Unreciprocated Kindness

“He who is presented with a flower should not reject it, for it is light to carry and pleasant in odor”.[1] It seems as though something like this would be a common response to a lovely gesture. However, it has come to my attention, following a recent event that this is far from the reality.”

On April 3rd as I was walking to the mosque I reminisced on the many people that have walked these same streets of Berkeley, which is supposedly one of the most racially and ethnically diverse and “accepting” cities in the nation. With every step I took, I thought about the civil rights activists, women’s right advocates and supporters of social justice who marched and chanted for equality on the same sidewalk.

It was a Friday unlike most. A Friday where the sun shined so brightly it was as if it was embracing me in a warm hug with every step. A Friday where the only sounds in the air were the sounds of laughter, birds chirping, and the rustling of the squirrels in the nearby trees. A Friday, where the only thing I felt besides the breeze against my face, was the overwhelming happiness in my heart. This may all sound cliché, but this was my reality.

Upon leaving our local mosque after Friday Prayer, I was handed a delicate bouquet of a dozen white roses; a beautiful addition to my already perfect day. With my fellow classmates, I headed home with the thought of the joy that the man had brought me when he handed me these flowers. I couldn’t help but want to reciprocate this joy to those around me. Suddenly I was struck with an idea, why not hand them out to strangers so they too could experience generosity?

I saw a couple a little ways ahead of me. I pulled out the most stunning rose of the bunch and walked towards them. As I got closer the man grabbed his wife and pulled her toward him. I wondered why they walked off the sidewalk at a hurried pace. I reached out, rose in hand, and greeted them with a “good afternoon” and a warm smile. What I was given in return was a smirk that made my heart cringe, followed by a sharp, “NO! Please leave us alone.” As I watched them race away, leaving me stranded, I wondered what I had done wrong, or what I should have done differently. I looked to my friends for help and was met with faces covered in disbelief after what they had just witnessed. I tried to brush it off and told them to keep moving on and that the next one would be better.

Most importantly, they didn’t see humans. All they saw were the veils draped around our heads and the negative connotations associated with it from its portrayal in the media.

Feeling a little discouraged I handed my unaccepted rose to a close friend and told her to give it a try. She walked towards a man and, with a gentle smile, uttered ‘Happy Friday’ and put her hand out. The man stopped in his tracks, and after a long pause, unsure of what to do, reluctantly took the proffered rose. He immediately offered it to a woman passing­ by who happily accepted it without hesitation. After witnessing this, another one of my classmates decided that she’d like to try her luck as well. We saw a woman at a parking meter slightly ahead of us and agreed that we’d try to make her day. I handed a rose to my friend, and as she reached towards the woman, rose in hand, with a smile and a friendly greeting, the woman became outraged. The woman immediately locked her car by pressing multiple times on the door lock, and angrily yelling at us to get away.

With my head hanging low, bewildered by everything that had happened we gave my ‘fun’ idea a little break. We walked in silence for a bit. I looked around, wondering what the problem was. I found the answer to my question reflected in the window of a parked car. I put my hand up to my head and held the problem in my hands. As I held the problem, I realized that the people passing by didn’t see a few college students who wanted to brighten their day. They didn’t see a few proud Americans spreading peace and love. Most importantly, they didn’t see humans. All they saw were the veils draped around our heads and the negative connotations associated with it from its portrayal in the media. I wondered how an incident like this could happen in a city like Berkeley, of all places; a city where everyone is always talking about justice and equality. It shouldn’t take rallying and posters hung all around the city for us to treat each other like equals, or human beings for that matter. It shouldn’t take riots and police involvement to feel comfortable accepting a rose that is offered to you. The cure to this insensitivity and prejudicial labeling is each person going out and offering one small act of kindness. Whatever the outcome, we should not let it hinder us from creating a collective community of kindness and generosity.

May Allah bless the communities of believers and non-believers with understanding, patience and strength.

[1] Our Prophet Muhammad ( صلى الله عليه و سلم ) as narrated in Sahih Muslim.

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