Next weekend undoubtedly there will be anti-Muslim stuff about “the enemy” but, really, we should recognize that a great many people of that faith in the world had nothing to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the plane that was forced down in Pennsylvania. When politicians harangue about “the enemy”, it would be better to express kindness to the many Muslims who bear no ill against our country and—in some cases—are suffering from our actions.
Last month we enjoyed a dinner with a remarkable group of such people. The program included a film about the suffering from the famine in Somalia, and we contributed to Islamic Relief, a fund that is providing water and food for those Somalian drought victims—$20 each, the requested donation, feeds a family of four for a month.
We owe this opportunity to Ruth’s attendance at Western. In one of her first classes she became friends with Alaa, a young man from Egypt. He and his professor friend came to our cottage for Thanksgiving that year. We had a long, lively conversation about Muslim customs, including relations between men and women—courtship, marriage and divorce.
Back then, Alaa washed dishes in a Bellingham restaurant to cover some of his expenses. This spring Ruth re-connected with him, and we had lunch at the Skylark Restaurant where he had worked. Alaa was excited about the revolution in Egypt. He had just heard from his brother who had gone from his home in Alexandria to Cairo to be part of the demonstrations.
Alaa was now working at Saturna Capital in Bellingham, an investment company sponsoring a mutual fund that follows Islamic principles (or Sharia) that preclude interest paying investments, such as bank stocks. While some of the investors are Muslims—Alaa’s ability with Arabic being an advantage— many are not. This is not a charity. The Amana Income Fund has averaged an annual return of 7.49 percent over the past 10 years versus the S&P 500 Index that has averaged only 2.70 percent. Only one other fund in the Schwab list of income funds did better in that period.
Alaa also was doing well in his personal life. Through mosque connections he was introduced to a young woman in Southern California. Shortly before our lunch date, his mother had come from Egypt to meet the girl’s family. That went fine but Alaa would need to go back to meet her father, a businessman who was visiting Afghanistan. If all went well, they would become engaged and she would move to Bellingham. There was also the possibility that Alaa might move to California to work with fund clients there.
In early August we received an e-mail from Alaa inviting us to the fund-raising dinner. Nothing about betrothal, but we were hopeful.
The dinner was held in the RESources meeting room. Prior to the meal some of the participants prayed on rugs in an adjacent room before breaking the Ramadan fast.
Meanwhile, we talked with a magnetic young woman who was acting as hostess in the absence of the Iman. A graduate of Blaine High School, she has been holding down a full-time job at the BP refinery while taking a full schedule of courses at the community college and the university. She is preparing to be a physical therapist in an eight-year program that will graduate her as a doctor.
The food was much like a typical American pot-luck—several pasta dishes, rice, roast lamb, deep fried chicken and shrimp. Desserts came later. Pepsi was the most common drink. Alaa’s wife was mentioned. We kept looking and asking. Finally, there she was. Beautiful – and sweet!
ak & rah