We are Muslim and non-Muslim together

May Saffar came to speak to us today, after our Annual Meeting. She’d said to one of our members (whom she met through peace activities) that she wanted to reach outside her comfort zone, in talking about peace, cooperation, coexistence, the war in Iraq, Arabs and Muslims; she was tired of only “preaching to the choir.” Coming into a synagogue was, in fact, a little bit outside her comfort zone. But she found “the choir” here too! Those of us who were there really appreciated hearing and speaking with her.

I was struck and touched and challenged by what she said — talking about herself and her experiences in Iraq and here, as an Iraqi Muslim woman who left Iraq at age 18 and has lived in the United States for 15 years. As a feminist Muslim woman who wants change in the status quo, she’s not entirely comfortable in any local Muslim community. It’s not that there aren’t other Muslims who agree with her, but apparently she’s one of few who are ready to speak up in public. I was once again reminded of how fortunate I am to be living when and where I am: if I had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, or had I lived a generation earlier, I’d either be a different person or a constant outcast. Ashrey — how fortunate I am to have a community which accepts and values me, allowing me to have both insider and outsider perspectives!

But I was appalled to hear how isolated her daughter feels. Marc Perry wrote an article about an incident of harassment that her daughter endured at Shenedehowa High School. I know a little about Shen; it has a good reputation in the gay community, because of its Gay-Straight Alliance. Here’s the description from the school’s 2007-2008 website:

GLASS (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Spectrum)
GLASS is an alliance of students, faculty, and staff. Its purpose is to promote an environment of acceptance and tolerance in school, create a safe learning environment for gay/lesbian students, welcome and foster gay-straight alliances; create awareness of gay-lesbian issues; and support local, state, and national functions. Last spring, GLASS had nearly 400 Shen students participate in the National Day of Silence and sponsored Expression Night. The group hopes to support National Coming Out Day and the AIDS Walk as well as sponsor a movie night.

Isn’t it time for an alliance of Muslim and Arab students, faculty and staff with non-Muslim, non-Arab students, faculty, and staff, to promote the same goals? Namely: Safety, peer support, understanding of the particular issues facing Muslim and Arab students especially since 9/11, and wider networking.

When one is in a minority, safety and acceptance are promoted best when you have allies in the majority group(s). I imagine you have to appeal to the best in a few people to get such alliances started; that small group works to educate themselves about their differences and similarities, and then they work to educate the people surrounding them.

It’s time for such a group at Shen … and everywhere else.

Of course, we need Rainbow Alliances in general; our deepest American divides seem to be about skin color and culture more than religion these days. Culture includes economics, too…

Just some musings.