- - Sunday, January 3, 2016

In the final days of 2015, there seems to have been a shift in the feelings of Americans toward Muslims and followers of Islam. Donald Trump being the poster boy/catalyst for Islamophobia in America, a mostly Christian country. Personally, I find this clash problematic and confusing. Christianity and Islam have a lot in common amid the differences. Both trace their roots to Abraham. Both believe in prophecy, God’s messengers (apostles), revelation, scripture, the resurrection of dead and the centrality of religious community. Both Christianity and Islam have a communitarian dimension.

My upbringing was different compared to many other children in America. As a child, I was in church at least three nights out of the week, with prayer service on Tuesdays, Bible studies on Thursday and Sunday was an all-day event with two services starting from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. To others this church schedule may seem over the top; to me it was a part of life that I thoroughly enjoyed. My family is comprised of more than thirty ordained preachers, owning more than ten churches.

I thought everyone was raised similarly until high school when I realized how secular America actually was. While I knew many students had religious families, whether Christian or Muslim or any of the many other religions worshipped in the United States, my peer group made a conscious effort to not reveal it for fear of not fitting in. I purposed in my heart then that I would stick to all the teachings instilled in me at a young age.

Over time, however, I started to accept secularity to be a part of everyday life and even found myself conforming to the point that I did not make many outright statements reflecting my Christian beliefs in the company of my peers. This is why upon stepping onto Sri Lankan soil, I was immediately affected by the religious zeal displayed by their many Muslim members of society. It was a breath of fresh air to see individuals so devout in their faith.

The ways I was impacted ranged from my attire to my transportation. For example, I was refused service for wearing a tank top — called “skinnies” there — an American fashion staple in the summertime. It made me wonder how they would react to the other less than sensible articles of clothing often flaunted in public on American soil.

An even more significant example was when the public bus would not move without a word of prayer. My colleague and I boarded a bus to make the four-hour trip from Anuradhapura to Trincomalee to enjoy the beach with others from our program stationed there. My mother always taught me to pray before I moved my car, and as a child we would sit in the driveway and say a minute long prayer requesting protection from Jesus. I had seen the crazy stunts these Sri Lankan bus drivers pulled behind the wheel, and as per usual I was going to say a prayer.

I closed my eyes and begin to pray as others boarded. Soon my surroundings got quiet, and I heard someone in the front of the bus speaking. I peeked one eye open to see what caused this sudden shift in the environment. Imagine the shock on my face and joy in my heart to see a small woman standing there praying! Most of the other passengers had their head bowed or hands folded in some way to reverence the prayer. I couldn’t help but think of the backlash this action would have received if done on public transportation in America. Therefore, to find myself in a foreign country with strangers who I originally thought were different from me in every way and then to be connected with them on such a spiritual level with a prayer was such a powerful experience. It gave me a level of understanding and shared camaraderie with Muslim strangers that I had never felt with my own compatriots, mainly Christian.

Despite already being shocked by the public prayer, there was an even greater surprise awaiting me. My colleague had fallen asleep, and we were on our way to Trinco. The street signs were in Sinhala, the people only spoke Sinhala, and my map was in English. So when the bus pulled over to the side of the road, as far as I was concerned we were lost.

Then somebody yelled out a command of sorts and I watched as folks dug into their pockets and bags to retrieve cash. I had no idea what was going on and all I could do was be a bystander as people started giving money to a collector who got off the bus and later reappeared. This entire episode confused me and it was only later that I found that he had gone to say another prayer and give an offering at a Mosque and a Buddhist temple.

I was truly amazed by these occurrences in Sri Lanka. I couldn’t help but feel an uncomfortable knot in my stomach at the thought of the reaction in

America if a prayer was suggested on public transportation. And not to mention how other individuals would have reacted if prayers during the bus ride interrupted the average American’s on-the-go non-stop hustle and bustle!

Even though I was sent there to teach the business owners how to maintain their financial records, in the end, it was the Sri Lankan people who taught me to always hold steadfast to my faith regardless of where I am in the world.

Despite the fact that the U.S. is at war with many predominantly Muslim countries, I cannot buy into the rhetoric that some presidential candidates have put forward. In my young age I have realized that when we enter wars, we dehumanize the enemy, so it is easier to see it as a just war. Easier to justify the turning away of refugees, and family fission.

When we fought Germany and Japan in World War II, we portrayed the German and Japanese people as abrasive, stupid and evil, bent on the destruction of the world and everything that was good in it. They hated our freedoms, and so on. Just about everything you hear today with the insertion of religious slurs. However, I must point out that today the “abrasive, stupid and evil” Germans and Japanese are actually none of that. These nations are some of our closest allies.

Ignorance leads some to think that Muslims are some huge evil, and if it wasn’t for them, the world would be at peace. That’s as ludicrous as blaming illegal immigrants for all the unemployment problems, and that deporting them all, would mean full employment for everyone else.

However, one has to look beyond simply putting any group of people in the same basket and blaming them for any of the world’s problems. There are good and bad in any race, gender, and religion of people including some Americans. Ask the rest of the world, they’re not too fond of us, or ask anyone that travels. I’m part of the 35 percent of Americans with an active passport and have been to many countries, engaging in these conversations, we have little room to judge others for their differences.

Maurice Nick the associate editor of American CurrentSee. He is a writer, public speaker, and youth leader living in Upper Marlboro, Md.

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