Free Press, 2008

I’m sitting at my desk, sipping from a water bottle with the name of my alma mater scrawled down the side. I might get a cheeseburger for lunch because sometimes I crave greasy foods, and at those times, I don’t care how bad it is for me. I will eat a salad tomorrow and feel better.infidel

Enter the Muslim co-worker. In this month of Ramadan, he has asked several of us in the office to fast with him, to share his experience. I am wary; he may be trying to convert me. Really I am a glutton. If I have to choose between salvation and dinner, I already know what I want for dessert.

The co-worker notices the book in my hands and the author’s picture on the cover. He guesses that she’s from Somalia. He’s right.

Another day, another chapter, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has just witnessed her younger sister’s genital mutilation at the hands of their grandmother. Ayaan’s turn would be next. My body recoils as I read her words, and I find myself in the shared office bathroom, leaning on the toilet with both hands.

My co-worker is not a violent man. He agrees that violence in the name of religion is wrong. He believes jihad is a misused word, that it is not a call to violence against infidels but to war against one’s own shortcomings. During Ramadan, he says, you cannot blame evil spirits or anyone else for your bad behavior, and you bear the full responsibility of all of your actions. This is why he prays every day and fasts, to practice self control and to purify himself.

My co-worker refrains from criticizing his fellow Muslims. In fact, he does not even criticize the office atheist. He believes it is not his job to say who is a true follower. He can sense my disgust over the violence done to women in the name of his God, but he ventures only to say that what I’ve read does not represent him and that he believes in treating women and all people with kindness and respect. And after Ramadan, he will take our co-workers and me, an infidel, out to lunch.

Mary Richert is a 2008 MFA graduate of Goucher College. She writes for “Comment Is Free,”a blog for the Guardian. Mary also maintains her own blog, “No Titles.”