by Robin Freeman September 6, 2016
As my plane approached Jeddah I gazed out the small window trying to catch glimpses of the city that would become my new home. I was indeed here in Saudi Arabia, I reminded myself. Tears welled up in my eyes as I reflected on my first encounter with Muslims in the middle 1970s. I was a young girl living in a small college town in Indiana. New students from the Middle East recently ascended on the university. I remember the older high school students on my bus route, discussing the newcomers, “Stay away from those Arabs, the men will rape you.” Our town was predominantly white and until that point I had never seen a foreigner. Somehow, the foolish chatter of my fellow students did not scare me, instead my curiosity peaked, and I became determined to see one of those Arabs.
My chance to meet a foreigner came sooner rather than later. A new family moved into our apartment complex. Before they even opened their luggage, I knocked on their door. I can only imagine what they thought of me, a nosey little eleven-year-old. The husband and wife were from Saudi Arabia; both students at Vincennes University. They had two young children, whose names I believe were Khadija and Hassan. In the short time the family lived there, they treated me like a family member. Throughout the many invitations to their home, I remember being mesmerized by the language they spoke, the clothes the mother wore, the food they ate and the way she prepared it. I now know the name of the food the mother prepared, its name is Kabsa, the national dish of Saudi Arabia. A tasty meat and rice dish I soon came to adore. From these experiences, a seed was planted. I do not remember a discussion about faith, rather their kindness towards me opened a new door of understanding. Finally, in my late twenties the seed bloomed as I searched for more meaning and accepted Islam.
Unfortunately, I never knew the families name, I referred to the mother and father as ma’am and sir, and after they moved away, I never saw them again. As the plane touched down in Jeddah, I asked Allah (God) to protect them. If they only knew the inquisitive young girl, whom they accepted into their home so many years before, was now a Muslim and in their country. I wiped away the tears and prepared myself to disembark. As I stepped off the plane, I smiled and pondered how ironic life could be as things had come full circle for the young girl from Vincennes, Indiana.