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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

30 Days of Love: standing shoulder to shoulder

Britt & Soha Today’s 30 Days of Love prompt is one very close and dear to me. It asks that we find out more about the Muslim communities living in our towns and cities, the Muslim Americans who work in offices with us, go to school with us and with our children, are ‘us':  America.

This is a picture of ‘us’ — my dear friend Soha, with whom I worked at Oklahoma State University. Soha is from Egypt, but has lived in the US for many years.  Her husband is faculty at OSU, and she is finishing up her doctorate. When Americans talk against Muslims, when the media says incredibly offensive things about Muslims, when politicians posture at the expense of American Muslim citizens, this is the face I hold in my heart as ‘Muslim.’ My dear friend Soha.

Muslim woman attends vigil

photo by John Hotterman

Right after I was married — many many years ago — I moved with my husband half-way around the world to North Africa, to Algeria. Eventually I would be living in the middle of an Algerian neighbourhood in Algiers, my best friend Saliha across the hall. She had 10 living children, 3 still-born. Affianced (as they say in French, one of her two languages) at 13, married at 14, she lived in the almost the same floor plan apartment we did. She had two bedrooms instead of our one, but otherwise the tiny kitchen w/ the two-burner stove was the same. She didn’t have a refrigerator until we left, and sold her ours for a song.

Her concern for my childless state deepened when I tried to explain I was on birth control, as we were newly married. She politely refused to believe me. “No man would let you do that,” she demurred. “But it’s okay — I won’t tell.” She herself had to get her tubes tied secretly, with the birth of her last child. The victim of gestational diabetes, she would die w/ another pregnancy, the doctor told her. “But if my husband knew, he would throw me out and take my children,” she told me. No  wonder she didn’t believe me.

Muslim Sarah Mussa

photo of Sarah Mussa by Ziyah Gafic for Time

This kind of life is light years away from Soha’s, teaching at a prestigious American university. But neither life is familiar to most Americans: not the lives of my Muslim friends in Algiers, or in Saudi Arabia, where I lived for several years. Where my youngest son was born.

Nor here in the US, where Soha’s son & daughter attend good Stillwater schools, and she & her husband are academics much like I was. So many similarities to exclaim over, and the differences fascinating, not frightening.

We miss so very much when we cut ourselves off from difference, fearing it. Fear often leads to hate, which eats at the hater, and may well kill the victim. What if we do everyone a favour, and try to get to know more about the ‘other’ Americans in our diverse country? What if, as Christina Warner, campaign director for Shoulder to Shoulder notes, we “don’t … wait for discrimination to define our responses. Instead, we can build diverse communities that celebrate our respective traditions now, making our communities safer and more inclusive for the future”…? muslim journeys

In Oklahoma, for example, the Oklahoma Humanities Council is co-sponsoring a series of discussions called “Muslim Journeys: American Stories.” All over the state, groups will come together to learn about Muslims in America, and the vibrant religious & cultural heritage they bring to the American story. Given that all our families at some point journeyed to arrive where we are today, why not welcome the incredible diversity that is America today? How cool would that be? And how much would all of us gain?

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