What really happens at a Muslim community event?

Here’s an email sent by a non-Muslim friend, with identifying details changed.

‘The event was hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and held at the local Muslim Community Center. There was a brief welcome address, a recitation from the Koran, a speech by a really adorable little girl of about eleven, who explained about Ramadan and fasting and what it meant to her in very practical schoolgirl terms.  Then there was a brief talk about Islamophobia, what it is and what to do about it.  The speaker very quickly went over some of the more egregious examples of anti-Muslim statements that are being made in the US today, emphasizing the need for people to remain calm, and reach out to others, and provide engagement and education.  This was followed by a panel discussion by three others; a representative of the Hindu community; a pastor from a Baptist church; and a rabbi from a reform Jewish synagogue.

And then it was sunset.  We were served a snack of dates, watermelon, and something like an egg roll to break the fast and heard the call to prayer over the PA.  The Muslims went to for the evening prayer (Maghreb) and others were invited to go and watch if we liked, or to go ahead and start dinner.  They announced that this year the dinner would not be Middle-Eastern or South Asian as it was in previous years, but Indonesian.  There was a sort of fried rice, chicken satay and a meat curry; there was also lasagna and salad and some sauteed vegetables. Our hosts made a point of telling us that there was vegetarian food provided.  (Meanwhile we are secretly disappointed that there was no biryani!)

I’m glad I went; my friend and I were feeling bad that more non-Muslim Indians had not attended, there were just about five of us, although many had been invited and at least one other had said she was definitely coming. There were quite a few Jewish people, ACLU leaders, other members of the inter-faith community.   I was delighted to see that my Democratic US Congressman was there, as was a staff member representing another Republican Congressman.

It was a relaxed and friendly social occasion, quite low-key, calm, and not tense, but there was an undercurrent of sadness. CAIR gave out little wallet-sized folded cards; they were entitled “Rights and Responsibilities of Muslim Americans” which included little tips for students on how to handle themselves in various situations. This broke my heart; the thought of little children having to carry these things in their pockets and learn how to deal with it when people insult their religion and call them names etc.  WHY should children have to learn such things?!’

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About purplesque

Psychiatrist, cook, bookworm, photographer. Not necessarily in that order.
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11 Responses to What really happens at a Muslim community event?

  1. I confess I feel anger over the thought of kids having to be instructed on their rights and how to handle difficult situations in public places. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Muslim Americans are being treated like Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor. Their only “crime” is/was a physical or cultural resemblance to the attackers. As your friend’s email demonstrates, the vast majority of Muslims in this country are as American as we are, want peace as much as we do. (Well, most of us do.)

    That said, I was saddened when I received an email—from a friend who should know better—saying not to donate money to famine relief in Somalia because it would only go to support Muslim terrorists and warlords. That prompted me to send money to Mercy Corps, which I’ve donated to in past for the Fukushima tsunami and the tsunami in Thailand. We all need to reach out a little farther, share more dinners, have more conversations. This throwing up of walls and demonizing of our neighbors has to stop.

    • purplesque says:

      Exactly, HG..hatred affects us in different ways. Earlier, I never really noticed if someone was Hindu or Muslim; now, I find myself making efforts to reach out to my muslim friends. I’m still hopeful that things will change for the better..

      On another, unrelated note, I might be going to Japan soon. Wheee! Will you help me prepare? 🙂

      • OMG! That’s exciting! When would you be leaving?

        I’ve never been there, sad to say. I can advise you on food and some of the cultural aspects, but if you want real hands-on advice, I recommend my younger daughter, who spent half a year there as a university exchange student and two years in rural Japan as an English teacher for JETT. Her view is somewhat jaded—she became exasperated with the insularity of Japanese culture and had some run-ins with the locals, who regarded her as a “noisy gaijin” even though she spoke fluent Japanese and was of Japanese ancestry herself. Prejudice, alas, is not unique to any one country or culture.

        • purplesque says:

          Yes, please! I’d love to get some information from your daughter if she doesn’t mind, and anything at all that you think might be useful for the uninitiated.

          We’ll be leaving in two weeks. Everyone tells me that food is going to be a problem, at least in Yokohama. Tokyo appears to have a lot more vegan/pure vegetarian places, and I’m planning to pack some food. So far, the only thing I’ve done as preparation is to read How to be an American Housewife- LOL. I will try to learn basic survival words in Japanese at the very least.

          • I sent you my daughter’s email. She says since she’s not a vegetarian she’s not so sure she can help you with that. Most foods in Japan contain fish or fish products, though there is a tradition of vegan cooking out there. Her Japanese is fluent, so she can translate signs and documents via email if you send her photos or a scan. Most Japanese do not speak English, or do so horribly—they just don’t travel much, or they do so in tour groups, so they stay insulated from the usual difficulties one expects when traveling. (And I guess Americans do the same, though I see more people who are happy to experience a foreign country “in the rough.”) The airports have signs in English however, and the more cosmopolitan areas like Tokyo are more accommodating to foreign tourists. I hope you have a good time—and photos! Bring back photos!

  2. mizunogirl says:

    It is horrid that kids may or may not need them. It bother me more that I think some teachers may not be able, or properly equipped or choose not to intervene appropriately.

    I grew up in a really closed community. I mean, at least 65% of my neighbours were Amish or Mennonite, and the other bunch was sort of the local appalachia bunch. I remember first learning about Jewish holidays in second grade as we had a Jewish teacher, it was SUCH an eye-opener for me. From there, I went on to the Quaker school, outside of the community where I grew up and met many many !OMG! black people..as well those of many different faiths. I get that there may be some fear, but I am so so sad that people choose to approach people with fear, rather than curious-ness.

    Ah well.
    I too am disappointed that you did not have biryani. yum.

    • purplesque says:

      That’s the world we live in, I suppose…just like you, I’ve had other friends who grew up in closed communities but not with a mindset of suspicion and paranoia.

      I didn’t get to go- my friend invited me, but I had a class that evening. Now I wish I had skipped class and gone.

  3. jaklumen says:

    We do have a Muslim community here, but I think it is under the radar as far as I can see.

    The more visible intolerance and bigotry (or so you would glean from headlines– even from our local paper just over the past FEW days) seems to be more reserved for Hispanics, more particularly those of Mexican origin.

  4. LG says:

    I attended a Muslim community event when I was in grad school in the US. To be honest, I went there for the food (poor Indian Grad student thing). It was pretty much how you described it. We came back not having eaten much (ahem ! A vegetarian in a Muslim community event !) but it felt like any other community event I have attended.

  5. Emmy says:

    Loved reading this. Fortunately we have a decent community out east – a mosque in Roxbury that is thriving and an Afghani restaurant in Cambridge that was voted #1 on Trip Advisor for that town (I’ve eaten there – best meal of my life, by a really long shot). Anyone who harasses a child for their religion must have a real attitude problem. Of course we know certain factions have no moral ground beneath them whatsoever anyway. I wonder how many Americans could define the word “Sufi”.

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