HMMD 2011: Have a Meal with a Muslim Day 2011 is Friday, September 16th

Last year, in response to the “Burn the Quran Day” Florida pastor, I thought I’d promote at this blog a counter day; a have-a-meal-with-a-Muslim-day. The idea was to initiate dialogues, not bonfires.

And that day in September of 2010 went well. People from all over the world participated. And, for me personally, it led, not just to a nice meal with a couple of Muslims in my community, but to an interview with a Southern California imam, and a tour of his mosque. You can see that tour and interview at YouTube here.

And it’s September again, and that means that the third Friday in September (the annual date for the day) is coming up. So, this year, won’t you ask a Muslim to a meal or coffee sometime on or around September 16th?

Jonathan Elliot in New Zealand is promoting the day here. And he’s set up a Facebook page here. And I’m in Southern California.

Ask a Muslim out to talk. About anything. Honestly. No big whoop. And, of course, if you’re a Muslim, ask a non-Muslim to have a meal or coffee with you.

Am I promoting this because I’m a stupid liberal turning a blind eye to the evils of Islam? I certainly hope not. I’m ambivalent about religion in general (I’m an agnostic), and of Islam in particular. But it’s precisely this ambivalence that suggests to me that I need to talk to believers, and to Muslims specifically.

My own philosophical premise is that loving people practice their religion or atheism lovingly and hateful people practice their religion or atheism hatefully. I’m thus looking to have a meal with Muslims who practice their religion with love. I want to make alliance with them against all haters (of whatever religious or irreligious persuasion).

But, you might ask, what about the Quran? Doesn’t it, in various passages, promote intolerance, violence, and sexism?

Well, yes, it does. 

But since Muslims—like Jews and Christians—pick and choose what they will activate in their sacred texts, it gives all human beings an opening to influence one another toward adopting loving (as opposed to hateful) activations.

At least, that’s my theory.

If you think this is a sensible spirit in which to approach an attempt at breaking down walls between people, won’t you join me?

Friday, September 16th: HMMD 2011. Ask a Muslim out for a meal or cup of coffee. See what happens. And, if you’re so inclined, return to this blog and let me know how it went.

I’ve already contacted a Muslim coworker to have lunch with him that day. He said yes. And I’ve got some other Muslims in my community in mind, to invite them as well.

Your turn.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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12 Responses to HMMD 2011: Have a Meal with a Muslim Day 2011 is Friday, September 16th

  1. andrewclunn says:

    Has it really been a full year? Wow. Time does fly.

    • It sure does! I hoped to start promoting it a couple months in advance this year to give people with no Muslim friends (like me!) a chance. Oh well, there’s always next year 🙂

      Thanks Santi

  2. aNevadaRockSpirit says:

    I’m sure I could find somebody. Especially since I’ve been learning how to trade in the Markets from trading academy. 6 years on my own computer now.

    But because I’ve volunteered with some democrates campaining the last 10 years, thru politics I question Luis Faricons declaration that that Religious group sue the Federal Government to allocate Real Estate or land big enough for Muslims to run their own government. I found that out by trading a little bit of cash to those guy’s that hand out those magazines for anybody on street corners. Can’t belive people are willing to do that in 110 degree heat, at the same time wearing suits.
    But I’ll try to find somebody out for a coffey.

  3. conservative says:

    If you do have a discussion at a meal with a Muslim, just remember that he is not obligated to answer your questions honestly. That’s because his religion allows him to lie to a khafir, that is an infidel. If you read this article http://www.islamreview.com/articles/lying.shtml you’ll see what I mean. It’s written by a man from the Arabic world and who has good knowledge about islam.
    But something tells me that in spite of all the evidence in the world, with 1400 years of history, plus current facts, liberal “humanist idealists” will still choose to believe their own delusional utopia, where Muslims are mostly good and tolerant, and Western Conservatives are bad and intolerant.

    • santitafarella says:

      Conservative:

      Very, very few Western conservatives that I know personally are especially bad or intolerant. It’s frequently quite the opposite. The same goes for most Muslims and atheists.

      And I was best man at a born-again Christian conservative’s wedding. That person hardly thinks I hate conservatives. His wife recently gave my kids a puppy.

      There’s no reason liberals and conservatives can’t live friendly in a community together. The same is true of Christians and Muslims.

      Human nature doesn’t change all that much across cultures and ideologies. Loving people tend to be loving and hateful people tend to be hateful (and paranoid people tend to be paranoid).

      The question, to my mind, is the following: what impulses will people activate in their relations with others, and, under very particular circumstances, what verses from their sacred texts (whether that text is The God Delusion, the Bible, the Quran, or Karl Marx’s Capital) will they activate? Group effects and individual effects can be quite different in this regard. If you get individuals together in a friendly setting (such as a coffee bar), you can activate impulses to charity. If you get them together in a stadium to hear speakers who demonize opponents, you get a different activation.

      You would like to believe that Muslim individuals cannot be lived with in peace in your community because you don’t want to live with them in peace. Own your hate (and repent of it), and invite a Muslim to lunch on the 16th. You might make a friend.

      —Santi

  4. Paradigm says:

    It’s been a year and sadly you still don’t understand what you are up against. Not because you are stupid but because you are naive. Take Feisal Abdul Rauf for example, praised by liberals for his willingness to build bridges between Muslims and Westerners. But asked wether he agreed that Hamas was a terrorist organization he said, “Look, I’m not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question… ” Tariq Ramadan here in Europe does exactly the same two-faced retoric. And they are the poster boys for co-existence.

    If you have dinner with a Muslim, ask him or her why 8 percent of them are ok with suicide bombings (that’s the figure for American Muslims who are by far the most tolerant), and why so many others refuse to answer the question. Ask him or her what they think about homosexuality and gay rights, gender segregation in the workplace, sharia laws etc. And then report here and tell your readers that the answers you received indicate that peaceful co-existance is indeed possible.

    And remember this: you can afford this illusion but someone inevitably pays the price. All over Europe right wing extremists are gaining ground. Their voters are low income people stuck in multicultural suburbs with muslims spitting on them, calling their women whores, committing various violent crimes, especially rape and murder. You will not make friends with any Muslims, they are only deceiving you. But you are making a lot of enemies.

    • santitafarella says:

      Paradigm,

      I don’t take your critique lightly. I recognize that what you are saying could be very near to the truth. But I also think that the whole matter of Muslim assimilation is very complex and that Muslim self-identification can run across a broad range. 40 years ago, for example, I think it’s fair to say that you could walk the streets of Cairo and not see a woman anywhere wearing the hijab.

      Contemporary Muslim fundamentalism is just that: a contemporary phenomenon in which many people who self-identify as “Muslim” have decided that only the most traditional forms of the religion are truly authentic.

      I think, however, that this “authenticity” movement is no more inevitable than the decline of liberal Christianity (and the spread of fundamentalist Christianity) is inevitable. Anywhere that people self-identify as Muslim and embrace liberal values and secular modes of dress should be supported by those outside the movement for the simple reason that if you give no air to liberal tendencies you legitimate the conservative definition of what a Muslim “truly” is.

      Having a meal with a Muslim does not appease fundamentalist Islam; it brings air and sunlight to the evolution of benign forms of the religion.

      What you are describing (the isolated cultural enclaves) is exactly what needs to be broken down by human contact. When you alienate people, and won’t even talk to them because they are too different from you, you simply give them an excuse to dig in and become even more entrenched in their otherness.

      From my vantage, your naivete is in acting ignorant about the violent impulses of human beings—how people become murderous when they are driven into cultural and economic isolation and deprivation. It is the very fact that human beings can be wolves to one another that leads me to promote dialogue. We have to find ways to activate loving and cooperative modes between humans precisely because we are so easily activated in the opposite direction. Peace is work. And the monotheistic sacred texts all carry bombs in them—bombs of alienation and bombs that lend people permission to hate. This is also true of many revered secular texts (such as things written by Karl Marx and Mao). One way to keep those bombs from going off is to activate in the hearts of sacred text readers the passages that are not hateful.

      The same applies to sexist passages in holy texts.

      It would be better, in my view, if these sacred texts were discredited as the direct voice of God to man. But this is a utopian aspiration. Sacred guidance from magic books seems to be a deep human need (in the absence of God speaking directly). Sacred books, ironically, are the cheap substitute that you get for the fact that God has never ever directly spoken to human beings. Thus, since sacred texts are unlikely to ever be discredited in the minds of those who believe them (because they feel they need to believe in them), it is incumbant on the rest of us to figure out ways to keep the aggressive animal activations they can inspire down to a minimum. One of those ways is to continually remind them through dialogue that non-believers in this or that sect are not evil cartoon characters. And the non-Muslim learns a similar lesson in dialogue. Individuals are complicated. And in that complication is hope. That’s not naive. That’s true.

      —Santi

      • Paradigm says:

        Well, no one can predict the future. You may be right. If social psychology has taught us anything it is that behavior is contagious, people act like people around them. So some Muslims will no doubt become westernized.

        However, there is resistance against this in the form of creating social enclaves to preserve their identity. It’s not easy break these, as you suggest, with human contact when they are deliberate attempts to maintain cultural identity. It’s like Judith Rich Harris says, when they leave the ghetto their children become assimilated. And if you are at the bottom of the social order then all you have is your cultural identity. So if the children become Westerners then all is lost.

        You have to ask yourself why there is no need for a meal with a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist etc. Why so much friction with this particular group? The others have all been more or less westernized. For whatever reason Muslims have not. They have tried and then reverted to fundamentalism, which sets them apart from all other religious groups.

        Finally, the dialogue has already been tried. Europe has a large Muslim population and they’ve been pampered by liberals in countries like the UK, Sweden and Holland for years with little result. According to an international Gallup 96 percent of London’s Muslim find homosexuality morally unacceptable. In Holland people with money and education are now leaving the country. Tolerance and dialogue has been a great method. It has worked for all but one minority. But when it fails consistently for decades, as it does with Muslims, you have to rethink your strategy.

      • santitafarella says:

        Paradigm,

        Islam is in crisis. It absorbed, during the medieval period, the worst aspects of monotheism (iconoclasm, proclamation over dialogue, holy book literalism and authority, patriarchal absolutism, intolerance of non-monotheistic religions, holy war, the marriage of religion and the state, etc). And this religion born in the medieval period is experiencing, as we speak, the upheaval that Christians encountered two centuries ago attempting to come to terms with the Enlightenment and the French and American revolutions.

        But just as Christianity was a very different animal in 1800 compared to 1700, and was a still different animal in 1900 compared to 1800, so Islam will be a different animal a century from now.

        The Islam of the year 2111 will look more like the Islam that most American Muslims practice and less like that practiced in Saudi Arabia. And it will happen for the exact same reason that all closed systems ultimately collapse (as, say, the Soviet Union collapsed): exposure to the outside world.

        What would be worrisome to me is if I invited a Muslim American to lunch and the person said, “I don’t eat with kafir. Sorry.” And I got the same response again and again.

        If I recall correctly, there’s a passage in the New Testament where Paul tells Christians not to eat with non-believers—to not so much as let them into the house. This is the kind of mark of fanaticism that I just don’t see in the Muslims that I encounter in Southern California.

        —Santi

  5. concerned christian says:

    Santi, This is probably what you are referring to about St Paul. It is in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. It actually instructs believers to stay away from other believers if they are corrupt, but it clearly said that this rule does not apply to dealing with non believers, so I guess your conclusion is wrong.
    “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.
    For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”

    • santitafarella says:

      Well, that’s a bit calmer passage than I remember. And probably most Muslims are in a similar mindset (when they are living as a minority religious group in a non-Muslim country).

      —Santi

  6. Pingback: Hard Tolerance | Prometheus Unbound

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