ISLAM AND AN AMERICAN WOMAN: BLESSINGS vs. HATE
It is September now and not too far removed from September 11, a date that for Americans will always be embedded in their brains and hearts. Not because of love but because of hate and turmoil. However, the people who flew into the World Trade Center, on this historic day, were a small number in comparison to the Muslims/Islams who have a different view of America. And the Americans who were killed in this tragedy, while almost 4,000, were much less than the Americans who live and are safe in my great country. Currently the conditions in Syria and other countries bring to mind for all of us, the differences between many countries. In Egypt the recent demonstrations were the result of hundreds of haters of America. What is not told is that there are 10 billion people in Egypt who do not represent the feelings of these few hundred. Most of us from different countries are trying to get along and respect each other. I had an experience in 2010 that I would like to share with you.
On this particular afternoon, I got into a Chicago taxi cab to go to the airport for one of my frequent trips to Africa/Zambia from my exclusive, high end home on the corner of Millineum Park and Michigan Avenue. I had worked hard and long to live here, to achieve this goal. Now as I do several times a year, I am going to a third world country (Since 2010 a developing country statistically) to work with street orphans and vulnerable children through my own personal NGO "I'm One In A Million".
The driver started the journey to O'Hare International Airport. Noting his accent, I started the conversation by asking where he was from. When I found that he was a Muslim, I said "I am probably the only person in the world who thinks the mosque should be built next to the World Trade Center". This has been a continuing debate because most Americans do not believe Muslims should be allowed to have a mosque near the buildings that were bombed by Islamic extremists. So, my statement was really "way OUT there" ! For those of you who know me from WP, you know that while I can be eloquent and polite, I don't much care because I am 65 years old and want to respectfully, if directly, speak my truth, my authenticity.
The taxi driver countered with a comment about he didn't care where they built it. He is Muslim but sees other points of views also.
We began talking about our beliefs, noticeably respecting each other's dignity and differences. It is like we were doing a sort of dance. We weren't criticizing, trying to convince a conversation, agreeing or disagreeing. But we were discussing the similarities and differences between Allah and God, work, play and life. It was beautiful because we were going deep then deeper down to the nerves of each other, much as a dentist would, without causing each other pain, disrespect or anger. We were an art form in the making.
The taxi driver asked if I believe God or Allah is number one. I said I believe we are all one energy and as such are equal.
"Let me ask you a question?" he paused to think. Then. "Pretend you spent 20 years building a business on your own, all by yourself. You worked hard, long hours, had many ups and downs. Then you became very successful in this business. So successful that you had to hire an assistant, a partner. Now this partner goes all around telling people how he is equal in this business, how he built it from scratch, how hard he worked, how many ups and downs he had until it was a success. What do you say to that? Would you like it?"
Without missing a beat, as I squirmed in the back seat, I said "No, that's not right. I did all the hard work. I made it successful. He should not share in the formation or glory of this achievement."
"Well, shouldn't it be the same for Allah or God? the taxi driver asked. "They should be number one and get treated best for their development and achievement. We are good but not number one. He is."
Instead of arguing that my point was right, I took a thinking moment and said "Hmmm. Very interesting. Very interesting.." Our eyes connected through the rear view mirror. "Thank you," I said. "You have really given me something to think about."
We continued the conversation in a connected soul way. It was winter, cold out and gas prices were high. but through our respect and dignity for one another, the taxi was filling with good energy. I felt light and complete. Maybe the car used less gas this trip, having help from our energy, our lightness.
As we were approaching the exit ramp for O'Hare airport, the taxicab started weaving a little then more as the taxi driver reached to open his glove compartment. I thought "Oh, my God, he's reaching for a gun. He's going to kill me. Maybe it's true what they say about Muslims. You can't trust them." We think we are not affected by words and deeds but perhaps we are all brainwashed way deep down. With the car still tottering he pulled out a Border's Store (remember when they had those?) plastic bag. He kept weaving as with his right hand off the wheel he kept trying to pull something out of the bag. I thought "Please God, I promise never to swear again or lie or anything. It's your call." As they say, there are no atheists in the foxholes. I figured this was my foxhole.
I looked just as he was handing a book back to me. "This is for you," he said. "I bought it for myself today. but I want you to have it because you are such a nice lady".
I looked down. It was the Qur'an, the Islamic Bible. I was shocked and very grateful. This had been a soul journey of connection. Whether I made it to Africa or not didn't matter because I was complete.
Before I got out of the taxi to get the luggage I asked if he would sign his name so people will believe I really got it from him. On the inside first page he wrote:
I met nicest person
Allah Bless You."
Mohammed and I got out of the car. He put the luggage on the curb and we shook hands with the strength of two countries coming together. It was a combined energy of appreciation, respect, dignity, commitment, peace and love that felt like we had created an aura. United. Different yet not very dissimilar. Altered. I knew we would never meet again. And he knew the same. But he lives in my soul and I believe I reside in his. For always.
I could not help thinking as I watched him drive away, how the peace of the world would play out sooner and better if everyone handled each other and all of our "justified" differences like we had warmed to each other and, in that state, had allowed the gift of different views. This Qur'an lives in my living room. I am looking at it now as I write this. Occasionally, I pick it up and smile.
Allah, thank you for this experience.