Once in a fleemarket, a woman showed me photos from her son’s wedding, proudly telling me that her new daughter-in-law was smart, beautiful and a dentist. The bride looked great, as brides usually do, her black curls spilling down over her chrystal white wedding dress.
“She’s Iranian”, the woman said, apologetically. “But she’s born here in Sweden, and she’s not a fanatic Muslim.” The woman’s friend chimed in: “Oh no, not fanatic at all!”
I always find such comments sad, because for me the bride could have had any religion, she could even have been a fanatic, as long as she respected me for who I am (and shared a fair amount of respect for others in general). I have a friend here in Sweden who supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which I don’t, and there are many things we might never agree on – but we don’t try to change each other. She has never tried to convince me about her belief, and I would never ask her to go with me in a bikini to the beach, or go clubbing. Yes, I have met religious people that have made efforts in making me convert to or gain interest in their religion; but most people I have met during my lifetime have not tried to press their religion on me, and respect work both ways.
Especially being a Muslim or Arab in Europe or US can be such a stigma, discussed in the book “How does it feel to be a problem? Being Young and Arab in America” (Moustafa Bayoumi 2008), and Europe might need a similar study the way intolerance is setting the agenda here. I also believe that by reaffirming that someone being a Muslim is “not a fanatic” reinforces the stereotypes. What if someone is proud of being a conservative Muslim? Why is it a problem?
If I was the bride in the photos I once saw, I wouldn’t want my mother-in-law to describe me as a not-fanatic-Muslim. And if anyone asked my mother-in-law if I was, I wish she would answer: “Well I don’t know. But she’s still smart, beautiful and a dentist.”
Photo credit: http://www.muslimgirl.net