Learn and Lose the Fear

How I learned to stop being afraid and love Islam

Islamophobia has many shades, from a little voice in our head to the full-fledged hate speech that we’re seeing so much of today. I get it, because I used to have it—not the hate-speech stuff, but the general fear of Islam.

After college, I went to work on an economic report on Palestine to be distributed in the Washington Post. I was scared of being around “terrorists,” because that was really all I had heard about Muslim countries. But I went there, and I met kind, gentle and tolerant people.

In 2001, I developed a serious, undiagnosable illness. I was referred to a group that was helping chronic and terminally ill people through spiritual practices in Islam. My immediate response was, I am not a Muslim! But out of sheer desperation, I tried it, and it helped me.

It also led me to a shaykh of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. He was teaching things that I already felt inside, such as the notion that if we all knew our religion, we would know they are the same: the religion of love, peace and mercy. He taught that it’s in God’s wisdom that He created different people and different faiths. He taught that God doesn’t love most those who say they are this religion or that religion, but those who help mankind the most.

I already felt these things inside, because they are universal truths. But I was scared of Islam because it was not what I had been told. For this young Texan, a former cheerleader and sorority a girl, raised in a Catholic family with a grandfather who was friends with George Bush Sr. and helped convince him to run for his first public office, I was the poster child of someone who did not know about Islam. I was afraid of it.

But I learned. Those who are afraid of Islam should learn about it too. Check out Hamza Yusuf, Safi Kaskas and Reza Aslan, American Muslims and scholars who beautifully articulate the real Islam. I hope to share through my memoir what I have learned: that Islam is a faith of peacefulness, tolerance, compassion and love.

Author Denise DuBois lives in Mountain View. Listen to a reading from her memoir, ‘Mercy Me,’ at Copperfield’s Books in Napa on Jan. 20. inkshares.com/projects/mercy-me.

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