I stepped out into the pouring rain on Penn State University’s campus, expecting to unnerve any challengers of what I believe as a conservative Christian. Two hours later, I left the gorgeous campus with a new friend, a new attitude, sharper perspective, and a softer approach.
STATE COLLEGE, Penn. — My first impression of the young woman seated in the sea of computers in Penn State’s Pattee-Paterno Library was the intensity in her eyes as she studied.
My second impression was her warm smile, as I approached her cubicle to ask if she had a few minutes to talk politics.
“Well I could use a break,” she said, “so let’s go over to the fountain.”
Noora Albraiki looked exhausted. Two days earlier the petite Muslim woman was strolling across campus when a young man passing out literature starting shouting in her direction. Albraiki said the fellow was a Christian missionary who began to bully her about her religion being “wrong.”
“It really made me sad,” she said, “but I wasn’t going to let his bullying make me feel intimidated. It upset me how he was totally making fun of what I believe [while] showing me how Jesus — how Christianity — is the only way. He wanted to show me his religion is right, but he kept teasing me and teasing me and wouldn’t let me speak.”
I understood what she was saying. I am an evangelical Christian, and I often struggle with how best to share what I believe. But my biggest frustration is usually with those who do believe as I do; not with those who don’t.
As Albraiki and I moved to a quieter hallway around the corner from the drinking fountain, it struck me how easy our exchanges had become despite our differing beliefs. I was disturbed that days earlier some overzealous clown had ruined this woman’s evening.
Yet, instead of running away from the bully in the heart of a college campus already reeling from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Albraiki got mad enough to actually “call the guy’s church to say what one of their members did was wrong.”
She said nobody from that church called back.
My assumption that Albraiki would ignore or run from a male bully while walking alone at night suddenly seemed more silly than smart — even given her 4-foot-11 frame. “Yeah, you must be kidding,” she chuckled.
Another false assumption I’m embarrassed to admit is the idea that virtually every minority automatically sees bullying as a hate crime and embraces the concept of hate crimes.
“Hate can be as simple as what just happened to me, [but] does that mean I know for sure what was in his head?” asked Albraiki. “I can’t say for sure he did it because he hates Muslims.”
Despite the Trayvon Martin shooting case being a classic example of a potential hate crime, Albraiki at first chose not to comment. When our conversation returned to politics, she changed her mind.
“I’ve listened to most of President Obama’s speeches. As all presidents do, they just speak,” said Albraiki, a senior who moved to the United States from Dubai five years ago. “I don’t know his true beliefs about hate crimes, because I can’t put myself inside [Obama’s] mind.”
“Just like you can’t put yourself in the mind of that guy who bullied you?” I asked.
If a grin can clearly convey agreement, hers most certainly did. Albraiki thanked me and then disappeared around the corner.
I’m pretty sure that won’t be my last impression of her.