This past Friday, my family and I visited the Islamic Centre at NYU, an Islamic prayer space and event location, for Jummah prayers. After parking our car nearby, we walked to the ICNYU building, which was located right next to Washington Square in New York City. The area was very well-developed and modern. When we got closer to the building, we quickly noticed a small group of middle-aged, white-looking men and women holding up posters.
“Ugh, a group of anti-Muslim protestors,” I quickly thought to myself. I judgmentally rolled my eyes and got slightly irritated as I traversed across the light gray sidewalk. I couldn’t help but tell my sister a snarky comment about how nobody asked them to be here and I then proceeded to quickly walk inside.
As we walked inside, we heard a cheerful round of “Assalamalaykum!” and “Mubarak!” from somewhere nearby. I turned to the side, and, to my amazement, noticed that the very same group of “protestors” who I thought were arguing against Islam were actually there supporting it! I looked closer at them and at their signs, which bore statements like “Jews Stand with Muslims” and “Salaam Shalom.”
I saw that rather than sporting hate posters, they were holding attestations of acceptance. Their voices were extremely kind, welcoming, and caring. I soon realized how messed up my judgments of them were and how my negative assumptions about them were not only false but the complete opposite of how they actually were.
Ignorance breeds ignorance, and confusion breeds chaos. It’s unfortunate that in today’s world, stereotypes that are perpetrated on social media creep into our very own minds and influence us to think the worst of people. Muslims and Jews are often depicted as mortal enemies: two seemingly far-rights who never seem to think of themselves as making a wrong.
Our pre-judgments, the words that have been uttered to us since birth, the way our previous generations have spoken to us about those who are different from us…they have crept their way into our thoughts and affected how we interact with people. This is not just present in Muslims or Jews; this is a universal trait amongst all people. Humans fear the unknown, and when they fear something, they lash out at the world.
My realization made Imam Suhaib Webb’s khutbah (Islamic) speech hit that much harder. A well-known, well-educated white revert, Imam Webb described important themes about ignorance and the value of seeking information from reliable sources.
He also focused on Islam’s core value of balance–not being too extreme in any way, but rather being open-minded and moderate in both thoughts and actions. “We have to be very careful of the attitudes that we have,” preached Imam Webb. “We often find that two extremes have the same opinion.”
These words, though seemingly paradoxical, could not be truer. How often have we found that those who are extremely liberal and those who are extremely conservative are both staunch in their opinions? They are so adamant about their perspectives that they limit their understandings of the world and thus restrict themselves from a world of harmony and happiness, rather than disorder and despair.
Webb also addressed the significance of not discussing subject matter that we know nothing about. Islamically, the Quran tells us not to concern ourselves with matters that we are not directly involved in. Similarly, we shouldn’t be quick to judge and make assumptions about others. The world has faced massive acts of injustice because of this prejudice.
Rather than closing our minds, we should open up our hearts and accept people. This is what Islam preaches: peace. As I looked around the room, I noticed the diverse group of Muslims—most were young or middle-aged, but they came from different cultural backgrounds. In certain mosques, we tend to see a predominance of one or two cultures.
However, at the ICNYU, there was an accepting atmosphere of Muslims from around the globe. Most notably, it was in one of the most diverse cities in the world: New York.