I moved to Augusta seven years ago from Morrisville, N.C. While it didn’t take long to get comfortable living in Augusta, Morrisville still felt like home to me. But a few years later, a trip back home left me unsettled. Something felt different. People weren’t as friendly as I remembered; people weren’t making eye contact. They didn’t smile.
It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t my beloved hometown that had changed; I had merely gotten used to life in Augusta. It’s one of my favorite things about this city — people smile more around here. I can share a cheery smile with a stranger, and get a cheery smile right back.
Smiling is something encouraged by my Islamic faith. The Prophet Muhammad, who smiled often himself, instructed Muslims to live a life of charity. And to live, not only by being generous to those who need it, but by being charitable in a broader sense. Something as simple as greeting someone with a smile is charity.
It makes sense to me. As I walk through my neighborhood or run errands around town, the friendly smiles I trade with people around here make me feel welcome. And safe. They make me feel like part of a community. It’s a small gesture, smiling, but with a powerful impact.
As Americans, we live in a shifting, polarizing era. Violent headlines leave everyone feeling threatened. It makes me wonder what strangers think when they see me, a Muslim woman wearing a scarf, living my life in this city. Do they see me as a threat? Do they see me as someone foreign and unapproachable?
I wish I could tell these strangers that I wish them well. I wish upon them happiness and safety. I hope they know that, every day, I try to lead a life of empathy and compassion, and that effort is bolstered, not hindered, by the fact that I am a Muslim.
But I can’t blurt all of that out to a stranger. So instead, I try to convey it with my smile. And in the moment these strangers smile back, the world seems a little safer.
So to all my fellow Augustans who have flashed a smile my way: thank you. I’ll try to beam a cheery grin your way, too. It’s just one of the little ways I enjoy being an Augustan, and a Muslim, too.
S.F. Hasnain is a member of the Islamic Society of Augusta.