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I was a Muslim woman in Melbourne just post 9-11, and expected problems due to my religion. But I met people who showed respect for my faith, prompting me to respond likewise.
I had the privilege of studying abroad once. Ten years ago, I was offered a scholarship by my alma matter to pursue my Masters in Melbourne, Australia.
The offer came as a surprise to me, as I did not intend to choose lecturing as a career. This was part of the scholarship agreement. Nevertheless, seeing the hopeful look on my father’s face, I decided to take the offer. My younger brother was already at New Jersey, USA at that time studying for his Degree. Since I was and still am, not the brightest child in the family, I was delighted that I was given an opportunity to study abroad, solely based on my qualifications.
As a postgraduate student, I was supposed to be independent and move around on my own, trying to adjust everything in the new place. Melbourne was indeed a beautiful and amusing city. I knew for a fact that Muslims are the minorities here but it did not have any intimidating effect on me. The only thing I was afraid of before I arrived was the weather because my skin is sensitive to cold climate. I remember my mother would SMS me every other day asking whether I was alright. She was concerned that I could not focus on my study because of the cold.
I blended in quite well, with the weather and the people. Melbourne was a conducive place to stay in, because the people were kind and respectful towards each other. They treated you with dignity and would go out of the way just to help you if you asked. However, there were also few occasions where I did receive racist remarks. Sometimes the prejudiced comments were made in class during lectures.
I had never blamed the maker of the statements. It was post 9-11 and the whole world was still taken aback by the cowardly attack against World Trade Center. Once again, Islamophobia had become the main issue, focused on by those who did not truly understand the true meaning of Islam. I did not care much since I received the same remarks sometimes back in my own country. I digress, though.
The university then arranged an event for the students to celebrate New Year. On New Year’s eve, those who were interested could go for a trip to the city, dinner inclusive. I was really excited to join as the event would be a great opportunity to mingle around and meet new friends. I registered for the event with my classmate Eli who also happened to be from the same country as mine.
It is still clear in my mind what happened during the day that we registered ourselves. We had to fill in the form with our details and also specify what kind of food we wanted to be served during dinner. Both of us checked the Vegetarian box in the form. As Muslims, of course our first priority was to find Halal food, but since it was not offered on the menu, the vegetarian choice was good enough.
The night came and we were really enjoying ourselves. We took the bus ride from the university which was located in the suburb and travelled to the city. I made friends with some undergraduate students. Most of them were locals and like us, they joined the programme with the hope of getting new international friends.
It seemed that Eli and I were the only Muslims that joined the trip. After a few rounds in the city, it was time to have dinner. We stopped by at a restaurant near the port. Eli went to find the ladies’ room, and I was already seated at the dinner table. Two of the new friends I met on the bus were in front of me. The seating was arranged in a Harry Potter-like situation. A long table with all the patrons sitting next to each other and also facing those who are sitting in front of them.
Dinner was served and I noticed that they had given me a bowl of fried rice which looked the same as everyone’s else. Since I had specifically tick the Vegetarian box in the form earlier, I was confident that the fried rice served in front of me did not contain anything related to meat. Others had started to enjoy their food, so I too, took a spoonful of the fried rice and was ready to eat. However, before the spoon could be near my lips, one of the new friends sitting in front of me said in a very loud voice, “Stop! Do not eat that. There’s pork inside!” I was shocked and quickly took a tissue paper to wipe off my mouth, hoping that the spoon and me did not make any contact at all.
I rigorously thanked him for giving me that warning and he simply shrugged. I was really grateful to him and felt indebted because there he was, a non-Muslim who could not care less about my religion but still helped to guard my faith. It was also surprising to see someone who does not share the same thought about Islam but was being very respectful indeed. This incident took place very soon after 9-11, and it means that even with Islamophobia spreading its wings to give negative views about Muslims, there are still people out there who believe that this religion is not destructive.
Respects should be earned and not given. Living in a place where Muslims are not only considered as minority but also terrorists, it felt good to know that Islam were not generalize. Radicals and extremists are not part of the religion and had never become part of the Prophet’s teaching. As a Muslim, what better way is there to preach Islam but to show them of who you really are instead of telling them and make them feel more afraid of our religion. If the non-Muslims can find ways to respect our religion and our way of living then we too, should pay the same respect.
Image source: pixabay