My work in Libya has me interacting with Muslims on a continuous basis. Their month-long fast during Ramadan has meant that my work has been somewhat slow for the past 30-odd days.
Albeit for different reasons than my friends of the Muslim persuasion, I have been looking forward to Ramadan's end, or Eid al-Fitr. This day of celebration occurred on Thursday.
London sports a fairly healthy Muslim population, especially during the summer when Britain's weather--and six month travel visas--provides some respite from the desert heat. I was interested and knowingly happy to see so many Muslims attending the large mosque about 1/2 mile south of our home in Regents' Park to celebrate the end to their fast this last Thursday.
It so happened that I saw the berobbed crowd gathering at the mosque from my seat on the over-crowded 274 bus. At the stop opposite the mosque, a Muslim young man got on (evident from his dress), and the woman next to me began to complain vocally and then shouting at the young man that the bus was overcrowded as it was - he needed to get off. He refused, saying he had just as much right to be there as she, brandishing his Oyster (Tube) card.
The situation quickly escalated, with the woman demanding for the bus driver to stop the bus and call the police, yelling to the young man that it was Britain and that he should go back to where he came from. She also expressed some appalling discriminatory words against Islam. He called out not to discriminate and she simply dug her heals in more.
I attempted my best (while breastfeeding Gideon, no less) to calm the situation, trying simultaneously to empathize with the woman's discomfort on the crowded bus and sharing with her what I knew about the Islamic festival, trying to help her to see (and respect) the month-long ordeal the young man had just experienced and humanize him a bit.
I think whatever I said seemed to help, as she never did call the police nor did violence break out. But it saddened me to see any religious minority singled out for ill-treatment, well remembering healthy doses lodged my way over the years. My gratitude for the right to express and live my beliefs how I see fit means I hope--and will even fight--for others to do the same.