Today, during my jog around the neighborhood, I started thinking about ignorance. It’s such a common disease with yet such a simple cure… knowledge. The thing is, people think of knowledge as “education,” “degrees,” “schooling,” “classes,” etc. And although all those things contribute to the cure of ignorance, there are still even simpler antidotes for ignorance.
Some of the ugliest forms of ignorance are racism, discrimination, and oppression. Most days, for me, people are really nice and don’t seem to treat me any differently because of my religion, race, or ethnicity. Most people seem to understand that judging a group by an individual’s actions is wrong, but there other days where I get dirty looks, under-the-breath comments, and assumptions that I am “an oppressed Muslim woman, forced to cover.” But the truth of the matter is that all of those people suffer from a fatal disease called “ignorance.” I say “fatal” because thinking like that will only kill their minds, spirits, relationships with God, and even society. And as infuriated as I get at these idiotic and ignorant individuals, I remember that their diseases are curable. And that even MY actions can be medicinal and cure this intolerable disease.
What I mean is that I don’t find it helpful to hide out and live in a box away from anyone “different from me. As a Muslim woman who is so proud of my religion and my heritage, I feel like I have to do justice to my religion and help combat the ignorance of other people. As the Prophet Muhammad (the final Messenger in a long line of Prophets including Adam, Moses, David, and Jesus) has taught us to lead and teach through example. Sometimes the things you DON’T do and say make a bigger impact than the constant things we DO to try and talk sense into others.
When I was jogging through my Caucasian populated neighborhood wearing hijab and long sleeves and listening to my iPod, I thought, “wow, this is really the kind of image of Muslims I am proud to be putting out there.” When I hear about Muslim men and women taking part in their community clean-up or exceling as doctors and nurses in advanced hospitals or writing novels or just helping an elderly woman cross the street or give money to a homeless man and so on, I feel so incredibly joyful. Because it is just being yourself, giving a human face to your people, which really makes the biggest difference. That smile on your face can say a thousand words if you are just willing to give it.
It is hard to hate someone who is just like you. When ignorant people see that you are just human, it becomes more and more increasingly difficult to hate you. Seeing a Muslim family picnicking together or a bunch of Muslim girls shopping at the mall or a Muslim father hug his daughter on her college graduation, people begin to gain knowledge, knowledge that people of all races and religions and ethnicities are so similar.
I think as Muslims, we do ourselves a great injustice when we continually separate ourselves from mainstream culture. We become alienated and “creatures” to be scared of. And it is the same with all minorities. Breaking the barriers and building bridges begins with the individual, in your home, in your community, at school, in the workplace, and in your heart.
I guess none of this is ground-breaking thinking. But it was something that I was thinking about. And I hope more people think about it more often.