I Smiled at a Muslim Woman Today

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The title says it all. I took my kids out for ice cream this afternoon and consequently felt  wholesome, spoiled, and blessed all at once. As the kids licked their cones of world-class chocolate, I walked between our seats and the cashier grabbing napkins, dabbing faces.

I was smiling at the image of my sons relishing their treats when I looked up and saw a woman walking our way. As she passed us, with the smile still firmly on my face, we made eye contact.

Living in San Diego, I often spend time at the Bay, the beaches, or the library and have noted a rising number of religious Muslim couples and families frequenting these same attractions. Sometimes I get the sense that I am being stared at, or maybe even- when they see my husband’s kippah – glared down.  Not wanting any negative attention, I either avert my eyes or attempt a small fleeting shadow of a smile.

Today, at Baskin Robbins, I involuntarily made eye contact and smiled at a Muslim woman. And…

She smiled back.

Our smiles didn’t halt or slow down any of the cruelty and violence issued out by Islamic States, Muslim Brotherhoods, or Islamic militant groups like Hamas. We changed nothing. I don’t even know what she was thinking.

“The Torah ideal is to greet each and every person with a pleasant facial expression.” But what about a woman who may support jihadi groups (which have more than doubled over the last few years)?

I certainly have no obligation to smile at an enemy, do I?

On the other hand, what if she doesn’t align herself or support the feelings behind such hateful groups? Surely this, too, is a fair and strong possibility.

A Talmudic pearl of wisdom that was passed on to me and has caught on as a common Hebrew expression: Respect & Suspect. We have an obligation to treat everyone with the utmost respect and we also have an obligation to exercise prudence, to take cautionary measures, and not trust those very people we are honoring.

In other words, I fully respect the mystery woman who I encountered and I have every right to suspect her as well.

My six year old boy, with his kippah and peyot, is all too familiar with bomb shelters, Hamas, and antisemitism. Somehow, he caught the exchange between this woman and me.

My son and I were both thinking the same thing but neither one of us said a word. We just looked at one another and…smiled.

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2 responses »

  1. During times when there is less tension, I usually feel a sort of solidarity with muslim women, I guess because we’re both wearing something on our heads that makes us conspicuously religious. But during these harder times, it is harder to feel like smiling. I’m glad you did. Sometimes just a small gesture like that can make a big difference.

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