A Brief Encounter of Kindness in Chicago


By Maryam Mir

While attending the outdoor commencement ceremonies at  the University of Chicago, I was struck by the warmth of the event regardless of the cold temperature. As I sat listening to the speeches, a young mother and child approached me. The woman, Sarah, smiled towards me as she bent to her daughter, “Give Salam to your Auntie.” I saw a shy face glance my way, “As Salamu Alaikum Auntie.”

After exchanging our greetings, they left to sit on their own. I continued to view the commencement from a turbo TV screen. Sarah and her daughter were sitting close by. I noticed they were by themselves and asked if I could join them. Sarah  graciously accepted my request. We engaged in small talk and searched for our graduates on the TV. Eventually, her husband’s school was called as she held her daughter up, “Look! There’s your daddy!” Her husband was receiving his PhD in Religion, Myshallah.

Finally, the last school was announced. Sarah told me, “Sister, that is your daughter’s school! Can you see her?” I searched the screen but it was next to impossible with the crowd. It was a joyous and humble moment for both of us to share, complete strangers but for our unity of faith and love of education.

We soon parted ways to join our graduates.

Later, reflection set in. I had attended this occasion alone. Yet, a woman whom I’d never met approached me with her four-year-old daughter to greet me. She had seen me first and came to welcome me as a guest, an elder.

I thought of the possibility of us meeting at ‘her’ Masjid or ‘mine,’ or at a community event. I did not wonder
if we would extend greetings to each other at our respected Masjids or social events, as proved by our first meeting. But I did reflect on the general tone set by the variety of community members I’ve met over the years at similar venues.

Those greetings I’ve experienced have been as varied as the people themselves.
They have crossed cultural, ethnic, and economic borders. More often than not, whether it was a young Arab or Pakistani American Muslim, I’ve been approached with Salam on an equal basis. That goes for middle to older aged women as well. Economic class has not been a barrier either.

But by those same descriptions above, I’ve also been shunned. Youngsters will by-pass me to extend greetings to their ethnic or socio-economic status first. Or ignore me all together. The same goes for middle to older aged women.

Recently, I was detoured by a few ladies in the most obvious visual encounter I’ve ever witnessed, as I was the first one in ‘their line’ of greeting. I was completely ignored and chose to chalk ‘that one up as experience’. I may have been a stranger to them, but others in this same social setting were as well. My ethnicity was not the same as theirs.

Which brings up the question of what exactly have we been taught in extending greetings to everyone, equally? What are we teaching our children? Sarah and her daughter, Maryam, approached me, a stranger, at a public event. As far as ethnicity, we were opposites. Yet she took it upon herself to Salam me with her child by her side. Little did she realize just how touching and heart warming their Salams were to me on that chilly day.

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