I grew up Christian, with strong Catholic roots. Although my family left the Catholic church when I was still in elementary school, we still practice traditions and observe some aspects of Catholicism. I spent plenty of time at church, Bible study and youth groups growing up, and I attended mission trips and summer Jesus camp. Religion gave me morals, balance, peace and community, things that a kid growing up and finding herself absolutely needs.
I had several friends who differed in ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds, but this didn’t happen intentionally. Diversity wasn’t a factor that determined my friendships when I was 14. But I appreciate that, through that diversity I could learn about the value of sharing cultures.
One of my closest friends was Muslim. I am thankful for her generosity in sharing her culture and experiences, as she grew up Pakistani in a small conservative town. She taught me how to pronounce her sister’s name correctly. For prom, she practiced henna on me, working diligently to make the lines thin and clean. At her graduation party, we gorged on samosas and other staples of Pakistani cuisine. Not once has religion ever caused a strain on our friendship, and, for that, I am grateful. In return, I’ve shared my family’s traditions, such as why I observe Lent and the Advent calendar, and the differences between Catholicism and Christianity.
But it’s not enough to be appreciative. We must look out for our Muslim friends. The number of Islamophobic assaults committed in the U.S. last year surpassed the number of assaults that occurred in 2001, the year of 9/11. In 2016, there were 127 reported victims of aggravated or simple assault, compared with 91 the year before and 93 in 2001, according to the Pew Research Center. Another Pew study from 2014 revealed that 62 percent of Americans don’t know a Muslim, which can make it easier for many Americans to demonize Islam. And President Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments haven’t helped.
When Trump placed a travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries in January, my heart ached for my Muslim and Middle Eastern friends. I got involved in Chapman Students Against Xenophobia, and was able to really hear what my peers around me feared, but also what they needed. More than 400 people gathered in the Attallah Piazza on Feb. 1 to protest the ban. As a result, Muslim students on campus became much more visible to me.
Humans have a tendency to fear what they don’t know. The most important thing we can do is listen. We can’t stop Trump from making inflammatory comments about Muslims. But we can educate ourselves and reach out to our friends when they need help. Christianity taught me to “love thy neighbor.” It’s a simple concept, but it’s worth reminding yourself to practice it.