The best way to really get to know someone is by breaking bread with them. It is this philosophy that prompted two Somali-American women in Seattle to start an NGO with a name that really says it all: Eat With Muslims.
“We live in an age where even neighbors don’t get to know one another, making it easy for preconceived notions to thrive, especially against marginalized communities,” says the opening statement on Eat With Muslims’ web portal. The NGO was founded in 2017 by Fathia Absie and Ilyas Aden with the aim of changing negative perceptions by inviting people to experience the diversity and personal stories of Muslims in America today over dinner.
While rising Islamophobia continues to be a major obstacle to the daily lives of American Muslims, Eat With Muslims is increasingly spreading positive vibes in the community by encouraging people from all walks of life to have food with Muslims face-to-face and learn about the different facets of Muslim culture.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, said that anti-Muslim discrimination incidents and hate crimes increased in the third quarter of 2018 by 83 and 21 percent respectively, compared with the first quarter. During 2018, CAIR documented more than 1,000 reports of potential bias incidents.
Eat With Muslims was created as a response to the election of Donald Trump, who promised to ban immigrants from Muslim-majority nations from entering the US. Ever since, Fathia and Ilyas have held numerous dinners across King County, meeting in churches, community halls, and private homes, serving Somali food along with dishes from other Muslim cultures.
“In the beginning, our network was very small. But there is no shortage of non-Muslims who want to connect with Muslims. We make it very cozy, very intimate, and we can talk about anything we want,” Fathia told K5 News, adding, “we don’t just eat together; people actually build bridges, connect and become friends, and then they go and talk to their family members and spread the word.”