Yesterday as I was biking home from church, I saw an old man on the path ahead of me. He was wearing a dark blue suit; the rest of him was obscured by a very large dark-blue umbrella. We exchanged a brief greeting as I passed. The face under the umbrella was wrinkled and respectful. Just as I suspected, he was wearing a little cap. My neighbor is a practicing Muslim.
We have neighbors down the block who are non-practicing Muslims. They came here as Bosnian refugees. We got to know them through the retired Baptist preacher who was their backyard neighbor and a member of our church. She ironed the Baptist's shirts (this retired pastor always wore a suit, even when working in his beautiful and prolific garden). The Bosnian children enjoyed that garden, too. The preacher was a sort of grandfather to them. I do not know whether their biological grandfathers had survived the war.
We have other neighbors who are practicing Muslims. There's the old lady in a long dark robe and headscarf who used to ask me about cans and packages in the grocery store. I suspect she's illiterate--or at least illiterate in Latin letters and in Dutch. There's the Sudanese woman, Sarah, who was even more wrapped up. She had some Dutch lessons from a woman in our church. Then there's the teen-aged girls in jeans, trendy tops, and colored headscarves I see going to high school on the bus or on their bikes, and the guys from the local Muslim prayer group who helped renovate our neighborhood meeting place, and the boy one street over who fetched a 2-Euro coin for his grandmother to put in the collection box the time I went door-to-door for the Dutch Cancer Society . . . .
A lot of my friends in America do not have so many Muslim neighbors. One of my friends recently voiced concern because there were so many Muslims in this or that political party. This morning Keith read a news article about a motel receptionist whose fear resulted in the police confronting a customer who happened to be from a predominantly Muslim land.
Did I think twice about using an international transportation hub after the Brussels airport was bombed? Yes. I am a reasonable person who does not want to take unreasonable risks. Do people who happen to follow the Muslim faith frighten me? No. Do violent fanatics alarm me? Yes, be they soccer hooligans, neo-Nazis, radical Islamists, or Branch Davidians. And, I confess, I am a bit afraid of other people's fear--fear that some people in an American political party might follow this or that faith; fear that a man in Middle-eastern dress might be about to blow up my motel; fear that those people cannot be neighbors just because they happen to be Muslim.