It was a beautiful day for a walk. I met a friend in the parking lot and set out around the lake. Coming down a hill we saw a man walking and my friend pointed out that he looked like he was wearing PJ's. I commented that it was probably a thobe, and then saw that he had prayer beads. I explained what they were, and as we walked by said "Salaam aleykum" to him. The man, an African man, probably in his 30's was dressed in a thobe, matching pants, and a kufi, with a large string of prayer beads in his right hand (think of Catholic nuns and their super sized rosaries that we thought were cool as kids). He smiled and responded "wa aleykum salaam" and I turned back to my conversation.
Down the bend there was a bridge, and a mother goose with goslings. Canadian geese are a pain in the ass, but even annoying water fowl have beautiful fluffy babies, so we stopped to coo over them. I had forgotten about the man I spoke to earlier until he caught up with me and asked me how I knew Arabic, and if I’d been to Africa before. I told him that, no I hadn’t been to Africa but was Muslim in college, but no longer considered myself Muslim. I also attempted to explain that, while I still search for my faith but don't necessarily feel the need to be constrained by labels. He asked if he could say a du'ah (prayer) for me, and in a whisper prayed for me quickly in Arabic. My friend, who is white, probably hasn't spent much time around Muslims and frankly, doesn't know me very well yet, didn't know if this guy was propositioning me, or doing something to make me uncomfortable, and quietly asked if we wanted to continue our walk. I held up a hand to ask her to hold on until she was done. When the man finished, I said thank you, and we continued on our walk. I explained to her that he was saying a prayer for me, and that talking about religion with strangers doesn't really bother me at all.
Normally, I would never have said anything but I must have been intoxicated on sunshine, fresh air and the cool breeze. I felt compelled to talk to him, not to show off my mad Arabic skills (cause I don't have them anymore), but perhaps like my niqabi friends that like to buck stereotypes and Rollerblade in niqabs, I want to be the person that isn’t afraid to talk to people just because they look different. Everyone has something to offer, and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to see what they have to teach me. Also, I lived in fear of judgement from others for so long. The fear that I was too Muslim for the culture I lived in and not Muslim enough for the culture and community that I was trying to enter. I put restrictions on myself, that others weren’t imposing, and today I realized this. I didn’t know this man, and will probably never see him again, I had nothing to prove to him, but two little words, “salaam aleykum” brightened up both of our days.
It was truly a beautiful day for a walk. We couldn’t have asked for better weather and I’m four pounds away from some badly needed new clothing. I'm happy for a new found friend that is going to make me walk off of the pounds around our area's beautiful lakes, and for the don't give a damn attitude that people thought I had, but I've really just developed.