My Best Friend is Muslim

I’ve heard statistics claiming that 62% of Americans have never met a Muslim.  This number is sad, but unsurprising.  If the majority of Americans knew a Muslim personally, the misinformation about Islam that is spewed from the mouths of talking heads on cable would have a much harder time resting in the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans.  Able to look back to their Muslim friend or colleague as a reference point, Americans might question what they hear on TV and might be more reluctant to pass along some of the hurtful chain emails I’ve seen.

But because a majority of Americans don’t have this alternative point of reference, stereotypes often go unchallenged and Islamophobia is easily perpetuated.

Luckily, during my freshman year at Georgetown, I met someone who now serves as my reference point for all matters Islam—my roommate and good friend, Wardah Athar.  Since meeting her, my views about Islam have changed considerably, and when I now watch or read news that references Islam, I can think back to Wardah and ask myself, “Is what I’m hearing about Islam in this story consistent with what I know about Islam from Wardah?”

Still, I have my own engrained stereotypes about Islam, but my relationship with Wardah and other Muslim friends helps me to continue challenging them.

In order to provide reference points to the 62% of Americans who’ve never met a Muslim, a number of online campaigns are working to help ordinary Americans get to know Muslims, even if only on a virtual level. The blog “My Best Friend is Muslim” allows people to post anecdotes about their best friends who happen to be Muslim, and the Youtube campaign, “My Fellow American” encourages people to post videos about a Muslim-American who has shaped their life.  The stories presented provide an alternate and much-needed view of the Muslims who are our classmates, colleagues, and neighbors.

I recently participated in both projects.  My submission to “My Best Friend is Muslim” is below, and my video for “My Fellow American” is embedded below that.

My Best Friend is Muslim entry: “For the love of Finn”

When Wardah and I met during our freshman year of college, our first impressions of one another were quite interesting.  We’d gathered in a dorm common room with some mutual friends to watch “The Notebook” on Friday, October 9th, 2009.  Wardah was sitting on the couch, with a pink GAP hoodie pulled over her head.  She seemed quiet, and offered the other girls and I some peanuts.  She then handed me a canister labeled “Honey Roasted Almonds” that had pistachios inside, and I thought to myself, “Who is this girl?”

Wardah probably thought the same thing about me.  I came in wearing a low-backed dress, planning on going to a party I didn’t really want to attend.  Not knowing that I was trying to avoid the party, Wardah assumed I was a typical Jane Hoya party girl. 

Despite the weird first impressions, Wardah is probably the fastest friend I’ve ever made.  Throughout the rest of freshman year, we spent countless late nights watching “Happy Tree Friends,” trying to do the splits, skipping through our favorite movies to watch the romantic scenes, and grossing out over the fact that some women eat their placenta after giving birth. 

But we also spent hours talking about deeper things, like God, family, dating, marriage, and motherhood.  We could easily switch from the most silly of topics to the most serious ones, and that is what I valued (and continue to value) most about our friendship.

I think a lot of my friends and family from back home think I’m friends with Wardah simply because she’s Muslim.  Knowing I came to Georgetown to study Islam and religion, they might assume that I’m just her friend so I can “study” her.  But when I first met Wardah, when she had the pink hoodie pulled over her head, I had no idea she was a hijabi Muslim girl. 

True, I have learned a lot about Islam from Wardah—more than I ever will in all of my time spent in the classroom.  Had I not met Wardah, my understanding of the hijab, of Muslim prayer, and of the importance of family and community in Islam would be utterly skewed. 

I have Wardah to thank (or hate?) for my addiction to “Glee” and my obsessive crush on the main hottie, Finn.  But I also have to thank her for substantively shaping my life here at Georgetown.  It’s because of her encouragement that I became a Muslim Students Association board member and it’s because of her questions and commitment to Islam that I came to re-embrace my Catholic faith. Because of her honesty and openness in our theological discussions, I’m working to create sustainable inter-religious dialogue on campus. 

Currently, Wardah and I are roommates in the Muslim Interest Living Community at Georgetown.  Living with your best friend is hard, and our friendship hasn’t always been easy.  But I continue to think back to a note she wrote me for my nineteenth birthday, just a week after we met last year:

“Hello there! I can remember back to the day we first met all those…days ago.  Haha we aren’t soulmates yet, but it’s been great getting to know you and hopefully we’ll see each other in the many years to come.”

After a year and a half of laughs, deep conversations, and way too much time spent watching babies laughing on Youtube, I think Wardah and I are pretty close to “soulmate” status.  And I know, without a doubt, that we’ll be friends for years to come.

(What happens when Wardah takes over my computer: My Best Friend is Muslim AND SHE IS SO AWESOME AND I WISH I COULD BE JUST LIKE HER BECAUSE SHE IS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME AND IS THE AWESOMEST THING IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD!!!)

My video for the My Fellow American campaign:


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4 thoughts on “My Best Friend is Muslim

  1. Proximity changes perception. I think that scares people because we like the worlds we create for ourselves. They’re safe. Beliefs hinge on the certainty of our understanding of a thing. When that understanding is challenged, it requires a change in beliefs, which can be damning for some.

    I love reading about your journey, Jordan. Keep it up!

  2. Dear Jordan,
    Dear Wardah,

    I am honored and blessed to know women such as you two.
    JED, thank you for writing about this very special friendship of yours.
    Wardah, thank you for sharing your sparkling insights with us.
    To both: thank you for making this world a better place.

  3. At the risk of casting a “gray pall,” over the “better to light a candle…” message here, I want to politely point out some generalizations the author makes that are as faulty as those made by the “other side.” Let’s call them the xenophobes or even haters. First, citing the statistic that, “62% of all Americans have never met a Muslim,” is neutral and that’s a good thing. Not having met a Muslim is better than 62% of American’s hate Muslims, or don’t trust them, or think that they all run gas stations. So, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that they most Americans don’t know a Muslim. (And, perhaps the blogger isn’t even saying it is a bad thing — I don’t really know).

    Generally though, people are either lazy or busy, so they don’t “reach out” and get to know the folks around them. In time, this will change in a big way, it always has in America. Public institutions like, public school, government, a Capitalistic economy etc. slowly, surely and subtly break down barriers like ignorance and even hate. The process is unwittingly the opposite of invidious and insidious and other “i” words. It is inevitable. Someday, even now maybe, Muslims and Americans are dating and you know what that means… eventually marrying and… oh no… kids (you know how they happen right?) Ah, family. Ut oh where will the ignorance and hate go? (BTW, it will still be there. Some would say it deepens — no hate like family feuding. Undoubtedly the hate will be transferred to that horde of Eskimo immigrants flooding our shores.) Johnny V’s Law of Hate Transfer Flux has the familiar ring of physics’ Law of the Conservation of Mass: “Matter (hate) is neither created nor destroyed, it just changes form.” So I, like Jordan, am ultimately positive and believe the greater good will prevail with respect to Muslim/American relations; but, as Jesus said about the poor — hate will always be with us.

    Secondly, there are a lot of people who really listen to those “talking heads” on cable that really do spread misinformation about Islam. I know a lot of them them. I think Ms. Denari is referring to ‘Foxes.’ But even as I write this, the ratings for genuinely myopic dopes like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck et al are declining. They go up from time to time, but generally they don’t last. They go up when fear trumps optimism and that happens when “things get bad” — like now. The troglodytes are always with us too. But, as a former neanderthal, I know conversion can take place and it mostly does, or at least the hate molecular bond weakens. (The Mass of Hate, takes so much time and energy. Algebraically manipulate Einstein’s E=mc2 and you’ll see what I mean. Hate initially does spread fast as it did toward Muslims following 9/11. Literally at the speed of light with media and it generates a lot of energy, negative energy. But, eventually, to sustain that much hate at that rate or accelerate it requires so much E it just can’t last.

    With respect to this whole issue of hate and prejudice I like to remember what comedians like Don Rickles and Dennis Miller have similarly noted about such stupid things. Both have said: Hate stupidity, jerks, ass_ _ _ _ _. Those things are really odious and universal. Ass_ _ _ _ ism cuts a wide swath across all peoples, even time. (I guess we can add ass_ _ _ _s to the poor and hate.) Unfortunately, though we can never really eradicate it.

    Keep writing. Keep thinking. (the other guys get tired of doing that too — just takes too much out of them. The ‘Hip Einey rules here too.)

    • “Generally though, people are either lazy or busy, so they don’t “reach out” and get to know the folks around them.”

      I’m neither lazy nor too busy to meet new people. I just happen to live in the deep south (Alabama) where, as a middle-class, very white Texan woman of German heritage, I am considered ‘very different’. I cannot think of any point in time where I have even seen someone in my city who *might* be Muslim. I’ve spent many, many weeks in foreign countries for work (22 weeks in the past 2 years in Jamaica, India, Kenya and Peru – in the poor/rural cities, NOT in the tourist places), and have gotten to know people from many of the sub-cultures in each of those countries, but still have never had the chance to sit down and get to know any Muslim people.

      I’m not lazy, I’m not xenophobic, and I consider myself to be reasonably well-versed in world cultures, but I would still put myself in that 62% of people who have never truly met a Muslim.

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