When CNN ran the headline “Muslims: We’re not all extremists” I was incredulous. “How is that news?!” I said to my friend Rachel who’s furrowed brow and crinkled nose betrayed the same confusion I felt. She replied “that’s like a headline saying Cats: We’re not all female.”
When I try to carry in water for my bucket shower and instead spill it everywhere, my brother Alaji grabs the bucket with a shy smile and a wink. My soccer coach won’t let the boys on my team call me toubab because he says “our skin works the same”. In my hardest moments of tearful culture shock, my team leader Hassana is never fazed. Alaji, Coach, and Hassana, along with 95 percent of Senegal are Muslim. “Muslims: We’re not all extremists” is so obvious that it’s preposterous when it’s stated.
I wouldn’t have always had that reaction. Before I left the US I probably would have thought “that’s a good point” because I didn’t have a Muslim friend and the closet thing I’d seen to what I imagined a mosque looked like was the Eastern Orthodox cathedral in a neighboring town. As I prepared to live as a Christian in Muslim country, church leaders asked “What are you going to do when you see Muslims praying?” like a Muslim praying would somehow be an affront to my faith. It’s not. Living with Muslims is incredibly normal and beautifully rich.
At night my brother Joel opens up a French children’s bible and reads to me and five of my Catholic family members underneath the bright stars. We pray together in French, English, Serer, and Wolof. From where I sit each night, I see the slightly bent head of my Muslim brother every so often dipping below the window still as he prays. Later my sister Awa takes his place, covering her head with a pink cloth and like him praying towards Mecca. When we are all finished praying we eat couscous around one bowl, Muslim and Christian- all one family.
Last week during my language lesson I sat cross legged beneath a huge Baobab tree discussing religion and faith in French (!!) with Mohamed, my Muslim language teacher. He spoke of the wisdom he has found in the writings Senegalese religious leaders and the Koran, the importance of repeated prayer, and how his faith has helped him make better life decisions. He said that he works to see that of God in everyone around him. I’ve never felt so connected in faith with someone of another religion. I, in turn, told the story of God taking on human flesh, the death on a cross where God entered into the depth of human suffering, the resurrection promising that death gives way to life, the beauty that we can be a part of this newness, and why that matters in my life (all while Mohamed quickly corrected my grammar and my french improved.) I’ve never been more humble or more convinced in my beliefs.
So in a time when headlines are filled with news of ISIS, parts of the world are with filled religious extremism and violence, know that this exists too.
This exists too.