As I stood in a long queue at Walgreens’ checkout counter, behind me was an elderly man who seemed to have a difficult time standing still. His legs were obviously in pain and yet he stood there staring with envy at the candies temptingly set on the side racks. He lifted a Snickers bar with Almonds and mumbled to himself rather loudly, “I love these.” Several people in the line turned around. I did as well and not only because he was directly behind me, but because it was almost a welcomed distraction from the long wait. The lone cashier, a Muslim girl wearing a white chiffon hijab (head scarf) neatly covering all of her hair, did her best to speed things along. Somewhere in between the giggles he and I shared about the humorous side of the situation, along with a few remarks about the weather and the snow storm of 1963 that made this Chicago native wish he lived elsewhere.
By now I was next in line and so I invited him to go ahead of me. He only had one can of tuna, and even if he had more I would have done the same out of respect for my senior. This is how I was raised. He happily accepted, thanking me over and over, until he reached the counter.
“Do you have a Walgreens rewards card with us?” said the beautiful Muslim girl with a wide and cheerful smile of her own.
“WHAT?” the elderly man offensively barked.
She repeated herself.
“I don’t understand a word you’re saying,” he said rudely to the girl who, incidentally, spoke English very clearly.
She apologized graciously and asked him again, but this time he completely ignored her. After he handed her the precise amount of change, he took his bag and turned to me with a large smile and a said ‘Thank you again. Happy Holidays!” Naturally I courteously smiled and wished him the same then approached the cash register.
“Assalamu Alaikum,” I said, in the traditional greeting from one Muslim to another.
“Wa alaikum salam,” she replied, her smile still as bright and beautiful as it had been prior to dealing with the arrogance of the previous patron. Obviously, the old cantankerous customer who had no idea that I too, the young woman standing in front of him, the girl with waist length ash brown hair that she had painstakingly curled earlier that morning, was also Muslim.
As she rang out my order, eight Revlon Long Wear lipsticks, I was overwhelmed by a deep emotion: sadness. I felt sad for her as I looked at her as she adjusted her hijab before continuing to scan my order. We were two Muslim girls, yet both had been treated completely different by the same man, simply because she was wearing a head scarf and I was not. I was miserable and in a way felt responsible for the way she was treated. Despite our characteristic ways of blaming others, it is the responsibility of each individual Muslim to meld in the fabric of our adopted country’s society and show the world our true self and what we stand for; to show the world that not all Muslims are terrorists; that a head scarf doesn’t imply we are the enemy; that a beard doesn’t indicate that we are terrorists any more than owing a chariot make you a gladiator or owning a treehouse does not make you a bird.
Muslims are found in all segments of society. Some of us wear the Islamic traditional clothing, others do not. Some of us are doctors and nurses; others are a vital part of the police force; we are university students, professors, even writers. As attorneys, we wear suits in the courtroom; we even wear orange jumpsuits and hard hats while working on oil rigs as chemical engineers. We deliver flowers to people who are celebrating a special occasion or just because; we fix your car, we wait on your table when you are out after a hard day’s work; we even make you laugh on your favorite social media pages. We sing along with you at a Kanye West concert. We are there at Macy’s helping you pick out an outfit for a special occasion and the perfect accessory to enhance your best features. We get excited about Victoria’s Secret yearly Fashion Show.
We stand proudly when we sing with you the Star Bangled Banner. We’re at sporting events, driving go-carts at the speed tracks as well at a WWE event cheering on the wrestlers who stand like modern day Gladiators. We admire artworks, artifacts from ancient past. We visit the Planetarium and are humbled by the universe, its size and presence. Along with you, we are at the gyms trying to get in shape, and don’t know how to say ‘no’ to our mothers when they offer us seconds. We watch Disney fairytales and fantasize about what life would be like if we sprinkled a little bit of Magic Pixie Dust on it. We make mistakes- big and small. We turn to God in times of need and find hope in his creation.
We struggle to find ourselves and then we realize that at times we are constricted by our family, culture, or society’s expectations. Earning a living is a constant concern as is getting through school, making our parents proud, getting married, raising the children we have or will have. We deal with loss, disappointments, and even heartbreaks. We bleed. We cry. We laugh. But more than anything, we love.
Yes, we are Muslims and like you, we worship the same God. We too mourn the loss of lives caused by terrorism in New York, Washington, Paris, Bamoko, and all around the world. We grieve at any loss of life be it by natural disasters or unfortunate accidents. We feel, the same as you, because we are humanists. We just happen to be Muslim.