On Sunday afternoon, five Muslims walked into a Roseville bar to discuss fear, hatred, ISIS, terrorism, the treatment of women and the Trump administration with seven non-Muslims.
The Muslims didn’t drink any of the suds poured by the Monk’s Cellar Brewery & Public House, but they did dish out answers to questions about the hijab (head covering women wear) and their feelings about 9/11 and the terrorist attacks that have followed.
The dialogue, one of nearly 100 #MeetAMuslim community conversations held in churches, schools, homes and, yes, bars across America since January 2016, seeks to connect ordinary American Muslims with other Americans, said Moina Shaiq, a Pakistani American activist from Fremont. “The turnout varies from 15 to 150 people,” said Shaiq, noting that the Monk’s Cellar was her fifth event this week. “Trump becoming president has inspired us.”
Shaiq, a mother of four, wearing a white hijab, said, “When people see us on the street in hijab, they wonder, ‘Who are these people; why do they dress the way they dress?’ People want to understand who Muslims are.”
Two friends sipping white wine, Lacian Henderson of Roseville and Pam Durocher of Orangevale, came with plenty of questions and observations. “There’s a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric,” Durocher said, and “we want to separate the extremists from the day-to-day people.”
“Most of us don’t know anything about Muslim religion, especially about Muslim women,” Henderson added. “We want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
Shaiq explained the five pillars of Islam, built around a single god, five prayers a day, charity, fasting and self-discipline during the holy month of Ramadan and a pilgrimage to Mecca. When one man asked about the hijab, Shaiq explained that it’s similar to the covering worn by nuns to protect a woman’s modesty, but noted that she didn’t start wearing her hijab until after 9/11 when she became “a born-again Muslim.”
“My husband was mad at me when I did,” she said. “He thought it wasn’t safe for me to go outside.”
Durocher said that after 9/11 she bought some books on Islam “and didn’t want to get caught up in all the fear,” but when she went to Europe on vacation and was packed in a train car, “I’m feeling fear, and I feel bad about it.”
Dr. Firdos Sheikh, a Muslim neurologist in south Sacramento who came from India, said she shares the fear of being killed by a terrorist attack when she goes to Europe but also fears bigots in America. “Just like you have fears, we have fears, and we’re a lot more scared than you are,” she said.
“What I loved about this country is when 9/11 happened, 99 percent of my patients gave me a hug and said ‘I hope you’re going to to be OK,’ ” Sheikh said. But in the current political climate, “because of the Trump administration people have become very vocal and very aggressive. A woman was screaming in my waiting room, ‘You really think you’re going to come to America and make money off us?’ I said I can’t differentiate diseases based on color.”
The media has helped create “an aura of fear and hate,” Sheikh added. “My son was born here, and he said: ‘Mom, should I be afraid to be a Muslim?’ and I was speechless. I didn’t have an answer.”
Meet a Muslim events “need to bring in troubled minds both from our end and your end,” Sheikh said.
To a question about the rise of ISIS and terrorism, Shaiq noted that Sunni and Shia have coexisted peacefully in Iraq for more than 1,400 years, only to have things go sour after the U.S. intervention. “Sadly, we have a been part of it.”
Arshad Mirza, a Muslim IT professional from San Ramon, said he burst into tears watching TV on 9/11. “My wife said, ‘Why are you crying?’ I said they cannot hijack my religion. … Because we are Muslim, we own this.” Mirza said his own cousin nearly died in the terrorist bombing of a London subway in 2005.
Eric VerSteegh, a martial arts instructor from Roseville, sipped his American IPA while holding his 10-month-old daughter, Opal. “I think this is wonderful to hear people talking who are different,” he said. “I learned a lot of things. I like how she connected the hijab with what nuns used to wear.”
Tom Rotelli, co-owner of the Monk’s Cellar, said the pub has hosted conversations with Democrats, Republicans, Catholics and other groups. Rotelli’s partner, Andy Klein, said: “Anybody who’s trying to make our world a better place is welcome to the Cellar. We want to provide a forum for people to get to know each other and share their ideas and thoughts.”
Ras Siddiqui, a Sacramento Muslim leader who helped promote Sunday’s event, thought the pub was the perfect place for open conversation. “Where do you find mainstream America? Not in a mosque.”