(LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Dear Syrian Mother,
I saw this picture of your two-month-old triplets this morning.
I thought so many things when I saw this picture, and probably in the same order as the concerns that you currently have.
Are they eating enough?
Is their mother eating enough?
Do they have diapers? Diaper cream?
Where do they go if they need a doctor? Medicine?
Where do they sleep? Are they safe? Are they dry? Are they warm?
Then, my thoughts shift to the emotional.
How is their mother able to sleep when she doesn’t know where they will be tomorrow?
Is their father falling apart because his ability to “be the strong one” is wearing thin?
Syrian Mother, my heart bleeds for you.
I remember having JUST ONE two-month-old baby. I remember that she used 9 or 10 diapers per day. She ate about 25 ounces (about .7 liters) of formula per day. She needed routine to help her sleep well.
She needed me. All of me. There was no room for me to be anything else besides a mother.
And then I think of you. Doing all of this for three newborns. While fleeing from war.
My heart bleeds for you.
Because of this war, you cannot be only a mother.
You are not only divided by three children, but you are divided by competing roles.
You need to be a fighter. You need to be a doctor, an advocate, a peacemaker, and sometimes a beggar. You cannot nurture when you are looking for food. You cannot soothe when you are trying to secure shelter. You cannot be who you want to be as a mother because you are investing all of your strength into survival.
Thank God, you have family. Thank God, you have friends. This network of humanity is keeping you from falling beneath the pounding waves.
Syrian Mother, I don’t know if you are Muslim or Christian.
BUT THIS DOES NOT MATTER.
Please forgive the insensitive, decontextualized comments of American governors and presidential candidates, all of them fighting to make a name as politicians who are “tough on terrorists.” They are the loudest voices that are heard across the world, and it is embarrassing.
Please forgive the indifference of many Americans who don’t see your struggles as their problem. Many Americans are so busy with providing for their own families that they allow their opinions to be formed by their favorite “flavor” of media, or worse, by the opinions of everyone around them.
But not all Americans are like this. Some of us see these horrific pictures of what has happened to your life and we see our common humanity.
I felt this way especially after I saw this photo.
When I saw this photo, I cried.
No, I sobbed.
For a horrific moment, he was my daughter.
He lay lifeless in the sand in the same way that my daughter does in her crib when I sneak into her room at night to watch her sleep.
For a horrific moment, I was his mother.
I imagined how desperate and horrible life would have to be for me to get into a boat with my two children and hope for the best. I imagined that I would have to feel like there were no other options than to risk the danger of crossing the sea between Turkey and Greece on a boat packed with other people.
I imagined telling my children that we would be okay. That they should hold my hand and stay close to me as we got in the boat.
I imagined my last living moments on this earth, my children torn from my hands, their screams, their calling for mama, as I would desperately try to swim to them.
I imagined screaming out to God to save them.
If not me, then please save them. I’ll do anything.
I imagined all of this.
It made me sick.
And it made me desperately care about what I could do to help.
It made me wonder exactly what was happening in Syria so I could help other Americans understand your plight. It made me read. It made me question. It made me think, and think, and think.
I am saddened and disappointed in myself that it took this photo to make me truly have compassion for what you are experiencing.
Syrian Mother, I am a Christian.
I am a Christian who not only accepts the religion of Islam, but also respects your religious beliefs.
I don’t think you need to change. I don’t think your religion makes you less valuable as a human being. I don’t think you’re going to hell or that God loves me more because I follow the “right religion.” I don’t think you’re misguided or that you believe in a lesser God than I do.
I believe you are a child of God. Just as I am.
As a Christian, it is my duty to love. It is my duty to have compassion and to care for you as I would care for myself. It is my duty to care for your children as I would my own children.
But I realize that I am only able to publicly share these thoughts because I’m not afraid of being murdered by extreme Christians who believe that such proclamations amount to heresy and are worthy of execution, which is exactly what ISIS is doing to other Muslims.
Syrian Mother, if you are Muslim, I can sympathize with you about this movement of extremism within your religion. We don’t have a Christian equivalent of ISIS, but we have radical, extreme, fundamental Christians who speak loudly and seek to bend American laws and policies in favor of their personal beliefs. They feel justified for these actions because they believe they are acting on behalf of God.
Something strange is going on in modern American Christianity. There is a culture of fear and xenophobia that is fueled by a lack of understanding and familiarity with Muslims. Conservative Christians are reading the Bible literally, word-for-word. They have completely decontextualized the words in the Bible from the times and the people who wrote them. Even though we live in a modern, educated era when people should be able to critically think about the issues that face us, many Christians choose to view science and rationality with skepticism.
But perhaps the bigger problem in American Christianity is that many Christians don’t understand Islam. And they don’t think they need to because they already have “the truth.”
So they don’t know Islam.
And we are afraid of what we don’t know.
Many Christians don’t know Muslims. Muslims mostly exist on TV and in news reports. The word “Muslim” is often used in the same line as “terrorism” and “bombing,” and these associations are hard to break.
But I have been blessed to have these associations broken by my Muslim students, many of whom come from Arab countries and who are learning English to earn college degrees. It is through my teaching of Muslim students that I have come to be familiar with the faith of Islam and the lives of my Muslim students.
When we returned to our class after the horrific attacks in Paris on November 13th, one of my Muslim students said,
“Americans don’t understand that ISIS wants to kill other Muslims more than Christians. They want to kill Muslims who aren’t following Islam the way that they think Islam should be followed. Americans don’t hear the news about all the bombings and killings that are happening in mosques. They only hear about the attacks that happen in Western countries.”
Syrian Mother, I am blessed to be able to hear the voices of my Muslim students. They put a face on this war that is happening thousands of miles from where I live. They establish that common humanity between all of us.
Because of that, I am not afraid of you.
I am afraid for you.
I am afraid that fear will paralyze countries from taking action to help. That the possibilities of all that can go wrong will stop us from doing what is right and good and humane.
But more importantly…
I don’t want you and your children to suffer any more.
I don’t want you and your children to feel unwanted and worthless.
I know that we live worlds apart. We don’t share a culture, or a language, or a religion. But we share a common humanity.
And so I believe that in our hearts, we want the same things.
I believe that…
we both want to live in a world where everyone feels accepted and valued for who they are.
we both want to live in peace.
we both want enough food and shelter for our families.
we both want good education for our children.
we both want to know that God has not abandoned us in our desperate times.
Syrian Mother, I pray for you.
But I hope that you will pray for me, too.
I hope that you will pray for all Americans who need to remember that we are a country was built by the hands of immigrants who were once as desperate as you now are.
I hope that you will pray for all Christians who need to remember that they are called to live in love, not fear.
With deepest respect and compassion,
Your American Sister