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How one Muslim American wants to help others bridge divides over dinner

For several evenings over several months, Amanda Saab did something brave. She invited friends and sometimes strangers into her home in Renton, cooked them a delicious dinner, and answered their questions about what it’s like to be Muslim.

Amanda called these get-togethers Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor. And now, 10 months after her first dinner in January, she hopes the community that supported those conversations around the Seattle area can help facilitate even more of them around the world.

Amanda, a social worker and food blogger who competed on Season 6 of Master Chef, got the idea for Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor while she was watching the evening news. She saw Donald Trump bring up all this bigotry and hate, and she couldn’t stand it.

“I was completely floored that American politics has taken this turn and that we’ve given a platform to someone who is so Islamophobic,” she said. “I needed to do something.”

Amanda pitched the idea of a get-together to her Facebook followers, and the dinners were born. The conversations were candid and illuminating. Interest was so high she had to turn people away.

One time, a guest told the table that her neighbor had warned her to “be careful” going to the home of two Muslims. That reminded Amanda why it’s important that different people get to know each other: It’s harder to succumb to suspicion and fear.

Amanda and her husband, Hussein, moved back to Detroit a couple months ago to be closer to family and friends. But Amanda already misses the “open-minded, kind, and curious” people she got to know around Seattle. They’ve inspired her to help Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor spread.

So here’s the plan: Some time in 2017, Amanda wants to launch an online toolkit to help any Muslim around the world host a dinner for different people in their communities. The kit will have tips on everything from how to invite a good mix of people (20 is too many, 12 is just right) to what it takes to facilitate meaningful conversations about sometimes sensitive topics.

On that, Amanda’s got the support of a local expert. Seattle’s Michael Hebb launched a fascinating project three years ago called Death Over Dinner. People in 20 countries hosted 400 simultaneous dinners to talk honestly about, well, death. Michael has built a career on what thoughtful conversations can do to bridge divides, which is why he’s offered to help Amanda.

“Nothing happens unless we stop and listen to each other,” Michael said. “Conflict is not a bad word. It’s where things are born.

For Amanda, it’s also important for people to let their guard down.

You have to be OK with feeling vulnerable,” Amanda said. “I think that’s one of the ingredients that’s so powerful, and one of the things I hope we can inspire people to be.”

We reached out to Amanda late last night, after Trump had gained the advantage. She’d been following along from the Arab American Museum in Detroit. She was sad to know we were about to elect a man who normalized bigotry. But she was also determined not to give in.

“My hope is that kind, fair minded politicians and community leaders will stand together and say no to hate,” she said.

Want to help Amanda build the Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor toolkit? She’d love to hear from you. She’s looking in particular for people with website development experience to help her launch the site and help design the toolkit. Just send Amanda an email at [email protected].