In some respects I am a quintessential American soccer mom — I actually have two sons who play both recreational and travel soccer. My family eats burgers and watermelon on July 4th. We live in a suburban New Jersey neighborhood with picket fences and bikes abandoned in front yards at dinner time. My family binge watches our guilty TV pleasures. And my husband and I fight a constant battle with our children against iDevices at dinner time and bed time – all typical American behaviors. But look again, and my skin color belies my Indian heritage and my passport reveals my Canadian nationality. In once sense I am a part of the great American melting pot but in another sense I stayed within the narrow confines of the communities and cultures where I felt most comfortable. My children all started out their academic careers at a local Islamic school and we socialized almost exclusively with friends of Indian/Pakistani heritage with whom our family shares a language, a value system and the shared history of an immigrant background.
But since 9/11 my myopic view of the community around me has changed. A recent Pew poll showed that a majority of Americans – nearly 60 percent – do not personally know a Muslim. And as the Boston Marathon bombers, the Boko Haram kidnappings, ISIS and the recent killing spree that started in the French offices of Charlie Hebdo dominate the news the perception of Muslims falls further into the dark depths of public opinion. Fox News and TV and movie portrayals of Muslim as villans and perpertrators of terror threats further taint the 99.9 percent of Muslims who live quiet everyday lives worrying about their children and taxes and their in-laws.
My plan was to introduce myself to other parents at public school events, grocery store patrons in the cashier’s line and fellow patients in my doctor’s waiting room as the nice, everyday Muslim next door. Not so great in theory and probably worse in practice. While I pondered my next move a friend came to me with an invitation to join a group of Muslim and Jewish women who would get together to discuss religion and the similarities and differences in their faiths. “Great”, I thought, “here’s a chance to change the thinking of some women who have historically been prejudiced against Muslims.” Like the journey of 1000 miles that begins with a single step my personal plan was to start with the Jewish women in the original Sisterhood group. But here is where my plan went awry. The women in the group were free from Muslim prejudice. They were warm and lovely and became good friends and mentors. They taught me how to make Challah bread, invited me into their homes and into their Sukkahs, and provided an environment of laughter and support. And in doing so they broke down the prejudices I had unknowingly harbored. Jews are not one monolithic group, they are not immune to the atrocities that occur in Palestine and they practice a faith that is more involved and complicated than I could have ever imagined. I joined the Sisterhood with an agenda yet, today continue to be enriched and empowered by the friendship I have found among the members of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. In the meantime I’ll have to find some other people to convince that the Muslim woman beside them on the soccer pitch is as harmless and as relatively normal as they are…