People stare as we tell our daughter Alana goodbye at the John Wayne Airport in California. Alana is a Muslim, and her head scarf turns heads every time.
Alana laughs to lighten the moment. “Oh, I hate airports,” she whispers to me. “As soon as I get on a plane, I know what people are saying, “Oh, God. A Muslim!”
The day before in the Nashville Airport, she got a full patdown by a TSA agent who asked to check her makeup bag, then said it tested positive for explosives.
“Explosives?” she asked.
Her old tote bag, an Eddie Bauer standby, was filled with a haul of new MAC cosmetics she’d recently purchased. Lipstick alert?
“He even swabbed my hands,” Alana says, still trying to laugh.
But her eyes look wounded, so I hurt for her and for the 1 billion-plus Muslims in the world who do not carry explosives in their makeup bags and never will.
I ache for the rest of us as our nation has become infatuated by fear of Muslims.
My Jim Crow childhood taught me about fear of “the other.” Growing up black in Colorado and drawing stares and glares, I struggled with my black friends to fight with every tool the suspicion and shunning that marked our lives — even if our tools (humor, anger, denial) didn’t work.
With my daughter, however, I want something to work.
We are a nation divided, of course, and always have been. Racially, as a result, we’ve turned paranoid, and mixing faith into our divide makes us vicious.
A cartoon contest for caricatures of Muhammad? The heart of the context is not about art or free speech. It stems from fear.
Traveling to Nashville recently, I did a miserable double-take myself when a young Muslim family came through the jet door and squeezed down the too-small aisle. The young mom, with head draped in a long hijab, finally wrestled her two small children into their seats — knowing, I’m sure, that almost every pair of eyes in the plane was trained on their movements.
We are hard-wired, apparently, to distrust difference, even when we know better. Faith differences threaten to turn us into paranoid and hateful beings. While our better angels tell us to calm down — to give folks the benefit of the doubt — the devil in our heads cries lipstick alert. In Garland, Tex., a cartoon-drawing event became a sorrowing excuse to trash others’ belief yet again.
So, what will we do?
I’ve been asking that question since 2001, when Alana called from college to say she had left the teachings and doctrines of her childhood Christian faith to become a Muslim.
That’s what my aging, widowed mother said when I told her Alana had converted to Islam. “A Muslim?” She struggled to say the word, wondering how our small family would bear two faiths under one roof.
In fact, we struggle. Navigating our divide has tested every Christian principle of love I ever learned: No judgment. No fear. No hypocrisy.
How did Jesus put it when a distrusting crowd set to stone a suspected adulterer? Sure, stone her — if you haven’t sinned yourself. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” he said.
Then he knelt to write in the sand, listing, as some theologians say, the many sins of the men ready to hurl rocks and condemnation.
Some have made their living drumming up Islamophobia. They have forgotten what Jesus knew. It’s far easier to suspect and hate others than do real service in the world, plus take a hard look at ourselves.
Someone asked me recently if I had put down my Bible long enough to read my daughter’s Qur’an? I have. But, in truth, I haven’t read all of it. My bigger failure, though, for many years was thinking she wasn’t worthy of the trouble to pick up what she considered her sacred text. And I’m her mother. If differences in our faith bring out the worst in a mom, what chance is there for the rest of us?
How do we fight our fears, suspicions and worry for our current impasse? Love provides a powerful antidote. I spent too many years after my daughter’s conversion pointing fingers at her, not at myself — a true waste of God’s time.
To love isn’t complicated theology, but it is courageous. Theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman explained that to love is “to make one’s heart a swinging door.” Love focuses on both giving and receiving.
Terrorism can’t stand the onslaught of such radical courage.
Patricia Raybon is an award-winning author and essayist. Her newest book, co-authored with daughter Alana Raybon, is “Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace.”