Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Please Help Me, Sister

The queue at the bank wasn't moving because only two tellers were working and one, a young woman, was tied up with a young man who was edgily demanding something beyond normal procedures. She wore a headscarf and was being polite and patient but firm. Then the young man leaned forward and said quietly, "Please help me, sister." He was embarrassed at saying it and he looked round to see if anybody had heard. He caught my eye. I was only a yard away and I had heard. He looked sheepish.
At first amused, I then began to think about this.
Perhaps it was nothing. After all, stuck in another country and entangled in unfamiliar bureaucracy, I would ask for help if I heard a British voice. But the teller and the man were both, judging by their accents, British.
Or perhaps it was just a case of claiming the privileges of membership. Freemasons do that with handshakes and signs all the time. This young man was simply saying, "Look, we're both Muslims, give me a hand."
Nevertheless, I was disturbed and remain so. Claiming the privileges of membership on the basis of a religion feels not quite right, perhaps because it offends against what I - because of a Christian upbringing - take to be the universality of religious principles. And the young man was plainly making an attempt to keep the gesture secret.
Anyway, I don't know what happened about the dodgy transaction. Just after I locked eyes with the young man, another teller appeared to deal with my routine business.

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