On Thursday, December 17, 2015, Muftah held its first live event in Washington D.C. to discuss the bigoted rhetoric about Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, refugees, and others that has reached a climax here in the United States. Together with our audience, we shared our thoughts about this increasing bigotry, discussed the roots of discriminatory thinking, and talked about the concrete steps regular individuals can take to show solidarity with those being attacked.
The list, below, is a product of this conversation. It is primarily focused on countering anti-Muslim hate and introduces ideas, large and small, to help us all feel a little more empowered and a little less helpless in the face of the growing political and social crisis in this country.
1. Support Businesses that Are Speaking Out against Bias
In response to the increasing wave of Islamophobia, American City Diner, a D.C. area institution, put a big sign up outside, expressing support for American Muslims.
Also in Washington D.C., The Potter’s House, where we held our December 17 event, has been a big supporter of Muslims, immigrants, and refugees.
Patronize these and other businesses taking a similar stand and thank them for their vocal position against discrimination.
2. Help Your Local Mosque Apply for a Non-Profit Security Grant
Some security companies have reportedly terminated contracts with local Islamic centers. The All Dulles Area Muslim Society, located in a suburb of Washington D.C., reported that its security provider had refused to continue providing services to the mosque. As reported in CNN, the security company gave this as its excuse: “‘We don’t know what’s going to happen, we can’t protect you.’”
Security at mosques is needed now more than ever, given the increasing rates of hostile protests and vandalism taking place at these institutions. Where there are funds and willing security companies to be found, mosques are beefing up their security by hiring armed guards.
To help protect parishioners from attack, encourage your local mosque to apply for a Non-Profit Security Grant. These awards, which are administered by the Department of Homeland Security, are given to institutions that are at high risk of “terrorism” and are located in designated urban areas. The grants provide non-profit organizations, primarily religious institutions, with up to $75,000 to improve their security structures, including installing security cameras and building concrete barriers. According Tobin Grant, a blogger at Religion News Service, religious institutions that are known to be frequently targeted for hate crimes are most likely to receive grant money:
Last year, New Jersey received 18 NSGP grants. Most went to Jewish organizations, but two went to Sikh organizations, one went to an evangelical church, and one went to a Catholic preparatory school.
Jewish groups receive the grants because they are the most commonly targeted religious group in the United States. . . . The major criteria used to judge grant applications is prior threats and risk assessments.
Historically, very low numbers of Islamic centers and mosques have applied for these grants – whether because of ignorance or lack of need. Given the current climate, these grants could be critical to ensuring the safety of Muslim worshippers.
In order to apply for one of these grants, a mosque must apply through its State Administrative Agency. To learn more about the grant program, click here.
3. Volunteer to Be a Monitor at Your Local Mosque
It is a powerful and much-needed act of support to serve as a monitor at your local Islamic center and help worshippers enter and exit these institutions safely. This is a particularly effective thing for groups to do and is especially needed at mosques that have experienced Islamophobic protests, like this one in Irving, Texas.
Don’t know how to find your local mosque or Islamic center? Just Google the name of your city and the word “mosque” or “Islamic center.” Yes, it’s that simple and we guarantee relevant information will come up. If that fails, call a national Muslim advocacy organization to see if they can recommend any mosques in your area. CAIR (The Council on American Islamic Relations), which has twenty-eight branches across the United States, is a good place to start. If you do not have local CAIR chapter, then you can reach out to the national headquarters in Washington D.C.
4. Volunteer at Your Local School to Teach Kids about Islam & Islamophobia
After the Paris attack, on November 13, 2015, the Washington Post published a piece titled “How to talk to your child about the Islamic State.” The article, which is about explaining to children why the Islamic State cannot hurt them, says nothing about also telling them that, any fears they have, should not be directed toward their Muslim classmates. Indeed, finding a way to speak to children (and their teachers!) about Islam and Islamophobia is particularly important right now.
Since the Paris and San Bernadino attacks (December 2, 2015), Muslim children have reportedly experienced heightened levels of bullying. Like with many of the other trends we are seeing now, this discrimination predates recent events. According to one report from 2014, published in Mother Jones, 55 percent of Muslim students in California reported being the target of verbal abuse and insults. That is twice as many as those who reported being bullied based on gender and race nationally. But, this harassment is not just coming from fellow classmates. According to the same report, one in five Muslim students in California said they were discriminated against by a teacher or an administrator. Only 42 percent of these students said reporting a problem to an adult made a difference.
Talking about Islam, in particular, can bit tricky to do at a public school (because of the separation between Church and State), but, if you are parent, you can begin to explore the possibilities by contacting your child’s homeroom teacher. Once you have spoken with school officials, you can figure out how to best tailor your presentation.
You do not have to be a parent, in order to volunteer at your local school. Public schools, in particular, are looking for people who are willing to volunteer their time to work directly with children. Most school districts have formalized procedures in place to evaluate a volunteer and his or her skills. In Los Angeles, the Unified School District, School, Family, and Parent/Community Services has a website dedicated to its school volunteer program. Look for similar resources in your area, or just contact your local school directly.
5. Urge Law Enforcement to Investigate anti-Muslim Hate Crimes
This map tracks ALL the incidents of Islamphobia that have taken place in the United States since the San Bernadino attacks. The map can be searched by state, with each incident indicating whether a police investigation has been open. If you come across an incident in your community that has not been investigated, contact the relevant police department and urge them, as a concerned citizen, to look into these crimes.
6. If You’re a Lawyer, Provide Probono Help to Victims of anti-Muslim Hate Crimes
The same map could conceivably be used to provide legal representation to victims – for instance, by helping them interface with law enforcement and keeping pressure on police to open investigations in particular attacks.
While the names of most victims are not included in the map, each incident links to a news article about the event, where the victim’s information may be available.
In addition, if you contact your local CAIR branch (or the national headquarters) and express interest in providing pro bono legal representation to victims of Islamophobia, they may be able to connect you with individuals in need.
7. Thank Your Congressional Representative for Co-Sponsoring a House Resolution against Anti-Muslim Bigotry, and, If They Haven’t, Urge Them to Do So
House Resolution 569 was introduced in mid-December 2015 by Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Mike Honda (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and André Carson (D-IN), along with eighty-two cosponsors (as of this writing). The bill, which has currently been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, states in part:
“Whereas the victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes and rhetoric have faced physical, verbal, and emotional abuse because they were Muslim or believed to be Muslim;
“Whereas the constitutional right to freedom of religious practice is a cherished American value and violence or hate speech towards any American community based on their faith is in contravention of our founding principles;
“Whereas there are millions of Muslims in the United States, a community made up of many diverse beliefs and cultures, and both immigrants and native-born Americans. . .
“Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
“(1) Expresses its condolences for the victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes;
“(2) Steadfastly confirms its dedication to the rights and dignity of all its citizens of all faiths, beliefs, and cultures. . .”
8. Wear a Hijab in Solidarity with Veiled Muslim Women
In the aftermath of attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, being a Muslim woman in America has become pretty hard – especially if you wear a traditional head covering or “hijab.” In the last few weeks alone, hijab wearing Muslim women have reported a sharp rise in verbal and physical assaults, especially from men.
In Cincinnati, a driver tried to run down a young hijab-wearing Muslim woman. In New York City, a postal worker spit on two hijabi Muslim women, followed them into a deli, and threatened to burn down their mosque. In San Diego, a man shoved a pregnant Muslim mother’s stroller into her belly, after yelling racial slurs at her. In Tampa, one hijab woman was shot at as she left her mosque. Another hijab woman was nearly run off the road, and had rocks and other objects thrown at her car, as she was driving away from the same mosque.
Across the country, non-Muslim women, young and old, have been showing solidarity with veiled American Muslim by donning the head covering themselves. While some, most notoriously the self-styled Muslim “reformer” Asra Nomani, have spoken out against this form of solidarity, their arguments do little more than marginalize American Muslims women and reinforce Islamophobia. As Hena Zuberi, an editor at MuslimMatters, wrote:
I ask Muslim women who do not cover their hair to either stand in solidarity with sisters who cover or sit-down and stop talking about #hijab. Not now, not right now.
Not that this is a competition of marginalization, but you are simply not going through what women who cover are going through. This is a time when women who cover are being beaten at our local grocery stores, they are being profiled by law enforcement and asked whether they are carrying weapons during traffic stops for no good reason except the fact that they have a scarf on their head. Women are losing their jobs because they were chose to cover. Some are too scared to leave their homes with their children. And this the time some women rights activists and so called feminists are going to use to tell us that we are brainwashed and Saudized. This is hypocrisy and a slap for women who actually care about women.
To use this time to say Muslim women who cover are extreme and that Islam should be reformed?!
You don’t want to cover, don’t cover, no one is forcing you. You don’t find strength, or peace or God in it, okay I can accept that. You don’t want people of other faiths to don the hijab to show solidarity, that is your choice. You want to practice Islam in a way that you want to follow it, go ahead.
But do not use this time of heightened anti-Muslim bigotry to virtually beat Muslim sisters who cover. Do not use this time to police our clothing or the way we practice our faith, or the way we chose to love God. The way we emulate Mary the Mother of Christ.
Don’t infantilize us. What about our choice to follow a 1400 year old faith tradition, agreed upon unanimously by mainstream Islamic thought? A tradition that is rooted in all Monotheist faiths.
So, if you are up for it, put on a headscarf and show your support for American Muslim women. Share your experience with those around you, as some women have done. It can be a powerful way to help other Americans understand how scary and hard it is right now to be an American Muslim woman.
9. For the Guys (especially the Muslim ones) Out There, Be Visible About Your Faith
One of our good friends pointed out how easy it can (sometimes) be for Muslim men to fly under the radar, in a way that the veiled women cannot. As a gesture of solidarity then, consider being most visible about your Islamic faith by, say, wearing a kufi or growing out that salafi-hipster beard (also a useful weapon against the winter weather).
Of course, these are things that non-Muslim men can do as well to show their support for the American Muslim community.
10. Educate Yourself and Others About Islam and Islamophobia
Read up on Islam and Islamophobia, and ask your local library to purchase some of the newer books on the topics. Here are some you can start with:
Shahab Ahmed’s What Is Islam: the Importance of Being Islamic
Jonathan Brown’s Misquoting Mohammed: the Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy
Charles Kurzman’s Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslims Terrorists
John Esposito’s Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century
Melani McAlister’s Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945
Edward Said’s Covering Islam: How the Media and Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World
Evelyn Alsultany’s Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation in the Media
Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem
Chris Bail’s Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream
Nathan Lean’s The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims
John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed’s Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think
Arun Kundnani’s The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror
Deepa Kumar’s Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire
Lila Abu-Lughod’s Do Muslim Women Need Saving?
G. Willow Wilson’s The Butterfly Mosque: a Young Women’s Journey to Love and Islam
11. Get Involved with Organizations that Are Countering anti-Muslim, anti-Immigrant, and anti-Refugee Bigotry
A variety of organizations are working hard to counter rising bigotry in the United States. Many are often looking for volunteers to help in their work. All it takes is an email or phone call to find out how you can help. Here’s a list of organizations to get you started (in no particular order).
A progressive organization that has been particularly outspoken against anti-Muslim and refugee bigotry.
A small, but effective organization that advocates on behalf of the American Sikh community – Sikh men, in particular, are often mistaken for Muslim and targeted for anti-Muslim hate crimes.
A San Francisco-based Muslim advocacy organization, with a particular focus on legal work.
A national organization that has been at the forefront of tracking anti-Muslim crimes and advocating against Islamophobia
The premier advocacy organizations for America’s Latino community.
A leading, national Arab American civil rights organization.
A leading advocate for the Iranian-American community, NIAC is currently leading a campaign to overturn a new federal immigration law that discriminates against dual nationals from Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan.
In September 2015, Muftah published a list a way to help refugees. Most of these organizations provide medical, food, and other humanitarian aid to refugees. While they may not be directly countering bigotry, they represent a side of humanity that is, perhaps, the best antidote to bigotry. Click on the link here, to learn more about these organizations and how you can help.
12. Turn the “See Something, Say Something” Campaign on Its Head
The “See Something, Say Something” campaign is spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security and aims to raise “awareness of the indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime.” Created in 2002, it encourages individuals to report all “suspicious activities” (undefined) to state and local law enforcement. As reflected in news reports, the program has led to racial and religious profiling.
The time has come to flip this program on its head – and use it to fight, instead of perpetuate, anti-Muslim bigotry.
There have been too many stories, recently, in which people have stood by as someone, perceived to be Muslim, has been verbally assaulted and humiliated. If you see someone harassing a woman wearing a hijab, say something. If you see someone vandalizing a mosque or an armed individual outside of an Islamic Center, call the police.
Don’t just stand by and watch as someone else is victimized.
13. Report Incidents of Islamophobia to the FBI
Whether you have witnessed an act of Islamophobia or suffered from it yourself, report it to your local FBI office. The FBI collects hate crimes statistics. The more crimes are reported the more leverage advocacy organizations have in pushing for these crimes to be investigated by local law enforcement. In addition, when a hate crime is reported to the FBI, it is obligated to look into it.
14. Give Hugs
An anti-Islamophobia campaign has been gradually spreading around the world – a campaign that involves hugs. It seems to have begun in Canada in February 2015 when Mustafa Mawla stood on the streets of Toronto, blindfolded, and held up signs that read: “I am a Muslim. I am a labeled as a terrorist. I trust you. Do you trust me? Give me a hug.”
The campaign was continued by a Muslim man in Paris, who stood near a mourning site following the attacks in that city, blindfolded himself, and asked for hugs. Other Muslim men in Paris also followed suit.
After the San Bernadino attack, an American Muslim student at Auburn University wrapped a blindfold around his head, picked up a sign of his own, and stood on campus with his arms out stretched.
If you pass someone participating in this campaign, stop, walk over, and give them a hug!
15. If You are Muslim, Tell People How They Can Support You
If you are Muslim and are looking for support from your non-Muslim friends and colleagues, tell them how they can support you. Most Americans are looking for some direction on what to do. While you probably already have a lot on your plate right now, taking a few minutes to share your thoughts with them or provide resources they can use, can go a long way. Here’s one list, put together, by Bitch Media, on begin a Muslim ally, and another one compiled by Professor Rashid on how Christians can ally with Muslims in an age of Islamophobia.
16. Help a Refugee Family in Your Area
Right before Christmas, actor Mandy Patinkin made an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He spoke, with passion, about rejecting war and violence, and embracing our collective humanity. He spoke, in particular, about calling the International Rescue Committee (which has offices across the United States) and being connected to a Syrian family in New Jersey. He and his family had plans to meet and spend time with that family.
If Mandy Patinkin (who stars on Homeland, a show that trades in negative stereotypes about Muslims) can do it, why can’t you? Contact the International Rescue Committee and help Syrian refugees in your community.
17. Money Still Helps. If You Have It, Give It
Organizations that are doing good work, often need money to fund their efforts. CAIR-AZ, the Arizona branch of CAIR, is currently fundraising to support several projects that are directly aimed at combating Islamophobia in its state. You can give to the crowdfunding campaign here.
18. Speak Out about What You’re Doing to #DumpIslamophobia
If you take part in one or more of these actions (or any others) against Islamophobia and bigotry, share what you are doing on social media. Tell your friends, family, and followers what you saw, felt, experienced, achieved, and learned, in words and images. If we all use the hashtag #DumpIslamophobia, we can stay connected and learn from one another’s achievements and efforts. Let’s make 2016 the year we build a reservoir of courage, empower one another to take action, and show everyone that positive change is possible, if everyone does their part.
If you have an idea to add to this list, please contact us at [email protected]