Muslim Friends

Tati headshot

Monday, December 21, 2015

Today I am grateful for my Muslim friends.  And when I say “friends”, I mean friends in the truest sense of the word.  I have been silent since the latest terrorist attacks.  It saddens me beyond belief at the way people (some in government, others on line) assume that all people of the Islamic faith are terrorists.


I am encouraged and inspired to write about this today because of a wonderful, three picture, front page “Day of Giving” piece about the North Penn Mosque, published in The Reporter, my local newspaper.  The poster on the wall in the picture says, “Islam teaches tolerance, not hatred; universal brotherhood, not enmity; peace, and not violence.”  I love that.


Before moving to Jakarta, Indonesia I had no idea about any other religion but Christian and Jewish.  Then I was enlightened.  But not by the mosque a block away, which blasted a call to prayer five times a day; or not by dogmatic shrieking in the streets to follow the zealots at all cost; or not by even attending a mosque.


I became enlightened by watching the people.  I witnessed more kindness than I thought a human was possible of giving.  Yes, I witnessed ritual sacrifices of animals, but not for personal gain. . .to feed the poor people. And when there were animals left in the pen after the holiday, my driver would ask me, “Ibu, You know what is his name?”  I’d assure him I didn’t and he’d say, “Lucky!” Ha-ha, he’d laugh for ten minutes.  I witnessed fasting from dawn to dusk of both water and food, in 98 degree temperatures, while still functioning at their jobs, just to remind them of how blessed they are, when many others are not.


To say that all Muslims are terrorists is like saying that all Christians are like Jimmy Jones, the idiot who told mothers to keep their children quiet while they drank poisonous

Kool-aide, killing hundreds in Guyana.  Radicals abound in every religion, in every country, in every corner of the world.  More people die in wars based on religion.  Check your history.  Sad, but true.


The Muslim people I met, especially my dear, dear friend and sister-of-choice, Tati Azwardi, showed me the gentle side of Islam.  With great compassion she “adopted” two destitute children from a village when the mother couldn’t care for them.  No paperwork.  No legal document.  When I asked what happens if the mother’s situation changes and she comes for them?  She said, “It’s okay.”  Nothing more.  It’s okay?  She was honestly prepared to raise those two boys for years, at full expense and emotional cost to her. . .then hand them back. . . whenever.  It didn’t happen, but it might have.


When Tati was asked a personal question, like how many houses she owned, she would smile, tuck her chin in and smile some more, until it didn’t matter to anyone, even the person inquiring.  Finesse.  The woman was the queen of finesse, grace and kindness.  Far more Muslims exhibit these than violence.


When there was a horrible fire in the kampung (neighborhood) near my house I told Tati I wanted to give them money.  She smiled and tucked in that chin and said, so gently and softly, “I think maybe it is better you buy building items.  Often the low people (her term for poor) do not make good choices with money, because they do not have.  If for building supplies, they work to make it better again.”


I can still picture my household staff and friends, all guys, marching from the lumber yard carrying boards, bags of cement and other building materials on their backs and in push carts from the lumber yard 6 blocks away.  It was like a movie.  The look on the faces of the people in need filled all of our hearts, making each one of those carriers Santa for a day.


There was serious political unrest during the end of our stay in Jakarta.  The American Embassy was sending out alerts using words like “diligence” and “prudence” regarding our movements around the city.  We were concerned for the safety of everyone.  Enter Tati, “You must not be afraid.  We will see you safe and hide you in our house to do so.”


My driver, also a Muslim, was prepared to stick both John and I in the trunk of our car to drive us to safety, a fact that makes me laugh even now.  “Nasir,” I said. “Pak John and I can barely get along in the big house!  Can you imagine us locked into the trunk for 100 kilometers in this heat?”  None of these measure were needed, but they were sincerely offered.  By folks of the Islamic faith.


Tati loved my Indonesian Christmas tree, standing up on a box to make it bigger and decorated with bookmarks, key chains, mini-shadow puppets and other Indonesian gee-gaws.


I remember when she and her husband and son visited us in Pennsylvania shortly after we moved back.  We gave them our bedroom and I walked past the open door one day only to see Tati in full-head-to-toe, stark white, kneeling as she went through her mid-day prayers.  I feel her soft soul in every kind person I meet.  That is the way I know Muslim.


Sadly Tati died many years ago from cancer.  As is their custom, her children sent me an email in her stead apologizing for any slight or unkindness she might have passed my way during her life.  Are you kidding me?  Tati?  Never.  Not ever.  Even though it was too expensive to talk to her 10,000 miles away, we often wrote snail-mail letters.  Her loss is palpable to me now and will be forever.


So you idiotic politicians and pundits go out there and rattle the cage of fear and hatred about all of the Muslims you have never met!  But do it without me.  I doubt you would bother to know any of them and you are showing your true ignorance, so  educate yourself.  Go talk to the people.  Because you are flat-out wrong!  And that is dangerous!


As for me, I am grateful for the kind and gentle Muslims I have known in the past and will continue to meet in the future.  As-salamu alaykum.  (Peace be with you.)

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