My upbringing was interreligious, not areligious. Growing up in my house meant being exposed to all faiths. We celebrated everything: Christmas, Ramadan, Easter… one year we even celebrated Yom Kippur, just out of habit. But we didn’t celebrate anything too hard. We celebrated the diet version of every holiday. We got gifts on Christmas, but didn’t go overboard. During Easter, we hid the eggs but never looked for them. That could explain the weird smell in the backyard. And I still fast during Ramadan… til about noon.
Actually, there is one main reason I don’t fast during Ramadan… It’s hard! For a culture completely obsessed with food, Ramadan is a true testament to the fortitude of Arabs. When we put our minds to it, we can achieve anything. And that’s what I love most about my people. Ramadan, in part, is meant to be a reminder to all Muslims as to how lucky they are to have constant access to food and a few dollars in their pockets. To me, it is also a reminder as to how Arabs are survivors.
For a group of people that have spent the last hundred years being the doormat of the media, films, and American foreign policy, spending 30 days of sunlight (even in August) without food, drink, and sex is not that big of a deal. Well, the food and drink is not that big of a deal. The last part is hard.
Arabs and Muslims are an integral part of the fabric of American society. This should go without saying. But in today’s world, it seems that we have to constantly remind Americans citizens of that fact. The first mosque in America was not built in Los Angeles, New York City, or Dearborn. It was built in Maine by Albanian Muslims in 1915. The first mosque built by Arabs was erected in 1934… in Iowa. Yes, Maine and Iowa. I wonder if Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck know that. It might make them cringe, and that would be awesome to see.
Yet American Muslims are still seen as foreigners in their own country. They are constantly seen as a threatening force. They are commonly viewed as distrustful. They are frequently being forced to declare their patriotism. And when something happens, they are always the first suspects.
When the massive explosion and mass murders occurred in Norway a week ago, I said the same thing to myself as every Arab and Muslim watching the news: “Please don’t let it be an Arab, please don’t let it be an Arab.” Some news agencies started reporting that Norway had become yet another victim of Islamic radical terrorists. When it started to become clear that the perpetrator was a white Christian right-winger, those same news agencies started to report that “the attack seems to show no signs of Islamic radicalism.”
I wonder what “signs of Islamic radicalism” actually are. Are the explosions different? Does the debris disperse in a crescent-like fashion? Do the fumes smell like garlic?
As it turns out, the atrocities in Norway were not committed by a Muslim. But they might have been committed because of Muslims. The individual who carried out these horrible acts, it seems, was terrified by what he saw as the “Islamification” of his homeland. He saw himself as the Paul Revere of his people, trying to exclaim to everyone: “The Muslims are coming!”
Well, now that Ramadan is here, every Western country should come to terms. The Muslims are not coming. They are already here. They pump your gas, build your cars, and operate on your loved ones. They sell you Big Gulps, deliver your mail, and pull you over for speeding. Some are named Muhammad, and some are named Joe. Some have beards, and some are clean-shaven. Some wear veils, and some wear bikinis. Some are easy to spot, and some aren’t. I bet that pisses off Bill and Glenn too.
So I say to my fellow Americans… During this month, get to know your Muslim American compatriots. And if you can’t locate them, wait until about 3 pm. That’s when hunger starts to knock. If you see a brown or beige person lazily walking down the street with very little energy, it’s probably because he or she hasn’t eaten since dinner the night before. Go say hello. I bet he’ll invite you over for dinner. And you better be on time. Dinner during Ramadan is the one thing we’re never late for.