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In recent days, we have seen armed motorcycle gangs intimidate mosque attendees and bigotry on major airline flights. These events only mark the most recent examples of growing Islamophobia in America.
Questions abound: what can we do about it? How should we respond? And, better yet, how can we be more proactive?
“Good and evil cannot be equal. Repel evil with what is better, and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend.”
Build and Leverage Strategic Relationships (at every level)
Allow me to provide some anecdotal evidence from my time as a community organizer.
In 2007, one of the main promoters of Islamophobia decided to host an “Islamofascism Awareness Week” on college campuses across America. As MSA President at Georgia Tech, I was surprised to find my own campus on the list. To respond to such a hateful event, I decided to stop by the College Republicans office. I simply introduced myself and asked them if they could stop supporting the “Islamofascism” project. It worked.
We didn’t stop there. An opportunity emerged to host a comedy event featuring a Muslim and a Jewish comedian called Comedy’s Odd Couple, and we seized it. Within three weeks, we were able to collaborate with the Georgia Tech Hillel to host an great event with over 750 attendees. I will never forget the Hillel President asking me for a hug after the unexpected success of our collaboration.
In the real world, collaboration is sometimes more difficult. We can’t expect to stop Pamela Geller from being so hateful over a cup of chai, but we can and should leverage the relationships we have to neutralize her efforts within our spheres of influence.
Don’t Let Differences Divide Us
Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi, Ismaili, Aga Khani, Sufi, Salafi, Deobandi, Brelvi - the labels go on and on. We must not play into the hands of those who would inflame sectarian sentiments in order to divide and conquer us. Our differences must be a source of strength, not weakness, and it can only come with a commitment towards unity, self-reflection, and growth.
Stop Insular Programming
Many polls indicate that a majority of Americans have never met a Muslim, and that if an individual does know a Muslim, they’re less likely to harbor anti-Muslim feelings.
The one way to solve this problem in the most efficient way possible? Stop hosting all Muslim-only events. Instead, transform them to be welcoming for everyone. Don’t just stop at being open to the public though. In every program you organize or attend, intentionally plan to invite and host your friends and neighbors of other faiths (including those with no faith).
Projects such as the MSA Fast-a-Thon and UK-based ‘The Big Iftar’ encourage Muslims to open their doors to other faith groups in the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is approaching, so hosting welcoming iftars is a good place to start, but don’t let that be the end of our outreach efforts. Atlanta’s very own Roswell Community Masjid hosts open houses for the community on a regular basis throughout the year, and it’s a model that ought to be replicated in every mosque.
Support Organizations on the Front Lines
There are many, many organizations, both Muslim and otherwise, dealing directly with Islamophobia in America.
Pick a few organizations doing good work. Give your time. Give your money. If nothing else, give your prayers.
Below are just a few initiatives that are providing great resources for the Muslim community. Please take advantage of them.
There is no better way to soften hearts than through public service. Changing the paradigm through which Muslims solve local and global problems is the key to remaining proactive against Islamophobia. As Muslims, we are obligated to enact positive change in the world. Rather than responding defensively, we should work to benefit the world inspired by our faith.
Humans are generally averse to war and the murder of other human beings. So how have people been so successful at bringing armies to massacre one another? Through efforts to dehumanize the “other.” It’s well-documented that the Jews were dehumanized in Nazi Germany before their mass slaughter was sanctioned during the Holocaust. As long as the United States finds justifiable reason to “intervene” in Muslim lands, Muslims will continue to be dehumanized in order to suit this agenda, and people continue to find money and fame in promoting hatred of Muslims and Islam. It’s our job to advocate for policies that lead towards peace and understanding between America and Muslims. It is our unique challenge to face, and we must do so strategically.
Had America listened to Muslim voices in 2003, we would not have made the disastrous mistake of invading Iraq. Now, we have witnessed both the Democrat and Republican parties come to a virtual unanimous consensus that the war was a mistake, and it was only because of the political impotence of the Muslim community here in America that we were unable to serve our nation by preventing her from this grave error.
As Shahrukh Arif aptly stated, “Muslims will not gain any traction in the political arena until they are willing to fully participate in the process,” especially as a minority. Until we are voting and lobbying for the causes that matter to us, using not just our time but also our money, we won’t be living up to our moral responsibility to leverage the .
What sort of policies can we champion moving forward? One key policy would be pushing America towards energy independence based on renewable resources. This development would not only reduce America’s incentive to fight for control of natural resources in the Middle East, it would also address the critical problem of climate change which is a top priority for both national and global security.
If that seems too daunting of a challenge, then focus your gaze locally. The laws and appropriations being passed in the state of Georgia are critical to promote the sorts of changes we’d like to see nationally and globally. How can we push for Georgia to be the first energy independent state, running solely on renewable energy? The possibilities are endless.
A famous African proverb states, “until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” With time, an increasingly wide disconnect has formed between the reality of Muslim culture and the narrative surrounding it. Getting involved in media, art, movies, and music is by far the most potent way in which Muslims have the power to tell their own stories. Now more than ever, in a world driven by the media, it is imperative for the Muslim voice to speak from behind the cameras, mics, podiums, and paintings. If we want to shape a more constructive dialogue about global Muslim affairs and highlight growth and positivity, then it has to come from us.
Interested in learning more? Check out CAIR’s handy guide on combating Islamophobia.
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