By Meaghan Seymour
People are quick to judge or categorize each other based on looks. So as a freckle-faced Anglo-Canadian girl, I experience a lot of “shock factor” moments whenever someone finds out, for the first time, about my religious identity. On days when I covered my hair, I was most often mistaken for an Orthodox Jew. My dentist, with her hands in my mouth, would chat with me about local synagogues and upcoming high holidays.
As is the case with many other people, it’s not blatantly obvious what my personal religious convictions are. Although I do wear my “religion on my sleeve” in many subtle ways, it’s not according to the way people in general “expect” a Muslim to look based on their media-influenced perceptions. And for a number of reasons, I like to keep it that way when it comes to professional and not-so-close relationships in my life (personal questions can get to be a little too, well, personal when acquaintances learn that you’re a convert).
But being an “invisible Muslim” sometimes comes at a cost. I have ended up in disturbing social situations where Islam or Muslims are taking the heat. It gets awkward when someone I know makes a fleeting comment or joke, or even perhaps reacts nastily to an incident, which reflects his/her negative impression of Islam and Muslims. Yet, the person does not know that that they’re speaking directly to a Muslim! These are situations to which I still haven’t quite figured out how best to react.
I’m talking about the time my landlord was over doing repairs, and went on a jaw-dropping rant about his hatred for “Muslim immigrants”, not knowing of course that I was one. Or the morning over coffee with my boss, who having just returned from a trip to a Muslim country, dropped a quite racist comment about his interactions with the locals. And I can’t forget that former colleague who, at the sight of a Muslim woman with her children, spat out an opinion that Muslims were overpopulating Europe.
Unfortunately, a common attitude displayed by many of those around me tends to be particularly aggressive towards Muslims.
Although when these things happen (luckily not too often), they are never personal attacks directed at me. Regardless of that, I’m sure I’d still find them rude, inappropriate and offensive, even if I weren’t a Muslim, and I would want them to just stop.
But because I do not fit the stereotype these people have of a Muslim, it’s easy for them to assume that maybe I am on their side, with all their bigotry and crudeness. Perhaps they even think I am going to join in.
While I silently show my discomfort and quickly change the subject, I sometimes question myself later if I did the wrong thing. Did I stand up for my own values and beliefs, I wonder? Am I letting down my faith by not replying with some witty, well-crafted yet defiant response?
As much as it might feel good to defensively shout back: “I AM A MUSLIM!” when such awkward situations happen, I believe that we have the responsibility not to embarrass someone by putting them on the spot. When these things happen in a setting, such as an office, it’s surely not the best solution.
In 2012 some people within the Muslim community staged violent protests in reaction to a controversial film,The Innocence of Muslims. Yet, I admire Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) own enduring patience during the numerous times when he was confronted with his tormentors.
But I will not stay “invisible” forever, no matter how discreetly I may practice my religion. The day will come when everyone’s going to notice me not eating during Ramadan, or perhaps my neighbours, or landlord, will notice the Qur’an placed at the top of my bookshelf. Hopefully the unsettling and awkward encounters will end.
By then, they would perhaps have known me enough to realize that Muslims are not so different (and don’t always look so different) from everyone else after all.
The views expressed in this article are of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of discover-the-truth.com