I just got back from Zanzibar, which is 99% Muslim. Donald Trump should go and take a vacation there and see what I saw, and what I felt.
Women in their colorful hijab sweep through the streets. At first you think how hard it would be to wear this religious fashion all the time, (WHAT ABOUT MY JEANS, NO LULU YOGA PANTS, HOW ABOUT MY PERSONAL STYLE?) but then you begin to get jealous when you see the super beautiful combinations and the graceful way the Jilbab flows while walking. The mixture of patterns and hues is totally Vogue Mag material, and damn if this multi-colored wear doesn’t seem to make the world feel like a happier place (I have to admit that my clothing seemed drab and boring in comparison).
The prayers, which are broadcast on giant speakers three times a day waft through the air like the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven (Damn, I LOVE that smell). At first, this alarmed me and I felt like I was on a Communist movie set, but within a few days, I found the sound soothing. This is a culture who lives their faith in real time. They stop everything and connect to their beliefs three times a day. I had to applaud the commitment and beauty of such a thing.
Our group was lucky enough to have a guide who was a 22-year old Muslim biochemistry college student. Fatma was not only intelligent, but generous and open and graceful. She was also stunningly beautiful, with big eyes and a killer smile. She invited us to her family’s home for dinner, where we were met with immense warmth and every food she’d witnessed we’d eaten during the lunches and dinners we shared. Her mother must have cooked for a full day to feed the eleven of us. Tradition, when you have company, is to eat on the floor. Which I kind of loved. My favorites: the samosas, fritters, insanely delicious nan, boiled bananas in coconut sauce, and potato thingy I didn’t catch the name of. You eat with your hands, and there are no napkins. I kept thinking how Riley my dog would have loved this set up and been smack in the middle of it, like “Seriously, is this all for me?”
Fatma lived with much of her extended family. Their hospitality was off the charts. There were uncles and Aunts and cousins who stopped by to say hello and welcome us. I felt a little like Kate Middleton (without the small waist, and the face, oh, and the crown).
I spoke with Fatma’s mother after dinner. I said to her, “We are all so much more the same than different. We all love our children. We all believe in family.” She listened intently as I told her of the candidate in our country who was so negative, who spewed hate and wanted to ban Muslims. She looked disturbed and confused. I told her how terrifying it was to have such a candidate running for president. We talked about her children, and mine, her birth family of nine, and I told her how wonderful her daughter was, that she had enriched our trip and that we all wanted to bring her home with us. She drew henna patterns on all the girls with a marker. Her grandmother and I had a few laughs together, despite our language barrier, and shared some genuine hugs. Energetic little cousins and nieces and nephews were running around and playing with us. A cousin was getting married and going out that evening in sparkly and beautiful traditional clothing we all oooooohed and ahhhhhhed over. It was an incredible night.
Just like not all Americans are the same, all Muslims are not the same. Most of them are not terrorists. Just like Americans, some are angry and violent. Most are not. Besides wanting to smack Trump upside the head for the racist, inhuman and altogether uneducated views he espouses, I wish he could meet Fatma and her family. I wish he understood that gross generalizations are not what this country is made of.