Muslims Next Door: Uncovering Myths and Creating Friendshipsby Shirin Taber
This insider’s view of how North American Muslims think and live goes beyond false stereotypes and provides practical suggestions on how to establish friendships that can point to Christ. Since September 11, 2001, Americans are more curious about the followers of Islam. We can no longer afford to be ignorant of such an influential and historical world religion. Muslims Next Door dispels commonly held myths and helps readers to better understand how Muslims think. Author Shirin Taber comes from a multicultural background and has lived in Iran, France, and Turkey, and now in the United States. Stories of her experiences as well as from interviews with Muslims help readers understand the human side of Islam. Each chapter contains questions for reflection to use in group settings. The book also includes a glossary of Islamic terms.
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- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
Why I've Written This Book
Eileen, a stunning brunette in her thirties, caught my attention in the checkout line of an Albertson's store one crisp fall morning. I
watched as she freely conversed with customers. I found myself drawn to her jewel-black eyes, olive coloring, and inviting smile, all of which reminded me of the many exotic women I had met over the years as I
traveled in the Middle East: Mina from Iran, Leila from Tunisia, Hulya from Turkey. Eileen, however, is not of Middle Eastern origin, but Latino and, like me, is part of the browning of America.
A few months later, Eileen and I ran into one another at a Christmas tea hosted by my church. It intrigued Eileen to learn that I was to be the guest speaker that night. She thought of me as just a customer in the checkout line. Before the evening ended, she thanked me for my talk, which she said had touched her. Little did I know how profoundly.
The following week, Eileen pulled me aside at the checkout line and gave me a small gift. Inside a red box was a silver angel pendant.
The gift, she said, was her way of expressing her gratitude for the things
I had shared at the tea. My Middle Eastern background fascinated her,
and she asked if we could get together sometime for coffee. She had a few questions, questions about Islam.
Over the years, various people who have been curious about Muslims have been brought into my path---parents of my childhood friends,
a math teacher in junior high, businessmen at dinner parties, members of an adult Sunday school class, friends in my book club.
It took a few weeks to coordinate our schedules, but finally one afternoon Eileen made her way to my home. Eileen wondered if I could help her understand why Muslims are so angry with America. She has friends who are Muslims, and she wanted to learn about their point of view. After we were comfortably seated in my living room, I began to tell her about my background as a daughter of an Iranian-Muslim father and an Irish-Catholic mother. She heard for the first time an insider's view of Muslim life.
When the topic of 9-11 came up, she wondered about America's response. 'Revenge? Strike back militarily? And how do we respond now to Muslims living in the United States?'
I turned the questions over in my mind, trying to think of the best way to respond. 'Most Americans can't identify with the complex issues that fuel Muslims' mistrust toward the West and toward the American government in particular,' I said. 'We'd have to cover hundreds and hundreds of years of history to understand Muslim animosity. But regardless of how America responds to terrorism, there is an issue that is far more important, and one that each of us can do something about. We need to cultivate peace with Muslims living in our homeland. We need to make them feel a part of America. Make them feel like they belong.
They aren't going to go away.'
She nodded, trying to grasp the issues confronting our Muslim neighbors. I went on to explain that the Muslims shown on the news as gun-toting, flag-burning religious fanatics in some Middle Eastern country are not typical followers of Islam. The truth is that millions of North
Americans and Europeans study with, work with, and live near Muslims.
It's no longer uncommon to hear the names Fatima or Mohammed on campus, at a neighborhood park, or in a boardroom. In the past, Muslims have been marginalized in our homeland, seen as resident aliens and not as part of the fabric of our country. Christians in the West rarely have any close contact with practicing Muslims, leaving all discussions of religion and faith to missionaries overseas. But times have changed.
Our World After 9-11
When historians look back, it will be radical Islam and the war on terrorism that will mark our times. In our post--9-11 world, many Westerners are suspicious of their Muslim neighbors. Public anger against
Muslims has increased. Newsweek reported a 1,700 percent rise in hate crimes against Arab-Americans since 9-11.1 An ABC News poll showed that since the bombing of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and the downing of the plane in a field in Pennsylvania, Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam and think the Muslim faith encourages violence.
2 But many Americans, like Eileen, want to understand how Muslims think. Some want to know how to establish friendships that can point Muslims to Christ.
Times have changed, and Islam has become a presence in Western society. Since 1999, for example, Muslims have been conducting prayer inside the United States Capitol on Fridays. The number of Muslim chaplains in the United States military has tripled, serving 4,000 personnel.
3 In 2000, the United States Postal Service issued a postal stamp commemorating Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year and the
Muslim month of fasting. According to Islamic Horizons, an influential
Muslim journal with more than 60,000 readers, 'Muslim Americans represent
$75 billion of collective income, more than any Muslim country can produce.'4
Westerners are realizing that we can no longer be ignorant of the fastest-growing religion in the world. The number of Muslims worldwide is estimated to be over one billion, which is nearly one-sixth of the world's population.5 United Nations statistics report that in Europe the Muslim population grew by more than 100 percent between the years of 1989 and
1998.6 Nearly six million Muslims live in France, and three million in
Germany, contributing to a total of fourteen million in all of Europe.7
That's nearly four times as many Muslims as are in the United States.
The presence of nearly ten million Muslims in France and Germany helps shed light on why Europeans might see their relationship with the
Middle East differently than do people in the United States. I often tell my friends in California, 'Imagine how you'd feel if the world suddenly became hostile toward Mexico and the Mexicans who inhabit our communities,
schools, and workplaces. The sentiment you'd feel, whether shock, sympathy, or fear, is comparable to how Europeans now feel toward the Muslims who have lived among them for centuries.'
Whether in Paris, Berlin, London, or Brussels, European Muslims are becoming a powerful political force, making world leaders understandably anxious to keep the peace and secure their votes.
Growth of the Muslim population is occurring not only in Europe.
The percentage of Muslims in the United States is on the rise too, up 25
percent from 1989 to 1998. Why? Changes in immigration laws since
1960 and a demand for workers have encouraged Muslims to seek prosperity in our nation.8 Estimates from The Christian Science Monitor put the current number of Muslims in this country at four million.9 The number of mosques in North America is approaching 2,500.10 A large number of Muslims populate our biggest cities, with principal concentrations found in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. There are
400,000 in the Chicago area, and another 400,000 residing in New Jersey.
11 Twenty percent of American Muslims live in California, and 16
percent in New York.12 African-American converts make up nearly 45
percent of the Muslims in America.13 Given this rapid growth, if there isn't already a Muslim living on your street or working near you or attending school with your children, there likely will be in the near future.
As an Iranian-American, I wonder how we might change our nation's perceptions of and ways of relating to the followers of Islam. I
wonder if some of the answers to peaceful coexistence with Muslims lie in a change of heart and values by our nation's families and churches. I
can't help but think of the powerful example of repentance and healing given to us by Pope John Paul II when he asked the Jews for forgiveness for the Holocaust and the Crusades.
Meet the Author
Shirin Taber comes from a multicultural background, with an Iranian father and American mother. Fluent in English, French, and Persian, she served for eight years as a university chaplain in Europe and the Middle East. She and her husband direct international media projects, including the Damah Film Festival, which explores spiritual experience in film. Taber has also authored two multicultural novels, AmericanEyes and Aysha, which show how ethnicity impacts spirituality and relationships.
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