Today’s guest blogger is Molly Greening, a senior at Global College of Long Island University and a fall intern at Interfaith Youth Core. Majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Comparative Religion, Molly is exploring ideas of vocation, religious identity, and interfaith cooperation in her studies and personal life.
Reports of the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment across the United States have dominated headlines around the world. We have all heard of the violence, vandalism, and arson directed towards Muslims. We have heard stories about mosques being protested all over the country. These stories sink into our hearts and minds and paint a picture of our nation as a place that is fractured and filled with fear.
But there is another side to this story. I have seen a community overcome that fear by coming together through one lost little girl.
When I drove up to my parent’s house in Oostburg, Wisconsin you could tell that something was wrong by one look at the beach. Outside of my parent’s bedroom window, searchlights scanned the waters of Lake Michigan. ATV trucks drove up and down the shore while helicopters flew back and forth over deeper waters. They searched all night.
The next morning I heard what had happened. A little girl went out in a kayak. The winds shifted, the kayak went out too far. By the time they got out there, the kayak was empty. That morning the water was eerily calm. They were still searching.
Over the next few days, the missing posters for Sofia Khan appeared all over town. My mom and I walked the beach, scanning the waters; we called Sofia’s aunt, opened our home to search parties. I felt a sense of urgency and helplessness at the same time. Lake Michigan never felt so big. We felt our own hearts break thinking about Sofia’s mother, father and family. Weeks went by and still no one had found her.
When we went to the community appreciation ceremony and memorial held at the new mosque, it was incredible to think that this was the same town that had angrily protested the conversion of the building just a few months ago. In just two weeks, the mosque had become the center of all search and rescue for the community.
Little girls in hijab giggled around the table abundant with fresh fruits and pita. The team of men in uniform from the local police force and the Coast Guard were given a standing ovation for their efforts. The local pastor and the imam delivered moving speeches about shared humanity, compassion for thy neighbor, and the strength of a community when it comes together. Sofia was not just one little girl. Now, she was the daughter of the whole community – Muslims and Christians alike.
A slideshow started, and I saw the vibrant spirit of Sofia. I cried as she made funny faces for the camera, hugged her aunt, and played with her brothers. Why, I asked, did it take the death of this little girl who was so full of life to break down the barriers between the people in the community?
Sofia inspired so many people to see through the threatening differences of unknown “others” to make connections with their fellow human beings. What if everyone who chose to come together during this time of strife in our country shared his or her story of connection? What would it mean for the people who are reading their newspapers at home, living in fear, to find stories of cooperation instead of stories of destruction?
This is how one little girl gave me one story of hope. I know that there are many more people in this world who have inspired their communities into action. It is during these times of tragedy in our country when we need to share these stories of strength the most.
I still look for Sofia every time I walk along the beach of Lake Michigan. She still has not been found. She will always be a part of my family, my prayers, and my inspiration for what the United States can look like when it comes together.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.