I remember sitting at my kitchen table, crying to my husband. “There has to be something I can do. I feel so helpless,” I said between tears. “I just don’t know what to do.” I was referring to the tragic murder of Deah, Yusor, and Razan in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by their own neighbor. Of course, I didn’t expect that I could alleviate the pain and suffering their families were going through, but I felt like I had to do something, anything.
That’s when I began to reflect on myself. What did my neighbors think of me and my family? Did they harbor the same fear and hatred as #OurThreeWinner’s neighbor had of them? Who are my neighbors? I knew nothing of them beyond the cars they drove and the look of the polite smiles they would flash as we’d wave “hello”. It was then I realized what I had to do. I had to take the first step towards outreach and understanding. I decided to meet my neighbors.
I didn’t know what I thought I would achieve by doing so. I didn’t know how my neighbors would receive me or if my #YourMuslimNeighbor initiative would be a success or of any benefit. I certainly never imagined that my strong desire to do something positive would actually lead to something incredible.
At the end of 2015 a casting director reached out to me, wondering if I’d be interested in participating in a commercial for a big brand cookie company. The commercial would feature neighbors coming together and becoming accepting of each other over cookies. It was essentially the whole idea behind my initiative. The casting director found me through the #YourMuslimNeighbor blog post. When we spoke over the phone, she loved hearing all of the details of the experience. Unfortunately, when it came down to it, our South Asian neighbors didn’t “look the part”. The commercial’s goal was to share authentic friendship between Muslim and white neighbors. I knew exactly who to recommend for the part.
My dear friend Nida’a Moghrabi stepped up to take the initiative to meet her neighbors when I originally shared my post. She baked up a couple of her delicious cheesecakes and delivered the slices to each of her neighbors in little pink bakery boxes. It was then that she met Rachel Strauss, across the street. I remember Nida’a telling me that she was excited to meet a neighbor that had daughters for her little girls to play with.
“Hey, want to be in a commercial?” I asked Nida’a. From that point, as they say, the rest was history.
History, indeed. This was the first time a Muslim was given a positive lead role in a commercial. It moved me to tears. Tears that once flowed because of my helplessness and inability to change the Islamophobic narrative, now tears of happiness that my little idea has reached millions.
Thank you Honey Maid, for having the courage to pave the way for other companies to fight Islamophobia. Please, take the time to thank Honey Maid and share the video.
This whole experience proved to me, that I as an individual, can change the world. If each person can positively influence one other person, we’re on the way to more understanding, love, and compassion. Be the change you wish to see in the world.