This past summer, we woke up to the news of a massacre in Orlando, Fla. By the end of the day, the death toll nearly topped 50. And the assailant was Muslim.
I think most North Carolina Muslims were horrified that at a time when we are being vilified, one of our "brothers in Islam" would then kill so many people of other marginalized groups that always have a finger pointed at them. Especially as this occurred during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting — we're supposed to do good things during that month.
So one evening, I piled into a car with two sweet UNC Muslim friends and drove over to Duke University (ugh) for a solidarity dinner in memory of the massacre victims. There were Muslim people, LGBTQ people and Muslim LGBTQ people all mixed up, Latinos and non-Latinos and professors, families and students.
I'd never been in that kind of a group before. There were as many "backward, oppressed" Muslim women in hijabs as there were "free, enlightened" Muslims without.
We started with a group prayer. It was read out first in English, then in Spanish and included memorable lines like "may God strike down HB2 … may Muslims not use the existence of Islamophobia as a rhetorical strategy to deny the homophobia we perpetuate, as if both cannot exist at the same time … give us the courage to protect and love one another."
We followed that with the traditional Muslim evening prayers.
At 8:37 p.m. the sun set; we could finally break the fast and eat. We had rice, chicken and potatoes in a sauce (that was my favorite), spinach and lamb in a stew, peas and carrots and other vegetables in another stew and lots of rice. We were all in a food coma for a bit.
Then anyone who wanted could talk and share their feelings.
One Muslim man said, "My name is Omar. I hate that my name gets tied up with something so far from me." (The attacker's first name was also Omar). Our Omar continued, "As open-minded as I like to think I am, I don't have friends of every race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation. So I ask everyone to go out and find those friends."
I made friends with a lovely college graduate that night, and she said, "I've seen how the LGBTQ and Latino communities have switched from defending themselves to defending Muslims. And it hurts me so much when my LGBTQ and Latino friends come try to comfort me and make sure I'm not hurting when they're the victims here."
One activist who was clever with history said, "People are terrified when different groups come together. Asian-American workers during the 1800s were separated physically and politically from Black workers. That was very specifically done. There's probably someone very terrified that right now all these different groups are sitting here talking together."
Then a student got up and said something that made us swoon! "As a white male, I just wanted to say I've always been and always will be supportive. Your fight is my fight, and I've always got your back."
And we've always got yours.
Duke tried stealing the glory by hosting the event (they had the space), but it was actually organized by two female Muslim UNC students. We can always count on our fellow Tar Heels. And sure, it was nice to mix between the schools.
Let's do more of all kinds of mixing.
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