She drew a scantily clad punk rocker who wore a hijab. Over time, the doodles morphed into a character, a folk-singing Muslim whose lyrics managed to offend just about everyone.
Now the lanky, onyx-eyed actress, six years out of college, has come to think of Zed as her tougher, bolder, prouder side.
“It’s time for this religion and ethnic group to stop taking itself so seriously,” Fazal says. “I’m not sure the conservative Muslim community has a sense of humor yet, but the younger generation is ready for this. They know it’s okay to let different labels make up your identity. Just because I’m Muslim doesn’t mean I can’t also be this other thing, even if that thing is haram” — religiously forbidden.
Or, as Zed puts it at Round House: “Skittles — first they were haram, now they’re halal,” or religiously approved. “Ellen DeGeneres — definitely haram.”
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Someone recently asked Siron Zidan what she would do if her daughter came home and said, “I have a boyfriend, and I want to have his baby.”
“It’s not even open for discussion,” Zidan replied.
Zidan’s husband, Yahya Hendi, has been listening from across the room. He pipes up: “Siron, I have to challenge you. Such a thing can happen, and you have to be ready to discuss it.”
Hendi — Georgetown University’s imam, the first full-time Muslim chaplain at a U.S. college — tells his wife about a family he counseled recently in which a 15-year-old told his parents he is not remotely interested in Islam and wants nothing to do with the faith.
“Oh God!” Zidan exclaims. “I can’t believe such a thing could happen.”
“It can, and it does,” Hendi says. “At that age, you have to ask questions. In this culture, that is how you learn and grow.”
Working on a college campus, Hendi sees the clash of identities many times a day. His version of Islam has become more about asking questions than about forbidding them.
Zidan, a Palestinian who immigrated to the United States at 25 and now lives in Frederick with her husband, has no desire to make life harder for her kids. But as an observant Muslim who wears a head scarf outside the house, she has definite ideas about how to balance her own traditional upbringing with her children’s reality as Americans.
So the four kids, who range in age from nine to 14 and go to public school, know they aren’t allowed to wear provocative clothing or drink alcohol.
“I don’t want them to be fanatic Muslims, and I don’t want them to be liberal Muslims who eat pork and drink alcohol,” Zidan says. “I want them to be moderate. I know they will be a blend of Muslim and American.”
The Georgetown imam — at 45 a jovial, hefty figure who cannot walk across campus without students of all kinds stopping him for a word of counsel or a quick joke — knows that tension well. But he has come to believe that living in America makes Islam stronger and more flexible.
As a Palestinian child, Hendi says, he saw the world in black and white.
“To me, Jews were Israelis in tanks,” he says. “I thought if you weren’t Muslim, you were going to hellfire.”
He moved to the United States at 22 for graduate school at Temple University. Hendi studied Hebrew and the Torah under an Israeli professor who regularly invited him to her home. One day, when the professor had to go out shopping, she left Hendi alone in her house.
“That simple gesture changed my life,” he says. “That she would trust me, a Palestinian, and show me that love. America opened the door for me to see the beauty of Islam as an open, inclusive, pluralistic faith. America taught me that I can sit with friends who are drinking alcohol even if I am not. America showed me that music can be holy, that marriage is about love, and that all of this fits easily in an open, modern Islam.”
Hendi rejects the idea that it is older, immigrant Muslims who are blocking the faith from adapting to the new land. Rather, he says, too many U.S. Muslim communities are saturated in a “haram culture — this or that is not allowed, no, no, no,” Hendi says.
While traveling recently in the South, Hendi heard an imam — “a guy with a long beard and a Saudi dagger” — teach that music is forbidden and dancing is forbidden and boys and girls should be educated separately.
“I went to this imam’s board members and I said, ‘Look at what you’re shoving into your children.’ There were 700 people in that room listening to that crazy guy. And the board members said, ‘Yes, we know, but we don’t know what to do.’ ”
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A hundred-acre spread of lush, rolling farmland in Frederick County is where Hendi and Zidan will go when they are called home.
The imam and some members of his Frederick mosque were at a Borders coffee shop a few years ago when the topic of death came up. For many Muslims, as for generations of immigrants before them, dying meant being shipped back to the old country to be reunited with their ancestors.
The time had come for U.S. Muslims to make a different kind of commitment. Abdul Majeed, a physician from Pakistan who had practiced in Frederick for 35 years, became a founder of al-Firdaus Memorial Gardens. As it happened, Majeed became the first person buried at al-Firdaus, the first all-Muslim burial ground in the Washington area.
Eighty-eight Muslims have been interred there since it opened in 2008. They came from Bosnia, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Trinidad, Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Iran and a dozen other countries.
There are 8,000 burial sites, 530 of which have been sold. Sayed Naved owns six of them. He moved from India to Maryland 22 years ago, when he was 26, to study engineering at College Park. Now, with his sons in college and high school, he wants to ensure that his family will be together for eternity.
“This is where we belong,” says Naved, president of a federal contracting firm based in Rockville and a member of the Maryland State Board of Education. “We sometimes feel caught between the Islamophobes and the extremists in our own community who give us all a bad name. But this is our country. We see a lot more Muslim values in America than in most of the world — honesty, integrity, people taking care of neighbors, charity, freedom to practice religion.”
Hendi and his family have also bought plots at al-Firdaus.
“In the ’60s and ’70s, we built mosques only to pray,” the imam says. “In the ’80s and ’90s, we built schools to educate our children. Now we are building cemeteries because we want to die in America. We are saying, ‘We are here. This is home.’ ”