Would You Speed Date a Muslim?
A Buddhist and a Taoist walk into a deli-café for an afternoon of Muslim speed dating. It may sound like the set up to a cringey joke, but trust me, there’s nothing farcical (nor dating-related, actually) about it.
I have dragged my friend Alex with me to Moroccan Deli-cacy, the latest culinary jewel of Melbourne’s inner north. Owner Hana Assafiri is trialling a simple concept: sit with a local Muslim woman (or two, or three), share a cup of tea or a juice and ask anything you want.
It’s a noble undertaking and Assafiri has brought her A-Team.
Before us is a bevy of bubbly women. They are perched on barstools, sipping green juice; they are ethnically and culturally diverse; some wear hijabs, others don’t; some were raised Muslim, others adopted the religion later in life; all are ready and raring to break down barriers and dispel misconceptions—about their expressions and experiences of faith, their personal and cultural identities, their roles within the Muslim community and broader society—one conversation at a time.
Alex and I are not even quite sure why we’re there, except that it’s the kind of conversation we’d like to be a part of.
Immediately we are welcomed into the fold. Introductions are made and they are genuinely warm. I am transported back to my childhood and the Arabic hospitality of my own family (my grandfather was from Lebanon).
The ensuing discussion is unstructured and convivial; it bounces between topics—the generally high level of tolerance and respect felt from fellow Melbournians, shock at the level of Islam-directed vitriol found on social media (‘what do they call those people, keyboard warriors?’), the frustration of having one’s spirituality constantly called into question because of the criminal actions of a few (‘especially since Paris’ is the echo around the table).
Assafiri herself interjects intermittently, throwing out questions to play devil’s advocate and further stimulate the conversation. The communication lines are truly open now. We move into a dialogue about feminism and polygamy.
Jeepers, this is more stimulating than my average Sunday. And I’m loving it.
There is one thing we all agree on whole-heartedly: there is a universal language, and it is food. Delicious chickpeas, dips, couscous, and fried cheese to be precise.
Assafiri understands this well.
‘Islam’ might be a loaded concept right now, but she is extending an invitation for us all to drop the concept and scale things back down to a face-to-face human interaction—to break bread together and really talk, with openness and warmth.
At the end of the day, does it really need to be more complicated than that?
Before I leave, Assafiri asks whether I gained any insights from the event.
I ponder, and then reply, ‘What strikes me most is the level of dynamic conversation about these topics that’s going on within the Islamic community. It’s not something I’m usually privy to, and we don’t really hear about it in the media.’
She is beaming now. ‘Thank you. Thank you guys for coming.’
I leave, stomach sated and heart all the richer for having ‘speed dated’ some of my local Muslim sisters. If you have the chance to do the same, I hope you don’t pass it up.
With love (and cheese, platefuls of fried cheese…)
Moroccan Deli-cacy (313 Lygon St, Brunswick East) is open Tuesday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm.
Narissa Doumani, author of A Spacious Life: Memoir of a Meditator
live mindfully ~ love openly
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