Original entry on April 15, 2016.
I usually use these “diary” entries to post about personal experiences. Today, I have a story from my mama that holds a wonderful reminder.
As I’m driving to work early this morning, I get a call from my mom. I was surprised she called because she left the house before me to attend a teacher’s conference. She worked all week on a very important presentation she will be giving later today.
“SubhanAllah, there really are still good people in this world!” She told me, right before she informed me of the experience she just had. I was taken aback by the joy in her voice because of what she told me next.
She was driving on the freeway when her car suddenly slowed down and a sharp beeping noise erupted. The woman driving behind her began to honk at her incessantly. My mom tried to signal to her that she couldn’t control her car slowing down. The woman finally stops honking and after a moment motions to my mom that it looked like my mom’s car had a flat tire. Naturally, my mom pulls over to the right shoulder. This isn’t the first time that my mom has experienced a flat tire on a busy freeway. The last time, my sisters were in the car with her and it was more of a dangerous situation to stop on the side of the road. In all cases, no one has ever stopped to help. My mom hops out of the car to go check out the tire. She calls my dad and then her car insurance’s road services.
As she’s waiting, she notices a Mercedes SUV pass her. After passing her, the car stops and starts to back up until it’s standing next to my mom’s car. At first, my mom tells me that since she was stopped next to the exit that led directly to the closest Masjid (or Mosque) and since it’s the blessed day of Friday for us when Muslims attend congregation at the Masjid, she assumed a Muslim brother spotted her and came back to help. She was surprised to find, what she described to me, an “American white male” looking back at her. He stopped to ask if she needed any help. She let him know that her car just had a flat tire, but she had already called for backup. Her words to me were, “He wanted to make sure I was safe and told me if he could help with anything, he would be happy to help.” After making sure my mom was safe, he drove off. “He was so nice!” My mama told me. “AlhamduliAllah, there will always be good people in this world.”
My mom was so moved by this man’s simple act of kindness that she even shared a small status update on Facebook about her experience.
As I continued to drive to work, a few things struck me.
I must have passed my mom this morning on my way to work, but I was so preoccupied with the drive and just getting to work on time that I did not even noticed that my own mother was on the side of the road with a flat tire. I see people on the side of the road all the time while on my way to work and back home. My drive to work alone is over an hour and back is almost two hours all because of traffic. While I have thought about it, I have never stopped to help anyone. I always tell myself I would be of no help being as exhausted as I am during the drives. Today, I wondered if I have never stopped because I feel that I may not be safe stopping as a woman or maybe I’ll meet someone who doesn’t want a hijabi stopping to help? People have chosen not to accept my help before after they have looked me up and down. And, I recently read a story about a Muslim brother who stopped to help a women with a baby on the side of the road. After asking if he was Muslim, she denied his help. He was shocked that she would be willing to put her baby and herself in danger just because a Muslim was the one who stopped to help.
We live in a world, and especially in a country, where someone like Trump has gained an insane amount of support. Someone who is a danger to all has brought out the monsters and demons living among us. I work at an educational institution, my alma mater, where I do not feel safe walking across campus. I, as well as close friends, experienced all forms of hate here on campus as an undergraduate for being visibly Muslim and Palestinian. Nothing was ever done to make me feel safer. It was all empty actions of police “looking into the matter.” I have come back to a campus where last week messages of hate from Trump supporters have been left in chalk all over campus, right before a weekend full of events for admitted students to come familiarize themselves with the “home” they would be attending. The abhorrent part is that it has been over a week and this university still hasn’t taken any action to remove the hateful messages. As I walked by many of the messages yesterday, when I walked across campus for a cup of coffee, it struck me how more aware I am of my surroundings. The UC system has a history of hate, racism, and Islamophobia… But, I digress.
My mom’s surprise was that an “American white male” stopped to help her. Truth be told, I was surprised too. If you follow my writing and stories, you have probably read about my past experiences of being in dangerous or harmful situations that were the results of “American white males” being hateful of me being Muslim. With what we are experiencing in this day and age, with the amount of hate, bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia we are seeing and experiencing, it’s easy to forget that love and kindness comes in all kinds of forms from all types of people. It’s easy to allow the bad experiences to shape our biases in generalizing groups of people as one.
This man saw a fellow human being on the side of the road that looked like she may be in danger or in need of assistance, so he actually came back to offer help. Two strangers connected by the simple fact that that they are both human beings.
In Islam, we are taught to treat all human beings with respect and dignity, no matter the background – religion, gender, ethnicity, culture, country of origin, or whatever they identify themselves with. Even as Muslims, we easily forget that. We are so quick to judge someone who doesn’t follow our same belief system. We forget that Allah swt alone is the ultimate judge. In Islam, there is no one to relieve our sins for us or appeal to God for us. Our thoughts and actions are between Allah swt and us, it’s a direct connection. We are taught through the stories of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that we are to smile and be kind to all. Speak up against injustice. Fight evil. But never forget our humanity.
To the kind stranger who stopped to help out my mother this morning, may God bless you. May your kindness be shown back to you in bounty.
This is what it means to be an American, a human being.
This is my America.