Originally Published in OnFaith
Growing up as a Brown Muslim in Central PA in the early 90s, I was so rare that I thought I was white like everyone else. But 9/11 made sure I knew I wasn’t. While I grieved like any other American, many Americans didn’t see me as the once chubby jokester any longer. Our neighbors, a father (a proud Republican and former Marine), mother, and two adorable young daughters were particularly distressed over the tragedy. In no time, a prominent 9/11 memorial popped up on their front yard. On the side of the house facing us, the former Marine created a concrete slab that said, “9/11 Never Forget.” Needless to say, my family did not know how to react to that, so we said nothing about it.
My mom and his wife had a cordial relationship and during their conversations, his wife mentioned that the tragedy really upset him. So mom took over a fruit basket for the family, expressed her condolences about 9/11, and informed them that the terrorists’ acts were not Islamic. Our neighbor’s mind opened up. We never spoke about the concrete slab. But, he said that had it not been for my mother’s actions, he would have been left in the dark about Islam and he would have harbored negative feelings about all Muslims. Since then, a friendship blossomed.
I saw a pinnacle in this relationship during Hurricane Sandy. When our power went out, within minutes, he was standing in the pouring rain, knocking on our door. He said we were free to use his generator to make sure our food in the fridge would not spoil. Every snowfall, he even brings his snow plow to plow our driveway. And just this past Christmas, despite having a “Donald Trump” bumper sticker on his truck, he crafted a beautiful woodworking of our mosque’s logo. Over the past several years, our neighbors have been frequent guests at our home, family weddings, mosque, and annual Ahmadiyya Muslim convention at the Farm Show Complex. My dad says they are practically family.
Through this dialogue and others happening through the TrueIslam.com education campaign, many are meeting Muslims for the first time and signing up to be a Muslim Ally. In light of the recent calls to ban Muslims from America, we’ve seen an inspiring surge of supporters– thousands of our fellow Americans have signed up as a Muslim Ally. That’s no small feat. Young Muslims have taken to the streets of downtown Harrisburg for “#MeetAMuslim” sidewalk chats where people can ask whatever they want about Islam.
Movements like this are catching fire throughout the nation and for good reason. Pew reports 62% of Americans do not know a Muslim. With all the rhetoric about “radical Islamic terror” and “Muslim bans”, many are coming out of their shells to find out what this “Islam” thing is. Many have asked their questions at Coffee, Cake, and True Islam events where they get free coffee, cake, answers and a chance to meet their neighbors. Outreach is good, dialogue is great, and kindness to your neighbors is fantastic. And why not? His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad reminds everyone the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) went as far as to say that a person from whom his neighbor is not safe cannot be classed as a believer or a Muslim.
That concrete slab? It’s since fallen into disrepair, covered in moss. Me? I’m once more the comical chubby kid they saw grow up — except now we’re no longer just neighbors, we’re family.