Friday, September 19, 2014
And a Slightly Late Eid Said to Y'all
I felt an awkward desire to say something pleasant and welcoming, the way so many people in Egypt did to me and my family. But I don't know her. Maybe she has always lived in San Marcos. Maybe she says "Y'all" and "fixin' to" like the rest of us rednecks. This was a couple of months ago, during the weekend of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. I'll say, "Eid Said!" (Happy Eid), I thought. It always made me smile when people wished me a "Happy Christmas" in Egypt. And then I thought that maybe it was not appropriate for me to approach a Muslim woman alone, to say anything to her at all. My goal was to be kind, not pushy. But then again, this is America. Hell this is Texas, where we pride ourselves on being friendly and where there is no taboo against saying something nice to a stranger in grocery store, man or woman.
But why did I want to say anything? Was it really to make her feel better, or was it selfish? Was I just trying to counter my own strange and irrational discomfort with diversity in my little corner of the world? I think that the truth is that I just like making connections with people. Still, I didn't want to feel like a tool, like the annoying white folks who went around trying to high five black people right after Obama was elected.
We have such a peculiar relationship with Islam, here in the United States. While there is a large population of Muslims living in America, public discourse around Islam rarely rises above a discussion on middle east politics, and always seems to end up with some sort of talk about terrorism. This is beyond unfortunate. I spent nearly three years in a city teaming with Muslims who were, by and large…. wait for it… wait for it…. Yes, totally peace loving, decent folks who abhor violence and prejudice as much as any hippy in Austin. It is really true. For years I wandered through busy streets without being really scared. Well, maybe I was scared a little, but that was because Egyptians are such terrifyingly awful drivers - even the Christian ones. The fact is that I was overwhelmingly and vigorously welcomed by people when we mingled freely together in the largest predominantly Muslim city in the world.
I still really don't understand much about Islam. I know some of the basics, but have never delved too deeply into learning about the religion. It may actually not really be so different from my own tradition. I am a secular Catholic with a deep fondness and admiration for the story book Jesus of my youth - the one who preached only peace and forgiveness. That Jesus didn't talk about revenge or crusades. He included everybody. His whole bit, as I learned it, was about loving sinners. That's you and me, guys.
I guess I don't really understand much about Christianity either. Fortunately I am rarely asked to defend it or to explain the actions of crazier, less secular Christians. I have no desire to team up with the fundamentalists either, though it wouldn't hurt for me to behave a little more Christ-like.
I am generally skeptical and more than a little bit suspicious of all religions, and particularly of religious people. Perhaps that is why I find the veil threatening. It seems like a big commitment, certainly more than one that I would be willing to make. But the veil isn't Islam either, just one aspect of a complicated and broad tradition. It is certainly not for me to tell anyone how to dress, or what to believe.
That's a job I don't want. What I want, I suppose, really is to be more Christ-like; to be the guy who says "welcome" or "Merry Christmas" or "Eid Said" to a stranger in the store, and to really mean it. But I guess that's not me, not yet or at least not all the time. I didn't take a chance to make even that small, momentary connection when I had it, by the bananas in HEB. Instead, I just smiled mutely and moved on, hoping she had not noticed all of
the attention that I had given her.