A few years ago I was wandering through the streets of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. I was there performing the pilgrimage, and like many pilgrims, I was using the time between prayers to do some shopping in the myriad of stalls that lined the streets outside the Mosque.
Those who know me know that shopping is not an enjoyable pastime for me, and in this world of bargaining and trying to haggle down prices, it could be downright exhausting. I walked alone, from stall to stall, sometimes leaving handfuls of items abruptly after having an altercation with a brash shopkeeper. They were impatient with my lack of enthusiasm in ‘playing the game’..
I found myself wandering into what can only be described as a secret, underground mall. The colorful displays meant to entice passerbys were not found here, nor was the buzzing sound of deals being made. This place was quietly empty. It almost seemed like a storage facility for goods rather than actual stores.
I made my way into a men’s clothing shop, inhabited only by an elderly gentlemen behind the counter, deep in thought as he read the newspaper. He looked up for only a moment to utter his Salaams, before lowering his gaze again. I shopped peacefully, enjoying the ability to browse, at leisure, without constant disruptions saying, ‘If you buy two I give you good price Baji’.. To my surprise the goods found in this store exceeded the ones not too far away, upstairs. I selected several high quality garments for my husband and made my way to the counter.
“How much?” I asked. He gave me a price. “That’s too much.. I’m buying three.. What’s the best price you can give me?” For some one who hated haggling, I sure was getting good at it..
The gentlemen stood up then, and said something I’ll never forget. “No sister, that is the best price. The quality of my products are good. You can see for yourself, I don’t need to tell you. I don’t raise the price. I respect you, and I don’t set a price you have to bargain. This price is what these garments are worth. If you like it, buy it.. And if you don’t, that’s ok. But if you want to get a cheap price, go upstairs. My garments aren’t cheap, so my prices aren’t cheap either.”
I bought the clothes. And then I went and told everyone I knew about him. Every time I visit Makkah, I always go back to this same gentlemen, and I can see that, despite his location, business is doing well.
There was something about him that exuded integrity. Sincerity. He wasn’t there to play games. His word meant something.
So what does this have to do with being ashamed to show one’s ‘Muslim-ness’? It occurs to me that Muslims these days are like the shopkeepers ‘upstairs’. We’re always bargaining.. Negotiating. We don’t draw hard lines in the sand and stick to them.
Why are we like that? What separates us from the gentlemen who was downstairs?
I think it has to do with conviction. That man knew what his goods were worth. Do we know ours? Do we value ourselves, as Muslims? Or are we busy selling ourselves like the shop keepers upstairs, trying to attract others with ‘dazzling displays’?
We don’t need to resort to tricks and gimmicks to sell people on Islam.. To sell people on ‘Muslims’… To convince others that we’re cool or compassionate or NOT hostile.. We don’t need to keep apologizing.. No, what we need to do is just BE Muslim.. Be ourselves.. And have full conviction that we ARE those things.. Like the man in the store said, his products were good, I could see that for myself. He didn’t need to sell me on them.
The root of our shame has a simple antidote: Conviction. Knowing with certainty that Islam is the truth. If we believe that, no matter how weird it seems or how different from anything else out there, we can stand firm, just like that man in the shop.