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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:

"Mohammed Shaked.
I met nicest person
Miss Wendy

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.

Wendy Stebbins

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Comments

Kara-Amena's picture

We're all brothers and sisters!

Wendy,

Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. Experiences like this are so heartwarming and remind me of the basic goodness we all share. I am glad you had this experience. And I wish more people could spend time with the "others" - whoever those "others" may be. If people knew "others" better, I believe we would care more for those who are different from us. Though we are all equal members of this huge human family, we need to find ways to humanize the members of other tribes, races, religions and cultures so that they are no longer foreign and fearful to us. I'm sure you can see the good and the bad in your friends from Zambia - but as your experiences and interactions with Zambians has grown, your affection for them as a group has grown. I wish we could all have such interactions. Opportunities to break bread together, perform community service side-by-side, share our stories. World Pulse is such a great platform for sharing our stories and getting to know our brothers and sisters from around the world better.

Regarding your comment about the mosque that was going to be built near Ground Zero.... On September 11, 2010, I was volunteering with three Muslim-Afghan high school students for an event near Boston. Susan Retik lost her husband, David Retik, on 9/11 in one of the planes that hit the Twin Towers. She and another 9/11 widow created BEYOND THE 11TH, a non-profit to help Afghan widows. We helped at a fundraiser for this noble cause. I had a long conversation with David's mother that day and she told me, emphatically, that many of the surviving family members of 9/11 victims supported the mosque that was going to be built near Ground Zero. I had a similar conversation with other parents who lost their son on 9/11. Many people reacted that the mosque would be disrespectful to the surviving family members of those who perished on 9/11. So it was very interesting for me to hear, firsthand, that the two such families I knew supported this project.

I am a passionate proponent of interfaith initiatives. So it warms my heart when I hear about people with open hearts and open minds who can have exchanges like you and the taxi driver shared... and people who can see clearly that the actions of extremists do not represent all who have the same skin color, speak the same language or follow certain belief systems.

Thanks Wendy!! Keep up all your great work!

~Kara-Amena

Wendyiscalm's picture

Kara

Hi Kara,

Great to hear from you and thank you for taking the time to tell me your experience also. It warmed my heart. I think the media often distorts thus giving us different percentages of events. I love the experience you had and will share it with others. Also, I had another experience with an Islam Taxi driver August 29th when, again I was being taken to the airport to leave for Zambia. It was another soul experience.

I have been going to Livingstone Zambia since 2006. It has taken years for people to trust me. Often I feel when we are having a conversation that there is a secret conversation going on under the verbal conversation. I can't explain it really. But I have come to learn that that conversation is often them reminding themselves that "American whites came and infected babies and children with AIDS/HIV needles so don't trust the whites". The kids are taught this in school very young by the way. And my last conversation with some of my older teen age Zambian boys was interesting. I raised the question of why Blacks don't like us while we were driving in the cab. They said something about we don'g understand their culture. That was the obvious and we had discussed it before.l So, then I shot out the sentence "They probably don't like us because of slavery". That got a rousing "Yes" and quite a conversation. There is so much we need to understand in others and taking the time really can make a difference in how we move along smoothly together. A few years ago I was having an interesting time. I was helping my street orphans study for a Civics test. The topic was slavery . . . from THEIR history books point of view.

Thanks for your input. I hope you will keep in touch.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together)

Wendy

P.S. Kara, also, because I do not have any external violence or sexual abuse to chronicle, my stories are meant to help give women inner power when they can't be making an external difference. So, maybe from time to time you would want to look back at some of my older journal articles. They could be passed on to those who can benefit internally to get strong and in control. Actually, I have noticed in my own life that because I am strong inside a lot of people who would normally agitate me just don't. So, the energy must be telling them something.

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Kara-Amena's picture

I love your energy!

I just returned to post a link to a short article I read today which made me think of your post. Thanks for your new message and sharing more of your fascinating life experiences! I will certainly look through your older posts. The beauty of having exchanges like yours is being able to see the world through other people's eyes. If we allow ourselves to walk in someone else's shoes, life looks and feels differently. So here's the article I just read that echo what we have been talking about. http://www.ifyc.org/node/8735

Peace and blessings!

Wendyiscalm's picture

We have something in common besides WP

Hi Kara,

Hope your day is going well. I looked at your profile and see you are from Pownal, Vermont.

KARA, I AM FROM VERMONT . . . Randolph, Vermont. Grew up there since 4 years old. How amazing is that? And here we meet on WP. Small world. How did a girl from Pownal, Vermont develop such an interest in your areas of interest and expertise? That is amazing too.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together)

Wendy

P.S. After high school I went to out of state schools, sort of lived all over and ended up in Chicago.

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Kara-Amena's picture

Small world indeed

Hello again Wendy,

I moved to Vermont after high school. My family visited the state a few times when I was a child and I always knew it would be my home. Great people, nature in abundance and not too far from big cities. My only complaints have been the lack of diversity and the distance from the ocean. So my passion and work with exchange students helped to bring diversity to my little community. I haven't figured out how to move the ocean yet :) Bringing the world into my life (much like Ubuntu) was more important than the ocean anyway. Here's a quote I love that reminds me of that philosophy:

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other." - Mother Teresa

Have a great weekend!

~Kara

Wendyiscalm's picture

WOW !

Dear Kara,

I thought I had heard just about all of Mother Teresa's quotes but not this one. This is fabulous. I am going to pass it on.

Good to hear from you.

I understand what you mean about the ocean. Hang in there. The way global warming is going, it may be near you sooner than you think. This was intended to be funny but it isn't, I guess.

You, too have a great weekend in that beautiful Vermont countryside. I can smell, the apples, cidar and burning leaves though I don't think they let you do that anymore.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Ali Shahidy's picture

My heart also got warmed

Dear Wendy and Kara,

I read, with passion, through all the post and your comment exchanges. I am a Muslim from Afghanistan. While reading through your posts, I was imagining how Muslim countries/Muslims look like from an outside view and how we see non-Muslims from inside. We are depicted with our dissimilarities yet we share many values as we are part of a family - humanity. Your experiences and stories gave me new insights about religion or how man-made regulations can border and segregate people by their dissimilarities - or how extremists' practices of religion can deteriorate a peaceful life. And thus, the more people come closer together and get to know each other and talk those common values, the more peaceful lives they live in being together. And you know how happy it feels when we try to understand and accept each other.

Let me share a story of mine:

I have had a wide experience of working with different people of different religions. And currently, I work in an international hotel in Kabul. We have a lot of Indians working as well as residing in here. During the month of September, they have a religious festival known as "Ganesha Chaturthi Festival" in which they adorned a place with their religious decorations and put a statue of an elephant. They everyday used to go there and do their praying. I was really excited to learn about it and also I wanted to share, with my Indian friends, that we are all the same although we worship different Gods or we practice different religions. So I attended their festival for one day and I felt that how this made them happy. I wanted to respect them and their religion and wanted to let them feel comfortable in Afghanistan - and to let them know that Afghans or Afghanistan is not all about suicide attacks and bombings. I wanted them to know that Afghans aren't incapable of accepting other religions alongside their religion. Although I had faced too many oppositions from my own Afghans, I followed my heart and attended their festival with great passion and interest. And in response, they received me very well and offered me those sorts of sweet cookies and stuff that are particular in their country and for their religion. We all enjoyed being together and celebrating their festival.
A few days later, one of my Indian friends sent me a link of an Indian website (guess it was a domestic media group) where it published the news about the Ganesha Festival in Afghanistan. Filling me with true exhilaration, that was one of the happiest news I heard of so recently. I was so grateful to both my Indian friends and that News Website. Because it gave Indians a better portrait of Afghanistan - it's not all about suicide attacks and bombings.

So, I am happy for what I have done and that even strengthened our friendships too. Though my Indian friends and I have completely different appearance, the smiles on our faces and the red Bindi on our foreheads were the most common things one could find in our photos of the Ganesha festival.

Thank you Wendy and thank you Kara for sharing your experiences and stories.

Peace and love,

Ali Shahidy

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