When people put their mind to it they can do anything. Anything! One of the great poets of the 20th century once said, ‘the hand of the believer is the hand of God, dominant, resourceful, full of light…..His heart is indifferent to the riches of the world.’ Where some people see barriers, others see challenges. When some stop, others excel, and so it is with Bilqis Abdul Qaadir, a senior high school student who has broken the record for the most points scored in a high school basketball career by either male or female for the state of Massachusetts. Coming from the home of Tarheel and Blue Devil basketball that’s no small feat in my opinion so Ms. Abdul Qaadir deserves major respect. However what she has done so well in, playing basketball, is overshadowed by the fact that she did it while being an observant Muslim adult woman, wearing the hijab and covering herself, albeit innovatively, according to her religious tradition. The young lady seems to have everything going for her, a loving family with both parents involved in her life and an eye towards life after collegiate basketball and she has managed that without any trace of bitterness or victimhood built up after years of Islamophobia in this country. My hats off to her and I wish her all the success in the world. She’s a role model, as a woman, a Muslim, a student athlete, and a member of this society we all can look up to.
Americans, and those who live within its borders, come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and while some of the American dream and the meaning of the words, ‘send me your tired and your poor; your huddled masses yearning to be free’ has not always turned out the way those huddled masses wanted at the time, America has been a largely successful experiment.
It is however, a work in progress, continually defined, reshaped, molded in a way that meets the needs of most of the 300 million plus who live within its borders. America has seen all sorts of people come and go. Many have blended and integrated themselves into the social fabric, indistinguishable from the whole, while others have chosen to retain their identities. The common thread has always been the rule of law that’s kept the entire cloth from unravelling.
Sure there are times in the Nation’s history we can point to when the administration of the law has not been equitable, but social agitation (something sorely missed in today’s citizenry) always corrected that inequity which resulted in a better mix of brown, whites, reds, and yellows. We discovered along the way that it wasn’t necessary to lose those colors or attitudes in the elixir of America; that sometimes it was healthy to keep them distinguished not seperated, visible, not homogenized, ‘in order to form a more perfect union.’
So it is that now we have black, white, Jew, Gentile, Muslim unbeliever living, perhaps askew, but in relative peace and with the knowledge they can take their grievance to the Law should the need arise. This is what happened to Amal Hersi a Somali American Muslim woman who was told service at a credit union was only possible if she blended and forsake her Muslim identity.
For Amal this was not an option, so she took her case to a higher authority, in this instance the people in charge of the credit union. No doubt the employee of the bank forgot their roots, forgot that despite the finely coiffed hair and contemporary styled clothes they wore that day, they most likely had an acestor, perhaps not too far in their past who looked like Amal and chose to stay that way…….or not. Most likely that distant relative decided when he/she ran into an obdurate public servant bent on defining their place in the American fabric they weren’t going to bend and that act of resistance made it possible for Amal to refuse today, which made the quilt that much more pretty and pliable for the common good.
Muslim women in the West have defined their role as one of modesty wrapped in clothes they’ve chosen to express their identity. In most cases, if not all, it is their conscious choice to wear hijab just as they also choose to obey the law and just as there is no penalty for embracing the latter, neither should there be for the former. The officials of the credit union, more in touch with the spirit of the Law than the wayward employee who started this all, recognized that instantly and issued a statement which said in part:
Navy Federal values and respects all its members. Working with the law enforcement community, we have recently implemented a policy to make sure we can positively identify everyone we serve in our many branches.
Navy Federal weighed very carefully the need to accommodate religious and cultural customs, as well as medical conditions. Our policy does not prohibit nor discourage the use of headscarves, and will make sure it’s thoroughly understood to all employees.
I salute them and nothing further needs to be addressed to them. To the employee who lost her way I would encourage a quick visual primer on American history. Perhaps they will see someone they know or someone who looks like them. While they’re at it they’ll most likely see someone who looks like Amal Hersi too.