As some of our readers already know, this month I did a series called Following the Fast, which allowed me to learn what the Holy Month of Ramadan is all about from those who celebrate it. A mother and daughter. A restaurant owner. A teenage girl. So many kind people who let me into their lives for a time, however brief, and let me learn from them. I could not be more grateful for that. It is for these people that I write this column today.
Last week, I wrote a story about Suhair Said, the president of Andrew High School’s Diversity Club and a rising high school senior. She is an intelligent young woman who told me about what it’s like to be an American Muslim teen. She spoke of the acceptance of her peers and their curiosity about her faith. Her story of her peers’ acceptance really resonated with me; however, it seems it did not hit home with everyone who read the story.
When I read some of the comments on the article this morning, I was reminded of what made me so passionate about this series in the first place: it was a way to help people learn. It seems I may not have fully accomplished what I set out to do. I would like to set the record straight about what I want people to know about Islam, just as I have learned more about it myself.
First off, Ramadan. It’s a happy time. No, people are not starving themselves. They are fasting in order to feel, to some small degree, how those who are starving feel. It is a choice, and one that people participate in to better understand the lives of others.
Second, Muslims are not terrorists. There are outliers in every world religion, and those who were involved in the attacks on 9-11 and the Boston Marathon bombings are a set of extreme outliers. As Erin Gruwell, author of The Freedom Writers Diary, said, “Don't let the actions of a few determine the way you feel about an entire group.”
Finally, perhaps the most important lesson I learned through Ramadan was understanding:
I end every one of my interviews with the same question. “Is there anything else I should know? Anything you think our readers would want to know?” It absolutely breaks my heart how many people I interviewed for Ramadan answered the same way: by telling me that they just hope people will understand what Islam is really about.
“A lot of people take [Ramadan] for the wrong things. They think, ‘Oh, these people have to starve themselves.’ They don’t understand the whole meaning behind it.”
“It’s a religion that is very kind and welcoming, and we don’t hate on other religions at all the way people seem to think we do.”
“When it comes to Islam, there are a lot of stereotypes from people. There are a lot of people judging without getting to know what Muslims – and Islam – are all about… There’s a lot of things people would love if only they acknowledged themselves about it, if they read more about it, if they discovered more about it.”
At the end of the day, all anyone really wants is to be understood. I know that many of the people reading this understand the importance of being accepting of other people’s views. I don’t hope to convert anyone with this column; I only hope to let people know that education and acceptance are the keys to a brighter future. Without them, we would remain ignorant and intolerant, which only serves to fuel more conflict and misunderstanding.