By: Kit Marsters
When I think of Islam, my very first thoughts are of some of the kindest people I know. I am honoured to count them amongst my friends and blessed that our paths have crossed.Sometimes I wonder if everything happens for a reason. I do strongly feel that God places people on my path through life, to walk with me for a while... some for only a brief period of time, some, I hope, will be there until the end. I know that each encounter changes, enriches and teaches me. And a couple of my travel companions have given me a better insight into what is Islam.
I've learned that Islam is a faith that's all too often misunderstood. The media, seemingly eager to spread doom and gloom, is very capable of painting a distorted picture. This is certainly the case when they accentuate the actions of a few. If you truly wish to gain an understanding of anything, including a religion, talk to people who know, who, in this case, live a life according to that religion... get to know them and listen with an open mind.
When I now think of Islam - as I admit that I didn't even have the slightest understanding of this faith in the past - the following values come to mind: integrity, courage, empathy and kindness towards all. Please allow me to explore a few examples:
Most of us will have heard of cases where female Muslim students were banned from wearing a headscarf in school. Most of us will have heard of female Muslim students choosing to obey the Quran, and their faith, choosing to wear their headscarf instead of bowing down to bureaucracy. This takes integrity.
With the state of the world today, it takes courage to openly express any faith. There's such global paranoia, and it's saddening. Despite that, there are many Muslims dressing according to their religion and speaking out, in a respectful manner, about the words in the Quran. If more people were willing to listen, they'd find out that Islam is a peaceful religion, teaching kindness towards others and abhorring violence.
I am not Muslim, but despite our different beliefs and ways of life, my Muslim friends have reached out to me, supported me, listened to me and offered me kind words of advice. This was never done in any way to try convert me to their faith. It was one human being reaching out to another human being in their hour of need. I am blessed with the friendships that were formed.
My grandmother is wary of anything and everything she doesn't know about. When a family of Muslims moved next door to her, she thus wasn't too sure about it all. Since then, they've developed a wonderful friendship.
When my grandmother was recovering from her second stroke, her neighbours brought her and my uncle - who still lives at home but is not a very good cook - daily meals. When my uncle was away on holiday, they did not hesitate to offer to do the shopping. They didn't hesitate to help out an elderly Christian woman in need, no matter how sceptical she was at first about her new neighbours.
These small examples may differ from what is shown on the news. The media tend to be too eager to exaggerate and cannot always be relied upon. Even though most journalists will try to offer an unbiased and accurate account of what is going on in the world, some will sensationalise. And if we relied upon a completely straightforward news source, it will still only reveal a fragment of the truth. Because the common tendency is to only show the bigger events that happen in the world. And the vast majority of items shown are rather doomy and gloomy.
We get to see the violence in the world, the accidents, the wars, the corruption... we hardly ever are shown anything nice, the good things that happen. How often do we see on the news someone being kind to their neighbours? How often do we hear about an honest and humble politician or an incorruptible police officer? Not often. But there are many of those out there, people who sincerely care and help others. It's just not seen as news.
It's the same with peaceful, kind and law-abiding Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims are an asset to their communities, work hard and lead law-abiding lives. There's only a few who reach the news for not being very nice, and I think this has affected some people's views on Islam.
Is it fair, though, to base judgement of an entire religion on the actions of a few? Of course it isn't. We are all responsible and accountable for our own actions, and must all be judged as individuals. As I mentioned earlier - if you truly wish to gain an understanding of anything, including a religion, talk to people who know about the topic.
Don't be afraid to get to know people of a different faith. You may be pleasantly surprised, and find that if you have questions about their lives and religion, they will be happy to answer them. Who knows, you may just make a friend who will walk with you for a while...