By Nilob Karimy
An ordinary city like Scarborough is made up of ordinary buildings, ordinary crosswalks and ordinary storefronts. However, within the ordinary there lies something more; subtle smiles, respectful nods and a comforting feeling from mere strangers. This is the Islam I feel within my city. I make my way home Friday after school so that I can make it in time for Jummah prayers at our Masjid. Standing shoulder to shoulder brings a feeling like no other; a sense of belonging. Knowing I can turn to my left or to my right and greet the sisters with a simple Salaam; a shortened version of As-salamu alaykum, or peace be upon you. A Salaam is a greeting, but it can also be more meaningful. Upon closer inspection, the Salaam can also be an internal prayer, one that is wished upon others in every interaction. The act of supplicating peace for one another is an obligation in Islam. This obligation has become the epitome of brotherhood and sisterhood within the city. Salaams are heard all around the sisters area in hushed tones, some in rushed attempts to catch up with one another before the Sheikh begins his usual prayer. As the afternoon prayers come to an end, I run over to the grocery store to grab a pound of chicken. I squeeze my way to the front, past the aunties and uncles who come from far and wide to the popular halal meatshop, one of few located in the area. My eyes attempt to make contact with my favorite butcher as he knows my usual order. He finds my eyes and immedietly looks down but smiles and puts his hand to his chest; Salaam. I know what this silent gesture means. It’s an unsaid understanding between the two of us, much like most of the encounters I’ll face throughout the day. I leave the butchershop with my order in one hand and bookbag in the other. I cross the street, hop onto the sidewalk and join the crowd of people who are all trying to get home before dark. Groups of three to five walk behind one another, every group a few feet apart from each other speaking loudly in English or their native tongue. I don’t recognize anyone on the shared sidewalk so I keep to myself with my head down. As the group starts to disperse, I feel a buzzing in my pocket and dip my hand into my jacket pocket to pull out my phone. Its the prayer times app reminding me that its time for the evening prayer with a recorded call to prayer blaring out. I stumble around clumsily trying to turn down the volume when I suddenly hear the same call to prayer coming from a few feet in front of me. I look up to see a visibily Muslim, middle-aged woman walking towards me but as she comes closer and realizes that both our phones have gone off simultaneously she starts to smile at me. Soon we’re both silently giggling to ourselves up until we we’re about to pass by eachother. As-salamu alaykum. We both greet one another while smiling then continue on our separate ways. A shared intimate moment with a complete stranger during evening prayers. A moment as mundane as this one is what stays with me the longest. It is the way I choose to describe my city because these are the moments that make it feel like I’m at home rather than a stranger in a foreign city.
My family took refuge in a strange city when they first arrived to Canada but as time went on, they realized Islam was not a country, it’s the people. The people who ask about your day at the Masjid, the restaurant owners that choose to sell halal meat and the Muslim community that offer their As-salamu alaykum’s day in and day out. The As-salamu alaykums that convey, more than anything, a sense of comfort and belonging. Knowing that with a mere nod, a stranger welcomes my presence. That the feeling of loneliness quickly subsides at the sound of a Salaam. Salaam is the doorway to a community that I never even knew existed. Better yet, being accepted into this community with open arms is the Islam I know and love. This is the Islam in my city. This is the Islam that I cherish everytime I step out the door. As-salamualaykum.