You Keep Going, That’s What

We’ve all experienced it – a smile we gave was not returned, a greeting we gave was ignored, an offer of kindness was rejected. It is a let-down, to say the least – but in the overall realm of our interactions, these experiences comprise only a small portion. Largely, our smiles, greetings, and offers toward others are accepted and reciprocated – and these are the moments of optimism that our focus must be centered on. 

Alhamdulillah, I was privileged to attend the past spring camp in Chicago, known as MYNA City Edition.  The hallmark of every City Edition is “Meet a Muslim” – a simple but impactful effort toward spreading positivity in the surrounding community. On Saturday afternoon, people from all backgrounds strolling along Michigan Avenue were handed roses from the generous hands and smiling faces of excited Muslims. Big, bright posters reading “Meet a Muslim” caught the attention of passersby and often sparked conversation. As our camp of about one hundred youth was split into various locations on the avenue, some individuals who passed by my own group were already holding roses that they had been given from another. Witnessing this, in addition to seeing roses being held in the hands of strangers on the walk back to our meeting place, showered me with a sense of unity.We were quite the sight – one would be hard-pressed not to spot a Muslim on those streets – and the reactions we received were largely positive. Yet it was no secret to us as the youth, and to the counselors and advisors among us, that the tacit tension we received this year – despite being fairly minimal overall – had increased in comparison to the Meet a Muslim initiatives of the past, especially that of last year. I found in many of these instances that the individuals on the receiving end seemed fairly uncomfortable, and these sentiments were discussed in the all-group reflection session of the event later that day. 

One can assume that the worsening political climate has contributed to these sentiments. Rather than dwelling on the “why,” however, or even the rigidity as a whole, it is essential that we concentrate on the dominant responses of encouragement toward our efforts. From strangers thanking us for the work we were doing, to giving us hugs and taking pictures, to my group’s engagement with a man in a peaceful and respectful discussion about his beliefs and ours, I am proud to say that alhamdulillah, Meet a Muslim was an overwhelming success. As for the mild resistance we experienced, I learned that you don’t let it hinder you, and you surely don’t give up - you keep going. The benefits of this resilience are two-fold: for those behind the effort, the refusal to back down builds on our unity and strength in identity; for those the effort is intended for, the chance of a positive change in someone’s perspective is always a possibility – and must never be abandoned.