September 19, 2010
The Muslim Next DoorBy Carol Peracchio
Fifteen months ago, a moving van pulled in next door. I watched the items being unloaded. Two bikes, one with training wheels. "They've got kids!" I thought happily.
A man came out of the house. I crossed the yard to introduce myself and welcome him to the neighborhood. He looked Middle Eastern and spoke with a slight accent. (My automatic profiling instinct concluded "possible Muslim.") He called his wife, "Noor," to come outside. A pretty woman, appearing to be in her late twenties, emerged and shyly said hello. She was wearing a traditional hijab, or head covering. (Chalk up another right-on profile.)
Noor and I chatted about the neighborhood. I told her my husband and I had moved here several years earlier, and that our two children were grown now. She told me her family would be here for a year, as her husband had accepted a contract position. They had moved here from the upper Midwest. As we talked, her two boys, ages three and six, ran around the yard exploring. I gave her some necessary "new resident" information: where the mail got picked up, what day was trash collection. I assured her that it was a wonderful neighborhood filled with great people. She smiled, but I sensed some skepticism.
A few days later, as is my custom when a new family moves in, I brought over a plate of cookies. As we visited, Noor began to open up. She shared her concerns about her son starting a new school and the effects of moving on the boys. I settled comfortably into the "mom" role, providing advice and reassurance. My Christianity and her Muslim faith never came up.
As the months went by, Noor and I got to know each other. We borrowed from each other, as neighbors do. She always wore her hijab when she came over. Since political correctness has never overcome my curiosity about others, I asked her why she wore the scarf. he explained that to her, it was a sign of modesty. She added, "Some people believe that my husband makes me wear it. But that's not true. I wear the hijab because it is important to me."
Every evening I'd see Noor walk around the neighborhood with her cell phone, talking with her family overseas. One evening, she looked upset. There had been a surge of terrorist attacks near where her sister lived. Noor had been begging her to stay inside the house. Her sister refused, as she was getting married soon and was not about to stop shopping. Noor felt scared and helpless. I said what I always say in these situations: "I'll be praying for your sister." With tears in her eyes, Noor thanked me. She wasn't insulted or threatened by my Christian prayers. She seemed grateful for my concern.
In December, I started planning my fourth annual "Neighborhood Ladies Christmas Breakfast." I gave Noor an invitation, and she accepted. The only accommodation to Noor's religion I made was to switch turkey sausage for the regular Jimmy Dean sausage in the breakfast casserole. Otherwise, it was the same tree, Nativity set, and Christmas carols that I had every year. As we settled in with plates of goodies, my wonderful neighbors started asking Noor all about her life and experiences. (After all, we already knew everything about each other.)
It was enlightening. I found out that Noor and her husband had moved from a city with a large Muslim population. When she learned she was moving to our small city, she believed she would face overt anti-Muslim prejudice. "But I was wrong," Noor admitted. "I walk around downtown and no one has ever said anything about this," she said, gesturing toward her hijab. She told us that in Europe, where she had gone to college, it was common for people to come right up to her face and taunt her. "But that has never happened here," she said with a smile.
"What do you know!" I thought. Profiling works both ways. I admit there may be some Islamaphobia in America. But there's also plenty of Christophobia.
Noor and her family moved away in July. She and her boys came over to say goodbye. As I hugged her, she whispered, "Thank you. You have been so kind."
I think of Noor often. I ask myself if I should have witnessed to her more openly about my faith in Christ. Then I think of the quote from Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel everyday; if necessary, use words." Hopefully now when someone tells her that Christians hate Muslims, Noor can reply, "You're wrong. I know of one who does not."
The friendship I shared with Noor is replicated millions of times every day across America. In neighborhoods, workplaces, and classrooms, Americans go about their lives next to practitioners of all sorts of different faiths. Live and let live is the usual mantra, or as Henry VIII put it, "I don't care what the people do, as long as they don't do it in the streets and scare the horses."
Recently, the imam behind the Ground Zero Mosque spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations.
If I understand the imam's point, it's simply ignorance of Islam that causes 70% of Americans to be against the Ground Zero mosque. But it is Mr. Rauf's own ignorance of the American character that led to his recent admission that he never expected the proposed mosque to become engulfed in controversy.
The president displayed this same disconnect with Americans when he talked about Pennsylvanians at a San Francisco fundraiser:
A Florida pastor, Terry Jones, caused an uproar recently over his plans to burn Korans on September 11. Muslims and Christians alike were repulsed; Muslims because the Koran is their holy book, Christians because this man claimed to be a fellow follower of Jesus Christ.
When I heard of Pastor Jones' Koran-burning stunt, my first thought was one of dismay, as I thought of Noor. Would she think all Christians are like this guy and his church? But as I thought of our friendship, I had to reject that. For a year I tried to live out my faith, to be "salt and light," as the Holy Bible says. During the year Noor lived here, an Islamic terrorist killed thirteen soldiers at Fort Hood. Did I believe all Muslims were like that terrorist? I knew they weren't. I knew Noor.
If elites like President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg would just stop lecturing us, they'd discover that Americans can be trusted to "keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be," as the president said on 9/11. We have been doing precisely that since our founding.
In the meantime, I have some baking to do. A delightful elderly couple just moved in two doors down.
Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.