My Love Letter to the Muslim Community in America
BY HEiDI PRAHL
It’s important for me to start my letter by telling you that I see you. I see your beautiful families and how you love one another. I see your children, smiling, playing, enjoying childhood, as every child should have the right to. I see you at my almost daily trips to the grocery store and strolling down the sidewalk. I see you on my commute and at the coffee shop.
I also see the all-too-often looks of disapproval. Judgment. Fear. I see people beeline across the street to avoid you or make snide comments under their breath, if you're lucky, or openly, plainly, to your face, if you’re not. I see it, and even if we don’t know each other, I want to stop, interject right there on the sidewalk. Tell them what I know. Explain that they’re missing out on meeting some of the best people I’ve ever known.
You see, in my version of America, we don’t value words like honor. Respect. We rarely talk about words like dishonor and shame.
But you do. Your family cares deeply about honor. You craft a life careful to avoid things that bring shame to your family. It’s a code that you live by. Love by.
However, it’s deeper than that. More personal.
You have turned hospitality into an art form. Everyone is welcome in your home. Even a door to door salesman with questionable motives is welcomed in, offered a cup of steaming hot tea, perhaps some dried fruit and chocolate treats, friendly conversation, and a moment to rest before heading back out.
You’ve taught me how to really honor guests. Instead of hiding away the really good stuff and only serving the things no one in your house is likely to eat anyway, you serve the very best of what you have in beautiful displays of delicacies on fancy plates and silver rimmed bowls, even if it’s literally the last of what you have.
You somehow manage to watch the kids, carry on a conversation, and keep the tea cups full. You sneak away to start another batch of tea because you know how much I love it. Hot, steaming, and with a touch a cardamom. You never let me lift a finger to help. “I’m the guest,” you simply tell me.
I’ll be honest. The first few times I witnessed your brand of hospitality, it challenged me. As a follower of Christ, we are to be generous with everything we have, welcoming to everyone, as the Bible says we may be entertaining angels unaware. But in all the time I’ve spent amongst fellow Christians, all of the potlucks and meals shared, I’d never actually witnessed (or lived out, if I’m being honest) this kind of true warmth. Generosity. This no holds barred way of living that didn’t worry about whether my motives were pure or if I’d take advantage of you. You simply want to give. To make me feel special. No questions asked.
As we spent more time together, sitting on the floor, drinking tea, playing with the kids, I realized that we have more in common than anything that threatens to separate us. We talked about cooking and parenting. The balance of finding healthy meals that don’t break the bank and still taste yummy. We talked about housework and chores (which you are way better at than me, by the way!) and how to juggle everything when some days all we really want to do is nap. I came to the conclusion that despite our religious and cultural differences, we had many commonalities. We both ultimately wanted to be good moms, take care of our families, make nice homes, cook tasty meals, and maybe find a way to shed 10 pounds if we can fit that in too.
It didn’t take long before you gave me a place in your own family. My extended family situation is what you would nicely call “complicated.” But you welcomed me in. We talk about hard things, and I know you really mean it when you say to call if I need anything. You pray for my sick father, despite everything you know about our troubled relationship and the fact that he deeply discouraged our friendship the few times he and I have spoken over the years. That’s the thing. You don’t keep score.
The truth is you make me want to be a better person, a better version of me. A better Christian even. You challenge me to live a life poured out, and honestly, I don’t even think you know that. It’s just what you model in how you live.
Some people say Muslims are radical. And they’re right, just not in the way they mean it. You’ve shown me that you are radical. Radical in your hospitality and generosity. In your willingness to accept people with different values and belief systems - into your home and into your family. Radical in the way you love. And that makes me want to be radical too.