Friday, June 14, 2013

Stereotypes and Living in the Middle East

Many people were worried about us when we announced our plans to move to Saudi Arabia. They feared for our safety and were deeply concerned about us living in a Muslim country. Islam and its faithful followers, Muslims, unfortunately have a bad reputation in the west, especially in the United States.

For the most part, people's concerns turned out to be unfounded. I have felt very safe, other than when driving on the crazy and chaotic streets of Riyadh. The stereotypes about Muslims have also proven to be without foundation. We've met unfailingly kind and generous Muslims in Riyadh. They have shared their religious beliefs with great devotion, but without fanaticism. I have come to deeply respect most tenants of Islam and those who strive to faithfully abide by their beliefs. 

My oldest son has a Saudi friend who attends school with him. This boy is intelligent, thoughtful, kind and decent. As the boys were saying their goodbyes, my son's friend said to him, "Please tell your American friends that not all Arabs or Muslims are terrorists." My heart broke just a little upon hearing that. This young teenager already carries a burden that he will be perceived as a terrorist by people who should understand that fanatics should not define an entire group of people.

Yesterday afternoon while chatting with the father of another son's friend, who happens to be a Pakistani Muslim. He related the following story. While living in a community in Dubai where their family was the only Muslim family in their neighborhood, his son came home and asked, "Dad, are we Muslims?" His father said they were and his son asked, "Are we bad then?"

Again, I felt so sad. So I ask you today to challenge the stereotypes you hold dear and consider how they harm others. Remember that are plenty of bad people who do awful things in the name of religion. 
Americans have shot up classrooms, movie theaters, and malls. Priests have molested children. My point is that there are many people who have done terrible things, regardless of their religious affiliation.  Please remember that good people in a religion outnumber the bad. 

 Remember that the next time you see a woman covering her hair with a hijab. Instead of condemning her, why not admire her devotion to her faith. Get to know your Muslim neighbors, ask them about their customs and traditions. You may just discover you have more in common than you think.