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Sun-Times, Neil Steinberg: Our values as if we meant them

By Neil Steinberg

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My column on the Council on American-Islamic Relations drew the expected range of response. There was much castigating me as a “useful idiot” blind to the gathering Islamic peril (one reader recommended a book by Brigitte Gabriel that’s actually called They Must Be Stopped, which sounds like the title of a 1950s B-movie about giant ants).

But there were a surprising number of thoughtful, warm, humane responses, and not just from Muslims grateful to seeing themselves depicted as human beings. There was this, for instance, from a reader in Appleton, Wis., which I’m passing along, not because it was typical, but because it someday might be:

I’m not Muslim, but Catholic. I attended Catholic grade school, got married in a Catholic church and in that ceremony we vowed to raise our children in the Catholic faith. . . .

At their baptisms we were called again to vow that we would raise our children in the Catholic faith — and we did. And they attended mass each Sunday, and went to religion class once a week. And we taught them to be good and kind and respectful — and to explore the world around them, and ask questions. . . .

One daughter went off to the University of Chicago where she studied Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. She studied Islam and it “felt right” for her and she converted. A couple of years later she began wearing the hijab. A couple of years after that she married a wonderful man with two children, and they have since given us another grandchild. . . .

I have had many opportunities to attend large and small Muslim events, including my grandson’s aqeeqah. I plop myself amongst women from Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, etc. We speak different languages, but I’m fortunate because most of these women also speak English and they are very thoughtful in making sure I am included. We are all women after all, and most of us mothers, and we build on our common ground.

One morning just after Christmas, I sat in my kitchen trying to get ready for my day. In one corner of the living room I could see the glow of the Christmas tree lights. From the other corner, facing Mecca, I could hear four of my family members reciting their morning prayers. It was very simple, and very right — and I couldn’t help but wonder — really, why couldn’t it be this simple?

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