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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sharing Bread with a Muslim

I love this photo.

It was taken during construction of our earth house on June 10, 2009. These are "my boys," the masons who helped build our earth house. And Richard and I owe them a great deal.

Every single man in this photo with me is a Muslim. Except one, who is Catholic. He's married to the Muslim sister of his best friend to his right. Can you tell which one he is?

Do any of these men look like terrorists? Do you get the sense from this photo that they want to harm me because I'm white, or American, or a woman?

Moving to and living in Senegal has been a huge gift to me in many ways. The biggest has been the gift of sight, or insight.

The Muslims we have met and befriended have taught Richard and I and our children, through much open discussion and extraordinary kindnesses that stereo-typing is the worst form of terrorism, breeding fear and hatred and ultimately isolating us from each other.

These men and women are not extremists, but they do worship Allah, devoutly following the teachings of the Koran and the prophet Muhammad. This morning, I asked Abdou, who runs the bodega nearby, how he felt about the message of Sam Bacile's anti-Islam film and the subsequent retaliation from Muslims in Egypt and Libya against American consulates. (This conversation took place before I learned of the murder of the American embassador to Libya.)

I am bold when it comes to these issues because I have the exceptional opportunity to talk openly to Muslim people who I trust and admire. Not diplomats or scholars, just ordinary people. And the talk is rich.

Abdou lowered his eyes and shook his head, not from anger, but sadness. We've talked at length before about the horrific events of September 11th, the catalyst it served to begin a war in Iraq and the senseless loss of American and Iraqi lives. So I don't think he was surprised by my question.

"I was expecting you yesterday," he said.

"I know. But yesterday would have been too hard."

He told me that he could not judge either the film-maker or the Muslims who reacted with violence because it is not his role. He explained that violence and hatred of other men is not part of his religion (contrary to certain passages in the Koran that could be interpreted otherwise).  He said he is deeply sad and confused by the global condemnation of Muslims, where, he aptly pointed out, every religion when taken to the extreme for ulterior purposes becomes dangerous. I think he actually used the word 'poisonous'.

"These violent, hate-filled men do not represent me, or my beliefs or the teachings of Allah." he said.

And I replied,

"This film and it's hate-filled message do not represent me, or my beliefs or the teachings of my God either."

He broke a piece of bread in two and handed me half. And I took it.