Wouldn’t you agree that there is something special about a first anniversary? Today is my special day. A year ago today, I had my book launch, for my very first book. Did I know then, how this book was going to change my life?
I was nervous. It wasn’t the first public speaking event for me, but it was the first time I was doing a book reading. As I walked into The Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue and 93rd Street, my four-year old granddaughter sensed it. “Daadi, don’t be nervous. You can do it!”
What if no one comes! Why on earth did I pick Eid-ul-Fitr of all days to have my book launch? All my Muslim friends will be out celebrating and I will be facing a lot of empty seats.
Well, man proposes, and God indeed disposes. It was standing room only, and they had to close the doors, post a staff person outside to entertain the line of attendees on the sidewalk, until they could be let them in for the reception. While signing books, I noticed that the event manager kept bringing out more and more cartons of books.
“How many books did you sell?” I asked him after everyone had left.
“A lot. Fifty.”
“Fifty is a lot?” What did I know!
“Twenty is a lot,” he educated me.
“What made you agree to host the book launch?” I asked. A few other bookstores had turned me down.
“Three things. Neighborhood resident, first time author, and timely topic.”
First time author! That says a lot. Give the no-track-record-ers a chance.
Next week I started getting emails asking if I could do a book reading.
“How did you hear about the book?”
“I was at your book launch.”
My calendar started filling up. Houses of worship, women’s groups, libraries, museums, colleges, book clubs, and even a Skype with students at the American University in Cairo. One reading would lead to new invites, and like the branches of a tree, my calendar sprouted. I was signing away books and relishing the company of newly found friends.
Have you ever received fan mail? As in e-fan-mail? Do you know how it feels knowing that someone took the time to read your book, made the effort to find you, and then constructed the most heartwarming of letters? The delicious icing on the cake (sugar-free) was when one of them said, “I am giving this book to my family for Christmas.”
It gets better. As soon as the election results were out—well at first it gets worse—I started getting e-mails from strangers saying, ‘you and your family are in our prayers.’ Tears! Another wrote, ‘now when people criticize Muslims, I know what to say.’ Readers were becoming spokespersons for Muslims. Alhamdulillah! A woman wrote that she has reached out to her Muslim neighbor and invited them for a meal.
If you are an author, you would know the ripple of excitement I felt when my memoir was #1 New Release by Amazon, Top 10 in Religion & Spirituality 2016, Top 10 Diverse Nonfiction 2017 by Booklist, and Honorable Mention at San Francisco Book Festival Awards in Spirituality.
Buoyed by all that support, and disturbed by the surge in Islamophobia, my husband and I reached out to our network and asked them to invite us for a talk on Muslims in America. We have been on the road all year, to towns we had never heard of, staying in homes of people we had never met, and making friends across America. When people come up to me and say, “You have changed my mind,” my gratitude has no bounds. It takes a lot for someone to have the humility to acknowledge that they have been influenced.
One of the most frequently asked question is, ‘How can we help Muslims?’ It just warms my heart when I hear that. I say: “Make a Muslim friend. Invite us into your homes.” People have taken that to heart, and I have found myself at the organizing end of Muslim-Christian dinners. There is something special about walking into a stranger’s home where you don’t know the host, and you don’t know the guests. It makes for fascinating conversation at the dinner table.
After a book reading at a women’s group, I was asked if I could put together a panel for a one-time interfaith dialogue. Well, once the discussion got going, everyone decided that this was too promising to be a one-time event, and formed the Daughters of Abraham in Dialogue. We now meet every month, pick a topic, and learn from one another. But more than that, we are there for each other.
This circumstance has been replicated over and over again, with various groups, in so many forums. We have made friends, who are now our ambassadors. They are speaking up for us, standing by us, and fighting for us. By us I mean, Muslims. I have more friends than I can keep track of. When I wrote this book, I couldn’t fathom that this is where it would take me. What a Happy Anniversary!