Tonight I went to an old-fashioned Muslim community dinner. It was old-fashioned because all the things that used to happen when I was a kid happened exactly the same way it had always happened. It was lovely.

I haven’t really been able to go to as many community events as I used to before when I was married – because…well, life becomes different after. And when I do go, I tend to attend the nouveau Muslim events. You know, the events where you feel like you’re just at any other event except there’s more people saying salam, more people with covered heads, more people taking the time to break for prayers. These nouveau events are always well orchestrated with a fluid feel to them: everything’s on time, assigned tables worked out on Excel, organizers text-messaging to each other to take care of unforeseen problems; in short, they’re carried off without a glitch. You come away from them feeling composed and poised.

And the typical old-fashioned Muslim community dinner? Well…

– Crowded conditions. People finding seats anywhere and everywhere – including on stage, just enough away from the speaker that no one can see them. At a table, you’re hijab to hijab with a stranger but that’s okay because you just found out her sister went to school with you. Even if you didn’t find that out, you really like the fact that she saved your spot when you went to say salam to another friend. Just like that, you made a new friend.

– Line-up limbo. So you were part of this line for the dinner buffet when out of the blue, they divide the line like Moses with the staff “to make it more efficient” and suddenly you realize you’ve been staying in the same spot for a long while now because your new line is in front of the doors to the hall and you’re being polite and letting all the new dinner guests come in but the new guests are joining the line now at the “efficient” point – which is right in front of you. But that’s okay because once you realize this (after a good 10 minutes) you remember that a lot of Muslims missed out on the course Lining-up 101 because it’s not offered in most parts of the Muslim world. So you trade the same old jokes with your friends about conducting workshops on it in the mosque and you take it in stride patiently because you know that no matter where you are in the line at an old-fashioned Muslim dinner, they never let anyone go away from the buffet empty-handed. That course, Hospitality 101, is mandatory in all parts of the Muslim world.

– Non-Muslim Woman Politician Awe. At an old-fashioned Muslim community dinner, there’s always a healthy line-up of speakers. I came a bit late today and still caught 8 of them – and they were diverse in ages, cultures and religions. Oh, I forgot to add genders to that list of diversity because there was one woman speaker – and of course it was a provincial politician (see episode 2 of Little Mosque on the Prairie). And when she went up to speak, I’m proud to report that all the audience talk that was happening throughout the other speeches (speaker? what speaker?) suddenly dimmed down – so quiet you could hear a dinner gong drop – just long enough for her to finish her talk with a cute attempt at “Assalamu Alaikum”. And then the next speaker steps up – a poor bewildered guy wondering why the rapt attention everyone was showing before suddenly shifted to their friends, cell phones, appetizers and child who chose that precise moment to start screaming. And the politician leaves the hall on to her next event, murmuring to her aide “I knew all that talk about Muslims being sexist was wrong – did you see the way they were lapping up my words?”

– Match-Making Aunties. They’re crawling all over these old-fashioned Muslim events and yup, my mom was approached by one of them. All I could think – with the Jaws music playing in my head – was: Wow, they sure swim fast. But really, I know in my heart these well-intentioned dears are just worried for me – in case I end up being a Match-Making Auntie myself to fill up my time.

– Mis-Use of Microphones. No matter how high-tech an old-fashioned Muslim dinner becomes, there’s always something up with the mikes. Besides the unfortunate state of the sound systems at Muslim events (which many Muslim comedians have done whole acts on), there’s also the issue of the traditional ways mikes are used: to point out things over and over to the crowd in booming voices (“Maghrib prayer will be starting in 5 minutes.” “Maghrib prayer will be starting in 3 minutes.” “Maghrib prayer will be starting in 1 minute and 33 seconds SO GO MAKE WUDU!”) and to highlight misbehaviors of kids doing no-nos like touching the high-tech gizmos and, balloons of all things (the gall!) all around them. Today a child wearing a bright yellow shirt was told to “MOVE AWAY from the camcorder. YES YOU in the BRIGHT YELLOW SHIRT, MOVE AWAY from the camcorder!” and another, a child in a dark green shirt was told to “KEEP AWAY from the balloons. YES YOU in the DARK GREEN SHIRT, KEEP AWAY from the balloons!” and my friend in a chic black ensemble, who was furtively trying to get her crying 4 year-old a balloon was spotted! “DO NOT TOUCH the balloons. YES YOU SISTER IN THE CHIC BLACK NEW YORK LOOK CLOTHES, DO NOT TOUCH the balloons!” (ok, that second sentence in the quote I made up). I half-expected a spotlight to turn on her – she, caught in the lights, eyes wide, a bright yellow balloon clutched in her hands.

Hmm… I’m trying to find a good point about this point about mikes as I have done with all my other points and I really can’t. We definitely need Microphone-Use 101 as a prerequisite course to all other courses…

The point to remember is that at an old-fashioned Muslim event, the focus is not on optics – it’s not the appearance that matters (nor for that matter, the auditory experience). What matters is that stomachs – ALL of them, including ones in bright yellow shirts, dark green shirts and chic black clothes – get filled up well with biryani, EVERYONE prays communal prayers on time (bless those booming reminders) and local non-Muslim women politicians are properly heard. Try beating that with a nouveau Muslim dinner where stomachs are fed seared wild salmon on wild brown rice with glazed asparagus, communal prayers are prayed voluntarily by only those who are into prayer and local non-Muslim women politicians are so passe when there’s the likes of international human rights superstar Louise Arbour to be heard. See what I mean?

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