April 26, 2011
By Imani Jaafar-Mohammad, Esq.
Exclusive | The Crescent Post
As an American Muslim, it can sometimes be depressing to see recent polls of Americans who think Muslims are “terrorists” and Islam is a “violent” religion. Many of us throw our hands up in the air and just retreat to back into our community where we know we won’t have to deal with unfair stereotypes and people who don’t understand us. But when you look closely at the situation, you will find that many of these people have never met a Muslim personally. I recall watching a program on CNN about the Murfreesboro Masjid and there was one local women who was just adamant that Muslims were the worst people on the planet. Then when the interviewer asked her if she had ever met or personally knew any of the Muslims in her town she said no!
So it seems that people who hate Muslims really don’t know them. That is why I am making the case for Muslims to mix and mingle with everyone around them- seriously. I know many Muslims dedicate their time to giving presentations on Islam and working with Muslim advocacy groups and I applaud their efforts. But that just isn’t enough anymore. Americans need to start seeing the Muslims around them as real people. I know this can be challenging, but Muslims need to get out there and get to know our neighbors, colleagues, and people around them. Muslims are very quick to limit all their social interactions to people who share their faith. But if Muslims want to be accepted and want those nasty poll numbers and opinions to go away, they need to start reaching out to people outside their faith communities.
This is inevitably going to involve some discomfort. In my own experience, after reaching out to my classmates in law school, they started asking me questions about whether men forced me to wear hejab (the headscarf) and whether my husband beat me. After some more interaction and social activities, they realized these stereotypes were just plain wrong. Then something amazing happened, they started standing up for me. I watched my colleagues telling their friends and family that their thoughts about Islam were misguided and they even went so far as to defend Muslims with the information they learned from me in casual conversation. I was shocked that the power of just personally knowing one Muslim was so great.
Reaching out is especially relevant for Muslim professionals. I know it is hard to go to work and know that people harbor all kinds of misguided ideas about you and your faith. But you have to be patient, be kind, and help educate people. I experience the same pattern in every workplace: I get to know people, start forming friendships, and then when they are comfortable all the questions start to pour out. And I would rather answer their questions than allow them to stay pent up. I let my colleagues know that I am open the answering their questions and that I won’t judge them, which I am very serious about.
Muslims can do so much good by reaching out to people in a genuine, non-judgmental way by looking to make friends with the people around them. Isn’t that, after all, what made Islam so popular in its heyday? With some time and effort on our part, I truly believe that Islam will be viewed in a more positive and appropriate light if Muslims step outside their communities. Go forward, mix and mingle, and I know that you will enjoy the new friends and experiences that will come your way.
Imani Jaafar-Mohammad is a partner at the law firm of Mohammad & Jaafar-Mohammed, LLC. She practices in the areas of estate planning, business law, and criminal defense. She has been featured on National Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio and has also been featured in Minnesota Law and Politics magazine.