It was 1968. I was twenty and to my knowledge I had only met three Muslims. And only one was an American.


As I understand it, Ramadan begins today. Or tomorrow for some. I wish all those of Islamic faith Ramadan mubarak!

As you can tell, I am no expert on Islam. Or any religion for that matter.

I was raised in a home without religious beliefs. In high school most of my friends were Jewish, as were my aunts and cousins and, of course, my grandparents.

At about that time I discovered Unitarians. Unitarianism was attractive to me in the early 60s for a number of reasons. The youth group was called Liberal Religious Youth and, at least in Los Angeles, it was integrated, politically active in anti-war and civil rights movements and had great parties.

When we got together on Sunday mornings at the First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles, we learned about different religions, including Islam. But my knowledge of Islam did not extend to actually knowing personally a single Muslim.

As I’m writing this it occurs to me that Muhammad Ali may have been the first Muslim I ever met. And by met, I mean that I shook his hand. And had my draft card autographed by him.

I’ve told this story before.

That would have been in 1967.

In 1968 I went off to Europe for the summer on a very low-rent trip. I had budgeted about five dollars a day for as long as my money would last, which would be not much more than 100 days.

This required that I sleep in a bed roll on the side of the road. And travel a lot by sticking out my thumb.

One afternoon, somewhere between Paris and Lyon, a tiny Renault pulled over with two men in the front seat. I squeezed into the rear with my bed roll and backpack.

They were Algerians who spoke no English and I knew only enough French to say please, thank you, good day and good bye.

And “où est le WC.”

At dusk when they pulled over to the side of the road and took out their prayer rugs, I had no idea what was going on.

They kneeled facing east.

It was the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of the five daily Muslim prayers.

When they finished, they got back in the car, pulled back on the road, dropping me off a little later at the turn-off to Grenoble.

I waved and yelled, “Merci” and “Au revoir!”

I was twenty-years old and aside from Muhammad Ali, they were the first Muslims I had ever met.

It was in France, not America. Only 50 years ago.

It is hard to imagine an America like that existed where someone like me could grow up in a major city and know no Muslims.

I’m glad that’s over.

Ramadan mubarak!




9 thoughts on “It was 1968. I was twenty and to my knowledge I had only met three Muslims. And only one was an American.

  1. So to sum it up, Fred was a draft dodger. It all makes sense to me now. But I truly correctly assumed that prior to Fred’s admission. Way to go Fred, men and women died because you didn’t have the balls to go into the service and fled to Europe. The guilt has to be killing you inside.

    1. Actually going to Europe for the summer wasn’t exactly draft dodging. I opposed the draft and the war, organized and advised young men to do the same, supported GI resistance, refused a student deferment, registered 1-A making me quite eligible for the draft. What did you do?

      1. Registered for draft when required. No draft at the time. Put MYSELF through college. No handouts received. Served 30 years in law enforcement and show nothing but respect and appreciation to those who serve this country. I guess you can see why we wouldn’t see eye to eye.

      2. Laughing. We don’t know if any of that self-serving crap is true, do we? You registered for the draft but there was none. What BS. You had a job in college. Courage!

    2. Wait, WHAT?! “Men & women died because you didn’t have the balls to go into the service & fled to Europe…”
      “Men & women died” because of Fred?!
      Better say because of bad choices made by our government (& people still dying for that same reason.) Send more troops so people won’t die!*
      Anony, please watch Ken Burns doc “The Vietnam War” in it’s entirety. Read Ronan Farrow’s book, “The War on Peace,” among others.

      *No, wait…people will die because Fred is retired & nearing 70 & will not serve his country. I’ve read some nonsense before, but this ranks among the most nonsensical.

    3. Fred was wise to avoid being involved in another, “War for Profit”. Viet Nam was a preliminary warm up for the parade of conflicts (Wars) which the US initiated so as to build up the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower cautioned America about.

      Before you criticize people who avoided that war, take some time to peruse Howard Zinn’s, “A People’s History of the United States”. Zinn flew bomber missions during
      WW II. The US has a way of sticking their nose in everybody’s business, and forcing their Imperialistic mannerisms on the governments and people of countries other than our own.

      Another book that might open your eyes to the way our country conducts its “business” is, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins.

      1. Thanks. But I didn’t avoid being involved in Vietnam. I actively organized against it, opposed the draft and refused a student deferment when thousands of working class and young men of color were being drafted. The anonymous author of the comment on the other hand, went to college, got a job and sacrificed nothing.

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