I met a Muslim, now what?

Yorba Linda, ICNA event, 2011.
Yorba Linda, ICNA event, 2011.

People meet Muslims, they feel a bit intimidated because of the “elephant in the room.” How do you carry on a conversation if you don’t know what to talk about, feel constricted by self conscious desire to not say the wrong thing, don’t want to offend this new Muslim you’ve just met?

It’s a fear that is left unsaid. I became aware of it after people I’ve known for years confided this truth. They felt ashamed and silly, but I understand where it comes from and there’s no reason to feel shame or to get all shy about it.

One of the most uncomfortable professional experience I had, involved meeting people at events or mixers. How do you carry a conversation with strangers? My personality is the sort that bulks at the idea of social butterfly-ing, so for years this was an anxiety ridden experience. Like so many challenges I face in my life, I ended up looking for books to help me and I reached out to people the consummate networkers I knew for practical advice.  One of the easiest things I implemented was to do my research before hand, and be aware of the top issues of the day so I had intelligent things to say in a conversation.

So to talk to a Muslim, build a relationship, you can start with some simple research. But I know it’s not easy to do “research” on Islam and Muslims without having to get a Ph.D in the subject! (I know, as a Muslim I keep learning new things about sectarian groups in the community and religious ideology.)  Thats why I think Tariq Jalil’s “Islam Plain and Simple” is a really awesome book to reference. He’s a Muslim and a Hollywood Producer, he also happens to be a friend of mine who was kind enough to send me an advance copy of this book.

I wrote a review you can check out here at NewGround. But the short of it is that this book is short- longer then a pamphlet with bare bone information but shorter than some of the many books out there covering the basics of Islam. What makes it short is that, Jalil cut out much of the “substantive history” that is common fair for these types of books to present a bare bone non-sectarian presentation of Islam and Muslim practices.

You met a Muslim; you want to meet Muslims; you know one, but you don’t know where to begin a conversation? I highly recommend you start your research and relationship building by checking out his book.

For more on networking, check out a blog post from a couple of years ago, I shared some tips I picked up on for making a networking experience useful, if not fun.  Below is an excerpt:

At the end of the day you want your a beneficial networking experience. To give it purpose you need to build some foundation to work from.  I find that there are some really good questions, and I present them in an order that will make sense later:

  1. What brings you to the event?  how are you connected to the organization?
  2. Whats your name?
  3. Where are you from?  Where do you live?
  4. Whats your profession?
  5. When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
  6. Where have you travelled? Or do you have any travel plans in the future?
  7. Ask any question- except for politics and/or religion- unless the other person brings it up.
This is something I picked from Simon Vetter when I was attending the San Diego World Trade Center’s monthly speaking series.  I found it incredibly useful in teaching how to network, get better at art of networking, or to help manage anxiety about networking events.  I wish someone had told me this earlier because it makes networking easier.
Let me know what you think about Jalil’s book in the comments, or link your Goodreads/Amazon reviews there!

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