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A change of strategy — reaching out to share our Muslim faith and culture

Courtesy of Hanadi Shehab
I had set up a henna hand-art treat for women that took the evening to a different level.

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!

Hanadi Shehab

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.

Overwhelming response

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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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/23/2015 - 01:06 pm.

    Very nice

    I appreciate the reaching out. It is absolutely necessary for people begin to accept differences. It is helpful to begin that process by experiencing differences, rather than simply observing them. I helps differences become more of a spectrum of human experience rather than something to be reviled as “foreign.”

    However, it is unfortunate that, as open as your guests were to religious experiences with you, you were not open to secular experiences with them. An invitation to unwind with wine does not require you to have wine. If you do require that alcohol is not consumed in your presence, let people know that, unfortunately, you cannot attend and why. Let them know that you are open to other experiences with them, though.

    • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 03/24/2015 - 06:09 am.

      I could….

      not agree more. It is a two way street.

    • Submitted by hanadi shehab on 05/12/2015 - 11:50 am.

      I did…

      Thank you very much for your comment.

      I actually did exactly what you said. I have absolutely no problem taking part in secular experiences and I always do that. The thing about alcohol specifically is that as Muslims we cannot mix with the people that drink it. We cannot be present in such gatherings unless it is absolutely necessary (i.e. important work meeting where alcohol is served, etc…) It is a stance against alcohol itself, rather than the people drinking it.

      On another occasion, I did explain about the reason why I am not attending that event, my Christian friend actually removed alcohol from the list of drinks. I was very humbled by her gesture and very delighted to attend her invitation. This did not happen in this specific invitation however.

      The alcohol issue conflicted with a religious belief I have and this is why I went to the invitation route.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/23/2015 - 02:39 pm.

    “All the differences blurred”

    The lesson here is that the way to “reach out” to people of other belief systems is to focus on what you have in common and to actually ignore those things that you would describe as “differences.”

    Through my experiences as an athlete and as someone who has lived in the close quarters of a submarine, I have worked, played, ate, slept, and showered, with people of all backgrounds and belief systems, I will tell you that what made it work was our commonalities, our common goals and mission, not how we differed.

  3. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/24/2015 - 08:01 am.

    The party

    She hosted was not a “religious ” experience. nowhere in the article does she claim it.

    Host a BBQ and lots of Indian parents won’t show up also.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/24/2015 - 08:41 am.

      Religious experience

      Specifically, this:
      “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.”

      In other words, people were willing to have an experience centered around her and her family’s Muslim beliefs, as well as her Lebanese heritage. That’s a pretty big leap for some people. It doesn’t mean that they changed their religion, but they did experience someone else’s.

      We hosted a neighborhood BBQ last summer. We have an amazing diversity of people in our neighborhood. Because we didn’t know what restrictions might have, we invited them to bring a dish to share and made sure that we had chicken for anyone who could not eat beef or pork (though, looking back on it, we failed to look at the contents of the hot dogs before we threw the package away–that was foolish). We noted that a variety of drinks would be available, and clearly marked anything that was alcoholic. It was wonderful.

      Another time, we attended a religious function that one of our neighbors had for their daughter. It was amazing. Although it didn’t affect our beliefs, it did open our eyes to a religion we realized we didn’t know anything about. We found it to be deeply respectful and respectable. We were not required to participate, but we were asked if we would like to after explaining the meaning of what was happening. I have to say that it was far more welcoming than some Christian churches I’ve been to, and I am a Christian.

  4. Submitted by hanadi shehab on 05/12/2015 - 11:58 am.

    Thank you

    A big thank you for each and every person that took the time to comment and/or make a note. I really appreciate all the feedback.

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