Friday found me having a brief chat at O'Connell Street's Islam information stall. It wasn't a particularly deep and involved conversation: I only stopped to ask if they had details of tomorrow's debate between Hamza Tzortzis and Michael Nugent. In those moments I overheard some snatches of conversation between a Muslim apologist and a Catholic. Standard fare, mainly focused on baptism.
The Catholic was in his late fifties, dressed in the sort of brown suit that hasn't been made since we stopped using old money. He had a slight country accent and I'll call him Gobnait, partially because he had the look of a Gobnait, and partially because repeatedly referring to him as 'the Catholic' would not read well. The Muslim apologist I'll call James. No particular reason. He listened to something I didn't follow then asked "But why were they baptized?"
By way of retort Gobnait shoved James, tripping him, sending him to the ground via a sudden collision with a table. My eyebrows were still rising as Gobnait moved forward, giving voice to a variety of opinions that I deem unworthy of print.
And then, as it were, the point of this tale. Every Muslim present stood up, surrounding James. Their hands were kept low, palms outstretched, and without a hint of aggression they politely asked Gobnait to stay calm. They seemed to almost jostle for the opportunity to take a hit for their brother. Self defence did not appear to feature in their immediate plans.
I took the relatively mild step of putting a restraining arm in front of Gobnait. James, now at his feet, politely retracted his question. For his age Gobnait had more strength than expected but little stamina and soon stopped trying to pass me, instead heading south, shouting that he would do it again.
The gentleman (the term never before being so apt) I was speaking to resumed a side conversation we were having about Halal fish oil supplements. James went back to talking to some school girls. I offered my services as a witness for a police report but they declined, still without any trace of anger.
It's wrong to stereotype a group based on the actions of a few adherents, regardless of whether the stereotype is good or bad. Based on this anecdote I could no more assume all Muslims meet these high standards than I could say that all Catholics are violent loons. And my specific views on the historical and theological claims of Islam haven't changed.
Still, of all my interactions with all the various faiths that pepper my route home, last Friday was the most significant, most thought provoking, most admirable and most committed embodiment of a worldview I've seen.
Best Dawah ever.