At fifty-one years old I am embarrassed that I have just made my first Muslim friend.

Aakifah and I met during a writing workshop. Amid conversations on character development and plotting, we discussed her culture including Ramadan, which she was observing. We also talked about lone wolves and terrorist groups who massacre in the name of Islam.

I asked a question that has plagued me about the Muslim community. “Where is the Muslim leader that speaks to the non-Muslim masses and explains that the horrendous actions of a few do not represent the Muslim population of almost two billion?”

Aakifah’s initial response was that there are leaders. She directed me to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which I had never heard of and suspect many non-Muslims are unaware of too. On their website, I watched a video that discussed “Islamophobia”, and perused press releases that denounced hate crimes against mosque worshipers and condemned discriminatory anti-Muslim gun control legislation.

I found all of this informative but my question was still unanswered.

There have been many leaders in the spotlight who have enlightened and guided. Some have become trailblazers by choice, others by circumstance. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the face and voice of the Civil Rights Movement. President Franklin Roosevelt led the preservation of our National Parks. Harvey Milk guided a gay rights movement. Jackie Robinson steered the integration of baseball. Harriet Tubman was at the forefront of the abolitionist movement and woman’s suffrage.

A basic tenet of marketing is to associate a face that people trust with a product or an idea, and then people will buy it/understand it/support it/sympathize with it. A Muslim news “celebrity” could guide us during difficult times, as Walter Cronkite did when he announced JFK’s assassination, and like Anderson Cooper when he reported on Hurricane Katrina.

A Muslim leader could be interviewed on CNN and Fox News, could be quoted in the New York Times, could share his opinions in the Huffington Post, and could have presence on social media. Someone we trust could take the attention away from the murderers and keep the focus on what is really important: honoring the victims, preventing violence, and keeping our Muslim friends safe.

Non-Muslims should not need handholding, yet many do as evidenced by the rise in hate crimes and derogatory sentiments against the Muslim community.

Aakifah said, “Salaam means peace. The Muslim community is very disappointed in what is happening. Violence is contrary to our true teaching but you have to understand, we are humble people. Allah teaches us not to draw attention to ourselves and not to brag.”

“Maybe an exception can be made.” I hoped not to sound like an ignorant American. “Terrorists murder because they are mentally ill, are misguided as to what the Quran teaches, and know they will get attention after the act. Would-be killers get tips each time the media recreates the latest attack for the world to see. Wouldn’t it be best if among all the media coverage the strongest voice came from the Muslim world? Non-Muslims need to know that a few crazies do not make a nation.”

“Oh yes,” she responded. “We’re doctors and teachers and are like everybody else. Perhaps the Muslim community needs to be more progressive. People are more expressive in the United States and in other parts of the world. Maybe the Muslim community needs to be the same.”

I hugged my new friend and we touched cheeks, three times, in the Muslim tradition.  

A “celebrity” Muslim that could be looked to and trusted by Non-Muslims is a step to bridge our worlds. And then, maybe, more Muslims and non-Muslims will become friends and we will understand each other better. I, for one, would enjoy having more Muslim friends.

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joanne lewis

When Joanne Lewis is not practicing law, she is writing. She pens murder mysteries, historical fiction and historical fantasy books and is the author of several award-winning novels. As an author, she hopes to entertain, to educate, and perhaps to enlighten. As an attorney, she is most proud of her work as an assistant state attorney and as a guardian ad litem representing the best interests of children.

Her books are available on Kindle, as paperbacks, and as audio books.

Her latest release is Bee King, a historical novel that is about the first person in the United States diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and takes place from the start of the Civil War until 1910. Just like the people who inhabited Five Points in lower Manhattan during the 1800s and the turn of the century, Bee King traverses the pentagonal streets where abolitionists battled copperheads, immigrants clashed among social, religious and political strife, and doctors and psychologists strained to help patients. Told in Five Points (sections), Bee King is dramatized through conventional literary devices as well as through newspaper articles, a manifesto, and other non-traditional tools.

The Forbidden trilogy consists of the novels: Forbidden Room, Forbidden Night, and Forbidden Horses. Forbidden Room is her best-selling novel.

In Forbidden Room, the first book in the Forbidden trilogy, new attorney Michael Tucker has few clients, yearns to be like his famous grandmother and cannot afford to move out of his parents' home. Sara Goldstein is an heiress accused of killing her uncle. When Sara hires Michael, he gets the chance to defend an innocent person, a beautiful lover and notoriety like his grandmother. But is it more than he asked for? Is Sara innocent or is she a murderer?

Forbidden Night, the second book in the Forbidden trilogy, delves further into Michael and Sara’s complicated relationship, as well as into Soldier Boy’s psyche, into their family histories, and into the creation of the carousel horses. The question posed in Forbidden Room, the first book of the Forbidden trilogy—Is Sara innocent or is she a murderer—is answered.

Forbidden Horses, the final book in the Forbidden trilogy, travels to the eighteenth century and takes place in Austria to reveal the troubled history of the creation of the carousel horses.

Michelangelo & Me is a series of five novellas in the genre of historical fantasy.

In the first book of the series, Michelangelo & the Morgue, seventeen-year-old Michelangelo defies religious and political powers in order to capture a serial killer who is murdering the artists of Florence. In Sleeping Cupid, the second book, Michelangelo’s believed-to-be lost statue narrates his journey from fifteenth century Florence, Italy until the present day where he lives in an attic in a sleepy Florida town. Future books in the anthology include Space Between, School of the World and Michelangelo & Me.

The Lantern is a historical novel about a modern-day woman's search to find a girl from 15th century Florence, Italy who dared to enter the competition to build the lantern on top of Brunelleschi's dome. Across time and space, three lives collide as they battle abuse, disease, fear and prejudice in pursuit of their dreams. Along the way, they intersect with some of the most famous figures of the Renaissance including members of the Medici, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and a young Michelangelo.

Wicked Good, a different kind of love story, begins in Bangor, Maine. Fifteen-year-old Rory is not defined by his diagnoses of Asperger's syndrome and Bipolar Disorder and lives life to the fullest. Archer, his adoptive mother, is Rory's biggest fan. Rory searches for his birth parents to find out why he is the way he is. He discovers his roots in Salem, Massachusetts where the Salem Witch Trials had occurred, and in Gloucester, Massachusetts where fishermen went down with the Andrea Gail during the Perfect Storm. He also learns his true roots are closest to his home in Bangor. As Rory discovers truths about himself, Archer learns about herself too.

Make Your Own Luck is the unforgettable and moving novel of Remy Summer Woods, a young attorney who refuses to believe thirteen-year-old Bonita Pickney killed her father, Patrick Pickney. Remy risks her relationship with her own father as well as her life to prove Bonita's innocence. Along with learning what happened the night Patrick was murdered, Remy discovers hard truths about her family and herself.

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