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Three young adult Muslims were brutally murdered, shot in the head, execution style, in Chapel Hill, NC, a couple of days ago. The man accused has confessed to the murders, claiming that it was over a parking dispute (as if that justifies it). His wife has said that it had nothing to do with the victims’ religion, despite the fact that his Facebook page is full of anti-theist and Islamophobic rhetoric. She has gone as far as to say that the three victims (Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha) were simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I am deeply troubled by this statement, because many will perhaps agree with her. It wasn’t her husband’s fault that he murdered them. It was their fault entirely. Incidentally, the “wrong place” was their house, where he murdered them in cold blood.

Islamophobia is at an all-time high. News agencies, such as Fox News (the term “news” is applied rather loosely here, as I am sure that many will agree that Fox is anything but real news), have done nothing but fuel the fires of religious hatred and intolerance. Their news anchors have even made statements on air that, had they been about any group other that Muslims, they would have been told to retract these statements. People might have even lost their jobs over it, had the target not been Muslims. Islamophobia has given Fox (and others, like CNN and MSNBC) the green light to pretty much say or do whatever they want, with regards to Muslims.

Yesterday, as I was still reeling from the awful, sad news of the deaths of these three, beautiful, gentle young people, I had a thought: If they only knew us. I mean, really knew us. We aren’t really that much different from everyone else.

I can give my own life as an example to how similar it is to that of my non-Muslim neighbors. I am your typical stay-at-home-mom, with typical SAHM issues. I have a pile of laundry that threatens to attack me when I walk into the laundry room. My house is littered in toys and clothes, as if some strange cyclone started at Target, and ended right in my living room floor. My kids watch toxic amounts of TV, and every time I turn around, they are telling me about some app that their dear Disney Jr has told them to download (with a parent’s permission, of course). Certain foods are cause for great, massive meltdowns at the dining table, and junk food is always welcomed with rabid relish.

The fact that I pray five times a day, fast in Ramadhan, don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat pork, and try my best to live my life in accordance to the teachings of my religion, should not make me “foreign” or “different” from my neighbors and fellow countrymen. I don’t walk around my neighborhood, handing out pamphlets on how everyone is going to Hell, unless they start believing in exactly the same things that I do. I don’t condemn people for how they dress, or drink, or eat. I don’t scowl at people because they are different from me. Rather, I do my very best to meet each person with a smile (I have bad days, too, so maybe I don’t walk around all the time with a smile plastered on my face. Maybe, if you see me in the grocery store, you will instead witness a crazy, unhinged woman, arguing with her kids on why they cannot fill the cart with candy and cookies). I don’t impose my beliefs on others.

I really, truly believe that religion (or lack of religion) is a personal choice. I will raise my own children with the teachings of Islam, showing them what it means to be Muslim, and that each and every living person on this planet deserves respect. I will not, however, start telling random people that they should also be Muslim. It’s their business, not mine. My ultimate favorite verse in the Quran translates to mean, “To you be your way, to me be mine” (لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِىَ دِينِ). To me, that sums it up perfectly, how we should view our relationships with people of different faiths.

If people would take the chance to look past the (small) differences, they would see that we, too, are normal human beings, with all the trappings that come with being human. We love, we hate, we laugh, we cry, we rejoice, we mourn. Also, contrary to popular misbelief, we are quite humorous people. Most of us know how to laugh at ourselves. Sure, we do have crazy fanatics (all ethnic and religious groups have their crazies, believe me!), but they are honestly in the minority (just like they are in other groups).

What has happened here, according to public thought, is that one bad Muslim ruins the barrel. I cannot count how many times have people said to me, “You’re not like other Muslims.” I always end up thinking, “really? How many ‘other Muslims‘ do you know?” Since I, myself, happen to be Muslim, I know a lot of Muslims. And, I know a lot of funny Muslims.

The man who killed those young people is clearly someone who has never taken the time to get to know any Muslims. Had he known Deah, Yusor, and Razan, he would have known that they were three beautiful and bright souls. They were not the sort of people that have been portrayed on the news, and in movies. They were kind, and generous, and helped their fellow man, regardless of their faith. Perhaps he would have even grown to like them, seeing past that which “offended” him so greatly.

How they were choosing to live their lives, in service to others, is what is referred to as “stewardship” in Christianity. It’s a deeply rooted concept in Islam, as well, and we are encouraged to help others, be they Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, atheist, etc. The Quran refers to “mankind” (insan, in Arabic), and we are constantly told how we are to treat mankind. We are not told just how to treat our fellow Muslims. We must treat all of mankind with care, compassion, kindness, and respect.

If they only knew.

Inna lilahi wa inna illayhi rajeeon wa la hawla wa la quwatta illa billah! (To God we belong, and to God we shall return, and there is no power or might except in God!)

May Allah grant Deah, Yusor, and Razan the highest level of Jannatul Firdaous (heaven), and may He give comfort and ease to their grieving family. Ameen.