The New York Times of July 20th printed a photo by Todd Heisler. In the front you see part of a painted sign with the right eye, the right ear and a shock of blond-gray hair of Donald Trump. Behind that are two police officers visible in full riot gear with assault weapons and one less martially outfitted officer. In the back are Christian protesters, with signs which express in various ways the idea that America trusts only one God, the Christian one. Most prominent is a black sign with the text: Every Real Muslim is a Jihadist! The term jihadist is here used in the meaning of a warrior for Islam and not in the common translation from the Arab 'struggle' or 'effort', which refers most often to the inner struggle of the believer to become a good woman or man. The suggestion of the protest sign is however that Real Muslims are aggressively fighting western society and culture.
I happen to know real Muslims. One is D., a black street vendor who came from Mauretania. He sells from eight in the morning till eight in the evening, day in day out, hats and gloves and umbrellas and scarves and wallets on the corner of my street in Brooklyn. He has a family, a wife and six kids. He works to pay for the education of his children. Three finished college, one of them in Lyon, France; the other three are on their way. He moved his wife and the kids who are still at home to a city in Ohio, because Brooklyn became too expensive. He never asked or received government support. He lives with a family member to save money. He reads on his small chair on the sidewalk the Qur'an or commentary on the Qur'an when there are no costumers. We talk with each other often about our families. He knows us very well: two gay white dads with two black adopted kids who pass him for years now, more than twice a day. He prays for all of us. And we buy as much umbrellas as we can. We saw D. suffer during Ramadan: 14 hours without food or drink while working in the hot summer sun. And when Ramadan ended he celebrated Eid al-Fitr with his wife in Ohio after a bus ride of nine hours. Two days later he was back on his post.
D. goes to a mosque in our street at least twice a day. Friends, who work in the neighborhood, take care of his stand. Most of his helpers are 'real' Christians or Jews, black and white.
In that mosque I also know several other real Muslims. I know the imam, his wife and their children, and I know some of the members of the community, a medical doctor who works in a hospital, a toyshop owner, a taxi driver, a janitor. Being a stay at home dad, I took sometimes care of the youngest kids of the family and I - an immigrant from Holland - taught them once a Dutch game called Olleke Bolleke, where each of the players at his turn stack a fist on top of someone else's fist until the pile explodes in a big 'Boom'. On Facebook I follow the stream of Middle Eastern recipes of the wife of the imam and read the often concerned posts of her highly educated children on the plight of people of color in the US and of Muslims all over the world.
I am not the only one who knows Real Muslims. Every year the neighborhood is invited during Ramadan to break the fast with the members of the mosque. Next to regular neighbors, local rabbi's, ministers and priests show up, and community representatives. There is prayer first and then there are the traditional dates to start at sunset a nice dinner with foods, ordered in from a Yemeni restaurant around the block. This year the horror in Orlando just happened and members of the Latino community were invited as special guests. There is a lot of speeching at these events, speeches that show a mix of soul searching and fun.
The Real Muslims I know are not fighting me or Christianity or the US. The Real Muslims I know do quite the opposite; they live in the longstanding Islamic tradition of respect and care for your neighbors, Muslim or non-Muslim. In the earliest years of Islam Imam and scholar Ali ibn al-Husayn (658-713) wrote in one of his works:
"These are your duties towards your neighbor: Protect his interests when he is absent; show him respect when he is present; help him when he is inflicted with any injustice. Do not remain on the look-out to detect his faults; and if, by any chance, you happen to know any undesirable thing about him, hide it from others; and, at the same time, try to desist him from improper habits, if there is any chance that he will listen to you. Never leave him alone at any calamity. Forgive him, if he has done any wrong. In short, live with him a noble life, based on the highest Islamic ethical code."
That is how Real Muslims want to live and how we as their neighbors in Brooklyn want to live. I wished the Christian who carried the Every-Real-Muslim-is-a-Jihadist! -sign would understand that tradition. If not, I definitely wouldn't mind if he converted to Islam.