I got on the train and realized that it was packed. I found a seat next to a woman and asked if I could sit next to her. She looked at me, and I saw something briefly in her eyes. Was it fear? Was it disgust? Frustration? She hesitated and slowly got up to make space for me to sit down. She really seemed uncomfortable.
With all the negativity towards our Muslim community today, my first reaction was that she might not be comfortable with my hijab-ed clothing. Maybe she hadn’t had a good experience with Muslims. Maybe she had been watching scary news stories and thought that we were all the same. Maybe she thought I was oppressed and controlled.
It took me a few seconds to realize that I was stereotyping what might be going on in her mind, just as I feared she might be doing about me.
I turned towards her and introduced myself. She was hesitant, but slowly returned my conversation.
As we finally got to the question of where each of us was heading, she told me, “I’m going to my cousin’s funeral. She was my best friend.”
I was ashamed of my initial thoughts. Here I was, so self-absorbed that I assumed her trepidation was because of my dress. In reality, she was hurting; in pain, in loss, trying to piece together how to move forward without her best friend.
We hugged tightly as she left the train. We asked God to give her family strength through this difficult time. Had I chosen to assume that her hesitation was about me and left it at that, I would have lost an incredible opportunity for my heart to connect with hers.
Many times, we worry and sometimes assume that people will judge us and we interpret their actions within that perspective. But all of us are dealing with our own struggles and pain, and many of us could use that extra hug, prayer or positive vibe that comes from letting your guard down enough to realize that the judgments we think others are making of us are – sometimes – worse in our own heads.
“Make things easy and convenient and do not make them harsh and difficult. Give cheer and glad tidings and do not create hatred.” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) [Bukhari]