How do you counter exaggerated negative stereotypes of Muslims that are often based on lack of knowledge? One local student has a novel idea: She invites people to “Dine With A Muslim Family.”
Inviting strangers into her home to dispel negativity
Yusra Rafeeqi, a sophomore at Palo Alto High School, started this idea with her family, hoping to open minds by opening their doors. Yusra and her family hosted their first dinner on May 5th with two 23 year old men from Indiana who were visiting Palo Alto. Her guests were Alex and Dalton, the creators of the organization Explore Kindness, which travels the United States in an RV performing acts of kindness. She has already hosted three dinners with a total of around 12 guests.
Yusra has had support from everyone in her family for this effort. Her mother and aunts prepare food, while her father and two brothers give advice and take part in the conversations at the dinners. Yusra’s sister is her campaign manager and responds to inquiries about the dinners.
Showing the positive contribution of Muslims
Yusra’s motivation to do this was to paint a positive depiction of Muslims and to show that families like hers are not a threat to the community.
“I decided that it was time for people to understand that Muslims aren’t how we’re portrayed in the media or by people like President Trump,” Yusra said.
“Even though Palo Alto and the Bay Area are very liberal and progressive places, there are still some people that have misconceptions, and I wanted to clear those up,” she said.
A grassroots approach to changing minds
Yusra’s is not the only Muslim family inviting people to help change misperceptions, as there are similar efforts around the country. In Seattle, Amanda Saab cohosts “Dinners With Your Muslim Neighbor,” which feature traditional meals and passionate conversation.
“I really like how [other] people thought of this idea as well, because it assures me that people have the same thoughts as I do,” Yusra said. “As Muslims we need to go out and show our identity.”
Getting to know Muslim culture and people through…dinner
Yusra hopes her fellow community members in Palo Alto will to educate themselves about her culture, whether it’s by dining with a Muslim or other exploration. “Learn more about Muslims, their discoveries, their advancements in America, what they have done to make America grow,” she said.
She also added that people should get to know Muslims in their community and ask Muslim friends about Islam, because she wants to ensure that the “single story” of an extremist is not an accurate way to understand Islam.
“There are extremists and radicals in every single religion and every single race out there. It doesn’t mean that the whole race or religion should be defined by them. Extremists twist religion’s teachings and their identity to create a negative atmosphere around them,” she said.
Looking beyond judgment to build understanding
Yusra emphasized that the perspective of openness towards different cultures should be go beyond Islam.
“We shouldn’t judge someone based on any negative aspect of their ethnicity,” she said.
In the future, she hopes for more organizations and movements like hers to be prevalent in all communities.
“There should be more organizations getting to know people, getting to know your community and who is here,” Yusra said. “People tend to stay with others who are very similar to how they think and the religion they follow, but I believe we should go out and learn more.”
To set up a “Dinner with A Muslim Family”: send email to DineWithAMuslimFamily@gmail.com