I am not usually the person who will strike up a conversation with a stranger at the grocery store. I try to finish my business quickly and get to the next task at hand. Recently however, I made a late-night run to the local Stop & Shop and got in line at the self-checkout. As my husband completed the transaction for our jug of milk, the woman supervising the self-checkout asked me about my headscarf.
For some reason, many people are fascinated with the straight pins holding the fabric on my head in place. They think the pins poke me or cause me pain somehow. I then get the opportunity to explain my strategy for securing the scarf, even though it is not rocket science by any means. I like to state for the record when my scarf comes up in random conversation with strangers that I choose to wear it and love doing so, just in case the pins were really not the burning question in the inquirer’s mind.
The woman at the checkout then went on to ask about Muslim men being allowed to marry multiple wives, colorful cultural clothing, and food. It was a lot to discuss in a short amount of time (we only had one or two items to scan, plus the store was closing). Though it was rushed, it was fun. I wish I could have sat down with her and heard all her questions and provided whatever answers I was capable of to hopefully shake some misconceptions. She was genuinely curious to learn more about what we believed and how we lived, especially after having a Muslim family member in the past.
It is encouraging to know that despite all the negative media coverage, many people genuinely want to know what Islam is about. I am pretty sure religious women of other faiths do not receive the same type of questioning when leaving their homes. But because Islam gets so much attention, albeit negative, people wonder if there is more to the story. My sister-in-law had a similar experience when she went ice skating with her friends. Someone came up to her and said that it was nice to see people like them having fun—they were surprised a group of Muslim women were enjoying their winter break like everyone else! There is no better way to learn something about Islam than to ask a Muslim directly. Self-learning online can easily be misguided by hateful bloggers and simply believing what the media says leaves one with a lot of holes in the story.
Though I am sure we were not able to fully satisfy the curiosity of the woman at the grocery store, I think we successfully showed her that we are young American Muslims who love our faith and are not afraid to hide it. We are willing to dress in our prayer clothes meant for the mosque during a grocery store run, and we are willing to have a conversation about it. And believe me, we are not the only Muslims like this. If you have questions, please ask! Most Muslims are ready, willing, and excited to have a conversation about Islam—they live, love, and breathe it every day. In the world we live in currently, when the Muslim identity is so misconstrued, it feels great to challenge that narrative in a face-to-face, genuine conversation.