All praise and thanks be to God for guiding me to His beautiful religion, and may he grant me the strength and will to become a better worshiper, husband, son, neighbor, friend, worker, and in all of the roles and doors and gates He opens for me, Ameen. I ended yesterday with an apology for not providing any solutions, but it started to get to me some. How can I broaden the options for community and social interaction between the Muslimeen and our neighbors? Can I even? If I can’t for others, can I for myself, my family, and those around me? What can I do?
One of my biggest complaints about living where I do is the (largely) monocultural aspect of it. Parties that we’re invited to are almost always hosted by Bengali families and have mostly Bengali guests, and so the language spoken is mostly Bengali.
My wife understands most of what the people say, but then she was born in Sylhet and speaks or understands half a dozen languages. Even if she does understand, she’s usually in another part of the house (or another house altogether) with the sisters. Her sons speak and understand some Bengali, but I don’t ask them to translate for me, and, anyway, they’re usually more interested in their phones than whatever the brothers are talking about. Usually, if I pay close attention, I catch enough English words to find that they’re talking about the HOA, or politics, or something at the mosque, all of which I might contribute to, if only they were speaking a language I understood.
I usually don’t much mind this: I’m an only child and am used to playing by myself, even in crowds, but since I find it rude to sit and play with my phone in a social situation, I leave the phone in my pocket and just look around, or maybe find some similarly quiet brother to chat with. (It’s usually the former.)
Insofar as I can’t invite English-speaking friends and I can’t leave, I need to come up with some ways to get by. So far, my ideas are 1) stop going entirely (my wife’s suggestion); 2) go with some topics ready and force conversation (not in my character, at all); or 3) or continue to endure (my preference and tendency). If you have further suggestions for me, please pass them on, and I suppose if I’m just going to continue on, I should stop complaining.
And I’m not, really, though after 38 years in the clear majority pretty much everywhere I went, it’s very strange to be the only person with my physiology and cultural background for several blocks. If I’m a bit careful, I can go months without seeing anyone that looks like me or talking to anyone that thinks like me. It’s not bad, really, but it is a bit uncomfortable, and if we white boys want to do anything about the racism and sexism that this society engrains in us, we need to put ourselves in many uncomfortable situations until we clear all that baggage out of us. But in the mean time, I’m a bit stressed all the time, and that stresses my wife out, and we need to get out of this somehow.
So what can I do to get us out of it? I can’t move: my wife’s family lives a couple of blocks away, and she’s not willing to leave until she and her son finish college, in 3-5 years. (After that, though, perhaps… InshaAllah.)
So what can I do? Well, last week, I hosted an Iftar (dinner to break the fast) for a group of reverts, and earlier this week, I went to a party hosted by Imam Nick. I was again in the minority, but virtually everyone there was an American revert, and I felt much more comfortable at both. So one solution is to branch out, travel a bit, get out in the world some, and not just hide in our cozy no-go zone with my neighbors.
And speaking of getting out, the masjid organizes a few community outreach events every year and takes part in some city wide projects. I participated in The Great Days of Service—a (mostly Christian) interfaith outreach thing where teams from churches and civic organizations help people do some home repair and cleanup—for a couple of years in a row, and may Allah forgive me for skipping out this year. There’s only one problem with this: the Muslims have a group; the Baptist church has a group; the Lion’s Club has a group; each of the 17 Methodist churches have a group. There’s very little mixing, and if we want to do any outreach, if we want people to meet Muslims and recognize that we’re humans pretty much just like them, then we need to mix.
I’m sure there are other, similar opportunities that I’m just unaware of. In fact, I know there are some.
Recently, Imam Nick Pelletier injected some much-needed vigor into the outreach program, and, much to the dismay and consternation of some in the community, started distributing some of the food gathered in the monthly food drive directly to needy people in South Irving, rather than giving it to a food bank that only serves Muslims. We’ve always given a can or two a week to the food drive, but since the goods are now going to our neighbors, we should really give more, and InshaAllah, I’ll start going along with the brothers and sisters to distribute to the people.
This is the sort of direct, in person outreach that we need, both to increase our visibility in the community and do a bit of dawah, and InshaAllah to increase our taqwa and Iman.
But we don’t only need outreach, we need visibility in all corners, and for that, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to cause ourselves some additional discomfort.
For our Honeymoon, my darling, adorable, then new wife and I went to Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a week. I have an Aunt and Uncle that have been there since the early 1980s, my Grandparents retired there and lived there for 3 or 4 years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my Mom owns a house there, and I’ve always enjoyed the clean mountain air, small town feel, and easy access to wilderness. Then, for a winter break, Hana and I went down into the Hill Country for a couple of days. Another Aunt lived there for a decade or more in the 1990s and early 00s, my family used to vacation there time to time, and I love the rolling hillsides, open country, and peaceful atmosphere there.
In both places, my wife and I encountered openmouth stares everywhere we went, were refused service in restaurants, watched people cross the street to avoid us. As far as I understand, this is due to:
- the apparent wide age discrepancy between the Hanabibti and me (she looks at least a decade younger than me, but is actually a couple of years older)
- the difference in skin color and latent/overt racism in many majority white communities
- the hijab, the lies told by the media about the hijab, the assumptions made by people regarding the hijab, and the obvious Muslim-ness of it
I can’t much solve 1) or 2), but 3) just requires more Muslims to get out in the world. I expect that if Hana and her sister went to Kerrville, the people would be mostly fine with them. I expect if the revert group took a road trip to Eureka Springs, the sisters wouldn’t have any trouble shopping and the brothers wouldn’t have any trouble at the lake. It might take the citizens of Eureka or Kerrville, or wherever a bit to adjust, but the economic imperative would take over sooner or later, and they might find that we’re really not bad people.
So back to Many Gates…
- As Muslims, we need greater visibility in more areas. We’re fairly visible in big cities, now it’s time to branch out.
- As a Muslim, I need to get out in the community more, participate more, proclaim my Islam more. And I should probably grow my beard out more and find a groovy kufi or Taqiyah to start wearing most of the time. It’s way too easy for me to pass.
- As a white American, I need to hang out with the Muslims more and be more vocal in neighborhood matters.
- As part of an interracial marriage, I need to go out with my wife and show her off, despite the discomfort it causes me. (I’d do more of that already, but it disturbs my darling, adorable wife too and I don’t want to distress her unnecessarily…)
- As a revert, I need to make sure we’re visible and active in the Muslim community and the broader Irving, DFW, North Texas community too.
In whatever ways I’m different from my Muslim brothers, in whatever ways I’m different from the wider community, all of the good, useful parts came from Allah subhanau wa ta’ala alone, and I must be better at proclaiming my Islam and my James-ness everywhere. If people don’t like it, InshaAllah the exposure I provide will provide at least an opening for people that come after me.
Muslims are currently all over the technology and medial communities, and there are loads of Muslim taxi and bus drivers. There aren’t many photographers, not many Art Historians, not many white boys from Keller.
Alhamdulillah, Allah azza wa jall guided me to Islam through an unusual gate. InshaAllah I can leverage my easy access to the wider community to worship Him and proclaim His greatness. And all of us need to be visible and active in our workplaces, at the grocery store, at Six Flags, out in the country, everywhere, and we must, to the best of our ability, be the best Muslims we can be at all times and to work to polish the horribly tarnished image we’ve had forced on us due to the actions of a tiny, misguided, minority and the 24 hour news media that needs to sell ratings.
We’ve been cloistered too long, and it’s given people the wrong idea.
May Allah guide us to be better, more active members of the society where we live, and may He guide us to be better members of our local communities too. Ameen.