When I think of the religion of Islam, I think of the word radical. Although we hear these two words coupled together often, my understanding of them is fundamentally different than the phrase espoused from the cold white buildings of Washington, DC. No, instead I think of Radical Islam, in terms of radical kindness, radical goodness, radical advocacy for goodness in the worldly space that one occupies. Radical kindness is defined as taking on the serious, impact, and (sometimes) aggressive effort to treat everyone with kindness. So when I hear radical being used in this sense, it only makes sense for me to think of Islam, a religion I have been surrounded by since I first moved to Malaysia over two years ago.
It only makes sense that I think of radical compassion when I hear the phrase “radical Islam”. I think of walking outside my door to go to school, only to find a plate of fried mee hoon on car from Aella’s mom who discouraged the fact that I never ate breakfast in the morning. I think of the first week at my school, when I couldn’t recognize any faces, teachers or students, and one stood up at the welcome feast telling me I was part of the school family and how happy they were to have me there. I think of my boyfriend’s parents allowing me to live with them for 6 months, inviting me into their home and telling me I had to eat something besides instant noodles. I think of Sofia Gila planning an entire birthday party for me in her classroom, just after I’d had one of the most stressful weeks of school. I think of Ami driving to my house at 2 in the morning while I was asleep and yelling outside my window to wake up because I had forgotten to pick up Jessi in Tuaran and she had been waiting for me for hours and “we have to go now, I’ll drive, you sleep in the car.” I think of my car rides with Rehan, when she would teach about Islam and explain to me how at Mecca, Muhammad would tell Christian leaders to pray there, for they would be safe with their Muslim brothers protecting them.
I think of that one day in Pantai Emas, where I finished an entire bag of coffee in just a few days and my boyfriend’s dad laughed in my face as I tried to give him money as he sent my boyfriend to buy a new bag. I think of Christmas this past year, when I woke up to notifications on Facebook from my boyfriend’s sisters and cousins, wishing me a Merry Christmas, a Selamat Hari Natal, on my Facebook wall. I think of each time Inak (Mom) and Amah (Dad) brought me to the airport, to send me back to the US the first time, to fly to Singapore to take the GRE, or to send me off this past December and Inak forcing 100 ringgit into my hand each time. I think of my other Inak as soon as she heard I had a headache, dumping my head under the sink, and spending the next hour massaging and shampooing my head, long after the ache had disappeared. I think of the first time I held a speaking workshop at school, terrified no one would show up because it was a yoga class, only to arrive in a classroom filled with girls, their black hijabs against the bright pink yoga mats. I think of Arfah and Aella sending me off to the airport the first time, accompanying me right to the security gate, remembering everything they had done for me in that year. I think of how I locked my car keys inside the house on that last morning as how Aella’s dad came over, and tried to bang the door down so I could get the keys and get to the airport in time. I think of Monday mornings at school assembly, when each speaker would stand at the microphone and greet everyone with Assalamualaikum, peace be upon you, before their announcements began. I think of Khaled Beydoun, a professor of law who is also Muslim, who spent the days after the terrorist attack in New Zealand, sharing the stories of the victims, bringing life to those whose lives had been taken.
So yes, when I think of Islam, how could I not think of radical? How could I not think of the people I know who practice this religion, who call themselves Muslim, and who live each day forcing goodness and kindness in the world around them, despite what others may say about them.