Dear Non-Muslim Allies (2),
I am writing to say thank you. A lot of amazing things have happened since I wrote to you last. You probably know by now that the first letter I wrote to a couple of hundred of you while sitting at my dining room table went viral. Many of you have started saying asalam ‘alaykum and making the hearts of the Muslims in your path soar. Some of you have written to tell me the stories that emerged from those first simple greetings of peace. Those of you who own or manage shops have begun to put signs of welcome in your windows, and many of you have participated in activism to end hate speech and discrimination.
There are a couple of stories in particular I want to share. One is the story of a woman who said asalam ‘alaykum to her cashier, who then asked where she was from. She replied, “right here!” to the great surprise and pleasure of the cashier. The other is the story of one of my dearest friends on the planet, who hesitated to share the letter until many days after it had gone viral, out of concern that it would raise the ire of her rural, Southern community. And then when she did, she found that the voices that responded were ones of support.
Words of wisdom from my mentors have come tumbling back to me in this past week, and as I learned of both of these stories, I thought of this: Suzanne Pharr, a lifelong civil rights and LGBTQ activist from the South, once told me that the most important thing a straight person could do for LGBTQ rights is to not be afraid to be mistaken for gay or lesbian. That is, no LGBTQ person could feel safe in this country until a good many of their allies were willing to be seen with them, to be ridiculed, to be, sometimes, unsafe. She suggested that by standing with a target of hatred, we might be mistaken for the target ourselves, but that if we do it in large numbers and often enough, the original target becomes hard, and then impossible to recognize and separate. By saying asalam ‘alaykum and by sharing the letter, you have made yourselves lightning rods, and are slowing the momentum of hatred in this country.
Just as a long-time friend inspired the first letter, another long-time friend inspires this one. Sheila asked me to write something about the place of Islam in my life. It’s a big task; one that I’ll take on at more length elsewhere. But I will say this: Islam gives me the story of Moses leading a people to safety in spite of his deep personal anxiety, it gives me the story of Sarah birthing a baby when she was more than twice my age, it gives me the story of Hagar’s faith and persistence with Ishmael in the desert, the story of Jesus’ paired humility and wonders, and Mary’s exchanges with angels. Islam gives me a story about Muhammad who, when given revelation, ran to his wife for comfort and security, and shared a relatively egalitarian marriage with that wife, who was both older and wealthier than himself. Peace be upon them all. Islam gives me a lineage beyond mere generations and then expresses how short even that lineage is in the eyes of God. The Qur’an lays out for me the qualities of my maker that I might set aside my ego and pursue instead compassion, mercy, forgiveness, patience, and justice in humility. It gives me a practice of prayer and fasting that cleans my heart and body. It repeats ‘alhamdulillah,’–all that’s in the heavens and earth sing God’s praises–over and over again, and I am comforted that, no matter the struggle before me, I am already singing.
I am not interested in making other people Muslim. I believe that we each make our covenants with the Divine in billions of ways all over the globe. The Qur’an says as much, and implies that we are not aware of all of the Prophets. It both tells me radically different stories of Prophets in the Abrahamic lineage and then tells me that God makes no distinction among any of them—that these differences which we make enormous are irrelevant to God. Tells me clearly that no human being owns salvation, tells Prophet Muhammad to tell us that he did not know his own fate, much less that of anyone else. It demands that I stand up to injustice and do good work.
I love the incredible diversity of this country. I love that I meet some of you in faith, some of you in the pursuit of justice, and some of you in simple humanity. I love that we are here together.
Please share freely.
Peace to you, and love,