Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Facing Prejudice: At Lifeway

My sister Ali and I decided to test the level of prejudice that exists in my small Texan city by dressing Ali up in a black hijab and visiting public places.  We chose to visit a Christian bookstore first because Ali and I are both Christians, and we wanted to see how fellow believers would treat someone of an opposite religion.  We decided to visit Lifeway Christian Store.

To be honest, Ali and I weren't quite sure how the store clerks would respond.  Would they ask Ali questions?  Would they P1000706.jpgcounsel her?  Would they be eager to show her around the store as an opportunity to be a witness?  We were fairly certain that the workers at the Christian bookstore would hold very little prejudice... I mean, the Bible teaches us to love everyone.  Why would there be prejudice in a store that sells Bibles?

For this experiment, Ali and I went together as friends, bumping shoulders and holding arms and talking quietly amongst ourselves like teenage friends would.  I wore a Christian t-shirt that said "Jesus Saves" boldly across the front.  Ali wore her black hijab.

When we first entered the Christian bookstore, smiling and acting as friendly and approachable as possible, no one approached us.  No one greeted us from the front desk, as is customary for stores like Lifeway.  No one asked us if we needed any help.  Ali received a few discreet stares from customers, which we expected.  After all, a Muslim girl walking into a Christian bookstore is a strange occurrence.  The looks weren't glares.  However, we received no smiles and no greetings from anyone at all.

As we entered the store, a young female worker walked in front of us.  We both lifted our heads and smiled at her, and I said, "Hi," but she nodded quickly at me and didn't even look at Ali once.  It was like the young woman was afraid to acknowledge Ali or even offer her a smile, for fear of how Ali would respond.

Ali and I meandered about the store for a little while, browsing through books for about six or seven minutes before a man finally walked up to us and asked me if we needed any assistance.  "Do you sell the Quest Study Bible?" I asked, quickly thinking of an opportunity to interact with a stranger.  The man nodded and led us to the Bible aisle, never once giving Ali a word or even a glance.  He completely ignored her.  He told me a little bit about the Bibles available and then walked away.

Ali and I were stunned.

You'd think that a Muslim girl walking into a Christian bookstore would be considered an excellent opportunity for Christians to witness or at least to act as positive examples for Jesus Christ, but absolutely no one would look at her.  She was completely ignored.

Later, when I asked Ali if anyone acknowledged her whatsoever, she replied, "There was one lady. She wasn't a worker- she was just a customer- and she actually smiled at me.  We were in there for about thirty [or] forty minutes, and she was the only person that smiled at me.  Isn't that sad?  That's sad."

After a few more minutes of skimming through the Bibles, I left Ali alone in that aisle and walked up to the front desk.  I asked if they carried "The Way of the Master" by Ray Comfort.  One of the female cashiers asked, "What's that about?"  The same man who had directed me to the Bibles earlier said, "It's an evangelical tool."  The look on the woman's face was priceless when she blurted, "Ohhhhhhhhh...." as if everything made more sense after that.

I finally decided to purchase "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan, and Ali went to the front desk with me, standing quietly at my side as I purchased the book.  "Do you need anything else?" the male cashier asked, looking only at me.

"No thank you," I replied.  The man said nothing else.

As Ali and I left the bookstore, still no one dared to look her in the eye or speak to her even once.

We piled into my car in stunned silence, shocked at the strange response we'd received from the workers at the bookstore.  Ali wasn't given dirty looks, but no one smiled at her.  I was treated kindly with smiles and words, but everyone seemed intimidated by Ali's presence, like she was an alien from a foreign planet who might bite if someone dared speak to her.

"[This] was very weird," Ali said after being asked about the experience. "People would avoid me, and whenever we talked to them- or whenever Emily [talked to them]- they just kind of talked to her.  Even though I was standing right beside her, they didn't really look at me.  It was just really strange; almost kind of disappointing because Lifeway's actually one of my favorite stores.  I thought they would have been more of a shining light for a Muslim girl like me."

"What was your overall impression of this experience?"

"[I'm] kind of disappointed," Ali replied, shrugging her shoulders sadly.  "And actually, to be completely honest, I think my reaction would probably be about the same.  I would be scared to talk to someone, you know, just because I don't want P1000709.jpgto offend them.  Maybe they just don't know [where] to draw the line.  But this is something that I will definitely use."

It's true.  Perhaps people avoid Muslim women entirely out of fear of seeming offensive or acting like they're staring, but feeling ignored can feel just as awful as feeling stared at, as Ali experienced while at Lifeway.  She told me, shaking her head with wonder, "When that lady smiled, I just felt like a regular person, which is really weird.  I think we just need to acknowledge different people more."

While I'm glad that Ali received no dirty looks while in Lifeway, I'm disappointed that she received only one smile from a customer, no greetings, and no kind words.  Jesus was an example to Christians when He spoke kindly to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  Jesus was a Jew, and Jews and Samaritans were total enemies, a lot like some Muslims and Christians are today.  However, Jesus was kind to the Samaritan woman.  He spoke to her and treated her with love and mercy, despite their differences.  We should use Jesus's actions as an example of how to treat those who are different and who believe different things than we do.

The biggest lesson I learned while visiting the Christian bookstore was that while I shouldn't openly stare at people who are dressed differently than I am, I need to be sure to smile at them and show kindness.  There's no better way to be an example for Christ than to act like a loving and kind friend to anyone and everyone.  I'll be sure to deliberately smile at everyone- including Muslims- from now on.


  1. Hi, Iwould just like to say that I really aprecieate this. My best freind is a muzlum. She is very out-going and not at all secluded and meek like described. I am a faithful christian and invite her to Church every time it rolls around (keep me an her in your prayers please :) ) She makes eyes contact with boys, infact she'll stare them down if she finds it nessasary. There is only one time that I have ever in a hijab, it was while I was at her house late. It was around 8:00 and she had to say her prayers before she went to bed. I walked in on her praying (with her little sista) and she jumped up from her mat and yelled at me to get out. I'll tell you something, the religion itself creeps me out, I was shell shocked after seeing her like that -it just sorta sunk in that she really practiced it. you know?

  2. Gee, talk about a social experiment. Sometimes I feel like my whole life is one big Christian social experiment, lol.

    Great job. I am saddened to see that nobody stepped up to the plate to witness, but perhaps because she came into the store with somebody boldly proclaiming the be Christian (with the shirt) perhaps they figured it was already taken care of. Other than that I would think it all boils down to fear. People are so afraid to talk to other people about the Lord and be rejected.

  3. Hey Emily,
    I'm from Susie, and followed your signature here. Good stuff!
    Good for you for having the courage to do something like this! I have to admit that I was skeptical (and still am a bit) about this project, but I am finding it very interesting so far!

    Here's one thought.. perhaps people just didn't know what to make of Ali. I mean, Muslim girls don't (at least, I've NEVER witnessed a Muslim woman) act like how you described. They're supposed to be meek and proper and silent and reserved, not looking anyone (especially men) in the eyes.. (not be an 'average' teenage girl :P) And I for one would be shocked silly to see one act otherwise. (Which perhaps demonstrates that I need to get out more and see more of the world? :D)

    However, you are making me ponder my position on my whole attitude. I will admit, that when I see someone who's obviously Muslim, I am scared. (Of course, fear is not the attitude for a Christian, in any situation). But I am seriously terrified of what they believe. And to see a practicing Muslim rather repulses me, sorry to say. If I didn't know what they believed, it'd probably be easier. Ahh.. not too long ago, my family (minus me) had a run-in with a Muslim man, who scared the wits out of them..

    If a Muslim woman and I did happen to meet eyes, I WOULD smile at her, as that is my habitual response. I would just then feel worried that she felt I was patronizing her or something..

    lol, that was more than one thought.. sorry. :P

  4. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks so much for giving your feedback. :) I just wanted to point out that we mentioned in our first post about this project how Ali would act towards people. She was very careful to not look any men in the eye, and if you notice, I did pretty much all of the talking at Lifeway. Ali was very careful to act meek and kind when around others. She wasn't loud (neither of us are normally anyways, so that wasn't hard to pull off!) and we were only "talking quietly amongst ourselves" as I wrote above. Americanized Muslim girls are allowed to talk in public with their friends, after all. :) While Ali was smiling as we walked through the store and trying to appear approachable, she wasn't loud or outspoken and she never spoke to or looked directly at men.

    I would definitely suggest that you research more about the Muslim faith outside of terrorism and extremists. Identifying all Muslims as scary is like identifying all Christians like the people from Westboro Baptist Church who hold up the "God Loves Dead Soldiers" signs. There are definitely very sincere, loving, and kind Muslims, even if they don't share our faith. :)

    If you have any questions, definitely feel free to ask them. I'd love to hear from you. :)


  5. Hey Emily,

    Ok then, I missed that part somehow (the first post about Ali's overall behaviour), and still can't find it anywhere, so I am just going off this post. :) Thanks for answering me.

    What is the Muslim faith outside of terrorism and extremists? Do you have any resources I could turn to? 'Terrorism and extremists' are just those who follow the Koran more faithfully than the 'peaceful Muslims', are they not? The terrorists are the 'true' Muslims. I've read bits of the Koran, and the book itself is scary. Contrast this with the Westboro Baptism Church which is not being faithful to the Bible. Christians like these (those who pick and choose what to believe) are like Muslims who pick and choose what of the Koran they want to live by. And those type of Muslims I can definitely live with.

    I know when I see a Muslim woman that she's a terrorist, of course. But unfortunately, knowing what the Muslim faith is makes me less than comfortable. I'm just really wary, and can't help it.

    I hope you don't think I'm condemning your project here.. Perhaps what I am feeling IS prejudice, I don't know.

    God bless.

  6. oops!!!! I meant "I know when I see a Muslim woman that she's *NOT* a terrorist, of course."

    sorry 'bout that.. :-/

  7. Hi Sarah,

    I wrote a long response to your comment and for some reason, it didn't seem to post. If if shows up later, I'll delete this one.

    Okay, here are some resources I thought you might appreciate.
    This one is a link that talks about what average Muslims believe about certain issues and it basically describes Islam outside of terrorism: http://www.islamicity.com/mosque/uiatm/un_islam.htm
    And this one is a YouTube video showing quotes from prominent Muslim leaders who denounce terrorism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuclQk5jm9s

    Basically what I said in my first comment is that there are two kinds of jihad or "holy war" that Muslims believe in, according to what I've read. One is Lesser Jihad and one is Greater Jihad. Lesser Jihad is a type of spiritual warfare that most Muslims believe that Qur'an is talking about when it mentions jihad. Greater Jihad is talking about physical warfare, but in every verse that might be taken as Greater Jihad I've found in the Qur'an, it's only advocated as retaliation, not as an initiation of war.

    The members of WBC believe that they're following the Bible to the letter. They have Bible verses all over their website. However, most Christians believe that that church is misinterpreting the Bible. The same goes with Muslim extremists and moderates. While the members of the WBC might say that they're the true Christians, we say otherwise. Moderate Muslims don't think that the terrorists are the obedient and true Muslims; they believe that they're misinterpreting their faith. If you even Google "Muslims denounce terrorism" you can find a lot of articles about that subject.

    Don't worry- even if you were bluntly condemning my project, I wouldn't be offended because everyone will see my experiment differently. However, I don't mind explaining why I believe what I believe.

    I'm not a Muslim- I'm a Christian- so I have a LOT of issues with Islam, but no more than I do with other religions, such as Buddhism and atheism. There are some Muslim terrorists, of course, but most Muslims aren't... and in fact, most terrorists aren't Muslim. According to a CNN article I read, out of 136,000 murders in the US after 9/11, fewer than three dozen were caused by Muslims.

    I think that as Christians and even as Americans, we've been raised to have a distaste for Muslims that is definitely a form of prejudice. Do we have to agree with their beliefs? Absolutely not. But should we treat them like anyone else? Absolutely. :) We should reach out to them and share our faith, just like we would to the people of any other religion. A great way to do so is through our actions, by smiling and kindness and acting as shining lights for Christ.

    I hope this has helped you in some way. Feel free to ask any more questions, and have a great day. :)


  8. Emily,

    I just want to encourage you and your friend Ali in this project in particular, and in your walks with the Lord in general. That is a bold and mature step to take in confronting prejudice by putting yourself in vulnerable shoes, and it says a lot about your character and your commitment to the Lord and to the love that we live in and are called to share in Christ with everyone. I hope and pray that you will be encouraged and convicted by this project to all the more have a heart to keep reaching out in love with the compassion of Jesus Christ, and that somehow this will open some people's eyes to the need to reach beyond ourselves with the love that we have been given, which is always meant to be shared. Thank you for your witness for Christ, and may you continue to boldly live on in his love to confront with the power of the love of God everything that stands against it!

  9. Wow! This post was so interesting...I sometimes end up ignoring people because I'm afraid of offending them or seeming like I'm staring at them (usually this happens with disabled people) but now I'm just going to smile at them and be nice. You guys are so awesome for doing this, and thanks for sharing the story :)