"Exhibiting You" - Story


By: Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
Submitted: 07/26/2008

A colleague named Beth recently approached me about a mutual patient. Beth explained that she was somewhat annoyed and insulted because this patient had confided some very bigoted ideas to her... about me.

I am accustomed to people having skewed perceptions about me. I know that I strike a certain amount of fascination, fear, and even anger in the hearts and minds of many of the people that I come across on a daily basis.

I am an oncology nurse and I work in a world-renowned cancer center in Houston, Texas. On a daily basis, I meet people from all lifestyles, from all over the world. I have come to be all too familiar with the look of astonishment on the faces of my patients first when I walk into the room wearing a hijab and a name badge printed with the name Muhammad-Ali.

Then, when I open my mouth and speak, there is an entirely different look that shadows the faces of my patients and their families. They had expected to hear a Middle-Eastern or African accent. They had expected me to be soft spoken and meek. They never expected me to command the room, speak with authority, or with an accent that hints of New England.

Apparently, this mutual patient of ours, a New Yorker, was determined when she first met me that she would not like me because I am a Muslim, and because Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 attacks in 2001. She divulged to Beth that she believed that I was guilty by association.

Though she never showed me the slightest bit of animosity, she felt comfortable sharing this with my colleague, a white Christian woman, like herself. She shared that these were her first impressions about me, but that something had shifted and she was powerless to move against that turning tide. She liked me, and she could not help it. She liked me a lot.
What does religion have to do with it? My patient had decided based on religion alone that I was not a good person. More significantly, it is because of my religion, my deep faith in Allah, that I am the type of person that I am, strong enough of presence and kindness to ultimately change her heart about me, though I did not do this intentionally. I am an oncology nurse for many reasons, not the least of which is the desire to do my service to God, which would mean doing service to his creation. I was kind to this patient, as I am with all of my patients. I held her hand as she told me stories of her troubled childhood. I have called her unexpectedly, simply to learn how she is doing, if there was anything that she needed, any help or advice. After each visit to my clinic, she gives me a hug, she thanks me, tells me how much I have done for her.

Religion has everything to do with the person I have grown to be; it is my moral compass, my tuning fork, my flashlight in a world that sometimes seems so dark. Religion, in my case, Islam, sets the rules for me, and is my guide for interactions with other human beings. Those that I interact with, who may feel positively impacted by me, are so because of my religion, though they may never know or realize it.

What does religion have to do with it? Everything.

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