A couple of months ago, I had an unforgettable experience. That day, I gained some valuable insight into humanity and society. It was an eye-opening experience that left me thinking about myself and my faith.
That afternoon, I took my 4-year-old son to his first tae kwon do lesson. I was one of the first parents there, so I had a choice of seating. As the other families arrived and seats began to fill up, I realized that the seat next to me remained empty. I offered it to a few people as they looked around for seating, but all of them declined to sit in it. Therefore, the seat remained empty until a few minutes before my son’s lesson ended, when parents and children arriving for the next lesson began to trickle in.
I then saw a woman walk in holding on to her husband’s arm as he guided her — she was visually impaired. I offered her the empty seat next to me and she sat down. She thanked me and introduced me to her granddaughter and asked me about my children. We carried on a pleasant conversation until my son finished his lesson and we said our goodbyes.
What I have not yet mentioned is that I am a Muslim woman who covers myself from head to toe. My hijab, or cover, is not only to cover up my hair, but I also wear a long, loose-fitting dress that covers my entire body. I abide by this Islamic dress code with honor and pride, but on that day, I gained some insight into how other people see me.
All the mothers who had come in before had declined to sit next to me — until that one grandmother sat and chatted. Her inability to see me gave her the opportunity to get to know me (and I to know her). Those who were sighted were blinded by their fear of the unknown.
In the Quran, the holy book of the Muslims, which contains the words of the Creator, the Only One Worthy of Worship, Allah, we read: “O Mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the most pious. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Chapter 49, verse 13)
In this verse of the Glorious Quran, Allah reminds us that He has created us all from a single pair of a male and a female — Adam and Eve. Allah then divided us amongst nations and tribes so that we may recognize each other, learn from each other, and respect each other’s differences.
What makes one of us more beloved to God than the other? It is not our race, sex, creed, wealth or status. The criteria for judgment in the sight of Allah are: God consciousness, piety and righteousness. To become most honored in the sight of our Creator, we must search for true piety and righteousness and act upon it.
In another verse in the Holy Quran, Allah tells us: “And amongst His signs, is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variation in your languages, and in your colors. Verily, in that is a sign for those who know.” (Chapter 30, verse 22)
Again, Allah reminds us that even though we vary in our colors and languages, this is a beautiful and positive thing, which makes us unique individuals, and so able to gain from one another’s diversity.
Therefore, as a Muslim, I believe that all humankind must be respected and honored. My faith demands that all people should be kind toward each other and should live in a society based on love and respect. In today’s society, members of different faiths have not taken the time to get to know each other. They remain ignorant of each other. Ignorance only breeds fear.
If we were to learn about each other and introduce our beliefs, then we could learn to respect one another. We could learn to accept our differences. We could learn to live in peace.
I thank that kind woman who sat next to me for making me see new-found meaning in the words of the Holy Quran. May God guide us all and give us the ability to see beyond our differences and join together for the betterment of humanity. She reminded me of the age-old saying, “never judge a book by its cover.”
Eaman Attia, a graduate of the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, resides in Bangor with her husband and three young children.