Let me tell you what it’s like to be raised by Muslims.
They are kind. With a heart big enough to love me like their own daughter when my mother’s screams echoed the house. They would tickle me just to see a smile because they know that children shouldn’t grow up with tear-stained pajamas.
They are brave. Brave enough to step in front of my mother as she raised her right hand like a golfer, and I was the rubber ball on a tee made of fear. Stop, that’s enough, m’am. They became the voice I needed when I was still learning how to croak.
We played a lot of games. After receiving an eyeshadow palette for the first time, I took my nanny’s arm and brushed reds, blues, and purples on her chocolate skin. Tell the others I hit you, I said to her. She laughed, and went back to the kitchen with fake cries.
They’re great with pranks. We learned the art of playing tricks on my old, superstitious cook. We’d swing the kitchen door open and run towards the living room to hide. The third time we did it, we heard the cook mutter prayers as she stirred the pot.
I listened to their dreams. One of them was 18—the same age I was—when she began working for me. We rode bicycles around the neighborhood and she told stories about her boyfriend who she’d sneak out to see at night. She wanted to be a doctor.
Let me tell you what it’s like to work with them.
They pray, a lot. With more diligence than I could muster in a lifetime. I’d watch as women washed themselves in the bathroom before doing their salat, and reapply their makeup minutes later. I’d wait alone whenever my Creative Director left mid-conversation to the prayer room with an ornate rug folded under his arm.
They love food. Pizza, donuts, meatballs, cakes, noodles, what have you. They envelop every meal with gusto, except during Ramadan. I have never seen such devotion and self-restraint than when lunch time arrives, and they all continue to sit in their desks; uncomplaining, unwavering.
They are generous. When someone in the office loses a partner or a parent, everyone would pitch in what they can from their own pockets. Baby strollers are given to new mothers, souvenirs are always handed out after a holiday.
Let me tell you what it’s like to be afraid with them.
Every other year there would be news about a terrorist attack in our own country; in this place we call home. Year after year, attack after attack, our own people against our own people, we would mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters. Or as we hear of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, we worry about how much it would impact our relations with the West.
We don’t see it as a flaw in the religion, we see it as a flaw in humanity. Because to us, they are not Muslim. The terrorists are not fighting for the same Allah they pray for five times a day. To us, those people are monsters holding Qur’ans and wielding guns in the name of Islam. And like any monster, their morality is nonexistent. Their ‘religion’ is merely a cloth to wrap the hatred beneath.
Let me tell you what it’s like to see more Muslims every day than any other faith.
They make me feel safe. Their smile, their kindness, their humor, reminds me that it is not me versus them. It will always be a we.
Even as the women wrap themselves in headscarves in front of the bathroom mirror while I tie my hair into a ponytail. Even as the men disappear into mosques every Friday noon. Even as I hear the Maghrib prayers rain on the city every day, leaving its people wet with hopefulness.
We will always be a we.
Let me tell you what it’s like to live as a Catholic in the most populated Muslim country in the world.
It feels like freedom.