MORE QUESTIONS FOR RANYA
Ranya, your upbringing in Dubai and McLean was interwoven with some Christian traditions, but because of your grandparents' and father's experience in Palestine, it was politically antagonistic to Judaism. How did these early influences affect your interactions with Suzanne and Priscilla?
I certainly grew up more familiar with Christian traditions, however, my family's dispossession from Palestine never translated into a sweeping prejudice against Judaism or Jews. This may be because my father, like many Palestinians, always pointed out that our conflict was political and not religious or personal. So at our first Faith Club meeting, when Priscilla and Suzanne walked through the door, they did so on an equal footing. After all, I had reached out to them after 9/11 out of the despair and alienation I was feeling as an American Muslim. In my mind, it was Islam that for many was the "condemned" religion in America, and I was desperate to defend and reconnect it to the Judeo-Christian tradition. As time passed, however, their respective Christian and Jewish perspectives did ultimately set us up for different types of conflicts and disagreements. Before my dialogue with Priscilla, every time I got into a religious or a political conversation with Jewish friends, I automatically knew when to stop or to hold back in order to safeguard the friendship. The big difference with Priscilla is that in the cocoon of the Faith Club, and with our declared mission and objectives, we risked all, and we pushed the envelope to its breaking point. The result was liberating. When Priscilla's Jewish friends expressed disbelief at the truth of my family's painful dispossession, she did not withhold her doubt. When I finally challenged her to reexamine Zionism from a Palestinian perspective and recognize the suffering and victimization of Palestinian Muslims and Christians under a Jewish military occupation, it was not without tears that we were able to cross that bridge. The most gratifying conclusion for that discourse was when Priscilla and I attended Yom Kippur services at her temple. We knew without exchanging a word that we stood shoulder to shoulder and listened united in heart and mind to the prayers of atonement and peace. As for Suzanne, our conflict was not so political, but rather based on what I have in the past felt was a certain Christian prejudice that is quick to condemn Islam and its prophet as a regressive, violent religion spread through the sword. Many Christians can view Christianity with the most liberal of lenses and view Islam only with the most literal of lenses.
On page 198 you say that Suzanne's faith "gave [her] a confidence in [her] religion that I did not have yet. I still felt insecure about Islam as a religion and insecure about my daughter's Muslim identity." Why do you feel this insecurity about Islam? Has the Faith Club helped solidify your confidence in your identity as a Muslim woman?
If it were not for the insecurity I felt about Islam, I do not know that I would have reached out to Suzanne and Priscilla in the first place. I have probably always felt that insecurity because I belong to a generation that came of age when the loudest and most recognizable Muslim voice is literal, angry, or Wahabist (a reactionary brand of Islam that has striven to "purify" Islam by returning to the beliefs and practices of the first three decades of Muslim rulers). The reasons for the success and predominance of this movement within Islam have been studied by many. The most persuasive arguments attribute this influence to the power that comes with the petro-dollars that fund and support it. Another persuasive argument has to do with the condition of the Muslim state, its political institutions, and its mosques. Religion can only be as enlightened as the hand it finds itself in. The truth is that, historically, Islam has always had a rich history of diversity. For those who are doubtful, I have even found Quranic verses that support the idea that diversity in religion and worship is by God's intended design. The Faith Club has definitely solidified my confidence and identity as a Muslim woman. If ever I felt vulnerable to those who cast doubt on my credentials as a Muslim for one reason or another, I am now completely immune. As Imam Feisal explained to me, in Islam there is no temporal justice. This means that in matters of faith only God can be the judge. Most important, I do not feel that I am a lone voice in the wilderness. I feel that I belong to a vibrant, nascent American Muslim community that shares my ideals and aspirations. I am full of hope and optimism about the potential of Islam in America. I, like many others, dream of a day when our children can truly speak of the Great American Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition.