It was a cold and windy day, but the mall was quite busy as holiday season is just beginning. My son and I were in a store browsing books when suddenly a tall man walking behind us came in front of us and started to shout Islamophobic rhetoric: “You Muslims want Sharia Law,” followed by similar accusations.

I am visible as a Muslim woman as I wear a headscarf i.e. hijab. I asked him politely: “Sir, if you have any questions, we can talk about it,” but he kept on going and moved behind the bookshelves. Before I informed the store employees, another gentleman called the store manager who came immediately to make sure we were OK. Some of the other store customers came to us to make sure we were not shaken. A while later, another employee stopped by and assured us that we are OK.

We were overwhelmed by the support of the store employees and the many responsive, kind-hearted shoppers in the store who came forward and reassured us.

This is America. “We The People” of different ethnicities show love and care for each other despite differences. Hate will not win if we educate “others” that we encounter in our journey toward respect and kindness. We will always have differences, but we must seek understanding of each other; take time to get to know one another; and accept and respect others in the name of diversity appreciation. Holding community conversations provides a path forward to understanding which is the first step towards mutual loving and caring. No one is born to hate.

The United States of America, the land of the free and home of the brave, has been a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds to pursue their dreams. There is no place for bigotry in our country —no matter your country of origin or heritage. Our Constitution grants equal opportunities to all and we all belong to America regardless of our ethnicity, religion, and culture as we are truly “One nation under God, with justice and liberty for ALL.” We must reinstate those core American values in our lives and in our communities to make our nation strong and united.

If the man gave me the opportunity, this is what I would have liked to say:

American Muslims practice Sharia in their daily life in a private manner for example from daily prayer, charity, and fasting to marriage contracts and other family and social matters. Just like Jews who follow Jewish law, Halakhah, or Catholics who practice Magisterium. It’s an obligation for American Muslims to follow the law of the land.

We need to stand TOGETHER more than ever against hatred, bigotry and violence despite our differences and be connected by love. As Dr. Martin Luther Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” It’s time to show love and support for each other to unite our communities for the coming generations. We must celebrate our shared humanity which bonds us together. It is only together that we rise, shine, and hope for a better future!

Every day is a new day that provides different experiences and with the right attitude — renewed hope. I serve as executive director of La Convivencia — a local community organization which brings diverse people together to bridge their differences through mutual respect, community service, civic engagement, and community dialogue.

Join us in our quest to celebrate diversity, to create a more inclusive, peaceful, and pluralistic society at: www.laconvivencia.org

Tasneem Sultan

Co-Founder & Executive Director,

La Convivencia

Editor’s note: La Convivencia, Spanish for co-existence, is a nonprofit that celebrates that differences and shared values of a pluralistic community. The group — founded by Sultan and her sons, Zain and Bilal, students in the West Windsor-Plainsboro district — is planning monthly community conversations beginning in January at the West Windsor Library and will host a leadership conference on Sunday, March 11, in Princeton.

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