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Getting to Know and Being Enriched by our Muslim Neighbors

by John Louis Seelke 

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is asked "Who is my neighbor?" and responds with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. For many, "our neighbor" includes those that live near us, those that share our same faith, or our same ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

                Two years ago, our family was fortunate enough to meet new neighbors that have enriched our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine. We first met the Mohamud family when their second oldest daughter, Lul, began babysitting our twin daughters. Lul is one of four sisters and one brother in a Muslim, Somali family whose parents came to the United States in the 1980s with hopes of restarting their lives as Americans and fulfilling the American Dream for not only themselves but for their family. However, when the war broke out in Somalia, neither of them were able to go back to see their families.

Lul’s parents, Hassan and Sadia, have worked extremely hard to give their children an education and to impress upon them the values of hard work and service to one’s community. Lul is a sophomore at Boston University who aspires to become a doctor. Her oldest sister, Khadija is a senior at Georgetown who won a Pickering Fellowship to join the Foreign Service after graduate school.   The third sister, Suad, is a senior at Montgomery Blair HS who hopes to study computer science and is applying to schools such as MIT. And the baby sister, Suraya, is a junior who has exceled in mock trial and plans to be a lawyer. Their younger brother is a super star math student who is in middle school.

All five students are active in their mosque and school communities. Khadija became active as a a high school freshman in a club to help feed hungry kids in the community near Blair, later becoming its president. Lul is active in a group seeking to end sexual violence at Boston University. Suad and Suraya have helped direct a summer program for local Muslim youth to do community service. All four girls are active members of their schools’ Muslim Student Associations and work hard to spread mutual understanding and unity amongst students of all faiths and denominations.

                Getting to know one's neighbor often means going out of one's comfort zone. While my wife and I knew a little bit about Islam, such as its followers pray five times a day and fast during Ramadan, we have used the past two years to both educate ourselves and our daughters about a different faith. This includes asking questions to Lul, Suad or her parents, about the main tenants of Islam, many of which are not that different from our own. It also includes respecting someone else's beliefs and traditions. For example, we have encouraged Lul or Suad to feel free to pray at sundown while babysitting and have told our daughters to respect their prayer time. We have also adapted to some of the family's requests, such as having my wife drive their daughter's home rather than myself.

                Ramadan is a special time for the Islamic faith, where Muslim's fast from sun-up to sundown. While Lul and Suad never complained about caring for our daughters during their fasts, our family tried to avoid having them prepare meals for our kids when they were fasting. We also reached out and asked to join their family in a traditional Iftar celebration, the large meal eaten after sunset.  So one Friday, our family joined the Mohamud family for an Iftar. Not only did the mom cook an amazing Somali meal, but also made traditional American food for our girls to enjoy and eat. Guess who she served first?

                I can think of no other better role models for our children than the Mohamud daughters and their parents. They not only show care and compassion for our kids, but also have demonstrated the values of hard work, of loving your neighbor, and of following your faith in the face of discrimination. In an time where Muslims are often misunderstood and mischaracterized, the past two years of truly getting to know the Mohamud family has made me not only better understand the Muslim faith, but led me to want to stand up for those who mistreat or misunderstand the Muslim community. We have more in common than what differentiates us, and it is better to celebrate our commonalities than focus on our differences.

                John Louis Seelke is a St. Camillus parishioner who is involved in the Children’s Liturgy of the Word at the 10:30 AM mass.


The Mohamud Family hosts the Seelke Family for a traditional Iftar meal.

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