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We moved in to a new home, and it needed some pest control. My wife did not trust me to handle roaches that raced like Mario Andretti, so we had to invite and pay a business to come in and spread poison in our home. We proceeded to quickly annoy (unintentionally) this business by putting in multiple calls in a short time - my wife called in to have someone pick up a 6 inch lizard that was caught in some gooey trap. The tech who came by the next day was visibly annoyed to have come down all the way to pick up a tiny but unlucky reptile, only to find out that reptile had somehow escaped. He left empty handed.
After a few days, I was once again forced to call the pest control guy because we had seen two baby roaches. This time, I stayed home to "handle" the situation. The same tech (let's call him Ben) showed up, and the tech wasted no time in explaining to me that patience was key in allowing the chemicals to work (to our credit, we did wait 8 days, and we expected results in 7), and he was no genie to snap his fingers to bring down sudden death upon the unwelcome insects. I understood Ben's frustrations and wanted to let him vent since he was gracious enough to put on his booties upon entering our home. We do pray in our home, and would like to try to keep it clean.
Ben quickly went into a room and was about to spray a location where a prayer mat was left on the ground - I quickly ran ahead and asked him to wait until I moved it out of the way. I did not want to go into a coma by breathing in the neuro-toxins when I go into a sajdah during Maghrib. Ben paused, and said: "Oh no problem, I know what that is, and I am a Muslim too, but I do not practice it much." I, of course, resisted the urge to go into my tabligh-mode and invite him for a 40 day trip to cleanse himself.
We started talking and he mentioned that he grew up in New Jersey and was a Jehova's Witness before accepting Sunni Islam. While he was getting on with his tasks, he mentioned to me that he was trying to be a better Muslim, but some negativity and criticisms had coerced him to 'keep his mouth shut and try to practice quietly.' He rarely lets anyone know that he is a Muslim, and prefers to keep it sort of a secret. Regarding the criticism, he mentioned that his Jehovah's Witness family was upset at him for accepting Islam. Also, his wife was Christian, and the members of his wife's church would pester her by asking, 'How can you be married to a Muslim man?' Some of his Muslim friends would ask Ben, 'How can you be a Muslim and have Jewish friends while they are killing Muslims in Palestine?' Ben went on about how he empathized with his Arab brothers about the ongoing conflict, but he could not get himself to have the same reactions his friends have because he did not grow up in that environment. His environment in New Jersey was among people of different faiths, and he could not be pressured to dislike a group of people. He added that that no matter what religious group he'd go to, that religious group would have a different group of people they loved to judge and hate.
It occurred to me that Ben's perception of Islam is being shaped by people, politics and culture, and not by the teachings of the Qur'an. If Ben, the man who is struggling to stay Muslim, feels this way, we cannot expect the regular public to ignore what Muslims do, and focus on what the Quran says. When Muslims are under constant pressure in the US from all sides, it is up to us to change how Muslims are perceived.