I keep forgetting.

Honestly, I’ll go most of the day completely unaware that I wear hijab, have brown skin, and otherwise look any different from anyone else and then suddenly something will bring me up short.

I’ll see myself reflected in a shop window or someone will say something  like acknowledging how ‘tolerant’ they are to have me as a friend, or to overlook my differences, and I frown and think, “Oh yeah. I AM different.”

Today, I got back to the gym. I’ve been very naughty. Eating way too much and excercising way too little, and I thought I should reverse the trend before things get out of control.

One of the ladies at the gym wanted to do some outreach with the Muslim communty down the road (there’s a mosque on the way home) and she asked me if I’d go in there with her.

“Why? Honestly you’ll be fine.” I told her.

“Yeah, but I’d still like someone with me. I’m afraid I might offend someone.”

“That mosque does outreach all the time. They’re not going to treat you bad in any way.”

“But I’ve heard people tell me… oh the way the men treat the women…”

I wondered what the heck she thought would happen!

Yes, some Muslim men can be misogynistic, but really!

But then I thought, “What if I was going into a synagogue? Yeah, it would be nice to have someone from the community along.” Although honestly, I’d just go in by myself if I had to.

She wanted to have a breast cancer awareness program for the women at the mosque, and with my older sister having died of breast cancer, I said okay, I’d escort her in there.

I thought it shouldn’t take too long.

While we were climbing up the stairs to the second level where the office was, she said, “Oh I feel so self-conscious. Should I be wearing a head cover or something?”

Why? I wondered. She’s not Muslim. But I thought saying that might be too abrupt, so I just told her not to worry about it.

We ended up speaking to a bearded gent who was perfectly amiable.

No drooling, no ogling, nothing to be concerned about at all–which is precisely what I expected–but what she did not.

On the way back to the car, I wanted to just get going. I still had to get some groceries and I was hungry, but we spent some time talking in the parking lot.

She saying how she’d driven past the mosque so many times–afraid of ever going in.

And part of me was thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I guess that’s understandable.”

And she kept talking about movies she’d seen about this woman who’d been stoned to death, and yada yada yada. And I thought, “I should be caring about what she thinks but honestly, I just wanted to get home and get some work done.”

Gosh, in the past, I would have talked her ear off, telling her we really weren’t as bad as the stereotypes portrayed us. The guy in the office was nice enough to give her some literature. A book about human rights in Islam (which she’d expressed an interest in) and a book called Towards Understanding Islam, which is an old standby, and another book that I had read and found quite amazing, which lists all the scientificly accurate statements made in the Quran.

In the parking lot she was in a very talkative mood. She kept saying how she felt so moved, like she’d had an epiphany. She told me she’d always been curious about the Islamic faith, and it was like her eyes were opened.

Inside my head a voice was yelling, “C’mon Rukhsana, don’t be so apathetic. You’ve got a good thing. Share it! Care!” And I told it, “Okay, okay.”

And I bothered to tell her some of the observations I’d made, that the movies that do well in mainstream society only reinforce stereotypes about Muslims. Anything that portrays us in a good light doesn’t get much air time.

She said something like, “Oh but you should be telling more stories about yourselves.”

And I said, “I am.”

“But I haven’t heard of any new stories that you’ve done.”

So I told her about Wanting Mor. Then she asked to read it.

And I hesitated, because if she read the book I gave her, it might look used and I wouldn’t be able to sell it. Then I thought, “Oh what the heck. Maybe it will help her.”

So I lent her a copy.

I might even give it to her.

I guess I’ve been dealing with people’s ‘epiphanies’ for too long.

And while they’re opening their eyes to the beauty of Islam, realizing that we just might not be as barbaric as they thought we were, I’ve taken it for granted that they don’t and won’t understand. And honestly, who the heck cares? As long as I can pray the way I want, and dress the way I want, and eat the way I want and just live the way I want; as long as they’re not carrying torches and hunting us down with pitchforks; and as long as they’re minding their business and letting us mind ours, it’s all hunky dory!

I’m really not normally this callous.

She’s a nice enough lady. She’s always treated me well.

But I’d done a presentation that morning and had popped into the gym on my way home. I wasn’t in any kind of ‘information’ mode.

I was in a ‘get-home-and-have-a-peanut-butter-sandwich-before-I-keel-over’ mode.

Oh well.

It was a moment I needed to be patient, so I grit my teeth and did my best.

One brilliant writer said two things that are very true.

He said Islam is the most hated religion on earth.

It is also the fastest growing.

Think about it.

Or not.

It’s really up to you.