The food is ready. The table is set. At this gathering, however, the guest list is a bit of an unknown.
“A lot of strangers we’ve never met,” said Amanda Saab. “I don’t know what they’re going to ask me.”
Saab is inviting a dozen people to dine with her and her husband, Hussein. She has no idea who many of them are. And that’s the way she likes it.
“The idea was let’s just invite people over. They can ask anything they like. We’ll give them the opportunity to understand who we are.
The couple does this every few months -- inviting people around their Renton community to break bread and break down misconceptions about Muslims.
“To take a few wackos and associate us with them is very unfair,” said Amanda, as she prepares a beautiful meal of chicken, tabbouleh and other treats associated with her ancestral homeland of Lebanon.
The meal begins with a traditional Muslim prayer. The conversation bounces politely around, eventually turning to Islamophobia. One guest named Trudy tells of the reaction she got from a neighbor when she said she was coming to have a conversation with a pair of Muslims.
“My neighbor told me to be careful because if I say the wrong thing you’d put me on a hit list," said Trudy.
The crowd laughs at the absurdity of the statement, but the seriousness of such a mindset is lost on no one.
“Has she ever met a Muslim?” asked Hussein. “I hear from different people how bad Muslims are. When I tell them I’m Muslim, their eyes open up a little.”
As for the problem of ISIS and jihad, the couple warns against associating all 1.6 billion believers with a relatively small sect who take certain parts of the Quran literally.
“You have to do a thorough analysis of when the verses were revealed to the Prophet,” says Amanda. “That’s why no layman can pick up the Quran and say, ‘this says this, so I’m going to do this.’”
There are many more questions that Hussein and Amanda graciously answer, including queries about women’s rights and the whether one can be a “good Muslim” and still be a proponent of gay rights?
“Absolutely," Amanda answered.
There is even an invitation to Trudy’s nervous neighbor to come for dinner.
“Bring her over some time,” smiles Hussein. “We won’t even tell her we’re Muslim!”
For Hussein and Amanda, there is always room at the table for a different point of view. To them, it’s an opportunity to take the fearful and convert them to friends.
“We are the face of Islam, and we’re not going to let anybody else claim that title from us," said Amanda.