What My First Encounter With Islamophobia Taught Me

What My First Encounter With Islamophobia Taught Me

I was in the third grade when I was told I couldn't be friends with a Christian.
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Every advice I give is a reminder to myself first and foremost.

I don’t remember a lot about class 305 except the fact that I had a very kind teacher named Ms. Latimer, a kid who spat in my face named Carlos, and my once-best friend from whom I first learned what discrimination felt like, Edwin.

The day I learned what discrimination felt like is still crystal clear in my mind. I remember the dimly lit room our class was situated in, with the tiled marble green floor and the desks that were arranged into the two sides of the classroom so the middle was wide open for walking through the class with ease. Ms. Latimer assigned a special writing project that day and I knew Edwin had to be my partner for the project.

By third grade, Edwin and I had been classmates since kindergarten so we were, by fate, best friends. We used to be the kind of buddies who sat next to each other for lunch every single day for three years. In the second grade, we always used to make up stories about building tunnels that would connect our houses together, and Edwin always promised he would get it done soon but was having trouble digging the tunnel with his spoon (which apparently kept breaking so he had to get new ones). We used to draw a loading screen on a post-it and fill up the loading bar slowly. There was supposed to be a magical train that came by that would take us to our “treehouse” when the bar was filled to a 100 percent but that never happened of course. And we would draw our imaginary tree house together, filling it with all kinds of stuff our limited elementary school knowledge could come up with. Edwin was the greatest friend I ever had in my years in elementary school.

Until that one day in the third grade. As our whole class got up to look for the partner they wanted for the writing project, I gave Edwin the signal to go to the end of the classroom so we could sit down and discuss the project. As I got my stuff and started to walk towards him, I accidentally stepped on one of my classmate’s book. My parents had taught me that it was a Muslim duty to kiss a book of knowledge three times if our feet ever touched it. Later in life I learned that kissing the book was actually an innovation of Bengali culture, but at the time I just followed what my parents said. And so I bent over, picked up the book, and kissed it three times. It just took a few seconds, but I wonder what my life would’ve been like had Edwin not turned his head and saw me kiss that book for those very few seconds. If we still would have been the best of friends had he not turned his head and saw me perform a deed that would literally change his entire outlook on me.

I saw him staring as I put the book on my classmate’s desk, and felt something off about the way he was looking, but I shrugged it off and sat in front him. Right away he asked, “What were you doing?” I replied, “I was just giving the book Salam (that’s what we called the whole book kissing thing). I’m a Muslim so I have to do that.” Edwin suddenly tensed up a little and said, “You’re Muslim?”

“Yeah! I’m a Muslim! What are you?”

“I’m a Christian. I didn’t know you were Muslim.”

I wish I could say that he was asking me that out of interest, but I now realize that he asked me those questions out of the disbelief that he was friends with me for three years and hadn’t once realized that he was friends with a Muslim. Eventually, the questions stopped, and we began to discuss the project. The conversation was tense, Edwin hurried everything as if he wanted to get out as soon as he could, but I couldn’t realize that something was wrong.

The next day, Edwin and I sat in the same spot of the classroom again and began to discuss the project. But he couldn’t wait five minutes until he said, “Hey, is it okay if we sit in different spots in lunch today?” I shifted a little, confused by the question and asked him, “Why do you want to sit somewhere else?”

“I just want to sit somewhere different today. Y’know like try something new and talk to other people. You should do that too. We could sit next to each other sometimes.”

“But we’ve been sitting next to each other for so long, why now?”

“My mom said that Christians and Muslims shouldn’t be with each other. You know after 9/11 and everything she thinks we shouldn’t hang out with each other.”

I can still remember that moment of fear when I knew somewhere in my heart that I was about to lose my best friend. And over what? Because I was a Muslim and he was a Christian? Because, somehow, kissing a book three times put me in the same spotlight as the horrendous terrorists that took the lives of thousands? I had all these thoughts swirling in my mind, and I was a third grader who had no idea about what made me so bad that I had to be taken away from my best friend.

I accepted the truce, but we never sat next to each other again. By the end of fourth grade, I was bumped up to 401 and he was staying in 405. The year our friendship ended was the year that we were separated as classmates as well.

It was my first experience of discrimination, and to this day, I still can’t find a logical reason as to why our friendship had to end over such a thing. The era in which segregation and prejudice was an official thing in America ended many years ago, but it didn’t end with just white and black people. Today, it exists between people of all races, and ethnicities, and religion. Especially religion.

But with hardship, there’s always ease. Even if that means waiting several years for that ease to come. Recently, two Muslims were shot outside of a masjid, the place of worship for Muslims, and as soon as my friend Garnet, who is a Christian, heard about this she told me,

“You know it breaks my heart knowing that in so many places in this world people can be killed for doing something as simple as having faith or a belief, and you know to be honest to still hold onto your faith for all of you to hold onto your faith in a time when so much hate is taking over like I can't imagine but it's just I admire your courage and faith so much and I have nothing but love for you and your family and spiritual brothers and sisters I'm praying for all of you and my church is praying for all of you.”

That was all I needed for me to rewind to about ten years ago when I was told I couldn’t be friends with a Christian. And here was my friend telling me that she’s praying for me and for all the Muslims, and so is her church. There was no greater comfort than a friend basically telling me that it doesn’t matter what my faith is, or what hers is; our friendships and prayers don’t belong to a special class of faith, race, or ethnicity. In a time when it’s so easy to become separated and targeted, the best feeling is to know that there are people who want us all to be unified, and we need that more than ever.

So go out there, get that one friend of yours who's of a completely different faith, race, or ethnicity (or all three), and start breaking down the doors that divide us. If you’re a Bengali Muslim and all your Muslim friends are Bengali, take a trip to an Indonesian or Pakistani masjid and meet some of the amazing people there. If all your friends in school are of one faith, visit that club in your school that follows a different faith (I really regret not doing this), and start digging the tunnels that will connect us all together.

And of course, whatever I say of benefit comes from the God that I believe in, and whatever I say that is harmful and wrong is from me and only me.
Cover Image Credit: Pixabay.com

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5 Things To Do When Your Professors Challenge Your Beliefs As A Christian

As long as you know God is FOR you, it doesn't matter who is AGAINST you.

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Being a Christian in our world today is very, very challenging. There are many misconceptions about our beliefs and our morals, as well as people who believe we don't practice what we preach.

As a college student, I've come across many professors who enjoy challenging my beliefs due to the "lack of evidence" or the "impossibility" of the circumstances. While it frustrates me to no end, I've had to learn that arguing and debating with people who don't believe in God is pointless. They aren't going to change their mind and there's no way a college student is going to change that.

Arguing will get you nowhere, people are going to believe what they want to believe and we can't change that. Instead of trying to debate with your professors, do these five things instead. I assure you, you'll get much more out of them than an argument.

1. Pray

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Pray to God to help you and your belief remain strong, but also pray that the Holy Spirit finds them and touches their heart. A heart that isn't filled with God is an awfully sad one.

2. Acknowledge that people don't always agree with your beliefs

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If someone tried to convince you that God isn't real, you're not going to listen to their points or anything else that they have to say. Acknowledge that people think differently and sometimes you can't change that. Only God can.

3. Drop the class

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This is really a last resort, but it's also understandable. I would hate to have to sit in a class where I felt personally attacked for over an hour each day. If you find yourself in this position, get OUT.

4. When things get too difficult-- bathroom break

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Sometimes all you really need is a breather. When the lecture gets too tough, ask to go to the bathroom, get some water, and say a prayer.

5. Read your Bible

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This is the most important one. Your bible has all of the answers, no matter the circumstance. If you find yourself unable to cope with the challenges the professor presents to you, open the bible and start reading. God will fill your heart and put your mind at ease.

It's hard enough feeling out of place in today's society, just because of your beliefs. Then to have someone constantly challenging everything you base your life off of? That's even more difficult!

But instead of arguing, choose one of these five things to do. It will be a much better use of your time and you'll feel much better about it than you would by arguing with someone.

Who knows, maybe one day God will touch their heart and things will be different. God's pretty powerful and can change things in an instant. Trust him.

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Dear Christians, Think Twice Before You Invite A Non-Christian To Your Church

It's important to be sensitive to the many faiths people around you adhere to.

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Christians,

I understand you sharing verses from the Bible comes from good intentions.

I understand you explaining to me the teachings of Jesus comes from good intentions.

I understand you inviting me to your church comes from good intentions.

The issue is that not everybody is as tolerant of your evangelical mission. In fact, many may see it as outright offensive.

"How dare you try to push your religious beliefs on me?"

"I don't appreciate your attempts to convert me."

"I'm satisfied with my own religion, thanks."

The above are just some responses you might unfortunately get, but it is important to understand why that's the case.

Christianity is, by all means, the most popular religion on the planet with followers from all corners of the globe.

With your faith having such a large following, people may see your mission to spread God's word as rather selfish — an attack, even, to not consider their faith.

Receiving this kind of response from someone when you meant only the best for them can occur with even the simplest actions — you can try inviting someone to your church and still end up making them uncomfortable.

I can admit there was one point in time I was in such a situation where my neighbor asked me to attend her church for Easter when she knew I was a Hindu. I was taken aback by her invitation. Religion was not something I considered to be a "show and tell" where you share it with others without them asking. I am glad to educate people about Hinduism, but only if they ask and are genuinely interested, otherwise I don't try and bring it up and teach it to others in case they become uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong, Hinduism is one of the most liberal and tolerant religions out there. Hindus are allowed to visit other houses of worship, accept beliefs from other religions, and accept the fact that there are multiple supreme beings; there is no limit to how Hindus reach salvation.

I wasn't offended by her Christianity, but rather her disregard of how someone from a different faith may interpret her invitation.

I politely declined her invitation because at the time it did make me uncomfortable and I didn't understand her intentions. I have had moments in my life where I was encouraged to convert to Christianity, even offered money, which made me wary of the intentions of Christians around me who were very open about their religion.

Today, as a Hindu attending a private Christian university, I have had the opportunity to interact with Christians and understand why they like to promote their faith. It took quite some time and experience to educate myself about this, and I better understand where Christians come from when they talk about religion, but not everybody is so accommodating.

It is very important to understand that your beliefs are just that — beliefs. Beliefs are subjective and not everybody is going to agree with them or respect them.

You may have been taught to "go make disciples of all the nations," and you don't get to pick and choose which teachings of Jesus to follow, but understand that you assuming you're helping someone follow "the right path" may actually be pushing them away.

We appreciate your genuine care for us and your good intentions behind promoting your faith, but please be sensitive to how you talk about religion — even if it is inviting someone to your church.

Sincerely,

Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Atheists, and other non-Christian belief systems.

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