Renton’s Amanda Saab was recently a contestant on Season 6 of Gordan Ramsey’s Master Chef, a cooking competition for American home cooks.
“I want to be on Master Chef to prove to America that Muslim Americans are just like all other Americans. We like to have fun, we love to eat and we definitely can cook,” Saab told the camera in a Master Chef interview.
Saab is a social worker, and the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. She wears a hijab, a colorful scarf that covers her hair, which became a topic of conversation on social media.
“There were some not-so-nice-things that people would say, just based on how I look. People were making really not nice comments. In watching the news, seeing Islam represented in a really negative light, I decided to turn that negativity into something positive. So I decided to have the Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor.”
Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor brings together a diverse group of strangers for a meal, to encourage conversation and abolish stereotypes.
“Some of the stereotypes people believe is that somehow Islam and being American don’t mesh, and that’s absolutely not true. Muslims have been in America since its founding. There’s been Muslims practicing their faith here. And that somehow Muslims don’t want to be American or can’t be as patriotic… I mean, [I was] born and raised here, been paying taxes since I was 16, how much more American can you get?”
She also wanted to give people the opportunity to ask her questions about Islam. Questions they might be too shy to ask, or maybe they have no one to pose the question to.
“[They want to know] When I started wearing hijab and why. So, I was 16 and discovering my faith. I was a rebellious teenager who wanted to challenge everything my parents told me. So I set out to find the religion that I wanted to practice. I ended back at Islam which I was born and raised into. But then when I was 16 I was like, I want to wear hijab, this is how I want to show my devotion to God and practice everyday when I wake up. My parents were like, ‘Whaaat?’ At the time my mom did not wear hijab, none of my cousins did. People are usually surprised. They’re like, ‘You mean, your dad didn’t force you?’ No! Absolutely not! This is a decision that I came to on my own and I’ve embraced it since.”
Saab has held two dinners so far, with about 16 people at each, and Seattle’s Tisha Held attended the last one.
“We were there for six hours chatting,” said Held. “The biggest thing that I walked away with was how similar we are. That’s something people really need to understand. I said to Amanda, we are going to go out there and represent you and try and put the face of a Muslim out there so people can see the positive side, not what is being thrown out by the media in such a negative light.”
Granted, no one at the dinner table had written hateful comments about Amanda or Muslims, but Tisha says even the most open-minded person can benefit from a dinner like this.
“Do I have prejudices and biases against others? Yes, I do. I would be wrong to say I didn’t. Everyone does. Being aware of that but also trying to be open to changing that.”
Meanwhile, on Master Chef, Saab cooked and baked her heart out, but was eventually given the boot.
“It was actually on my birthday that I was eliminated,” Saab said. “I had to make a birthday cake, on my birthday, and I am an expert baker and my cake was raw!”
If you’d like to have Dinner with Your Muslim Neighbor, send Ssab a message through her blog.