The Zeitouns: Spreading a message of acceptance

This past weekend I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to meet two amazingly resilient people: Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun.

The story of their struggle during and after Hurricane Katrina – recounted in the novel by Dave Eggers titled simply “Zeitoun” – has been highly publicized in the East Lansing community this fall through the One Book One Community program.

Speaking with the Zeitouns during their visit to East Lansing, I learned that Abdul and Kathy are not what most Americans envision when they think of Muslim families. Kathy is outgoing, outspoken and funny, while Abdul seems soft-spoken and contemplative.

Speaking with Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun Sunday afternoon.

Given that Abdul and Kathy are not your (stereo)typical Muslim couple, it appears as if, through telling their story, they may have an amazing opportunity to teach some important lessons to their fellow Americans.

Considering the political atmosphere of late, which is too often filled with hatred and disgust for Muslims of all backgrounds, seeing a “normal” Muslim family like the Zeitouns will hopefully serve as a positive example for Americans who have negative feelings toward Muslims.

Kathy phrased this beautifully during the talk the couple gave at the Kellogg Center on Sunday night:

You can’t judge a whole group of people by what other people do. Look past the scarf, look past the culture, see the people, not just the ideas behind them.”

Abdurahman Zeitoun answering questions from audience members on Sunday night.

It surprises me that in a community as diverse as East Lansing, with students and residents from around the world, we would face problems such as the Qur’an burning at the Islamic Center of East Lansing. But diversity alone has never been enough to teach people to have tolerance for other cultures. What Abdul and Kathy are doing is something that could actually change people’s minds.

When asked how she felt about the Qur’an burning during Sunday’s talk, Kathy was able to look at the issue from an interesting perspective:

I think it’s really silly. I mean, somebody’s still going to profit off of those Qur’ans. From a financial point of view, he didn’t hurt anything. And I would rather the Qur’ans be burnt than disrespected.”

One theme Kathy returned to frequently when I spoke with her was that the majority of Americans who have feelings of hatred or fear toward Muslims really know nothing about the religion.

One important lesson that Lansing and the rest of the world can take from the story of “Zeitoun” is to learn from and listen to someone before you judge them.

Caron Creighton is a Junior at Michigan State University studying Journalism and Professional Writing.

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