It was just another event that we simply could not attend. My husband and I got an email dinner invitation from our kids’ school community. “An evening to unwind and sip a glass of wine … .” Well, in our gatherings we do not collectively unwind and we definitely do not use wine to do that — we’d rather un-wine!
Our usual and automatic reply to such an invitation would be, “We appreciate the invitation and apologize for not being able to attend due to a prior commitment.” It is a commitment we have made to a religion that we love and embrace and we do our best to abide by in every situation. Our commitment to Islam is a priority to every action and word we take or say.
This time, however, I decided to do things differently. I chose to switch gears and put myself all out there. After all, Muslims have nothing to hide and nothing to justify. So I decided to send an email back to everyone, explaining how we would have loved to attend, but simply could not, because of some practices that fall outside our comfort zone as Muslims. Alternatively, we invited everyone to our home, where we would demonstrate the way we hold parties, although gatherings is a better word for it.
Beside the fact that it took me three weeks to write the email, five drafts and three editors to review it, the response was overwhelming. People were open to the experience regardless of how unusual it sounded. For a whole month I obsessed with the details of the event. I wanted everything to be perfect.
On the day of the event, I started my day at dawn and got the house ready, the food cooked and was running back and forth like a maniac. The last time I got that busy was my wedding day. At 5:30 p.m., people started arriving, greeting us the Islamic way with “Assalam Alaykom,” or peace be upon you. It was so heartwarming, I was giggling like a kid at the door.
The evening was flowing, from serving food to informal chats, sharing experiences and relaying the Islamic perspective with our guests. I had set up a henna hand-art treat for women that took the evening to a different level. Two of the women and two of the men took on the outward experience and put on Lebanese traditional Abayas and topped that with veils and kufis. The laughter could not be contained.
All the differences blurred
There was something magical about that evening. All the differences blurred. It was about people and understanding. It was about respecting and accepting the boundaries of people from one community. It was about opening doors rather than shutting them closed. It was about enrolling rather than justifying.
As we said our goodbyes, our guests did not want to leave and we really wished they could have stayed longer.
We are blessed to be part of this understanding community. This is the first time we have done this, but it will surely not be the last time. As Muslims, our home is open for people who have doubts and questions. It is time Muslims change strategies. It is time Muslims get out of their shells. I invite my Muslim brothers and sisters to try this. We need change, and on that recent Saturday my husband and I undeniably lived that change.
Hanadi Shehab is a writer and blogger in Eden Prairie.
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