Abiding by Muslim customs for a week in Fort Collins

Despite being an American Christian, I am no stranger to the world of Islam, academically or socially. Before drifting off to sleep one night my eyes wandered to my cork board, filled with postcards from Iraq and Turkey as well as a quote from Keith Weber, “The enemy of passion is comfort.”

Weber reminded me of two passions in my life — social justice and breaking negative stereotypes about Muslims. Was I living a comfortable life, or pursuing these passions with reckless abandon?

My thoughts culminated into an idea of how I could deepen my understanding of a group of people I love so dearly. I was to spend a week as a Muslim woman.

This meant wearing a hijab, or headscarf, everywhere I went, as well as wearing clothes that only exposed my hands and feet. In addition, I could not drink alcohol or speak ungracefully about others in public.

During the week of my experiment, I attended classes regularly, rode the bus to and from school, worked at Pita Pit, went shopping and grabbed coffee with friends. In short, I tried to have as many authentic experiences with people as possible.

To be honest, I had no idea what to expect stepping foot on the bus that first day wearing hijab.

The unknowing translated into feeling somewhat uncomfortable, however all that dissolved when a random American man smiled at me and said, “I’m not sure what the significance of that thing on your head is, but I think it looks beautiful.”

The results were anticlimactic to say the least, yet overwhelmingly positive. Many people asked questions or simply complimented my head scarf. For the entire week I felt accepted, normal and beautiful. The entire experience rendered a newfound sense of pride and admiration for the CSU and Fort Collins community.

Even though I did not experience any negativity during my week as a Muslim woman, I am aware that this is not always the case for all my Muslim friends, even ones living in Fort Collins.

Israa Eldeiry, a Muslim and senior at Fort Collins high school, shared with me a testimony that speaks to a dark reality among American youth.

Upon walking into school one day wearing her hijab, a fellow classmate asked her what was on her head. She explained to him as a Muslim woman it is intended for modesty. The student responded by saying “Oh! You’re one of those mother effing Iraqis!”

Instead of ignoring the comment or responding with violent words or action, Israa collected herself and confronted the student in front of about two hundred of her classmates in the lunchroom.

She explained to him that she is not simply Iraqi because she wears hijab. She is a proud Egyptian.

Making stereotypical comments toward her or fellow Muslims would not be tolerated and she demanded an apology. Even more, Israa followed up by explaining to the student why his words hurt her, and asked how he would respond if the tables were turned on him. The student apologized and life went on.

Israa is an example of bravery and an advocate for social justice. She stood up for herself and her religion with grace by starting a conversation instead of responding with fear or anger. Yes, it was probably uncomfortable having 200 pairs of eyes stare at you while you confront a classmate who just hurtfully stereotyped you. However, in the end it was an opportunity for both parties to come together instead of allowing conflict to take over.

With today being Sept. 11, I want to recognize the two veins growing in our country. One reflects the experience I had during my week as a Muslim woman, and the other is demonstrated through Israa’s story.

Since Sept. 11, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab spring and the Syrian conflict, we as an American people have been bombarded with media stories dripping with blood and hatred that makes all Muslims out to be our enemy.

I am here to give you some truth to chew on — those who stereotype, judge and misrepresent two billion Muslim people worldwide as being backward, hate filled terrorists are the enemy to peace.

When you live passionately on the side of justice — in action and speech — you will inevitably feel uncomfortable at some point. But I believe that in order to acquire a complete understanding of the human condition we must act authentically in grace.

So when presented with situations unfamiliar, you can chose to react with grace or fear, through questions or false judgments, conversation or violent action. It is the difference between gaining a friend and making an enemy.

Brooke Lake is a senior international studies major. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.