Maryam Bighash is a student at Wheaton College in the Class of 2018.
Wheaton College’s controversy over the possible dismissal of Dr. Larycia Hawkins is clothed in a broader issue—the tribalistic struggle between Muslim and Christian communities. From my birth in Iran to my time as a student at Wheaton College today, this tribalism has followed me.
My Iranian family members come in many stripes: some are Muslim, others are Christian, and some are atheists. I have sat around the table with relatives during Ramadan, and I have also decorated our family Christmas tree the following month. I have lived with Christians in Iran and with Muslims in the West. I am a non-denominational Christian, but my diverse heritage lets me identify with both of these communities.
When my family moved to France in 2005, my identity followed me like a shadow. My skin was darker than my adolescent French friends. Many of them thought I was a Muslim because I looked Middle Eastern. To my Muslim friends, I was untrustworthy because they could never convince me to say the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith. So each day, I was forced to choose which community I would associate with.
I was often caught in the crossfire of hatred between the two communities. Non-Muslims Bergeracois would prank their Muslim Maghrebin classmates by discreetly adding pork products to food, disrupting their halal commitment. My Muslim classmates would respond by tearing the pages of the French Catholic bible. And the cycle went on.
In 7th grade, while still in France, I was walking home while wearing a cross necklace, representing my Christian roots. A short distance from my home, three male Muslim teens walked by and stopped me. They yelled at me and punched me in the face until I began bleeding. Every cell in my body screamed with hatred toward them, yet Jesus’s teachings reminded me to love my oppressors.
When I heard that Dr. Hawkins had donned the hijab throughout advent and said that Muslims and Christians pray to the same God, I viscerally felt the embodied love of Jesus towards Muslims—the love I was seeking to embody since being assaulted in France.
On Dec. 17, after Dr. Hawkins was placed on administrative leave, I wore a hijab to continue her message. After breakfast on my way to class, I left the cafeteria and approached the foyer doorway. As I walked through the doorframe, a young male classmate in front me noticed my hijab. Thinking he was holding the door for me, I naively walked through the door only to feel a thud against my face after he forcefully swung the hinged metal towards me and chuckled. I walked away numb. I wondered if I was Christian enough for Wheaton College, and part of me wanted to hate those around me. But then I was reminded of Jesus’s teachings and Dr. Hawkins’ example: self-sacrificial love of the other, as modeled in the life of Jesus.
Sometimes I wonder if I love Muslims too much to live in a Christian community. Yet I also sometimes feel too Christian to be accepted by Muslims. What I do know is that Jesus loves both communities equally, and that is why I have chosen to support Dr. Hawkins. I hope the administration of Wheaton College will allow the students and the faculty to model Jesus’ teachings, without qualifications.