As I watch the local and international news, I feel we all are in great need of mercy and compassion. At such times many of us turn to religion for solace and answers. Tragically, too often we find the very thing we are seeking absent in those alleged abodes of peace.

I want to state unequivocally that Mean Girls have no place in religion. Those who proclaim their religiosity; practicing, walking the talk, yes, even the dreaded fundamentalist (!), should be defined by humility, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, and patience: all those lovely, basic human virtues. Yet why, oh why, do we find such an abundance of Mean Girls among the faithful?

Do these phrases ring a bell? ‘Holier than thou’. ‘Indignation’. As in righteous?! You get the picture – but it seems often the religious among us don’t! These terms have found common usage for a reason. There’s a lot of “I got it, or I’m, saved” out there, and “You aren’t”.

Our Muslim community has its share, believe me. I am at least somewhat placated to know through the various interfaith discussions and events I participate in, that we are not alone. It still nevertheless perplexes and saddens me greatly.

Somehow having God’s ear more than the next gal is the ultimate in one-up-man-ship. If God is on our side, who can be against us?! True, but I am not sure the Mean Girl applies this according to the spirit in which it was intended.

Sometimes in our dedicated attempts to convert the unsaved, the infidel, the lost, the searching, we repulse the very ones we want to see the Light. Not to mention members of our own faith that we push away from our circles into the welcoming arms of others by our arrogant and judgmental attitudes, i.e. either you are with us and doing it right 100% according to my requirements, or against us. We are so caught up in our own zeal that we are losing former believers in great numbers. God is surely more merciful than that.

And worse yet, we are turning society at large AWAY from God. Period.

When I became Muslim in the late 80’s, I was so eager to share and educate others about the wonderful faith I had discovered then embraced. This once joyful task has become so daunting, not merely due to those few (but very vocal) that fan the flames of Islamaphobia and hatred of the ‘other’, but some Muslims are quite rightfully to blame for the image we in the West have of Islam as we see events unfolding across the world stage. Surely this great and unparalleled Qur’an that I use to guide and inspire me through life, cannot be the same book read by these violent, intolerant people, regardless what they call themselves.

All the world’s significant religious leaders were simple men of great compassion, tolerance and above all, merciful toward all and sundry. With this lovely elixir of kindness they gathered masses of followers over time that yet fills our world today. If we were attracted by the kindness and mercy of the caller, who was God’s chosen representative on earth of His Divine Message, why do we not emulate these very characteristics when we call upon each other to believe?

What to do? Perhaps we cannot change every Mean Girl we meet but we can be role models for change. Religious or not, everyone appreciates kindness and mercy. And what we like for ourselves we need only to go a step further, take a walk in another’s shoes, and figure that they probably appreciate those very things, too. A soft word, a tolerant attitude, and an open heart, like honey, attract others. Befriend, be there in an hour of need, make friends first, then advise when hearts are softened and will listen.