Growing up in Idaho and attending college in Utah, I did not meet a Muslim until I was 24-years-old and had moved to New York City for graduate school.
The first friend I met at graduate school is Muslim. We met at admitted student day during April 2015 and exchanged phone numbers to keep in contact until school started in September 2015. Our school had organized a scenic cruise where students could meet and mingle while boating around Manhattan, seeing the iconic sights and drinking alcoholic beverages.
Misbah, the girl with whom I had exchanged numbers, texted me to ask if I was going on the cruise. I replied that due to my religious beliefs, I do not drink alcohol and therefore thought that it might be too awkward for me to go on a cruise where most of the others on board would be drinking. Misbah told me that she too does not drink due to religious beliefs and that we should be each other’s sober companions. Thus, we had our own serendipitous moment on the scenic cruise during our first week in Manhattan.
A few days after the cruise, we went to the infamous Shake Shack together. We ended up spending the majority of the time discussing our religious beliefs. During this conversation, there were two lessons I learned.
One, I knew next to nothing about Islam. And, two, we actually have much in common.
First, up to this point, the only information I had heard about Islam was from the media. Through my friendship with Misbah and other relationships with Muslims at school, I can attest that the media does not give Muslims an accurate portrayal.
The Muslim girls I have come to know in my program are some of the nicest, smartest and most peaceful people I have ever met. In her studies, my friend Misbah is concentrating on peace and human rights in regards to international education development. Thus, it breaks my heart when I see the media misrepresent her sacred beliefs and generalize all Muslims as terrorists.
When one of our classmates needed surgery, Misbah accompanied the classmate to a local hospital and helped take care of the patient through the recovery period. I can honestly say that I think Misbah would do this for anyone. Sadly, the media does not seem interested in stories about the Muslims who are serving their communities or attending universities.
Second, Muslims and Mormons (also referred to as Latter-Day Saints) are very similar. Misbah and I both grew up learning principles such as the forgiveness, repentance and prayer. Additionally, like Islam, Mormonism also has a negative stigma in the public’s eye while the essential doctrines are commonly misunderstood. Earlier in the school year, when I was struggling with how the media portrays Mormonism, Misbah’s advice to me was to ignore the media, not let it bother me and forgive.
Last, Misbah and I learned that even though we attend different places of worship, we have many of the same interests, such as comedy TV shows, hamburgers, dating and sustainable international education development. I have told my family so much about Misbah that my little sister joked that Misbah is the Muslim Caitlin.
Misbah is my best friend in New York City and has been my lifeline during the challenges of graduate school. By sincerely getting to know someone and by focusing on what you have in common with someone as opposed to the differences, it is possible to have an interfaith friendship.
This is not only true for Mormons and Muslims, but for other religions as well. Religion should not be something that divides people. I feel very fortunate to have such kind Muslim friends. I will stand by them and help defend our right of religious freedom no matter what image the media tries to depict.