Auntie SparkNotes: A Muslim Conundrum
Obviously, I have a problem. The other day, groups gave presentations on different religions in Human Geography. I'm Muslim, and a good friend of mine was assigned Islam. I thought that was cool, that he would learn more about Islam, and therefore about me, because I'm pretty religious. But when he went up for presentation, the things he said were ignorant and just plain rude. Afterward, I told him I was offended and what was wrong with the information. I wouldn't talk to him for the next three classes, and all the while he was trying to apologize, but I told him it didn't count because he didn't know what he was apologizing for, why I was upset, or what he did wrong--he was only trying to get me to hang out with him again. Then as I was on the verge of forgiving him, I walked into a classroom to see him making fun of our Prophet, not realizing I was there.
I told that I would forgive him when he found out why I was upset. When he realized that being a Muslim in America, my religion and identity is attacked every time I turn on the radio, and that I don't need it from my friends, and that if that's what he thinks about Islam, that's what he thinks of me. However, the more I think about it, the more upset I become. I keep thinking that I shouldn't forgive him at all, that he is just too rude and ignorant and hurtful to deserve that. He's a good friend the rest of the time, so I'm not sure if I should start talking to him again, because he did try to apologize, or stop being friends with him. Help, Auntie! Please!
This is a tough question, Sparkler. On one hand, this guy is (by your own description) a good friend. On the other, he's ignorant of and insensitive to your religious beliefs. In the end, how you approach this problem will come down to three things:
A) Whether you have the time, energy, and inclination to help your friend understand why you were offended,
B) Whether your friend is capable of a response that will satisfy you, and
C) Whether you believe that disagreeing with the teachings of Islam is equivalent to a personal attack on you—or whether you're able to make peace with the idea of having a friend who doesn't feel the same respect for your religion that you do.
You're entitled to expect your friend to treat you with respect and kindness, but you've been a little bit unfair in your reaction as well. No doubt it was upsetting to see him mischaracterize your religion in his presentation, or to make fun of it in a conversation with his friends. But when you met his apology with the silent treatment, you missed a major opportunity. If he's genuinely ignorant and uninformed, why not use the chance to set him straight? After all, if you really want your friend to learn more about your religious beliefs, then who better to offer some insight than you?
So while I can't tell you whether or not to continue your friendship, you should take this opportunity to talk to your friend about how you're feeling. Tell him what your religion means in practical terms. Explain the challenges of being Muslim in America. Let him know where he messed up. Basically, give him a chance to be open-minded—and after that, see how you feel about continuing the friendship.
What you decide to do is up to you. But as you decide, consider that a negative opinion of your religion isn't necessarily the same thing as a personal slam on you (although it certainly can be). One of the nice things about being human is that we're able to make the distinction between the teachings of a religion and the people who belong to it—and to still care about and respect people as individuals, even if while disagreeing with or outright disliking the dogma of their chosen affiliation. You can disagree with the Catholic church but still have Catholic friends. You can be a vegetarian, but still pal around with burger aficionados.
Your friend can be sincerely sorry for hurting and offending a Muslim friend—and from what you've written, it sounds like he is—but still have a less-than-positive opinion of Islam on the whole. If he's able to disagree respectfully and calmly, and to listen to your viewpoint, you may decide that the friendship is worth saving—even if you two never see eye-to-eye on religion.
How would you handle this situation? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.