For my Humanities class, one of our assignments was to write about an interaction with a religion we knew little about.
A Muslim student in our class saw this as an opportunity to do some “evangelistic” work and brought fliers to class for an “Open Mosque Day 2011”. According to the flier, this outreach event was organized by the Shura Council of Southern California as an effort to allow the Muslim community to interact and meet with the non-Muslims.
I’m always intrigued by things that I don’t understand, so I figured this opportunity would allow me to kill two birds with one stone.
One, I’d be able to write my assigned essay, and two, I could cross off visiting a mosque from my bucket list.
Sort of obviously, the first time I learned anything about Muslims was as a ten-year old boy on September 11th, 2001. With my Christian upbringing, my young mind could not fathom how a religious person would want to hurt and kill other people. The terrorist attacks combined with my lack of knowledge about the Muslim religion, caused me to develop a childish distrust for Muslims and Islam.
As a child, the more I learned about Islam and became aware the Muslims existed in southern California, it seemed that I saw Muslims everywhere – at the grocery store, library, mall, and airport. The burqa-clad women scared me and the turbans worn by the heavily bearded men seemed to be an attempt to disguise themselves from other people.
Although I distrusted them, I also felt sorry for the Muslims that I saw. People hated them, and showed no shame in making that known.
Then I visited the Riverside mosque and my perception of Muslims slowly began to change.
I often had viewed Muslims through the eyes of an outsider, but my visit to the mosque allowed my to see the outsiders through the eyes of a Muslim. No longer did I just view Muslims as an entity, group, or sect; it finally clicked that Muslims are people, even more they are individuals.
First of all, I was surprised by the affable and warm-hearted welcome I received.
There weren’t a lot of outsiders at the mosque, but the few of us there were welcomed and made to feel at ease. It seemed as if the Muslims were genuinely happy to see people who had made the effort to go out and attempt to learn a little about Islam.
The best part was that there was people in my age range who were taking the lead on introducing Islam to me. They had no qualms about being identified as Muslims; rather they took pride in their religion.
At a table where religious pamphlets were displayed, I had a surprising conversation with a Muslim girl.
She attends UCR and told me that only recently had she begun to wear the hijab (headscarf for women). I asked her if people treated her differently now that she wore the hijab. Her surprising response was that she received more feedback that was positive than negative on her head covering.
She told me to ask her what I thought was weird or odd about Islam but I politely declined.
Instead I asked her why she thought Muslims had such a “bad rap” in the United States, and her response was that Americans seemed to lazily lump all Muslims together with the extremists, a statement I knew to be personally true. She clarified that as Americans learned more about Islam, the more receptive they were to having Muslims in their community.
Although I didn’t stay too long at the mosque, my brief visit helped me determine a couple of things.
Most importantly, I refuse to prematurely judge all people of a certain faith because of the actions of a few “believers”.
Secondly, I learned that Muslims are more than the people who dress differently. Muslims are regular people too, who are generally disliked and distrusted because the extremists who attacked the United States.
I came away from my visit, feeling rather childish for never taking the time to understand Islam a little better.
Also, I appreciate the courage that it takes for the Muslim girl I met to wear her hijab to college and in public.
Few people take their religion seriously enough to endure snide looks and comments, especially as a young person.
I tip my hat in respect for her.