HuffPost is hitting the highway this fall to interview individuals about their hopes, goals, fears ― and what it means to be American right now.
After President Donald Trump’s election and a corresponding spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes, one small group within the Kansas Metropolis space began organizing month-to-month “Meet a Muslim” occasions ― an effort to indicate group members who Muslims actually are in actual life, versus the destructive stereotypes they may see within the information.
The occasions have been an concept from the nonprofit Crescent Peace Society, which has been in search of to lift consciousness and enhance understanding of Muslim cultures by interfaith occasions and dialogue since its founding in 1996.
The volunteer-run group was began by a handful of Muslim dad and mom after the Oklahoma Metropolis bombing, when a few of their children have been afraid to return to high school as a result of classmates mentioned they have been accountable for the assault.
Since then, the group has been organizing annual interfaith dinners, native “go to a mosque” occasions, and a yearly iftar to interrupt the Ramadan quick ― all with non-Muslim group members to allow them to get to know Muslims face-to-face and counter misconceptions.
However late final yr, nearly precisely 20 years after the group’s founding, Trump received the presidency with a marketing campaign stuffed with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Crescent Peace Society, which is predicated within the suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, acquired a wave of requests from neighbors across the Kansas Metropolis space “who wished to do one thing for the Muslim group however didn’t know the way ― or had by no means even met a Muslim,” the group’s president, Ahsan Latif, advised HuffPost.
That’s when he began the month-to-month “Meet a Muslim” occasions, inviting non-Muslims to sit down round a desk with Muslims and simply speak ― about present occasions, their households, their religion, something. The occasions, that are free and open to the general public, have been at areas together with an Islamic Middle, a church and a synagogue. The primary drew about 200 individuals and subsequent occasions have introduced in about 150 every.
“I used to be stunned by my very own misconceptions, notably concerning the lives of girls throughout the Muslim faith,” participant Becky Plate, who’s non-Muslim, advised HuffPost by e mail of her expertise at one occasion. “I take into account myself a reasonably well-informed particular person … however even I had allowed information tales, about issues like ladies secretly studying to drive in Saudi Arabia, to paint my opinions.”
For Latif, this kind of myth-busting is strictly what the occasions are all about.
“It distills our mission down to 1 occasion: attending to know individuals on a person-to-person foundation,” Latif mentioned. “It’s tougher to demonize somebody or suppose they’re monolithic if you truly get to know them.”
“We converse as common individuals, not as mosque officers,” he added. “So individuals get to know who common individuals are who follow the religion.”
Latif, a 36-year-old legal professional who had attended the group’s annual dinners when he was youthful, turned president of the group three years in the past after “one of many aunties requested me to ― and I don’t prefer to say no to the aunties,” he mentioned.
Latif normally kicks off the occasions with a brief introduction concerning the group and Islam normally after which fingers management again to the tables ― which every have not less than one Muslim “moderator” ― to hold on their very own, extra intimate discussions.
The tables all have handouts to assist information dialog, with info about Islam and Muslims in Kansas Metropolis and the U.S. After an hour or so, the Muslim moderators rotate to new tables. Latif mentioned he makes a degree of making certain a various group of Muslims are current, with moderators together with everybody from an Iraqi refugee to a Somali-American couple to an African-American latest convert, “to allow them to see we are available in all totally different seems to be and ethnicities,” he mentioned.
Desk moderator Zehra Shabbir, who’s Muslim and has been a member of Crescent Peace Society for 4 years, has attended a number of occasions. She was “stunned” each by the extent of concern for and solidarity with Muslims she noticed from non-Muslim attendees, in addition to by among the misconceptions individuals had about Islam, together with every thing from the veil to ladies’s rights.
“How can there be such a destructive outlook on a gaggle of individuals that just about 60 % of Individuals have by no means even spoken to?” Shabbir advised HuffPost by e mail. “That stat alone makes initiatives like this vital. All of us worry the unknown, however that worry will be damaged when you sit down with somebody totally different and simply speak to them.”
The Crescent Peace Society’s “Meet a Muslim” occasions are certainly one of a handful of comparable initiatives which have sprung up throughout the nation because the election. One Muslim couple began a “dinner together with your Muslim neighbor” mission in Seattle, for example, and a Muslim veteran has been touring the nation with an indication studying “I’m Muslim and a U.S. Marine, ask something.”
When requested whether or not such initiatives place undue accountability on Muslims to should humanize themselves to non-Muslims, notably in an atmosphere of elevated worry among the many Muslim group, Latif demurred.
“There’s a variety of dialogue in progressive circles on whose job it’s to humanize individuals, and I perceive it’s off-putting to clarify, ‘I’m only a human being identical to you’re,’” he mentioned. “However we’ve present in our work that ready for different individuals to do the work doesn’t get something finished. You must take that first step and hope that different individuals will be a part of you.”
“If we don’t converse, then different individuals write the narratives for us,” he added.
Amid a latest rise in anti-Muslim hate teams nationwide ― and spate of hate crimes lately within the Kansas Metropolis space ― Latif acknowledges the impact and attain of the group’s occasions are small. However even when they contact just a few hundred individuals, he believes they nonetheless have worth.
“There are so few Muslims and a lot mentioned about them,” Latif mentioned. “Even simply assembly individuals who [already] assist us, they’ll say to their prolonged households: ‘I’ve met a Muslim individual and that is what I discovered,’ so it’s a ripple that hopefully reverberates additional out.”
“My aim is to make a distinction with individuals round me,” he added. “There are issues occurring on this planet I can’t management ― what I can management is to mission the message and get to know individuals in the area people, and hopefully do good that method.”