The boy’s head was bleeding. Not much - just a small trickle winding it’s way down his temple. The other boy who stood over him, yelled, close to his face.
"Say it!" He said. "Say it now."
The boy on the ground tried not to cry. And he tried not to say it. But as the others joined in the bully’s calls, he gave way. First he started to cry. And then he said it.
"All muslims eat shit" he cried.
There were at least five boys in the gang. Several picked up handfuls of dirt and pushed it into the mouth of the Muslim boy. He tried to keep his mouth shut, but they got enough in to have him coughing and retching.
They laughed and ran off.
The Muslim boy sat on the ground, coughing and spitting, trying to get the muck out of his mouth. He heard footsteps, and panicking, half got to his feet, slipped, and rolled.
"No, no, muslims eat shit. Eat shit" he cried, his eyes full of fear.
But instead of a fist coming towards him, he saw a hand outstretched. He looked fearfully at the boy who stood before him, offering the hand.
"My name’s Todd" said the boy.
Todd had a black eye, and a puffy cheek. He also had some bruises, but you couldn’t see them. As he looked down at the beaten, frightened muslim boy, he saw a picture of himself - only yesterday.
"Come on, take my hand.", said Todd. "What’s your name?"
"Malik. I am Malik. Are you going to hit me?" Malik asked nervously. He prepared himself to receive a further pounding, and - with the odds more equally stacked in a one-to-one contest - steeled himself to perhaps give one back.
"No." Said Todd.
"So, you’re not a christian?" Said Malik, relieved, as he wiped the blood and tears out of his eyes.
"Yes", said Todd, " I am a Christian. But Christians don’t hurt people. Not proper Christians, anyway."
Malik looked in the direction in which his attackers had departed.
"THEY were Christians. They said Christ wanted the world empty of Jews, Blacks, Chinks and especially Muslims" said Malik.
"No, they are not Christians. They’re just bullies" said Todd. "In fact", he smiled despite himself, "yesterday they beat ME up."
"You? But why you?" Asked Malik in surprise "You are a Christian. And you’re an aussie. He pronounced this last word as an ’s’ rather than a ’z’.
"Yes, but my family came to Australia many years ago. My parents are Lebonese. They came here as refugees."
Malik looked at Todd. "We came not long ago from Iraq", he said. "I thought maybe Christians were...." And he broke off as more tears came.
Todd continued for him. "You thought all Christians were animals". He shook his head. "No, good Christians, I reckon, are like good Jews, and good Muslims." And he smiled at Malik. "They treat each other with respect."
Malik looked at the hand still being offered to him, took it, and Todd pulled him to his feet. Both winced from the pains from different wounds, from different days. They gave each other a smile.
The two started walking, and as they walked, their friendship strengthened. Soon they were no longer allies, but friends.
"Our imam taught us that Jesus was a prophet, born of a virgin and returned to heaven, and that he will come again." Said Malik, as they walked. "We were taught that he preached love and peace. But those boys made me think that it was all lies, and that Jesus taught only fear and hatred."
"Christians also believe what you were taught - basically. There are some differences, of course. We believe that He was the Son of God, not just a prophet. But certainly he preached love and tolerance. In some ways, His was a ministry of Love" said Todd, "not hate."
"Muhammad said that although we should defend ourselves, we should hit no harder than those who attack us. He ALSO preached tolerance and peace towards others", said Malik. "So, Muslims and Christians should really be friends".
"Can we be friends?" Asked Todd.
Malik’s eyes glowed.
"I would like that. " He looked down. "I have no other friends." He said sadly.
"You will have", said Todd. "My friends will be your friends".
"Are they all Christians?" Asked Malik. He wondered if they would all be like Todd.
"Well, actually " said Todd. "I don’t know. Two are, certainly. And I do have one Muslim friend", and he pushed Malik playfully, who grinned.
"And I’ve got a couple of friends who don’t seem to believe at all" said Todd. "The rest keep their beliefs in their hearts."
"What are we going to do about the Christ...", Malik corrected himself. "About the bullies?" He asked.
Todd thought seriously for a while. He fingered his swollen cheek, and thought about the beatings that he and Malik had received. He also thought about Jesus, and what Jesus might say.
"Jesus and Muhammad both preached tolerance and peace", said Todd. "So I guess we should follow their example."
"I like that idea", said Malik.
"All the same", said Todd. "A good kick up the arse would do them the world of good". And the two friends giggled, and laughed, and became not just friends, but the best of friends. Mates.