I could sit here and defend the Muslims I know or have known. Describe Aliyah, the Egyptian Muslim who wears hijab and has her master’s degree in public health. Or Khullani, a Somali Muslim who just finished law school. Or Shaheynoor. Or Muna. Or Erko. Or Hyatt.
I could. But why would I? None of the Muslims I know needs defending. All of them are observant. Each of them is rooted in his or her Muslim faith. And none of them was anywhere near New York City on 9/11. In fact, on Sept. 11, 2001, every person I have named was here in Minnesota. Some of them were in grade school. They need no defending.
What I will defend, what I find I must defend, is the Christianity of my upbringing. I am not a Christian; I’ve been an atheist since I was 14. But who I am, the best of me, was crafted in those church pews and in the presence of my religious elders. I was raised and confirmed in the Episcopalian tradition. I spent a good portion of my childhood in a Catholic school. I have listened to sermons and sung songs and raised my hands to God more times than I can count.
It was my church and that Catholic school and my Christian parents that taught me to serve. They taught me that all that I was given, I must give in return. They encouraged me to volunteer, to pursue a career that nurtured my community, to give the best of myself in all that I do. I learned through my church that humans are frail, that we are flawed, and that we can be redeemed. I learned humility — the fundamental belief that I do not know everything, that I cannot control everything, and that I am not the master of those around me or even, sometimes, of myself.
I learned it is not ours to assign sin or blame
My Catholic school taught me that every person is worthy of salvation and every person should be cherished. And in my church I learned that it is not ours to assign sin or blame, redemption and holiness — this is the provenance of God.
What I learned in my Christian upbringing called on the best in me and demanded that I see and call on the best in others. No one promised me a Disney-esque ending. No one told me that change is inherently positive, or that difference is inevitably reconcilable, or that compromise is satisfying. But my church and my parents challenged me to seek that reconciliation, to strive for understanding, and to extend to others, no matter how powerful the slight, no matter how deep the fear, the hands that God has given me.
I may not believe in a god. But I believe in the people who raised me, from my parents to my teachers to my priests. I believe in the good works they perform, in the sacrifices they make, and in the strength of their conviction that in this one life, if you can do only one thing, it should be something that uplifts another, and never something that casts a shadow over the good that exists in the world.
Where are the defenders of this faith? Where are the defenders of that high call to service and self knowledge? Why can I hear from those who would burn the holy books of another religion, but not those whose faith is undaunted by hatred, and whose passion and compassion call on the light in dark times?
Katherine Jumbe is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who works in college admissions and lives in Bloomington.