My sister Ali and I decided to create a social experiment of sorts. Ali dressed up in a Muslim hijab for a day and visited various locations in our small Texas city, curious to see how our community treated the Muslim minority. During an afternoon, Ali and I visited Lifeway Christian Store and several stores in the mall. Finally, we chose to visit a smaller local Christian bookstore in my city to see how both its workers and customers treated Ali.
This time around, Ali and I chose to pretend we didn't know each other. I entered the store two or three minutes before Ali did, nodded and smiled when the female cashier at the front desk greeted me, and turned to examine some decorative crosses on a table towards the front of the shop.
Minutes passed and Ali walked in, earning curious stares from the two or three customers in the store. I glanced up at her to appear like any other customer, but resumed my examination of the crosses. Much to my surprise and delight, the cashier greeted Ali, just like she had greeted me. "How may I help you?"
"Could you help me find the Quest Study Bible?" Ali asked, just as we had rehearsed. The cashier seemed willing enough. She acted completely normal as she led Ali to the Bible aisle and pointed out the Bible Ali wanted before heading back to the front desk.
Ali meandered about the small bookstore, flipping through pages and glancing over Scripture cards before walking back to the front desk. "I'd like to order a pre-owned copy of Like Dandelion Dust by Karen Kingsbury." I had no idea what Ali was talking about; this wasn't what we had planned, but I waited patiently as Ali placed the order. When the cashier asked her name, much to our hilarity, Ali replied, "Ali," but pronounced her name "AH-lee" rather than "Allie." Ali's name is actually a shortened version of Alejandra, but because of its spelling, people often mistake it for the Middle Eastern pronunciation, which came in handy that day.
After a few moments, Ali completed her order and left the store, heading to my car, which was parked discreetly behind the building. I browsed for a few more minutes and then headed to the front desk to purchase a few small bookmarks and Scripture cards that I purchased for my sponsored child.
"Isn't that interesting that a Muslim girl came in here?" I asked casually, watching the cashier's face for her reaction.
Her blue eyes widened and she bobbed her head. Her voice rose with excitement. "I know. It was so weird. I could hardly believe it!"
"Do Muslims come in here often?"
The cashier shook her head. "No! They never come here," she said dramatically. "Never. This is the first time something like this has happened. That was so strange."
"That was definitely interesting," I replied with a soft smile. I left the store quickly, hardly unable to contain my excitement. I hurried to my car and burst inside, laughing. I felt like an undercover agent as I told Ali about the conversation that had gone on between me and the cashier.
After we had a good laugh, we began to talk about what we thought of how the female cashier had treated Ali. Our feelings were positive. The lady spoke to Ali like a human being. She greeted her when Ali walked in through the front door, and the lady offered her help. She didn't stare at Ali or avoid her like the cashiers at Lifeway had. While the cashier may have been baffled, as she expressed to me, she didn't show her feelings to Ali. She made Ali feel like any other human being walking into the store, hijab or not.
We were impressed.
Overall, the local Christian bookstore offered Ali the least amount of prejudice of any other store we visited. The customers seemed curious, which was natural, but they didn't stare too long at Ali or give her dirty looks. The cashier was friendly and acted natural, like nothing was strange about the way Ali dressed, even if she thought otherwise. The environment of the store was a great place for a real Muslim teen who might be curious about the Christian faith to be able to visit without feeling alienated from others.