In thirty-two odd years that I call United States home, I can remember only two incidents of bigotry that have really upset me. This is remarkable, living in Texas, which has its share of dogmatists and especially after the events of 9-11.
The first time, when I am strapped for funds, putting myself through University of Houston, TX, by working the graveyard shift at 7-11, eleven PM to seven AM six days a week with twelve course credits at UH. I am sweeping curb area outside at about 2AM when a dark Buick pulls up and a ‘man’ enters the store and buys beer. I hand over change to ‘him’ with a ‘thank you Sir’ and ‘he’ explodes. Sir? (s)he shouts, groping at breasts, did you call me Sir? Confused, I look up and offer a nervous Um, thank you ma’am? (S)he looks like a man, masculine tenor and face, close cropped hair and a shadow of stubble on the face. (S)he stares at me, mutters something unintelligible and exits the store. The car leaves but comes crawling back in about thirty minutes and I immediately get a feeling of trepidation; I worry hard.
Sure enough, a man comes out of the vehicle clutching a firearm; my mouth goes dry and my heart starts beating erratically, to the tune of a paagal tabla player. I have never seen a gun, ever; the one this man totes looks black and menacingly ugly. I start reciting the kalema and soora Ikhlaas (this has worked like a charm, for me, every tight spot in my life) repeatedly. The bandana clad man, tall, heavy set with budging muscles sets the ugly thing on the counter, it’s barrel facing me. Why did you insult my girlfriend? He rasps rapidly, almost whispering, making it hard to understand him. I have now broken into a sweat but my soora is ongoing in my head. I am really, really sorry Sir, I plead, praying this dude really is a Sir this time. I made a terrible mistake; I did not intend to insult the lady. Please forgive my ignorance. I…’
‘Oh, shut up, you f------ brown n-----, hisses the man, picks up the gun and storms out. The Buick backs out with tires screeching, nearly hitting my parked beat-up car and goes flying out into a deserted Gesner Road. I run to the washroom at the back and empty my busting nervous bladder. I call the cops, only to be advised I work a very dangerous job at a very dangerous time of day in a very dangerous city.
The second incident happens last Tuesday, May 15 at about 11AM, at an Indian Hindu operated store, House of Spices in Longwood, FL, suburb of greater Orlando. As per opening hour of operation stated on the storefront, 10:30AM, I am there on the dot and wait until 10:45AM. When the owner still has not shown up, I leave to finish other errands, quiet flustered since this is probably the third time these guys have tarried. When I return just after 11AM to the smell of hing and incense sticks and the humming of bajans, I irritably but politely suggest to the lady they should change the opening time in the storefront to 11AM since it is the actual time they open, she becomes instantly, understandably, defensive. The conversation goes somewhat like this, in Hinglish:
It is not that we open late every day, you know?
Well, Ma’am, this is at least the third time I come between 10:30 and 11:00 to find the store locked.
Aree, we cannot have perfect timing, you know?
Yes I know and understand, Ma’am. All I am saying is you change the time to reflect the actual time you open, so your customers will not be inconvenienced…
Aree, pan I told you we are not late every time, you know? Sometimes there is heavy traffic, you know…
Well, Ma’am you run a business, customers like me look at the timing posted in your store and the Internet to plan our shopping…
Aree Baba, she folds her hands, if you feel our timing are not suitable for you I request you not to shop at our store.
Flabbergasted, I open my mouth to protest but she cuts me off.
Aree, I told you, nai. I have just opened the store and you are the first person to enter it, I don’t want a bad start to the day. Please leave.
Stunned, I leave, my mind is already thinking of an alternate store I can shop for Indian spices when a man, presumably the husband, follows me outside. He accuses me of being impolite to the lady, I refute the allegation, he threatens to call the cops, I offer to call them for him; he wags a finger very close to my face. The man is puny, does not have a gun on him so I do not feel threatened. I laugh an ugly, sarcastic laugh and open my car door to leave.
If I ever see you near my store again, you Muslim dog…
This statement is like a prolonged power jolt through my body, which tenses, ready to lash out at the filthy slur. The man must have sensed the fury in my eyes for he scurries close to the store entrance, sudden fear in his eyes, eyes that move this way and that. I swear this is a very difficult moment for me, to control a blinding rage, follow him inside the store and do some severe damage to his unholy crown jewels. Suddenly alhamd’Allah, a calm overcomes me and for some inexplicable reason, I laugh again, get inside the car and drive away.
In anger or jest, I have been called by several unholy names in the past, worse than a dog, but never with a Muslim tag. That really hurt for a moment but Allah (S), kept my honor and dignity intact by not lowering myself with a verbal or physical response that would shame my religion.
My efforts at shaming the storeowners by better akhlaaq response of protest phone call campaign from a united community is wholeheartedly supported countrywide, save for individuals whose response is predictable this day and age; look at worldwide Muslim disunity and you will understand my point perfectly. Astonishing. Illogical. Unconscionable. Fortunately irrelevant. Islam and Muslims will survive them.