I took my grandson to the library the other day and while I was thumbing through the movies, a boy of eight or so came up to me and solemnly said, “Asalaamu alaikum.” At first I didn’t realize that he was speaking to me, but then my brain put two and two together (me, wearing my hijab; he, speaking Arabic, equals Muslims!) and I answered, “Wa alaikum salaam.” Then I asked him, “Do you speak Arabic?” And he answered, “A little.”
“So you’d know what I’m saying when I say ‘Khayfa haluk?”I said.
He quickly corrected my pronunciation. “It’s ‘Khayfa hallak,'” he said. “But, yes, I know what you mean.”
Then he walked away leaving me with the warm glow I always get when I’m greeted by another Muslim.
Later on, when my grandson and I were using the self-checkout, he approached me again.
“Khayfa hallak?” he asked.
“Ana bikhayr,” I answered. “I suppose I didn’t say that right either.”
He grinned.”That’s okay. Not many people know Arabic.”
I introduced him to my grandson, and he nodded at him and said, “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
After he left, my grandson asked me how I knew him. “I don’t,” I said.
“Then how does he know you?”
“He doesn’t. He just knows I’m a Muslim because I’m wearing a hijab and he wanted to say hi.”
I wondered what had made a young boy want to approach a strange lady and greet her, Muslim to Muslim. Was he surprised to see me? Feeling a need to connect to another Muslim? Proud of being one?
All of these, I suspect. I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I’m Muslim, even though I’m wearing a hijab, probably because they can’t believe that a Westerner could also be a Muslim. They don’t trust the evidence that they can see right in front of them. I suppose that makes me a curiosity.
But when I tell other Muslims that I am indeed a Muslim, I’m rewarded with a huge smile and a “Mashallah!”
I wish I could tell them that I’m not a very good Muslim, that they shouldn’t be proud of me. But I know it’s not me that they’re proud of. They’re happy—no, thrilled—that a non-Muslim recognizes the beauty of their religion. Our religion.
And I do. Even though I know I need to improve immensely, I am so grateful that Allah guided me to Islam. I’ve never felt so close to Him. I have always believed that He exists, even from childhood. But Islam has made it possible for me to feel my connection to Him more strongly.
Sometimes, however, I don’t feel the same connection to other Muslims. But the other day in the library, I did. I wish I had asked the boy his name. But I will never forget his shy smile and warm greeting.
“Wa alaikum salaam.”