Pain and Promise: One Muslim’s Reflections on New Zealand

By Areesa Somani

My experience as a Muslim has always involved building bridges of understanding.

From as early as I can remember, my family and I have been in churches. My mother sang hymns in an Episcopalian boarding school as a child. Growing up, I thumbed through Bibles and hymnals in evangelical sanctuaries during holiday services, piano recitals, and choir concerts. For my undergraduate studies, I chose Seattle University, a Jesuit institution of higher learning. I was the sole Muslim in the university chapel choir, singing in Mass every Sunday. I flew to Zambia two years later to work at a Catholic school in Lusaka.

But as much as my experiences introduced me to diversity and complexity, they made me a target for the disdain and suspicion that often surrounded people of my faith.

In church sanctuaries, my beliefs and way of life were sometimes met with hostility or calls for conversion. In middle and high school, classmates and strangers called upon me to make sense of acts of terror. In college, one internship supervisor demanded that I answer for terrorism. I became a target of hate speech on my college campus. Chapel choir no longer felt safe, and I left without explanation.

The truth is that my ability to practice my faith freely has never felt free.

So in a world where Muslims are judged often and with ferocity, I can only imagine the noor, the light, that Hajji-Daoud Nabi held as he stood at the door of the Al-Noor mosque that day, welcoming his brothers, his sisters, and a new stranger.

The belief that kindness is thereif you just open the door.

For many Muslims, it may be tempting to spurn the ideals that leads us to suspend suspicion and open our hearts. But my ultimate appeal is this:

We are never wrong to be and to live as exactly who we are.

We are never wrong to assume goodness in other people.

We are never wrong to open the door.

My experiences as a Muslim have not been easy. But as much as Islam has brought the bitterness of others into my life, it has brought beauty. I have gained a unique appreciation for the complexity facing Muslims today, and I have grappled with how to best represent my values without serving as an ambassador of Islam. I hold gratitude for the friends, coworkers and neighbors who value my right to be who I am.

I genuinely feel that the world is coming to know us for the humanity we represent. It is just not fast enough.

The world feels less welcome today. As much as I hold our pain, I offer our promise. And Inshallah, our hope will be rewarded.

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