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Exploring Muslim culture

Community group deepens awareness, understanding

Created date

January 11th, 2017
Fox Run residents Vern St. Amand (center) and Donna Edgerton (right) talk to imam Shaykh Mohamed Almasmari.

Fox Run residents visited the Muslim Unity Center in West Bloomfield, Mich., as part of a series of events exploring Muslim culture. Here, residents Vern St. Amand (center) and Donna Edgerton (right) talk to the imam, Shaykh Mohamed Almasmari.

Fox Run’s Unity in the Community committee is always looking for ways to celebrate diversity and learn more about the different ethnicities of the people who live and work there. 

Over the summer, the group put on a series of events to explore Muslim culture, an idea sparked by conversations between residents and Muslim staff members of the Erickson Living community in Novi, Mich.

One of the highlights of the series was a trip to the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills. Shaykh Mohamed Almasmari, imam and executive director of the center, spoke to the group at length about the guiding principles of Muslim culture and gave an overview of Sharia. 

Almasmari also answered questions and showed a video on facts vs. fiction about Muslim culture. 

“The imam there was wonderful,” says Noni St. Amand, who organized the Muslim culture events along with fellow Fox Run neighbors Emma Lou Benedict and Donna Edgerton. “He was very welcoming and warm.”

Taste of Lebanon

After the visit to the Muslim Unity Center, the group stopped at Ishtar Market, a Middle Eastern grocery store and bakery in West Bloomfield. Noni says they originally planned a quick visit, but everyone was so drawn in by the wide variety of interesting foods and spices that they decided to stay and shop for a while. 

“The array of spices was tantalizing; the warm fresh breads and rolls, mouthwatering; the array of unusual foods, tempting; and so they just couldn’t resist purchasing a variety of items,” Noni says. “Now people are going back there for groceries and saying it’s so wonderful and fresh.”

At another event in the Muslim culture series, residents had lunch at Ayla, a Mediterranean restaurant in Walled Lake that serves authentic Lebanese cuisine. 

Before the group set off, Noni shared some information about the history of Lebanese food and a list of some of the foods they might find on the menu. 

Once at the restaurant, the large group from Fox Run basically took over the entire dining room and feasted on dishes like stuffed grape leaves; baba ghanoush; baklava; and ghallaba, a stew made with vegetables, a blend of spices, and either meat or fish. 

“They learned a lot of new words as they tried to decipher the menu, and many found they really liked this cuisine,” Noni says. “What made it even more interesting is that some learned about the different ways a dish can be prepared depending on the country making it.”

Another resident-run group, called Arts a la Carte, cosponsored the third outing, to the Arab American National Museum. 

The screening of four films at Fox Run rounded out the series. The films included The Five Pillars, which explores the key tenets of Islam; He Named Me Malala, the story of a Pakistani teenager who becomes a leading advocate for children’s rights and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World, a documentary narrated by Susan Sarandon; and Dough, which Noni describes as a warm-hearted movie about overcoming prejudice. 

Expanded cultural appreciation 

The group aimed for the entire series to foster a greater understanding of Muslim culture—and Noni says that was most certainly accomplished. Co-organizer Emma Lou particularly enjoyed the mosaic art and discovered that she really likes tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad made of tomatoes, parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion. 

“For me, my understanding of the world has greatly expanded as a result of this project on Islam that informed me through several of my senses—sight, sound, and taste,” Emma Lou says.

Co-organizer Donna found it interesting to learn about Muslim people and a religious tradition different from her own. “I found we are more alike than different,” she says. 

Noni says that organizing this series, and all of the research she did to prepare for it, made her realize how much she didn’t know about Muslim culture—and made her want to learn even more. In the process, she says, she discovered how Islamic inventions such as algebra, surgical techniques, the crank, the guitar, and the toothbrush have impacted life and culture around the world.

“I was taken into a world rich in history, into the lives of old and new Muslim friends, and have emerged with the realization that the world would be a much better place if we could have more dialogues like this,” Noni says.