Whether we like it all not we all have those little thoughts or presumptions when it comes to others; people we see or people we meet. What we do with them and how we treat others based on them are true life lessons.
I always took pride in how tolerant I was, my anti-bullying and anti-racism work. Since my husband originates from Africa and our kids are a delightful blend of pinkish white and dark brown I cannot have any prejudices. So I always thought. I was very wrong! Turns out I can!
One Ramadan, a few years back, we were invited to an Iftar dinner. We parked our car and walked towards the apartment. A car, carrying those blue and yellow plates we Norwegians instantly recognize as an embassy car, stopped on the side of the street. Two men and a woman exited. My husband, Super-Saber, said it looked like the ambassador to Sudan was invited to the same dinner as us.
“Who, of the men is the ambassador?” I asked my husband.
He looked at me with those mild, kind eyes, but said drily: “The woman is the ambassador”.
My childhood friend got married. She had met him online, as everyone does now, but these were internet’s early days. The new and modern was the blueprint of the wedding; contemporary, fashionable and international. The groom speaks Italian which resulted in five expensive coffee machines as gifts and a flare of European atmosphere due to the large congregation of Italian guests. There were people of all colours, orientations and faiths. In all weddings there is the odd one out and it was not us. This time it was the grand uncle. Not the only one at the wedding who had passed 70, but he carried the air of someone who wanted to be distinguished by it. Which he might have been had his behaviour not passed its expiry date.
It was a wonderful, warm summer day. One of those we have a couple of in a Northern summer. If we are lucky. The venue was set in the bride’s parents garden. In a tent. Filled with the scent of wildflowers picked by her mother that very morning.
In the afternoon my husband and I took a break from the music and partying in the tent. The house was also open for guests so we sat down in their spacious living room. A room I had spent many an evening in growing up. On the sofa opposite us sat two ladies, both passed their eightieth. One looked as sweet as most elderly ladies do, the other was extraordinary elegant. Her dress was dark maroon and her earrings long and black and expensive. She would fit perfectly into “The Great Gatsby”.
Grand uncle made an entrance, took one glance at us and said: “Do they have Muslims here as well?”
Racism and prejudice have this sneakiness about them. You don’t, or at least we don’t, react to it quickly. They create a slow metabolism and your reaction can be equal to that. You need to digest what just happened.
He had gone before we could say or do anything. We were at a wedding, so we didn’t want to cause a scene. We were occupied with our hurt so did not register what the old ladies did and I am sure we thought they were of the same opinion as their peer.
A little time passed and the groom’s father appeared. He asked the ladies if they would mind taking care of grand uncle. He felt a bit out of place, you see.
The extraordinary elegant, hereby known as E.E., straightened her back and said with an air and tone of excellence: “We do not want him here!”
Disappointed and with problem unresolved the groom’s father left. Then E.E looked at us and said: “My son is a Muslim and has been for the last 40 years!”
We had a much quicker reaction to this exclamation. We nearly fell off the couch!
Never ever judge a book, or an old lady, by its cover, age nor appearance!
These two stories of my own judgemental past came back to me as I met N in London Central Mosque in January 2019.
I first saw a glance of her just before the Jummah prayer. The room was filling up and since I did not know anyone there I peeked around. I was looking for someone to interview for “The Everyday Muslimah”* as well.
She was with her back to the wall. A quite thin woman with blue eyes that met mine. We both smiled. She had a hat on and I assumed she was a new Muslim.
After the prayer I passed her again on my way out of the prayer hall. I did a couple of interviews and then went on my way as I knew Super-Saber was probably impatiently waiting for me.
Then I passed N again, she was also on her way out, and we started talking. Sometimes when you meet a new person you feel instantly connected. The conversation flows without hesitation and this is what happened between us. We both felt safe in sharing our thoughts with each other. She was originally from Africa, but had lived in London for many years. She was homeless and lived in a shelter. This was her first time in a mosque. She thought the prayer was beautiful to listen to and to watch.
She called herself a seeker and was curious about Islam. She also said that every time she had needed help of some sort, the ones that had come to her rescue had always been Muslim.
We talked about many things in a very short amount of time. She wanted to take a picture of the great hall. I said I would ask if we were allowed.
The extraordinary kindness of the brothers touched us. “Of course we would be allowed, is there anything we can help you with, just ask if you want something.”
So there she was. This tiny person, the seeker, with her large hat and heart, walking inside the great hall of the London Central Mosque taking pictures. I felt humbled and as if my heart grew a size or two.
Always remember to treat others well.
*”The Everyday Muslimah” is a Norwegian Snapchat group whose aim is to show the diversity of Muslim women.