California teen Yusra Rafeeq experienced Islamophobia first hand when her mother, who wears a hijab and abaya (a full length covering), was rudely stared at by pedestrians in their hometown of Palo Alto and, as she reports, “in one instance, a car pulled over while my family and I were walking on the street and screamed ‘Heil Hitler’ which made all of us very scared.”
The fifteen year old became determined to tackle the direct root for prejudice – ignorance – and came up with an idea of inviting non-Muslims to dinner with her family. Her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan nearly 30 years ago, were immediately supportive of the idea, and soon the family hosted their first dinner with guests Alex Radelich and Dalton Lemert, co-founders of the non-profit Explore Kindness which “aims to make the world a better place, one act of random kindness at a time.”
The guests dined on dishes like chicken tikka masala, biryani and naan while engaging in conversations about faith, identity and kindness. “Yusra’s mother prepared a wonderful Pakistani meal and all six of us sat around the dinner table to learn from each other,” Radelich and Lemert wrote in a Facebook post. “At the beginning, we talked about serious stuff ― religion, kindness, cultural differences, traditions, discrimination, and humanity. By the end, we were just a bunch of friends laughing together. Food has a magical way of doing that.”
Rafeeqi has since started a Facebook page called Dine With A Muslim Family and says she has several more dinners scheduled with plans to enlist other Muslim to join in on the initiative.