As servants of God, we are representative of the teachings of Islam. Especially in the scrutinizing eyes of the society today, every little action we do brings across a message to others, even if we mean it or not.
In fact, many of the presumptions that the non-Muslim community has about us are actually a result of these 'little actions' that we do. Especially for non-Muslims with close to zero exposure to Muslims, they are induced to think that Islam is very strict with many rules, because we Muslims are easily insulted and have an "everything-is-not-allowed-until-said" attitude. I experienced this quite frequently, from friends asking me, "are you allowed to do this?" to HR personnel apologizing and saying "please don't get me wrong" (something people usually say when they don't want you to misunderstand and be insulted) when all they wanted was just to know whether I was going to direct my CPF savings to CDAC (a Chinese assistance fund) or MBMF (fund for Muslims).
Yes, you not wanting to share a drink with a non-Muslim (even though he hasn't eaten any pork dish whatsoever)- could indirectly tell him that you think he is unclean, though it's just because you are paranoid about germs.
Or when you say you can't touch dogs, can't drink alcohol or eat pork, you have to pray five times a day etc etc. - "Why so strict!" people ask. And if you shrug, and look as if you haven't got a clue, what impression do they get?
It has come to a point where people see you as crazy if you chose Islam of your own free will (attach the "must be because boyfriend/girlfriend/cat is Muslim" tag). The beauty of Islam gets lost under this dense, thick cloud of negativity and misinterpretation.
The challenge is to learn to distinguish the issues which, according to the teachings of Islam, are haram, and to be firm about it, while at the same time not to overdo and make it seem like everything is haram.
Of course, our choices are our own, and we can be firm in the decisions we make no matter how absurd it may be. But it is our duty to explain, especially to those who do not know, the reason why we made that decision, and the standing of Islam's teachings on that issue. And I learned another way of handling the situation- if I didn't know (and that happens very frequently), I admit that I do not know, but I will find out and get back to them.
One of the very important lessons which I learned during the weeks of classes I've been attending was about Adab, or proper conduct, as a Muslim- in all aspects of our life, be it learning, interacting with people, or behaviour. To be able to maintain a level of humility and humbleness, and to know when to admit that you do not know, when to keep quiet and not be arrogant. I find it very useful when applying it to such situations when I am looking for a suitable way to maintain conduct in the presence of others, especially those who love to insult and belittle. (Hey... I just realized Chinese New Year is just around the corner!)
Because, only Allah knows.
“We made you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with the example of your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind.”
-- (Qur’an, 2:143)