There’s a monster at the end of this book.
Remember that bedtime story? Grover from “Sesame Street” begs the children to stop turning pages, because every page is one page closer to the scary unknown.
This isn’t supposed to be a scary story. Not for most of us. This is a story about a nice dinner party U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar threw for her constituents on the eighth night of Ramadan.
This time of year in Minnesota, dawn breaks around 4 a.m. and the sun sets after 8:30 p.m. In the long hours in between, the Muslim faithful will fast. No food. No drink.
Workers go to work hungry, students still go to school, thirsty athletes still work out, and members of Congress still make speeches. Then, as the sun starts to set, community members come together to celebrate and break their fast with an iftar, the sunset meal.
President Donald Trump hosted the annual White House iftar on Monday. Gov. Tim Walz opened the governor’s residence for an iftar dinner last week.
On Monday, men, women and children crowded into a downtown Minneapolis hotel ballroom, laughing, chatting and posing for selfies with their congresswoman as the sun inched toward the horizon. Omar’s re-election campaign, which raised $830,000 in her first three months in office, footed the bill.
Makram El-Amin, imam of Masjid An-Nur in north Minneapolis, smiled as he looked around the room.
“This is a month of renewal, really,” he said. “It’s a month of reconciliation and peace, of trying to really get ourselves spiritually re-centered with God, and with each other.”
Ramadan is less about what you sacrifice than what you gain. It’s a time to be kind, to be charitable, to make peace, to keep the faith even in hard times.
“We know we are experiencing really hard times right now,” said Asma Mohammed, advocacy director of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, and one of several speakers at the event.
Minnesota Muslims have cleaned up the debris from a pipe bomb tossed through the window of a local mosque. They’ve watched a new congresswoman — the first to enter the House chambers in a hijab — face death threats and presidential Twitter blasts. They remember the woman in the Coon Rapids Applebee’s who smashed a beer mug into a Muslim immigrant’s face while screaming “Speak English.”
On Monday, they watched social media tear into another Muslim congresswoman. Online and off, critics ripped and rearranged Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s words like a ransom note until her story about Palestinians helping Holocaust survivors turned into a claim that she found memories of the Holocaust “calming.”
“We never know what’s coming next,” Mohammed said. “When bad things happen, we say ‘I’m not surprised.’ ”
Ramadan is a time to avoid conflict and quarrels, but anyone who follows Omar on Twitter knows conflict avoidance is not her style.
So when she rose to speak, she took the opportunity to drop a few words of her own that can be pulled out of context and rearranged into something scary.
Ramadan, she said, can be a struggle. A struggle to talk when your mouth is too dry to swallow, a struggle to move when your limbs feel impossibly weak from hunger.
“That word, ‘struggle,’ for a lot of Muslims has a heavier meaning,” she said. “You will hear extremists, terrorists, Islamophobes talk about the word ‘jihad.’ For many of us, the word jihad simply means to struggle … The struggle to better ourselves, the struggle to better our communities, the struggle to be righteous.
“This month of Ramadan provides sort of a boot camp to the betterment of our community,” Omar continued — as if seeing the words “Ilhan Omar” “jihad” “terrorist” and “boot camp” in proximity wasn’t going to send some of her critics straight into the stratosphere.
This was either a straightforward Arabic language lesson, or our congresswoman is trolling Islamophobes for fun and fundraising.
This concludes our story. I hope we’ve all learned a little something about Ramadan, our neighbors, and the joys, rewards and hardships of this holy month.
But if all you remember from this story is that Ilhan Omar said “jihad,” the monster at the end of this book might be you.
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