Giving me shelter

As another Fourth of July holiday and Ramadan wind down, I’m thinking of an unusual invitation I received this month. It was from an old friend, a neighbor, who I grew up with, alongside her children. I’ve spent countless hours in her family home, making dandelion necklaces in her backyard, hula-hooping on her driveway, and it was a treat to see her number on my screen.

“If you ever need it, God forbid, we will shelter you,” she said to me over the phone.

I’m pretty sure I mumbled incoherently as she went on to explain that as a Jewish child in Europe, she often wondered who she would turn to for help if the need ever arose.

“I thought I would go to my father’s secretary,” she shared.

I accepted her offer with thanks, almost as if it was to attend a dinner party, aware that my response felt completely inadequate but unable to say more in that moment. Her husband had independently emailed me only a week earlier with a similar message. He had congratulated me on the success of It’s Ramadan, Curious George, and all the media attention it garnered, and added that, “Heaven forbid that it ever comes to pass, but if it does, please shelter here with your family. We will do all in our power to protect you, a really wonderful family we are so fortunate to know.”

We went on to exchange a few jokes like usual, lament about the current state of the world and the fact that we had come to where we are today, and made promises to get together soon. And then I hung up the phone, filled with emotion, and wept tears of gratitude over the gesture and its significance.

In the wake of the Trump-fueled madness and backlash against American Muslims, interactions like these, along with the faith that things will improve, are what keep me sane. I’ve been asked recently about how I explain Islamophobia to my children, how I “feel” about violent extremism, and how I find the space to write books on Muslim themes in this climate. I haven’t had really good answers for any of those questions. And meanwhile, the news keeps highlighting incomprehensible events more horrific than the last.

What I haven’t been asked is what gives me hope during this time, apart from the wonderful and heartwarming response to the book. And I haven’t been able to say that it’s those who have supported me with thoughtful demonstrations of friendship: a simple email from a fellow author saying “I’m thinking of you.” A note from a friend who made the point to donate a set of my books about Muslims to all of her children’s school libraries. A total stranger, identifying as a Buddhist lesbian, who emailed me to say she wanted me “to know there are others supporting you and your community with love and well wishes.” And the ultimate offer of protection, coming from a place of unconditional love.

Many of the individuals who reached out are other minorities, who know what it is like to face discrimination, oppression, and even holocaust. They feel the fear of watching our country go down this terrible path in a deeply personal way. It’s a terrible club to be a part of. But everyone who has contacted me, minorities or not, are disappointed as Americans who believe in the founding principles of this nation by the current state of affairs, and are watching them be trampled with dread. I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart. Because of you, I remain hopeful that the collective memory of past mistakes will serve us all, that common sense and fairness will prevail, and that my family never actually has to seek shelter, as much as I appreciate the invite.