The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming!
They’re already here, actually, and in cities like Dearborn, Michigan, they have been for over a hundred years. They are Americans, too, but since 9/11 there has been a lot of trumped up Islamophobia; it’s been very profitable for the hatriots. So it was a good sign when “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” on Canadian TV, showed them as human beings. Here in America, where the attacks took place, it was a little different. Last November a series on TLC (The Learning Channel) called “All-American Muslim” was the target of attacks by the Florida Family Association, a Christian hate group. Their pressure caused the show’s main sponsor, Lowe’s, to cave and pull their ads. Russell Simmons stepped up and offered to buy up the ad time, then it looked like TLC would also cave and pull the show, but I found it was still on, and caught the last three episodes. Let me tell you a little about it.
It’s set in Dearborn, MI, one of the largest concentrations of Middle Eastern immigrants, mostly Muslim. The show follows the daily lives of some Muslim-American families. One subplot was about the Fordson, the local high school, and a big football game. Most of the students are Muslim, and they’d been losing games. It had been during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk. Maybe the team’s energies were down. Another subplot involved a recent fatal shooting in the community. Both shooter and victim had been known to these people since childhood. They talked about how sad it was, and how such a thing could have happened. I was immediately intrigued; This wasn’t the Carcrashians, or whatever they call themselves. These are average Americans. THEY are just like US. They’re trying to find a balance between their faith and 21st Century America, as well as dealing with other peoples’ attitudes about them.
The next episode was compelling — how the community was coping with the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Nina Bazzy doesn’t wear the hijab, the close-fitting head scarf that frames the face much like a nun’s habit. She’s a pretty blonde probably in her twenties, and the way she dresses — like a modern young woman — would get her arrested in some Muslim countries. She is an event planner, and is thinking about opening a bar. Islam forbids the drinking of alcohol, but the bar would serve non-Muslims. Naturally, her mother is strongly against the idea. Nina also seems to be a devout Muslim, and struggles with the conflict between her faith and what she wants to do with her life. She is sitting with several of her friends, some in the hijab, others not. They’re talking about 9/11. Nina says, “When I first heard, I thought, these people are not Muslims. A Muslim would never do anything like that. Islam is a religion of peace.” It reminded me of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1997. He’d professed to be Christian, but I remember several people say, “A Christian would never do anything like that.”
The women talked about being targets of harassment in the days following the attacks, their hijabs identifying them as possible terrorists. Nawal Aoude, a young mother and respiration therapist, said, “There are certain people in any culture that are, you know, rotten apples. F**ked up.”
Another said, “People looked at me like I was un-American. I was born and raised here.”
And another: “It’s unfortunate that we have to prove ourselves, that we’re good Americans.”
Yet another: “I’m kind of tired of feeling I have to apologize all the time.” As Americans, all were shocked and saddened by the event.
Bilal Amen, the Fordson Athletic Director, wants to go to New York City and see Ground Zero. “I want to see the place that changed my life,” he says. He also wants to get a tattoo from Ami James, world famous for the TV reality series, “N.Y. Ink.” His sister Shadia, a special education assistant, will accompany him. She wants to get a tattoo too. Their mother, Lila, is more traditional; she doesn’t like tattoos, but she knows it’s not her decision.
Later, Bilal and Shadia are walking near the 9/11 site. She is wearing a t-shirt that says, “I am not a terrorist.” They meet two young women, and one excitedly asks, “Where did you get that t-shirt?” They all talk and laugh awhile, then part. As they approach the tattoo parlor, Bilal is nervous. His family is from Lebanon; he has a large Lebanese flag tattoed on his back, and he knows Ami James is an Israeli. The two countries have a touchy past. As Ami examines Bilal’s back he sees the flag and asks about it. As it turns out, Ami served in the Israeli Defenses Forces in Lebanon; Bilal tenses a little more. But as the two discuss the tensions between the countries, they develop a mutual respect and agree it’s time for people to put aside old prejudices. Afterwards, Bilal and Shadia are elated by their experience, and the new friends they’ve made.
Back at home, Lila wants to see the tattoos her children just got. “Are you in pain, my son?” “Yes.” “Good.” Bilal: Lila (he calls her by name) hates tattoos, because she believes our bodies belong to God, and we should keep them the same way they were when He gave them to us.” “It just breaks my heart,” she says, but she’s smiling. Family is very important, and they regularly get together.
Then we see several couples at a dinner party. They talk about their day, their jobs, and such. Later, the men separate to talk among themselves out in the garage. They share the hookah, laughing and talking, while inside, the women visit. It’s their way, as it is in the mosque, where men and women sit separately.
Suehala Amen is a medical clerk, and single. Her hijab cannot hide her youth or beauty. She is intelligent and articulate, and talks about how she wants to move to Washington, D.C. where she thinks there are better job opportunities. Her parents would rather she stay here, get married, settle down. “I’m not going to stunt my own growth or my own profession, because my parents want me to stay here,” she says. “It’s not love if they want to hold you back.” In another scene she is talking with some women friends, explaining some central beliefs of Islam. “Our biggest no-no is pork,” she says. “You mention pork in front of my mom, she will literally drop dead.” They all laugh.
These story lines continue throughout the final episode, but the central theme is the Big Game, the annual football game between Fordson and Dearborn. Fordson is mostly Muslim, and in the working class part of town. Dearborn is about 50-50, and a little more upscale. It’s been a huge rivalry for as long as anyone can remember. Bilal and Shadia went to Dearborn, but he transferred to Fordson because of its football tradition, and was a big star.
Nawal and Nader Aoude are new parents in their thirties, with a baby boy, I think his name is Nassim. They haven’t had a night out together for a long while. Tonight a relative will watch the baby so they can have a “date night.” They’re going to the game. Nawal will sit with her husband in the Fordson section, but she went to Dearborn and wears the orange and black team colors. Nader jokes, “You’re gonna get heckled. I’m gonna have to beat somebody up.”
Just outside of the stands, Bilal sees his sister Shadia, also in orange and black, heading for the Dearborn section. “Shadia, you’re going the wrong direction.” She snaps back, “I know where I’m going.” “Shadia, until tomorrow we are not related. Come over about 10:30 tonight and we’ll talk about letting you back in the family.” She just laughs. Fordson beats Dearborn, 42-14.
I got to like these people, I wish I could meet them, talk to them, listen to them. Most of them are devout Muslims, and their faith is their anchor, as it always is with people of faith. They’re also proud to be Americans, and they love their country. “This is America,” says one. “You can be who you want and nobody can tell you different. That’s why it’s a great country.” Let me have an Amen, brothers and sisters.
I nearly forgot. Do you know what was the main objection of the Florida Family Association to “All-American Muslim”? They felt it wasn’t an accurate portrayal of Muslims. Nobody had explosives strapped to their chests, or ran around screaming, “Death to America!” I thought back to a year ago, when I heard audio of some Muslim families in California on their way to the mosque (I don’t think I want to see the film). They were surrounded by a group of Christian hatriots who were hurling the ugliest, most disgusting epithets at them, at these families with young children! It made me feel ashamed to be an American.
I’ve watched America go through lots of changes in all my years, many for the worse, and at times I’ve become cynical and fatalistic. I would never have guessed that my hope for this country would be rekindled by a bunch of Muslim-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan. But that’s why it’s a great country. Oh, and don’t shop at Lowe’s.