For three days in a row, I have been harassed at Publix by fellow shoppers, all who expressed concern for my soul. Anyone who is personally acquainted with me knows how I feel about people who attempt to convert me. I have always done my best to be respectful the beliefs of others. While the beliefs of other religions may differ from mine, I understand that I live in a country that allows for freedom of religion and that EVERYONE has a right to that freedom. At least that is the way I interpret that freedom. Obviously not everyone feels that way. There are people who feel that freedom of religion only applies to followers of certain religions.
The first woman I ran into was standing at the stop sign with a messenger bag draped over her shoulder. When she spotted me, she began walking towards the car. She opened the flap of her bag, and put her hand inside. Now when you grow up in the inner city, it is hard not to have a developed defense mechanism. Sometimes, these things are just instilled in you with exposure to certain situations. When someone approaches you while reaching into a bag or pocket, I automatically assume they are reaching for a weapon. Since this was a gray-haired woman, I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. She didn’t look like the type that would be packing heat, but you can’t really count anyone out. It turned out she wasn’t packing heat. If she was, she didn’t pull it out on me. Instead, she pulled out a small magazine written in Arabic. It turned out to be a version of the Watch Tower magazine that was geared towards Muslims. I love (note sarcasm)the way people assume that because I am Muslim, I can’t possibly be fluent in English and that everything should be translated to Arabic. I hurriedly rolled up all of my windows, but she managed to drop the magazine inside before the passenger window was completely closed. The booklet landed on the seat and although I am sure she was cursing me, she seemed satisfied that I wasn’t able to escape her literature.
My second encounter was in the parking lot of my neighborhood Publix. After seeing firsthand how many religious fanatics roam the parking lot in search of unsuspecting shoppers to force their literature on, I will probably choose another Publix to shop at from now on. Anywho, the woman who approached me had a very thick accent. It was difficult to understand her without listening very closely. She was eyeing the stack of newspapers that I had purchased, and I thought she was curious about couponing. No such luck. She told me in her broken English that she had some literature to share with me, and handed me a pamphlet entitled “For My Muslim Friend”. I politely told her no thank you as I loaded my things into the trunk. She pleaded with me to go ahead and take it, because our meeting that day in the parking lot was a divine appointment set by God, and she did not want to disappoint him. Was she expecting God to throw lightning bolts at her if she didn’t complete this task? Judging by the look of fear on her face, I would guess that I was not too far off the mark. I shifted from foot to foot impatiently, as beads of sweat ran down my back to remind me that it was 95 degrees outside, and that I should seek shelter soon. She wrote down a list of movies she wanted me to watch, convinced that they would change my opinion on religion. I advised her that I don’t get my information on religion from movies, the news, or any other media outlet. Her lips formed a hard line as I got into the car and pulled away.
The following morning was the last straw for me. I was in Publix grabbing almond milk when a woman driving one of the mobile carts came up to me and asked if I knew of a good produce store. Now I know from past experience that when someone wants to get into a discussion with you about something deep (like religion), they start of with he pretense of needing assistance with something completely unrelated. I told her about my favorite farm store, and hoped she would go on about her business as I waited for an employee to bring out more almond milk from the back cooler. She asked if I was Muslim, and I almost rolled my eyes. I reminded myself of the need to be patient. She told me that her son was a five percenter, and he has told her all about my religion. I corrected her, stating that a five percenter was much different from orthodox Islam. I glanced at my phone several times to keep track of the time, all while insisting that I did not believe I was God. I breathed a sigh of relief when my almond milk was available. Grabbing a carton, I apologetically told her that I needed to go.
I love the fact that so many religions can coexist in one country peacefully. Learning about each other is the best way to maintain that peace. However, I don’t make it my business to convert other people and I would appreciate it if that courtesy is extended to me as well. To you be your religion, and to me be mine.