This blog consists of a series of letters written to my friend, a Syrian refugee who has moved into my neighborhood. We have become close friends in spite of a language barrier. Love needs no language but there are things I wish I could tell her. I write these letters in hopes that one day she will be able to read them. I share in hopes that others will follow me on this journey and learn with me along the way More posts available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/kathleen-jacobson 6/12/2016
Dear Safaa, today was such a difficult day. I don’t even know how to convey my feelings to you. I wonder if you heard the news and if you did, I wonder how it was explained to you.
We had another mass shooting in this country. This time in Orlando Florida. As I write 50 people are confirmed dead. I have to express this next part with sarcasm because there is no other way to tell you about the American relationship with guns. It seems that many Americans think that gun regulation means that someone from the government will come to each and every gun owner’s door and physically remove their guns. I bet some of them think President Obama himself will be the one knocking.
You will come to understand this strange American gun addiction and the unnamed fears that are somehow embedded in our cells, past on through our American DNA from generation to generation. I know you have seen much violence in your time in Syria. From the little you told me I wonder if I complain too much about guns when I remember that you had to run from a bomb that fell on your house. I can’t claim to understand any of this violence. We both just want to live in this world without such fears.
There are multiple themes that came together at once at 3 am this morning in Orlando. They wove round and round each other into a tight braid of ignorance, hate and mental illness; these treads of homophobia, guns and extremist religion. Investigators will be pulling apart these layers for days and reporters will keep feeding us the fear. Americans will scoop it up and add it to the flaming fire of anxiety: that eternal flame that has become a fixture along side our national monuments and symbols. I can guess that many will feed the fear addiction by purchasing more guns.
I know the question in many American minds is this; was it terrorism tied to Islam? Once again, I say that no matter the reason, it will not bring back those who were killed. I have only witnessed peace and friendship in my interaction with you and other Muslims but to many Americans, Islam is mysterious. How can we turn on the light and show that the fears are created in imagination? There have been many acts of violence done in the name of religion, including Christianity. It is a shame to label a religion by the extremists that do not speak the truth of that religion. I wonder if together we can do anything about the ignorance. I think today’s violence in Florida was more about Homophobia than radical Islam but still, this parallel theme of hate continues to be like a shadow that follows us on the path of our friendship in this country. We will keep ahead of that shadow and the more light we can shine, the smaller the shadow. Knowledge sheds a light but love is the brightest light of all.
I am aware of my own ignorance of Islam but thanks to you, my teacher, and my friend I am learning. Last week I felt more part of your family than ever. We observed sawm and fasted for Ramadan. We all felt the hunger pains together but distracted ourselves with a wonderful Skype conversation with your sister in Jordan. I love using the few Arabic words I know. I even like it when everyone laughs at my failed attempts to make the correct sounds. I really want to pronounce the words correctly and although I practice, my mouth and my tongue will not dance together to the right song . When you speak Arabic it sounds so beautiful and exotic but when I try, I sound like a cat coughing up a hairball. How can we help but laugh at Auntie Kathleen’s sick cat impression.
I know I ask you many questions about the Qur’an and I loved seeing everyone so excited to share with me. The kids, each one trying to talking to louder that the other to tell me about Mohammad, as if the louder they spoke the better I would understand. Such enthusiasm and joy! Then there was a quiet a beautiful moment that did not go unnoticed. Farah closed the Qur’an and gently kissed the cover with such reverence that I felt that I witnessed a pure and private holy moment.
I admit a regret now after reflecting on that deep reverence that I had asked her about Sura 9:5, Sūrat at-Tawbah “The Repentance”. This the Sura that is often used as an example in America by anti-Muslims to suggest that Islam is violent religion. I felt guilty for even asking her although I was careful to be respectful. I often feel so clumsy trying to understand so much that is foreign to me. How could we communicate about something that is obviously so sacred to her with my difficult questions? But I do need to understand this Sura. I started wondering if someone at the Mosque would consider a class on Qur’an for non-Muslims. That would shine a light on the mystery that is Islam.
I am not looking to convert and I am not looking to merely tolerate. I know Islam does not call to me for anything other than respect and acceptance. I hope to teach you about the differences between the words acceptance and tolerance. I want to take many steps beyond tolerance. You are my friend so why would I stop there? I want to walk with you along our friendship path in acceptance. I feel the gift of acceptance from you. Even so, I worry that I will stand out when we are around other Muslims and embarrass you. It is in my own mind. You never make me feel that way.
I thank you for inviting me to the Mosque for iftar. It was such a new experience for me and food never tasted so good. I thought about how I was more appreciative of my meal after not eating all day. I never told you but I did some more days of sawm. I don’t know why I did it but it felt like a way to be closer to you, support you in your own sawm by an empathetic action.
My dear teacher and friend, how can I express what a gift it is to know you. To me, you are a light that will diminish shadows of ignorance. I could see that the first time I met you and you smiled a real and genuine smile. I think there are many more lights in both of our faith communities and if we all shine together, where can ignorance hide?
Peace Salaam Shalom,