Circle of strong Muslim women break stereotypes

Their laughter reverberated over the clatter of cups and silverware, drifting past the lunch-hour cacophony of La Madeleine.

The women were gathered round a rustic wooden table, nursing oversized blue cups of cappuccino and tall glasses of iced tea. They greeted each other all at once, words colliding and clashing, like schoolgirls at a cafeteria table.

It had been a few weeks since their last get-together, and there was much territory to cover.

As always, their conversation would dart like quicksilver from one topic to another. Career women and community activists, outspoken and irreverent, rooted to Houston and proud of their roots, they refute stereotypes simply by being themselves.

Lately, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, Calif., and election-year rhetoric vilifying Muslims, their talk has turned time and again to those stereotypes, to frustration with media tropes of oppressed women veiled from head to toe in black, to the pain caused by the hostile stares of strangers, to the sorrow of seeing their children made to feel unwelcome in their own country.

But first things first.

Someone threw out a question inspired by Saira Jilani’s latest Netflix obsession: Who are you on “Friends”?

“A little of all of them,” said Bibi Khan, who wore a peach hijab and ready smile.

“I ask my kids: ‘Who am I?’ and they say, without hesitation, Monica,” confided Jilani. “I look at her and go: That is so me, so OCD about everything.”

“Let’s talk about who Lily is,” Khan proposed with a mischievous gleam.

They considered Lily Nasar, whose blond hair is pulled back into a bun.

“Rachel?” suggested Jilani.

“Phoebe?” countered Khan’s daughter, Safra.

“She’s a cross between Rachel and Phoebe,” decreed Khan, as they all broke into laughter and leaped to the next subject.

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