You Catch More Flies …

My mother had an expression I heard often as a child:  “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  As a child, it made no sense to me, for who wants to catch flies anyway?  However, as I grew older, it came to make a great deal of sense, although I don’t always heed the wisdom.  In 2017, I wrote a post about a man named Daryl Davis , a Black man who reached out to KKK members, who won over people with dialogue, compassion, and understanding rather than fighting hate with hate.  This morning, I came across another such story, one of a man filled with hate who learned to love instead, thanks to a group of Muslims in Muncie, Indiana.


A stranger planned to bomb my mosque. He became a member instead.

By Bibi Bahrami

25 January 2023

Several years ago, an unfamiliar man showed up at my little mosque, a squat brick building on the side of a four-lane highway in Muncie, Ind. He had a large U.S. Marine Corps logo and a sketch of a small skull with a lightning bolt tattooed on his right arm. His face was flush, he barely made eye contact, and his fists were clenched. He seemed angry.

Naturally, we saw potential danger. In these days of intense cultural division, hatred against Muslims is palpable, and our places of worship have been the targets of terrible crimes. But we also sensed vulnerability in this stranger. My husband, an Afghan refugee and a gentle physician, welcomed the man with a heartfelt hug. Later, I sat alone with him in our mosque library — to share a smile and ask his name, to offer comfort and show him respect.

Why, you might ask, would I put myself in this position? When I was a young girl growing up in Afghanistan, I met troubled men like this at the homeless shelter run by my father. And when I fled the war in Afghanistan to a refugee camp in Pakistan as a teenager, I cared for many needy people. I have always believed in the idea that we must welcome the stranger, the person in need. And that if we search for common ground with all those we meet, we will discover our shared humanity, and we will all be better for it.

As the stranger and I sat on a green vinyl couch, surrounded by leather-bound books, he finally started to make eye contact. I learned that his name was Richard “Mac” McKinney, that he had served 25 years in the military, and that he had a wife and daughter. Over the next few weeks, Mac began making regular visits to the mosque, joining us for meals and sharing stories about his family and his time in the military.

I continually looked for ways to help him feel valued by entrusting him with responsibilities around the mosque: leading meetings, participating in prayers, even standing by the door as our resident security guard. I could tell this gave him a sense of purpose. Not long after that, he joined our community of about 200 by becoming a member of the mosque.

It wasn’t until months later that I heard unsettling rumors. Some congregants claimed they’d heard that when Mac first came to the mosque, he was on a reconnaissance mission. That he’d built a bomb to blow up the mosque and murder us.

I knew immediately what I needed to do. I invited Mac to my house for a meal of traditional Afghan food: homemade bread, chicken, kebabs, rice, eggplant, a green yogurt dip seasoned with cilantro and lime. He devoured the food. When he was done, I looked him in the eye.

“Is it true, Richard?” I asked. “Were you planning to kill us?”

He looked down. He was ashamed but answered honestly. He confessed that when he had first arrived at the mosque, he had planned to murder us by blowing up the building with an IED he had built himself.

“What were you thinking, Brother Richard?”

He explained that in the military, he had been at war with Muslims for years, and that he had developed a deep hatred in his heart. But he went on to say that the way we had treated him, with compassion and kindness, had changed his mind. He said we had given him a place to belong. We had shown him what true humanity is about.

From left, Richard “Mac” McKinney, Jomo Williams, Saber Bahrami and Bibi Bahrami. (David Herbert)

Of course, these stories don’t always go this way. In 2015, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., Dylann Roof entered a Bible study as a seemingly curious participant but quickly transformed into a terrifying mass murderer, killing nine church members. Events like this are horrifying. But I refuse to give up hope.

We live in a time in which people have stopped talking to those who don’t share their views. It’s easy to despair. But I believe that if we continue down this road, we will never understand one another, never find our shared humanity, never have peace. If we truly want to heal our society, we need to find forgiveness in our hearts.

That’s why, in the end, our community chose to forgive Richard and allow him to remain. In fact, he not only stayed with us but also became president of our little brick mosque on the edge of the highway.

I realize that not everyone will be faced with a situation as extreme as ours. But today, tomorrow or next week, you might meet a stranger, someone who looks or thinks differently from you. It might be easy to ignore this person, to look the other way. Instead, I challenge you to smile. Ask their name. Learn a little about them. You might be surprised at what can happen.

29 thoughts on “You Catch More Flies …

  1. A bit off topic here and for perhaps a laugh or chuckle, I have a cheesy joke I sometimes tell with the appropriate audience. Heard this on HBO’s mini-series “Band of Brothers,” one of my all-time favorite war docu-series. 🙂 It’s from George Luz, played by Rick Gomez:

    Remember boys, flies spread disease…
    so keep yours zipped up!

    Okay, seriously now. 😋

    You’ve reminded me of one of my favorite stories in America’s Deep South. Roman Krznaric is a favorite author of mine and I used some of his book, “How Should We Live?” examining how to expand sympathy into deep empathy… from Part 6: Untapped Worlds — Maior Liberatio. Here’s the 4-min interview with Dr. Krznaric. I’m quite sure you will love it Jill.

    Like

    • I thought of Daryl Davis as soon as I saw this story!!! Some people just have that knack, and yes, they show us how to act, but I fear I often fail to learn the lesson! But isn’t it wonderful that there are people like this out there? If … IF there is hope for this world, it lies with the Daryl Davis’ and the Bibi Bahrami’s of the world!

      Like

  2. To keep this short and though I have never run into anything so extreme, I can say I have experienced both sides of the hatred coin. Some people just need a bit of humanity, but others — no matter what you say or do — are determined to be assholes. The problem is trying to find the difference. So far I have not discovered any sign or hint of how to tell in advance.

    Liked by 3 people

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