When I took my shahada (declaration of faith) and became Muslim at the tender age of fifteen, I knew some people would be opposed to my decision. I also knew others would respect it. My friends, family and classmates surprised me more often than not when showing me which side of the fence they fell on. People I expected understanding from went out of their way to make life difficult, while I found support in some very surprising places.
When I explained to my grandpa why I wouldn’t be attending church with him anymore, he stopped eating and looked at me thoughtfully. I braced myself for the wrath of a man who had been a deacon at Ebenezer Baptist Church for more years than I had been alive. “Do you still love the Lord?” he asked in his thick Alabama accent. “Yes, Grandpa,” I responded, “I still love the Lord.” He nodded his head several times. “Well alright, then.” He went back to eating his biscuits and syrup, and that was that. As a man who loved his religion, I never imagined that he could be open to his beloved granddaughter choosing a different path.
With all the conflicts in the world today, it’s easy to lump all the followers of any religion into one category and hate them equally. At an Annual Interfaith Iftaar I attended a few days ago, it was refreshing to be able to sit down with Jews from the synagogue across the street and Christians from the church up the road and share a meal. Rather than argue about the differences between us, we chose to embrace our similarities. Instead of seeing one another as outsiders, we realized we are all ultimately members of the same club – humanity.
Over a meal of fried rice, beef and broccoli, and sweet and sour chicken, we got to know one another on a more personal level. Some of the non-Muslims present had opted to fast for the day in order to fully experience Ramadan. They shared their experiences with us, and let us know that we would always be able to count on them for friendship. They have no idea how much their kind words meant to us, considering that the general consensus when it comes to Muslims. In a world where religion serves as the basis of most conflicts, it was nice to take a moment to be human beings.
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