Like so many people here in the states, last Friday I woke up to the horrific news about the massacre in Christchurch. Like the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 and at the Tree of Life Synagogue just last year, an atrocity like the one in New Zealand seems like such a low blow…shooting people while they are at worship, basically defenseless and seeking peace, is an especially abhorrent kind of murder.
I’ve shed lots of tears over the many acts of senseless violence that have occurred in recent years. I’ve tried to put some words together when another senseless massacre occurred back in 2011. It always feels so hopeless. But this time, it felt a little more personal.
Because, you see, while I am not a Muslim, or a religious person of any sort, I am Muslim adjacent. My sister converted to Islam more than 20 years ago, so my thoughts of course went to her, and her family. I’ve seen glimpses of the bigotry she’s faced over the years, and it always pissed me off. But naively, I never really feared for her safety until now.
My sister lives hundreds of miles away, so I wasn’t able to rush to her side last Friday. So I channeled my anxiety and anger by reaching out to a local Imam to see how I could help. I had some righteous notions about offering myself up as a human shield at the mosque, but the Imam graciously reminded me that the most helpful thing I could do is use my privilege as a nice white lady to fight Islamophobia how and where I find it. And because I’ve got the benefit of actually knowing some Muslims, I’ve got some extra powerful weapons in this fight.
I have had the opportunity and the honor to understand a bit about my sister’s experience as a Muslim in America. And I sometimes say something that may be kind of stupid and sacrilegious, but it’s still kind of true…my sister, as a Muslim, is a better Christian than most Christians I know. I say that because she is more Christ-like, more forgiving, more generous, more compassionate, more charitable than just about any other person I know.
And after my sister got married, I got a brother-in-law in the deal, and he’s a Muslim, too. And *gasp* an immigrant! And he, like my sister, is an awesome, yet totally ordinary person. They are part of a large and diverse Muslim community, and guess what? Some people within that community are humble, and kind, and generous, and some people in that community are straight up assholes. Sound familiar? Sound like every kind of community that has existed since the beginning of human civilization? That is not a coincidence since Muslims are, in fact, a part of human civilization.
The Imam I was talking with reminded me that in countries where Muslims are a tiny minority, it’s easy for the hateful, fearful, ignorant stereotypes to take root because so many people have never met a real-life Muslim or seen the role that their faith plays in their lives. I suppose my connection to my sister makes it a lot easier for me open my heart and mind and to reject any notion that Muslims are “other”. How could my own sister ever be “other”?
So if I’m Muslim adjacent, you, gentle reader, can now consider yourself Muslim adjacent-adjacent. If you’ve never met a Muslim, you know some wonderful Muslims through me. And I suppose that’s a start.