This 4th of July weekend, while Americans attended swelteringly hot parades, grilled hamburgers and sat under a bursting night sky, those in the Muslim world had a holiday and a succession of explosions of their own. My family was no different from most Americans in the way we spent our weekend, though this year in Colorado our fireworks followed a rodeo and the parade included more farm equipment and horses than anything else.
Perhaps the only difference between our Fourth and yours was that we spent ours with a devout Muslim who is currently living in our home, a close friend whom our children call “Auntie Boo.” She lived with us for a year in Chicago and is now staying with us for a month after recently finishing her studies in Denver. We invited her to celebrate the 4th of July at my parent’s house a few hours away in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.
On our drive home over the achingly beautiful mountains, Auntie Boo and I reflected on the weekend. Neither of us had experienced a rodeo before and decided anyone who would strap their children to sheep (called “mutton bustin”) was certainly crazy. She remarked that her favorite memory of the weekend was learning to kayak. But as we talked, I thought about the many events she missed because she was sleeping or didn’t join us for meals.
While we feasted, she fasted. Tuesday marked the final day of 30 she has been fasting from food and water during daylight hours for Ramadan. Fasting while in America presents many challenges for Muslims in that others are constantly eating around you and you are awake at night while others are sleeping. In community with other Muslims who are fasting, she tells me there is nothing like the solidarity you feel, but alone in America, she has felt very isolated. At my parent’s house, she would spend hours praying and reading the Quran while the rest of us slept.
As I slowed the car for the tourists in front of us to gawk at a few elk along the side of the mountain, she asked if I had heard the news from her country, Saudi Arabia, over the weekend. When I admitted that I hadn’t, she told me of the three bombings that had occurred there–one close to the burial site of Muhammed. “These people,” she said about ISIS, “they are not true Muslims.”
We also discussed the attack in Iraq on Sunday where more than 250 people were killed in a crowded square. “Those people were simply out in the market preparing for our holiday the next day,” she lamented. In America, it would be similar to the shopping district in New York or Chicago being bombed on Christmas Eve. Unthinkable.
As we discussed ISIS, she expressed shock and disbelief over the ways this terrorist faction has managed to “wash the brains” of young people around the world. In an article in The New York Daily News, Shaun King notes that, “Claiming a religion as cover for terrorism doesn’t make you a genuine follower of that religion. Yelling “Allahu Akbar” (which simply means God is great) before killing people makes a man a Muslim no more than yelling “Hallelujah” before a mass shooting makes a man a Christian.” The recent attacks on Muslim holy lands further prove that ISIS and Islam should not be equated.
Back home on the other side of the mountains, our friend broke her fast with us yesterday evening and then spent an hour showing us videos and pictures on Snapchat of her friends and family celebrating Eid in Saudi Arabia and around the world. Doe-eyed women peered out of burkas or more daring women took selfies of themselves in elaborate new costumes or cocktail dresses. Groups of men draped in white cloth with red checkered head dresses chatted on white leather couches and children opened beautifully wrapped presents and envelopes full of money from doting family members. Candies, dates, cakes, fried bread and Arabic coffee were artistically spread across tables. Laughing, Auntie Boo said that Pinterest has had a definite influence on the Eid preparations.
Watching the millions of people celebrating this holiday that most Americans don’t even know exist reminded me of the smallness of my world. My world right now is feeding, clothing and nurturing two teeny people and one big person. It is getting by on the limited reserve of energy I have as my body grows this new life inside of me. It is zoo trips, scribbling thoughts in the margins of my days, church, a plastic pool in the backyard, date nights and slow walks to the park. If I’m honest, I admit that I try not to think about terrorism, bombings or refugees so desperate to survive that they are willing to stow away on boats. In an age of selective news, I can see what I want to see and hear what I want to hear. It is so much easier to pretend those people and places don’t exist.
Until you can’t.
It’s not until a person from another culture literally moves in with you that your world cracks open and you look up from your narrow view. It is then that you are reminded that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. There is nothing like a single relationship to personalize pain and remind you to care about the rest of humanity.
How many Muslims do you know on a first name basis? How much would one relationship influence the way you see the rest of the world?