When I was 15 a new family moved into my neighborhood.
Everyday I walked pass their house on my way to school. The oldest girl would stand on the porch and wait for the rest of her siblings, so that they all could walk to school together. I would smile and wave and she would do the same. We would pass each other in the hall at school and again we would smile and wave.
One day on my way home from school I noticed her walking ahead of me, I caught up with her and introduced myself, from that day on we became inseparable.She spoke broken English, but I still managed to understand her. She and her family had come over from Afghanistan to escape the Russians. Her Father was a top General in the Afghanistan military and they were devout Muslims.
Jamala was the oldest of four children. She had two brothers and a sister. Whenever we went for walks with her siblings, she would walk behind her brothers, even the four-year-old. I found this practice to be quite ridiculous, having a little brother of my own there’s no way I would ever walk behind him, but she explained to me that it was the Muslim way, and I respected the fact that this is something she had to do.
Her family interacted just like any other family. Her parents had a very loving relationship with each other and with their children. She invited me over for dinner and the food was outstanding! Although I found it very spicy, it was sort of like Mexican food without the beans. When we sat down at the table to eat Jamala, her mother and her little sister would stand, until the males in the family sat down. Being the typical American teenage girl, I found this to be beneath me, but I was a guest in their home and I had to respect their practices.
Her father got a job at the local supermarket. He soon earned enough money to buy a used car, and we would all ride to school together. . . Which was pretty awesome, considering how brutal winters can be in New York. I introduced her to my other friends, Leah who had come over from Cambodia and Esther who was from Puerto Rico.
We were known around the school as the “international friendship club.” The four of us talked on the phone, went to the mall, and listened to music just like any other teenagers. We learned a lot from each other, I think the most important lesson we learned is that no matter what religion you belong to or what race you are, you can always find common ground with others.
Although we all spoke different languages, we understood the feeling of being unsure of yourself, feeling awkward about your looks and just trying to fit in at high school. Now that I’m an adult, I look back on that experience and I’ve come to realize that there are so many Americans who don’t have a clue as to what Muslims stand for. As an American woman, even as a teenage girl I was offended by the second class status of Muslim women. However I never once spoke against the teachings of Islam to my friend. It never crossed my mind to try to convert my friend to a more liberated way of thinking.
Eventually the Russians were run out of Afghanistan and Jamala and her family returned home. That was my first experience with Muslims. It is one I will never forget. I learned a lot about their religion and their culture. The Muslims that are creating havoc around the world do not represent the majority of Muslims.
This is a war between the United States and terrorist, not The United States and people of the Muslim faith.