texts that instruct Muslims to be respectful to people of other faiths, especially Christians and Jews who share the same line of prophets and revelations.
The Qur’an is clear about this issue of defaming other religions:
6:108 – And insult not those whom they (the disbelievers) worship besides Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge. Thus we have made fair-seeming to each people its own doings; then to their Lord is their return and He shall then inform them of what they used to do.
John Janney, of Richardson, Texas, is an American Muslim activist and writer.