Why I’m Gathering Tales From Muslim Worlds
Last year, I began to feel an urgency to do my part for peace. For years, I have written about travel and culture, about the world and people—from my own, limited perspective. That is no longer enough. Today, on a mission to remind people how we're all members of one human family, I’ve begun a project assembling short stories by authors of Muslim backgrounds across the globe, with the aim of shining a light on their diverse perspectives and very different homelands. I know these stories are not mine to tell. They belong to the 1.7 billion Muslim voices of our world. So I’m reaching out to find them.
People often ask me why I chose this topic. Why does a white girl from California, baptized Christian, married to a Buddhist, care about Muslims?
The impetus for the project came from a story told by fellow American traveler, Noni Allwood, who had just come back from Iran. She saw a mother and her two daughters coming out of a mosque in Yazd, southwest of Tehran. Hoping to connect with them, Noni said hello. The four women ended up spending the afternoon together. The eldest daughter, 15, plied Noni with question after question. “What does your country think of us? Does your country know that there are good Muslims in the world? What can we do to improve understanding between us?” My skin still chills when I imagine her earnest voice, and the urgency of her inquiry. She is asking to be heard.
Why is this project important to me? I am not an activist. Xenophobia and racism are scary words. On most days, I’d rather pretend they doesn’t exist. Call that white privilege, white gaze, white blindness—call it what you will. But I can’t think of one reason I should spend time talking, writing, and sharing on issues that draw us apart instead of focusing on the more important truth—one that doesn’t get enough media play these days—our sameness, our shared humanity.
Despite countless superficial differences, at our core, we are all the same. We have the same basic needs for food and shelter, the same emotional needs for love and protection, and the same desires for friendship and respect. It’s as simple as that. This understanding runs in my blood. Some call it naiveté. Some call it a gift.
I have always chosen to focus on the beautiful things about our messy human mix. I feel more comfortable when I’m in a mixed crowd, mixed of color, mixed of financial standing. I feel at home in the mesh and mingle of the New York City subway, where everybody rides the same, no matter who you are or where you come from. It makes me smile to see children playing together when they don’t speak the same language. When I see hunger, when I see fear, when I see joy, pain, tears, love, I see someone like me. Human, like me. There is no difference.
So why now? When the terrorist attacks started happening in Paris last year, good friends recounted first-hand experiences. People dear to me were afraid for their lives. But worse than my concern for further danger was a roiling anguish for the millions of peaceful Muslims living all over the world. I dreaded the idea that their neighbors would turn against them. I hated that they might have to hide or feel defensive about a private, personal choice like religion. I know this is not the first time in history humans have acted with hatred in the name of religion, and that these crimes are happening all over the world, but this is the first time it felt real for me.
Today, I believe that the U.S. has turned over to a conservative government in large part due to a fear of terrorism. Terrorism divides through fear, and pulls us apart from the inside. Terrorism aims to break us down, one violent attack at a time. By making us fear each other. By making us fear our neighbors. This idea haunts me to the core, and I want to turn away from it. Again, I’m not an activist. I’m not a fighter. My strength lies in seeing beauty and humanity everywhere I look. I believe that there are far more things that tie us together as humans than there are differences to tear us apart. That is my religion.
My project is just one brick in that bridge we need to build. Come, please join me.
Read about the readers & advisors on my team.