Justice

Two Strangers Show How to Turn Fear Into Friendship

A Muslim woman's flight to Spain began as a story of prejudice and fear, but resolved with a message of forgiveness and unity.

Jiva Akbor and Bev

Pictured above are Jiva Akbor and a woman named Beverly. In a Facebook post, Akbor describes "one of the most interesting and most memorable flights of [her] life" and how she and Beverly became close friends after getting off on the wrong foot.

The story begins with Akbor offering her condolences to friends who had been the victims of a robbery.

"I was shocked but wrote my reply to the group as 'HasbiAllahu la ilaaha illaahu alayhi tawakaltu may Allah make the day easy for you all!' sent the message and continued going through my other pending messages."

That's when things got tense.

"The lady sat next to me asked if she could get out, thinking she wanted the toilet I got up let her out, and sat back down in my seat.

A few moments later she returned and so I got up again and waited for her to take her seat. Only I looked at her face and she was in sheer panic, clearly flustered and didn’t get into the seat immediately.

[...] she stood there, with a look of fright on her face. I was confused. For a split second I though she had some health issue or something and about to have a panic attack.

But it wasn't a health issue.

At that moment she looked at me and said, 'I saw you write a text message and you wrote Allah on it.'

My heart stopped. And I thought Oh Ma Goddd.

But the words 'Okaay' came out my mouth. She repeated herself and was looking like she was on the brink of tears. I don’t remember exactly what I said at this point, but I think I said 'It just means God in Arabic.'

By this point, other passenger were beginning to notice that something was going on. The air hostesses told the woman that there were no other available seats. Akbor became worried that something awful was about to go down.

"The thought of all the other incidents recently that had been circulated of other Muslim passengers being judged and removed and heckled came flooding into my head. And the thought, my biggest fear (other than missing my flight altogether!) was playing out in front of my eyes. A solo Muslim lady traveller [sic] and this is actually happening."

Akbor decided there was something she could do — talk to the woman.

"She was literally shaking, breathing heavy and had gone flush in the face. She then got into the middle seat, next to her son still shock up and I took my seat next to her- telling her again 'It’s just an Arabic word that means God, you have nothing to worry about.'

[...]

After about 15mins [sic] of conversation I could feel her calming down and starting to accept what I was telling her. I rubbed her arm and told her I am not a threat to her. I told her I believe in God and so naturally my conversations often make reference to Him and in written form that is expressed with the word 'Allah'. She went on to tell me she herself was a woman of religion too- Roman Catholic and we continued our conversation about our faiths."

Then, the woman explained why she was so afraid.

"Before too long I could see remorse in her tone, I think she was shocked at her own reaction and the realisation [sic] of what she had thought of me was setting in. In her own words she said 'it’s so scary what the media can make us think' and 'I just panicked.'

From there, an unlikely friendship started to form.

"What I expected to be a quick three hour flight where I could catch up on some sleep! turned into the most intense heart to heart I’ve ever had with a stranger. I defended my beliefs, I encouraged her to ask me any questions she had and I would try my best to answer the [sic]. And about 20 mins into the conversation- she kept repeating 'I’m so sorry', 'I’m so sorry'."

They spoke about their jobs, their countries, their relationships, their future plans, and of course, Pokémon Go.

It got to the point where they were even able to laugh about what had happened hours before. Akbor acknowledges that it could have gone very differently.

"[...] I told her, we all make mistakes. And we ALL do make mistakes. And whilst this very serious mistake of hers is literally what is making life difficult for the ordinary Muslim living in the world today, where there are some very very tragic, uncalled for and utterly devastating outcomes for some as a result...today she got lucky with sitting next to the chillest girl ever :), and so it’s okay.

And now, the women are friends.

"Today I had one of the most interesting and most memorable flights of my life. I made a friend called Beverley who made a mistake and acknowledged it. I met a lady who is deep down inside a wonderful, wonderful human and showed me that the fear-mongering purposely and strategically carried out in this world by the powers-that-be today are very, very real and can make an ordinary person have the most shocking of reactions…but if we’re blessed enough ALLAH can easily turn them into the most amazing of life’s moments."

Jiva Akbor texts

Their story is a comforting reminder that sometimes, fear is simply ignorance, and kindness can win. As one Facebook user put it:

[H/T Mashable]