Our school had an assembly program every year on the eleventh of September. I liked that we honored the heroes that had died on that tragic day. We were only fourth graders but we understood the horror of the worst terrorist attack on American soil. Our teacher impressed on us the sympathy of the whole world.
She explained that she was in Copenhagen, Denmark, when it happened. On a rainy day the Danes came out by the hundreds and stood outside the American Embassy to stand mutely to express their sympathy for our country. Unexpectedly our class of fourth-graders was somber and silent.
My friend came over to my table with a solemn face and whispered, “Don’t tell them my name.”
I felt the space around me turn cold. “Why?” I asked him. It hadn’t occurred to me that being Muslim in America needed to be a secret. I had been taught to be myself and others would accept me.
“People won’t like me” he whispered.
Surely no one would hate me for someone else’s actions. How could I be to blame?
Years later I realized that knowing people practiced different religions didn’t mean we accepted people of different religions. Recognition that we live in a multi-religious community is not enough: we must accept the inevitable: these people are our neighbors and we must learn to get along.
In high school I attended a Catholic school. We were encouraged to discuss our faiths in class and I had the opportunity to share the truth about Islam. Some of my classmates might never have learned the truth that Islam is a faith that promotes peace. Knowing fosters communication, conversation, and connection.
We must bond over what we have in common and learn to accept how we differ, without animosity and hostility.