Sunday night I had a dilemma. I had met a brother from India who had just moved to St. Louis from India a few days before and he was praying at our Masjid for Taraweeh. Along with him I wanted to take a Palestinian brother who lived in the Western suburbs out for something sweet and something to drink (non-alcohol).
Leaving the Masjid in midtown St. Louis I headed for the Central West End (a trendy urban neighborhood) but could not think of anywhere in that area we could go. Most of the places in the CWE are drinking establishments and I knew the brothers didn’t want to be in that kind of environment. Other places in the area, such as The Grind (a coffee shop) have music blasting so loud that you cannot hear anyone talk. The other neighborhood coffee shop is called Coffee Cartel and it caters to a mostly, but not exclusively, gay crowd. Nonetheless I had previously taken a Syrian brother there and within five minutes of sitting down for tea we were offered condoms and a HIV test by a Gay activist. Minutes later we witnessed a loud and noisy sex scene two tables away; so this time around I wasn’t that interested in the Coffee Cartel.
So I kept driving and almost headed to the Delmar Loop, which is another place full of drinking establishments, but I decided not to go as I didn’t know if the Meshugga Coffee House would still be open that late on a Sunday. It is a clean place where one can have a good conversation without a lot of outside distractions.
Instead of the Loop I headed southwest and attempted to go to the Denny’s on Hampton but it was closed at ten at night ( whoever heard of a Denny’s closing that early) and we had to settle for the Steak n’ Shake on Hampton. Walking in to the restaurant we were greeted angrily by a waitress who after seating us went to the front counter and tried to take a nap in between serving us. The Palestinian brother, who like me previously lived in NYC, looked at me and said “are we in the Bronx or back in the Middle-East?”
For all of my love of urban living I knew that we would not have had this problem in suburbia. There are plenty of family friendly places to meet and talk in most places. For those like myself who are not a part of the culture of alcohol (and there are many like me) is there a place in the modern American city outside of Muslim enclaves? Or by the very fact that we do not wish to be a part of that culture are we relegated to social ghettos?
I know a Muslim brother who is a physician doing his residency and he tells of the fact that he feels socially isolated from his colleagues because he doesn’t go out drinking with the rest of them. He is under pressure to fit in and he feels that the social stigma of not drinking may harm his career. It may or may not be true but it will more than likely lessen his closeness with his colleagues (who probably have the best of intentions and just want to socialize with him and be friendly).
A non-Muslim friend of mine recently told me that I don’t understand the culture of alcohol and he is right for the most part. However, I understand enough, as I pick up people from nightclubs and bars in my taxi every night and from what I see of this culture by the way they act getting in my cab I know all that I need to know.