The neighborhood I live in now is a lot like the one I lived in when I grew up. It’s a little suburb of a big city (Minneapolis now, St Paul then) with rows of little tract houses filled with friendly, happy families. There’s a mall nearby, and although it’s a bit bigger than the mall I grew up near (it’s the Mall of America), it’s not that different. It’s a place where teenagers go to hang out, and parents come to shop. There are good schools, because that’s always been a priority for our state, full of giggling children that get a little bit wiser every year. (We hope.)
There’s a Muslim community center a few blocks away from my house. It’s over by the corner gas station, and on spring mornings you can see them unroll a long prayer mat in the parking lot as they teach a gaggle of energetic kids how to face Mecca. A few doors down, there’s a halal market, and hardly a week goes by that I don’t see a woman wearing a headscarf as she goes to her daily job, or a young girl at the library proudly wearing hers because she thinks it makes her look grown-up.
Many of those young girls are at my child’s school. When I go to class presentations, the children form an eclectic mix of racial backgrounds. Some of them are already wearing headscarves even in third grade, and I’m sure the number will only go up as we move from watching elementary school concerts to middle school concerts. They all smile nervously before the program starts, though, and smile much more genuinely once it ends. Their parents all smile back.
Most of those parents have jobs in the area. Some of them work with me in my office; some of them work over at the Mall of America. We all shop at the Mall from time to time, although I’m sure they’d agree with me that it’s mostly for tourists and you can get cheaper prices at the outlet center a few minutes down the highway. But at the end of Ramadan, the Mall fills with happy and excited families, eager to break their fast and celebrate Eid al-Fitr. It’s a little bit hard to find a table on those days, but it’s a lot of fun wishing people “Eid Mubarak” and seeing them smile.
I’ve been told a lot, by a lot of different people, that I should be afraid of the threat of Islam. I’ve heard people saying that Muslims are violent extremists, that they’re a threat to America, and that they take over whole areas and make things unwelcome for people who don’t share their religion. I wish those people could come here, and see my neighborhood, and talk to the people who live there. Because when I see the parents shopping, the teenagers hanging out, the giggling children and the happy families in their little tract houses, all I can think is:
The neighborhood I live in now is a lot like the one I lived in when I grew up.