As a Muslim, I feel like everyone thinks they have something to say about who I am. But because I’d rather not waste my time protesting in a world saturated with fiery opinions, I stopped on my path to becoming a boisterous activist about a year ago.
Instead of being continuously outraged at the state of the world and shouting my frustration into a void, I’ve focused on developing grassroots connections. I’ve built relationships that foster genuine discussion, reciprocal understanding and new insights. I teach people about myself and my convictions, and learn about who they are and what they hold dear.
That’s why when someone runs by me, hands me a derogatory evangelical comic book and doesn’t want to talk about what’s in it, I am irked. It happened a year and a half ago, as I walked down Forbes Avenue in the chilly air, pining for the warmth of the Cathedral of Learning. A man shoved a comic at me, and as I flipped through it, I grew annoyed.
To the person who profiled me and had the thought to spread his ideas to me — how kind of you to share them. During a time when we all seem to prefer sticking to our own views, it was refreshing to see you confidently engage in such sharing spirit. If only you had stuck around so we could talk about it.
But in all fairness, I wasn’t really in the talking mood after reading the comic.
Neither the comic book — made by Chick Publications — nor its website had much information about the faith that was being promoted, except that I should accept it. Chick, I learned later, sells multiple flavors of its comics, not only directed at Muslims, but Catholics, “evolutionists” and Mormons, among others.
I get it. You see me wearing a pretty white scarf on my head, scurrying toward the Cathedral through the winter cold. You think you might be able to spread the “truth” to me through your relatable comics.
The faceless harems of women in all-black garb and the angry, lustful men drawn in robes and beards so perfectly mirror the diverse Muslims in Pittsburgh! Any Muslim would interrupt prayer to violently accost curious passersby, just like in the comic.
That was sarcasm.
You demand I accept Jesus now if I don’t want to burn in Hell. But I already have accepted Jesus, peace be upon him, as a prophet and messenger of God. And your comic says I worship a “moon god”? No, I worship God, with a capital G.
After this lovely rant passed through my head, I threw the comics into a nearby trash can and ran to my Spanish class. I forgot about the incident. It wasn’t worth my time.
Fast forward a year and a half to last week. I saw a 22-year-old man of South Asian descent crossing Fifth Avenue. A Caucasian man in scrubs sprinted across the crosswalk, shoving a small black booklet into his hands. “This is for you, sir,” he said, running away. As the South-Asian guy approached me, he began, confused, to lift the booklet up to examine it.
I recognized it immediately. It was the same comic book I had received!
But this guy didn’t appear Muslim necessarily. He had a short beard, but so do tons of other students I’ve seen at Pitt. He could have been Hindu, or perhaps an atheist. Did having dark skin and facial hair automatically make him Muslim?
“Did you know that guy?” I asked the student.
“No,” he answered, beginning to read the booklet, furrowing his brows.
The fact that the man in scrubs profiled and targeted him based on his appearance made me shiver. It only would take one mentally ill man from that comic book group to exchange that book for a gun. Someone who’s so misinformed about Muslims could be dangerous.
I’m not being paranoid about this. Here in Pittsburgh, a Somali-Bantu Muslim man was beaten to death last spring. I felt like anything could happen.
But the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, encouraged people to give others the benefit of the doubt. After I simmered down from my initial hurt and fear, I figured the man with the comics could have meant well. His comics were inaccurate and rude, but maybe he didn’t realize it. Call me naive, but I find it hard to believe he would go out of his way to spread what he believes is the truth, unless he actually meant well.
Chick comic book guy: I wish I had the chance to speak with you about your faith, so we could get to know each other better.
God created us different so that we could get to know one another and learn from each other. So please, to the guy who approached me with the comics, next time you see someone you think looks like a Muslim, let the person come to you instead.
Perhaps you can learn from Father Peter, the kind Catholic priest I’ve befriended. I met him yesterday, as he sat on the Cathedral of Learning lawn next to a sign inviting students to chat. A similar setup might work for you!
Or, if you’d like, I’ll take you out for coffee and we can have a discussion. Who knows? Maybe I’ll learn from what you have to say.
Mariam Shalaby primarily writes on local issues and personal stories for The Pitt News.