How can we love our neighbors if we do not know them? And how can we come to know them if we don’t clearly see them?
It is easy to love the world or humankind in general without being troubled with the personal investment it takes to engage those whose bodies and values and behaviors differ from us. It is easier to remain safe within the physical and mental enclaves of those whose physical presence does not challenge us.
A friend of mine, Christina Rae, shared this story with me of how one visit to the neighboring Mosque caused her to question her single story of the Muslims in her town. I am grateful for her example and willingness to share this story with others.
A guest post by Christina Rae:
I found that I was very far outside my comfort zone in visiting the mosque. To begin with, I had trouble keeping my hair and skin covered in the necessary way. The scarf kept slipping. For another thing, I had no idea what to do or where to go. Also, I was one of the few white people there. I felt very conspicuous. Despite this, everybody was so friendly and welcoming and ready to answer questions.
I had to leave briefly to pick up my daughter from school (next door to the mosque), and then come back to talk to people after prayers. On our way back, the crossing guard pulled me aside and told me there were four police cars parked in the mosque parking lot. She said she didn’t know what was going on there, but she thought I should know. I knew nothing was going on, because I had been in the building 5 minutes earlier and there had been no disturbance, and anyway, I had to go back to complete my assignment, so my daughter and I kept going on our way. (It turned out the police were chasing a suspect in the neighborhood, and the school had briefly been on lock-down because of it. It had nothing to do with the mosque.)
I think if I hadn’t just been at the mosque, talking to perfectly lovely people, I also might have made assumptions about the police cars in the parking lot. As it was, I was a little offended on the Muslims’ behalf. The single story about Muslims (the Paris attacks that occurred that day didn’t help) is that they are violent and dangerous, and it is easy to jump to unfair conclusions. Simply being with the Muslims for their 45 minutes of prayers was enough to check conclusions I probably otherwise would have formed. What would an established friendship do to obliterate the single story?