Sunday, April 20, 2008

USA and the Muslims - My Own Experience

Have you ever wondered how the Muslims may have been treated treated in America? Well, I have wondered, too, and I have wondered for a long time. Currently living in America myself, as an international student, taught me a lot about this civilization. Below is the video that may shed some light (and even a lot of surprises) about how Muslims are treated in the United States:

Now that I assume you have watched the entire video.

To be honest with you, I think my Muslim girl friends do share quite a similar experience with the young lady. I dare saying so because I had a first-hand experience walking along with them along the streets of Urbana-Champaign and get 'reactions' from the by-passers. I shall categorize the reactions into three namely positive, neutral, and negative.

For positive reactions, this usually happen during the daytime and in 'orderly' places such as the Student Union and the classrooms (of course, the streets are not entirely excluded here). What I mean by 'positive' is there are strangers conveying 'salaam' (the greetings of peace and salutations) with such a mild manner that is pleasing to the ears that listen and the eyes that see. Yes, I mean it, because there was once walking down the street, with few of my Muslim girl friends when suddenly a shabby-looking man at the side of the road (I think he is homeless, based on his look), delivered a 'salaam', "assalamualaikum" to us. And of course, we were surprised, and pleasantly surprised! This "incident" happened more than a year ago when I was barely three weeks in America when I was a freshman. Now I am a sophomore, almost a junior.

For the neutral reactions, well, I consider glimpses and gazes from other people 'neutral'. This, I think, that I (or more accurately, my Muslim girl friends) receive more often than the 'positives' and the 'negatives'. Well, you know, you can always feel the 'beam' when somebody tried to catch a glimpse of you when you are queuing up to buy coffee or while you are studying somewhere in the corner of the library. Of course, too much glimpses makes you feel uneasy. But ultimately, I really can't judge because I can't read their mind, can I? It may well that they are thinking about something else (or may be even looking at something else), so, let's cast the pre-judgments away and allow the benefit of the doubt.

For the 'negative' reactions. Now this is a thing unpleasant. Yes, it happens. But to be fair, this situation happens the least of the time if compared to the positives and the neutrals. I had witnessed once, maybe twice, such ugly sight, though. Once, I clearly remembered when we were walking during one night (well, it is well advised that we ought not to loiter the streets at night but we did anyway), a car suddenly passed and the people in there shouted, "GO BACK TO YOUR OWN COUNTRY!!!" and they left. Wowwww... what an experience. And yes, I remembered a friend of mine reported that she had a rotten-egg been thrown at her by the rascal in the car. Drunken guys? Hmm...

Well, for the above cases, I think it happens primarily to the girls, presumably because they wear the hijab on their head. This makes their Muslim identity more revealing. But for me, my 'Muslimness' is more invisible presumably because I am a guy, hence I do not have an immediate religious symbol attached to me and I don't keep beard. Thus, here my personal story follows:

For me, I think my personal experience as a Muslim here is more pleasant. Yes, I make friends with a lot of Americans from various races: Caucasians, African-Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese-Americans, and even international students from various countries (Austrians, Koreans etc. etc.) and not even once they look down on me because I'm a Muslim. In fact, we had our good time together.

I remembered, during my freshman year, I live in a dorm called "Global Crossroads" (GC). There, I met lots of people from different cultures from various places and yes, later, many of them turned to be my good friends. In GC, every month, we celebrate birthday parties without a miss, thanks to our awesome Resident Advisor, a Korean. Late at night, I still remembered when I had serious talks (with topics ranging from religions to world peace) and pep-talks (such as which girl do you like most) with my dorm-mates from various backgrounds and races.

And do they care me as a Muslim and ask about Islam? Yes!

Yes, they do ask about Islam. One of the most popular question is "why do your [Muslim] friends (the girls) wear the 'thing' on their head (referring to the headscarf or the hijab)? And I need to answer to that. Also, they seem to be quite surprised when I explain to them why Muslims don't drink and they seem to pay their attention to that and yes, they even respect me for not drinking!

I still remember at one time when I joined my American friends in a farewell party at her house. As more people come, they bring along with them And yea, 'Bud Lights', 'Chardonnay', 'Sonoma Valley Red Wine', you name them... and I just counted how many bottles and cans they were and starting to wonder whether they could still be sober after the party is over. Of course, they do not forget me, they bought me a dozen of pepsis and sprites because I told them that I am a teetotaler. And yes, even one of my Austrian girl friend said to me: "well, I tell you, you don't miss a lot of thing by not drinking. there is much more other delicious things that you can drink beside alcohols", when I asked her about what does the wine tastes like. Well, that's about the classic college party. Now I shall bring to you how does American classrooms and professors treat me.

About American classrooms, this is even more interesting. I took few political science courses as well as literature courses in this university. And one that I could never forget is the experience of the openness and integrity of learning in the American classroom. One time, I had a Professor, a Hindu, a very prominent one, his last name is "Gandhi" (and yes, if you remember history, Mohandas Gandhi. My Professor is his grandson). Now, we had this special topic about 'Terrorism, the West and Islam' with him. And guess what? I still remember how my Professor DEFENDED Islam against the stereotypes that may Western colleagues may have learned from the media and their ill-willed politicians. I still remember my Professor's lines, " was not Islam who caused the war in Rwanda, it was not Islam who caused the Holocaust, it was not Islam who caused the Vietnam War. Thus, is it fair to blame Islam about the terrorism issue that is plaguing the world today?", and he noted this in a high-strung manner, almost getting angry, I perceive.

Also, I have a Professor, a Christian and a Republican, whom I respect a lot. While I'm doing my Honor research project with him, we discuss lots and lots of thing about matters of the world today, religious issues included. And I can't tell you more how happy and intellectually satisfied I am when I meet him - we exchanged views regarding religion - and yes, he is very much interested in learning what is happening with the Muslim world and about Islam (About why my name has 'Bin' on it etc. etc.). And I am learning from him the wisdom of the Western civilization as well as getting a clearer picture of how a good Christian ought to live their life (now it really reminds me about verses in the Quran saying something about the People of the Book who are sincere and not arrogant).

About my colleagues, I can name you at least two of my American friends who have the Quran and its translations in their possession and are learning Arabic. When I ask one of them why she learns Arabic, she replied: "so that I could understand the Quran better and in its own language." Haha, you know what, I couldn't tell you how humbled I am at the time because there are others who are willing to learn about Islam! Yes, they took the pain of learning Arabic (remember they have no basic at all, not about Islam, not about Middle Eastern languages, not even about Muslims... they start from zilch!). And yes, at other times, I meet with my American friend to have chit-chat, at coffee house, etc. and exchange opinions about life and matters. And yes, they do ask a lot about Islam!

Well, I could write more, but I think this is suffice to give you the general overview about the experience of being a Muslim here in the United States. Of course, I can't speak on behalf of everybody, but certainly, I speak on behalf of myself in my case here in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I thank God for giving me such a wonderful experience here by living and learning in the cradle of the West, the United States.

Pssst.... let's join the ride of Yusuf Islam's "Peace Train" and let our face be blown with the Scorpions' "Winds of Change"! :)


Guilt of Innocences said...

is it really how they treat you there?........ well hope you take care of yourself... and be careful of drunks......

M Ridhwan Braveheart said...

I like your post here. Now I can get a glimpse of what are happening at the States. I don't have much to say here but, I'm happy that not everyone of them hates us and disrespects our religion. I'm also glad that you've made good friends there.

Hmm, when I think of it, it's just like the Black men issue in USA a few decades ago and the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. People are
like that. Some are positive, some are negative. It's how the world works.

Anyway, may the Lord bless you always..

M Ridhwan