As the nation reels with the increase in discriminatory actions, hate crimes, and government policies that further ostracize Muslims and people of color, there are many who continue to persevere, serving as the ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, demonstrating, time and again, that love and compassion will always trump hate.
American Muslims find themselves at a crossroads as they push past the marginalization and political difficulties, asking themselves, how do we educate our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity about our faith and culture, abolishing the stereotypes and misconceptions they have of Islam and Muslims, while engaging in meaningful dialogue about what it means to be an American in today’s society and accepting one another’s varied perspectives?
Across America, Muslims have opened their hearts, homes, and houses of worship, educating and enlightening non-Muslims on the faith and culture of Islam, destroying the vile stereotypes, ignorant misinformation, and maligning rhetoric that is perpetuated by the media and across the political and social arena. American Muslims have been, are, and will continue to be an integral part of the fabric of this nation, having laid their roots here for over 400 years, by force and by choice, protecting, serving, and advancing the nation, its constitution, and its economy.
That desire to dispel misconceptions and engage in dialogue over an incredible, home-cooked meal found its way from Seattle to Dearborn where MasterChef contestant and Dearborn native, Amanda Saab (28) and her husband Hussein (30), welcome a random and diverse group of guests into their home for dialogue and dinner.
The “Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor” concept began in Seattle, Washington, where Amanda and Hussein were living since 2012 and has found a new home, in the heart of the largest, concentrated population of Arabs outside of the Middle East, metro Detroit, where they have since returned in the fall of 2016.
MuslimGirl chats with Amanda, who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Asian Studies and a Master’s Degree in Social Work, learning of her reason to build bridges through dialogue and why it is so important to connect with people on a human level. The dinners Amanda Saab has hosted have crossed societal, religious, and political boundaries, bringing Americans together to break bread and learn about one another.
Muslim Girl: What prompted you to begin “Dinner with your Muslim Neighbor”?
Amanda Saab: After receiving some negative comments from people on Twitter and Facebook during my appearance on MasterChef and the hate ridden, Anti-Muslim presidential campaign, I felt the need to take a stand against that narrative and create a safe space for communities to come together and learn from American Muslims what our faith teaches and what we are practicing.
What was your vision and expectations for these dinners? How did you choose the dinner guests?
My vision is to have a group of diverse and curious minds together to learn and share and grow. I like to have individuals from different faith backgrounds, different ethnicities and races, sexual orientations and political beliefs. The conversation flourishes when everyone has a seat at the table.
Originally, your dinners began in Seattle, while you lived there; since returning to Dearborn, what made you feel that the concept was needed here, in a diversely populated area? Was there a particular event that prompted you to resume ‘Dinner with your Muslim Neighbor’ in Dearborn?
The dinners began in Seattle, a predominantly white city, but the need for these dinners transcends census reporting. While SE Michigan is diverse and was part of the appeal for us to move back, communities have created little pockets of people who look and think like them. How many of us truly get to know our neighbors? Have them over for dinner? Attend each other’s places of worship? Our diversity needs to truly be embraced, in that we come to understand one another on a deeper level.
What do you hope dinner guests will take away from their dinner and dialogue experience?
I hope that dinner guests learn something new about Islam and Muslims. The overwhelming theme that guests have shared they took with them is how much we all truly have in common.
Has there ever been any issue at the table during the conversations?
There have not been any issues at the table. We welcome “difficult” questions and are okay with being vulnerable.
What are essential actions other American Muslims can take to hosting similar events to raise awareness and engage in meaningful dialogue?
For those interested in hosting their own dinner, I would encourage them to sign up for our newsletter at www.muslimneighbor.com as our ‘How to’ Guide to hosting will be available soon!
What made you go into culinary arts when your educational background is in Psychology and Social work?
My love for cooking began when I was a child standing on a step stool next to my mom, Hala, as she cooked and baked. I received an Easy Bake Oven at age 5 and a Kitchen Aid stand mixer at age 16. My love for cooking picked up again after graduate school. Amandasplate.com became an outlet for my stressful social work career and allowed an outlet for the difficult things I had witnessed and experienced at work.
Lastly, what can you share about your experience on MasterChef knowing that the nation was able to learn about an American Muslima through what connects us all, the love of food?
My experience on MasterChef allowed American Muslim women to be normalized on a national level. We, like many other Americans, love to cook and share our family recipes, learn new techniques and gather around food!
Did you engage in cross-cultural conversations with other contestants? Were they intrigued by your heritage and faith? Do you recommend other American Muslims to participate in reality TV?
Because we had so much downtime, without the distraction of technology, the contestants had many deep and meaningful conversations. Upon my arrival on the first day, a fellow contestant, Tommy Walton, greeted me with a bright and jovial “Asalaamu Alaikum.” He shared his experience growing up on the south side of Chicago where an Egyptian American Muslim family lived next door.
Nick Nappi, asked so many meaningful questions about Islam, in general, and even more questions about our purpose and beliefs regarding the afterlife. Claudia Sandoval, who was the season 6 winner, asked about hijab and Islamic fashion, as well as traditions around marriage; she joined us in Dearborn for my sister’s wedding.
As an American Muslim community, we must continue to elevate and encourage one another to continue sharing their experiences and changing the narrative. When we are able to live with love, compassion, and understanding, welcoming our brothers and sisters in humanity to engage in meaningful dialogue, we can build more bridges of acceptance, instead of burning them. These are the examples of true leadership, wisdom, and engagement that the world needs.
Thank you, Amanda and Hussein Saab, for all that you do to raise awareness about Islam and Muslims. By working to dispel stereotypes and changing the narrative, bringing people together in their shared humanity to have dialogue and dinner, we begin to sow the seeds of love and compassion in our fellow neighbors, embracing our similarities rather than focusing on our differences.