I don’t really know how to react to the recent murders of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill. I am still processing the loss of people who, though I don’t know personally, seemed to be such radiant, shining beams of hope and good in the world. I’m a graduate student where two of the victims went to school, and I know people who knew them personally. I cannot get over the image of such young beautiful people shot in the head in my own backyard.
I consider it one of my life’s callings to be an advocate for interfaith acceptance and understanding. I always struggle with the idea of how to share my convictions about the need to work to combat Islamophobia in the U.S. while being careful not to speak for Muslims, whose own voices need to be heard.
It’s hard. It feels condescending to say “Muslims! You are welcome in our community!” or “You are welcome in America” because most U.S. Muslims are American; as American as I am. To say “you’re welcome here” is problematic because it seems based in the assumption that they are still Other. It should go without saying that Muslims in the U.S.– both American and foreign-born– are an important and thriving part of the national fabric. But situations like this make me feel like something needs to be said to affirm Muslim belonging.
I often refer to Chimamanda Adiche’s TED talk– “The danger of a single story,” and think it appropriate to offer my alternative narrative– of my five years living in Morocco, an Islamic kingdom, as a white, then-single, American, Christian woman.
In essence? Morocco is my second home. I miss it every day. The convergence of old and new, of traditional and modern, of Arab and European and Amazigh and African culture– it is an energizing, exciting place to be.
But what I miss most about Morocco are the people. Oh, the people! I have never felt quite so welcomed and accepted when traveling abroad as I did in Morocco. In my Peace Corps town– a rural Amazigh village– I could not leave my house without someone inviting me in for tea– sometimes almost literally dragging me in their door. We would talk about religion, politics, society, the role of women, life, family, romance… and while we often had different perspectives, I was accepted despite those differences. Occasionally people would try to invite me to become a Muslim, but were respectful when I described a different path to God.
Through their examples, my perspectives have changed on some things– the treatment of the elderly, for example, or giving money to beggars as an act of worship; a more nuanced understanding of the spectrum of “arranged-ish” marriages, or what a non-western feminism might look like. I learn from those experiences and my Moroccan friends’ perspectives, and continue to grow myself through conversation and observation.
I feel lucky– I ended up meeting the love of my life in Morocco, and have been able to build a partnership with my Moroccan, Muslim husband here in the U.S. Our interfaith marriage has made us both grow spiritually and personally, and we continue to embrace the journey towards understanding and faith together. We have both learned more about where we come from and who we are than I ever thought possible. And I am grateful every day to have someone as special and incredible as him in my life.
It’s hard not to laugh when people find out I am married to a Muslim and give me a look of horror. “Doesn’t he make you wear that…thing?” “Is he controlling?” “Are you oppressed?” “And he lets you work?” It’s hard not to laugh, but the laughter would be covering a sense of sadness because of the lack of understanding of the diversity of how Muslims live their lives. I couldn’t imagine my husband as an oppressor in any way. As a staunch feminist myself, I could never marry someone who came close to imposing those types of ideals or values on our relationship. There are so many different stereotypes; so many misconceptions.
And there are so many single-stories of the worst, done in the name of over a billion people, without actually representing or speaking for their ideals or beliefs.
So there’s my story– the story of a white, Christian, American whose life has been changed for the better through interactions with Muslims in an Islamic kingdom, and whose Muslim, Arab husband challenges her to be a better person on a daily basis. The story of a North Carolinian whose heart is breaking and aching because of the dichotomy between how I was treated as an outsider in Morocco compared to the culture of fear and devastating consequences around Islam in the U.S. and more recently, in my own community.
I’m sure there are thousands of these alternate stories out there– and I challenge us to continue to speak up and challenge the dominant narrative.
About the Author: Katy Rosenbaum is a Melibee, student, interculturalist and the wife of a Muslim man from Morocco. You can read more about her here.