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Monday, June 04, 2007
Why I Can't Talk to Muslims
I took some of my students to Columbia University last week for an internship. It took us nearly two hours to get there from Brooklyn. We didn't mind it so much though. The trip on the subway was fun. I always like interacting with my kids outside school; they drop their inhibitions and start acting like real people.

Somewhere between Canal Street and Union Square, an African-American Muslim woman jumped on the train and started preaching. I've never seen Muslims proselytize (lecture maybe, but not active proselytization), except for scattered members of the Nation of Islam on random city streets. This woman, dressed all in black and wearing black gloves, stayed with us till we reached uptown. I'll admit, she was a great orator, but it was getting too much at one point.

She started by extolling the virtues of Islam. Which was fine. It was actually a pretty good lesson for my students. She practically gave us an entire history unit in twenty minutes. We got a great history of Islam, an overview of the five pillars, and a useful comparison of the monotheistic religions. The flyer she was handing out was also a handy resource I had my students save it to study for the history regents they're going to take next week.

My students were mesmerized. It was hard not to be. The woman just wouldn't let up and even if you tried to ignore she'd manage to suck you in. At one point though she started talking about how Islam is the only true religion. My Argentinian student looked at me and whispered, "Miss, that's not nice what she's saying. It's...what's that word you taught us last week??? It's 'intolerant', right?"

"Well, what makes it intolerant, J?" He gathered a group together and analyzed the intolerance of her statement. It was really cute. I would've never in a million years thought a subway trip would serve as a teachable moment.

The woman kept on talking about the only true religion. She wasn't trying to be insulting, but for a group of adolescents who usually hear only what they want to hear she seemed quite arrogant. I stopped her as she walked past me and suggested that maybe she should drop the whole "true" religion bit.

"What do you know about Islam? Are you Muslim?" she queried.

"Yeah, I'm Muslim and you will continue losing your audience if you make them feel like they're .... "

"Sister, before you start preaching to me you should go and look at yourself in a mirror. Muslimahs don't look like you. Learn to cover up before you preach to me."

This is the umpteenth time that I've had someone dismiss me because I don't look Muslim. Last summer, a fellow classmate took issue with my breasts. Last semester, my West African students couldn't understand why I didn't veil (and I couldn't understand how they managed to veil but were fine wearing such tight clothing to school). On this blog, people will always resort to personal attacks to try to put me in my place. When trying to have a debate on hadith or religion, people will hold their own for about three or four emails/posts before resorting to something like "well, if you're such a Muslim you should be veiled", "you can't be a Muslim and have a boyfriend", or (my favorite) "you're going to hell". Dialogue ends immediately.

The thing that bothers me is that there's no way that anyone would attack a Muslim man in such a personal way. I've read Muslim male bloggers write about fucking strangers while on vacation or drinking themselves to oblivion, yet there is never a comment directed AT them. My cousin, who my father is financially supporting, is an alcoholic and a womanizer. My other cousin, who my father was also financially supporting, had three daughters with three different women (all of whom he was married to and divorced within a year) and doesn't support any of them. They don't get personally attacked. But I always do.

My students got very angry at the preacher woman. The Islam they knew and learned about would not put someone down like that. Besides, how dare she insult their favorite teacher! One of my tenth grade girls stood up and told her, "This woman comes to teach us everyday even though we drive her crazy. She stays after school to teach our parents how to speak English. She feeds us, pays us compliments, and is much more decent than you."

She then came, gave me a hug, and whispered, "You're beautiful Miss. Inside and out."
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 7:56 PM
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Who: Carmen

xx-something egyptia-yorker who's spent over half her life stuck in two worlds not of her own making. unable and unwilling to fully embrace one identity over the other, she created (is trying to create) her own place in the world where people love each other unconditionally, irrespective of artificial boundaries, and where dancing merengue is as necessary to life as breathing air.

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