Sunday, December 07, 2014

BUS STORY # 422 (A Muslim On The Bus)

Photo by Hazel Thompson; downloaded from The New York Times.

I board and start up the aisle, looking for a seat. A guy all in white, with a white beanie, smiles and nods at me. I take a seat across the aisle and one row behind him.

He looks late 20s, light-skinned, mixed race. Close-cropped, curly black beard. The beanie is a lacy, white-knit cap which looks like an oversized kippah or an undersized toque. The pattern makes me think of Irish lace. Google will tell me later he’s wearing a kufi.

He’s also wearing what for all the world looks like an old-fashioned cassock, with two buttons where the notch for the Roman collar would appear, except it is white. A very bright, very new white. Below the hem, I see long sheer black socks and black dress shoes.

Muslim, I’m guessing, but I’m not sure.

As it turns out, we both get off at Juan Tabo. And, as it turns out, we are both waiting to cross north together. And so, while we are waiting for the light, I ask:

“What does your dress represent?”

He explains it is Islamic, and he wears it to set himself apart from the world and to remind himself of his religious obligations.

I tell him the only temple of Islam I know of in Albuquerque is on Yale.

He says, gently, “We call them ‘mosques.’ Yes, I am working for them now.”

Holy Moly! I can’t believe I said “temple!”

I ask him if he was born into Islam.

No, he came by it in his studies of religion. He adds that true Islam emphasizes love for one another, and tolerates the different beliefs of others.

I refrain from asking about the different competing beliefs within Islam, some of which seem pretty devoid of love or tolerance. But what religion doesn’t have these internal discrepancies? Even that Koala bear of organized religion, Buddhism, has had its not very Buddhist moments recently in Tibet and Myanmar.

I say instead that I’m sure he gets asked about this a lot.

He laughs, and says Jesus was tested, the prophets were tested, how can we think we won’t be?

My Muslim projects a remarkable lightheartedness. I would call it joyful if I did not sense it was rather new, rather put on like the kufi and robe. Rather like another new convert who urged his fellows to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” A faith and a conviction, bright and shiny and new, which has just begun the process of becoming internalized.

It’s not an easy thing to set yourself off from your fellow man in so deliberate a way as by your appearance. It can put people off. I remember when long hair on males first started showing up in Texas. A boy could find himself in trouble. These days, advertising yourself as a male Muslim isn’t risk-free, even in laid-back Albuquerque.

I confess to favoring the St. Francis of Assisi way of bearing witness in the world, including on the bus: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Clothing and iconography count as words. Any old hippie could tell you that. And any old hippie could tell you the words are not always understood by the listener the same way they are intended by the speaker.

I have the notion that if Jesus were to have shown up today rather than 2000 years ago, he’d still be likely to pick another backwater like Albuquerque, and he’d still be more likely to recruit from a demographic more likely to be riding the bus than driving a Lexus.  Just like then, we wouldn’t know his followers by their clothes. The only way I imagine they might stand out is they wouldn’t be having loud, obscenity-laced conversations in the back of the bus and they wouldn’t be taking up more than one seat, but would be leaving the aisle seat open and inviting access, would be offering their seats to the women and the elderly when the bus is full, would be helping people with their bags of groceries and their walkers and strollers, and would be saying “Thank you, driver,” when they got off.

Now that I think about it, there’s an awful lot of folks like that riding the bus right now. But I’m pretty sure if one of them invited me to get off the bus and come follow him... Well, let’s just say, oh me of little faith.


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