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02.12.2017 ________________________________________ I don’t speak in my own NH backyard often; I don’t know if that’s because my neighbors know my stories too well – or not well enough – but I’m looking forward to this coming Sunday when I will join a gathering at The Stratham Community Church where I’ve been invited to participate in an “Ask a Muslim Anything” program.

These are not easy days to be Muslim in America and I can understand the anxiety of many of my co-religionists who are choosing to keep a low profile. Many hope that what America is passing through these days is just some dark, dystopian nightmare and that someday they will be able to wake-up, click their red heels together and be safely back in Kansas within a neutral and secular Public Square where no person risks being disenfranchised on the basis of ethnicity, color or religion.

Just don’t count on that happening any day soon.

In the politically and racially-charged world where America today finds itself, a world where a president has ascended to power by “punching down,” by marginalizing minorities and communities of color, there’s little hope of that happening soon – especially in a world where the president has surrounded himself with a cohort of anti-Muslim activists who are attempting to weaponize fear as an instrument of political power

As a result I can understand, too, the anxiety of those people who worry about Muslims, who fear a religion they know nothing about, fear people who pray in a language that few Americans understand: Fear of terrorism, fear of the unknown, fear of The Other.

I understand, too, that living out of such fear is not within the normative American experience.  I know that many people realize such fear is probably irrational but they fear Muslims in part because they don’t know any Muslims; who don’t even know that Muslims have been in these lands for 400 years and who didn’t just arrive, like Topsy, on 9/11.

That’s why I’m going to be in Stratham on Sunday night.

I’m going to be there because I’m inspired by stories like that of Jason Leger of Phoenix, who in 2015 wore a F*ck Islam t-shirt at an anti-Muslim rally and who, after speaking with worshippers outside the mosque accepted their invitation and went inside:

“When I took a second to actually sit down and listen to them,” Leger said,  “and actually enter their mosque, and go in and watch some of their prayers, it is a beautiful thing, and they answered some of the questions that I had.”

I’m going to be there because of John Dutcher in Omaha who, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said he hated Muslims – and who now calls them his friends.

Fatima Shah, a volunteer with Lutheran Family Services in Omaha, said she was shocked when Dutcher first confided his hate of Islam: “He wants the people to understand who has this hatred, how to get over it, go get to know them so you can understand what you really are hating,” she said. “He preaches this to everyone, if you hate a Muslim, go get to know one.”

“They took that hatred out of me,” Dutcher said. “I never knew how badly someone could hate to someone they don’t even know.”

I’m going to be there because of the people who’ve recently called, and the many who wrote (many whom I’ve never met) who are standing in solidarity – not just with Muslims – for American justice and solidarity.

I’m going to be there because the churches and synagogues and libraries and town halls are where my neighbors dwell; because it’s in those spaces where we are safely able to break bread, tell stories, boast about our children and share our thoughts about faith and belief.

Over the past year I’ve spoken in four states. Like the 18th and 19th century Methodist preachers who traveled from New England town to town I’ve become the itinerant Muslim, answering questions from all who want to ask an Arab-American-Muslim anything.

I’ll be there because the Qur’an enjoins us: “O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” (Asad 49:13)

They find me – or I find them – so that we might come to know each other.

I love it.

I love learning what’s on someone’s mind and I love learning from their questions what it is I need to know more about.

Over the past months what’s most impressed me is the respectfulness, openness and generosity of most of my interlocutors and I have found, even under the most challenging circumstances, that the strength of America – the power of community gathered together – is our coninued willingness to openly reaffirm that America’s a place where all are welcome to pursue “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” regardless of gender, orientation, color, ethnicity or religion.

Join us at The Stratham Community Church, Sunday, Feb. 19 at 6 pm, 6 Emery Lane, Stratham where the Mission and Justice Committee will host the “Ask a Muslim Anything” in the Rust Room.

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