CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was a mixture of Southern hospitality and confounding stereotypes and expectations. Of course, there was food, stuffed grape leaves and slightly spice samosas. At the end of the evening, everyone got to take home a copy of the Koran, complete with translation and commentary. In between a panel representing a range of races, ages, ethnicities and professions communicated the message that being Muslim and American is complimentary, not mutually exclusive.
Distinguished by their very ordinariness, the photos that flashed behind them – of families on trips, with children, having fun with friends – conveyed a message of “we’re a part of the community and we’re like any other hard-working Charlotte citizen.”
The organizer of “Meet the Muslims of Charlotte” – a co-founder of Muslim Women of the Carolinas — was born in Buffalo, N.Y., with a mother from Colombia and father from Palestine. Rose Hamid is a US Airways flight attendant who wears a hijab and is used to answering questions; she does it with a smile.
Warith Muhammad challenges all kinds of stereotypes. He is an African American, born in New York City and born into Islam. He is also a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, who said his faith informed his decision to join the force, “to serve and protect.” During a break, Muhammad told me, “Everything I do, I always keep humanity first,” whether it’s assisting a homeless person or answering a domestic violence call.
The people he assists notice his name, he said, and believe he is “a man of character” because of it. Muhammad said that once, as a compliment, someone he helped told him, “You must be a Christian.” And when he said he was a Muslim, the man answered, “It’s all the same thing.”