Muslim communities challenge racism

On Saturday, May 23, Zahra Abidi, program director for the Zainab organization in Lynwood, along with the United Muslims of Washington and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, put together an event called “Take a Stand,” an anti-bullying conference featuring the Muslim community in Washington and all over the country.

Among the speakers at the conference were Bellevue College student Maryam Hussain, Director of Multicultural Services Aaron Reader and El-Hajj Mauri Saalakhan, president of the Peace and Justice Foundation in Washington D.C.

Abidi, the organizer of the event, shared a story where her own son faced discrimination. She also told a story about how his teacher would not let one of the kids say that he loved Jesus for fear of a Muslim also expressing his personal faith. Abidi joined the Zainab organization to help her son and other families in her situation stand up and overcome discrimination. “These middle schoolers, they don’t want their moms at school making a fuss, they just want to fit in,” she said. In the end, she stated that her motivations came from “being a mother.”

Reader addressed the central issue, saying, “Discrimination, racism, harassment and bullying in this community has been around since long before 9/11.” He noted that in some situations discrimination is not always the result of hatred. “We have had our share of situations that are biased that have been against our Muslim students, not by malice but because of ignorance,” explained Reader.

“Whether it’s teaching or simply passing out lunches in the lunch line, we must recognize the impact of bias, whether it be religious, racial or cultural,” Reader said. According to Reader, a lot of students do not speak up to bullying out of embarrassment or fear of retaliation. “I feel confident in saying that Bellevue College is continuous in striving to create an educational environment that feels physically, psychologically and culturally safe for every student,” concluded Reader.

Bellevue College has made several strides towards being an ideal environment for people of all kinds of faith.

“We now have a designated space for prayers,” said Reader, “We have a policy on accommodations for reasons of faith.”

“We are one of the few fortunate colleges to have a vice president for diversity to help work towards removing bias and hate crimes on our campus.”

Hussain thought her problems existed only on the East Coast and hoped that Washington would bring the end to her discriminatory issues.

“I felt so relieved because everyone here is so accepting, and there’s such a diverse community,” shared Hussain. However, during her senior year of high school, Hussain faced issues with discrimination when a fellow classmate criticized her choice to wear a headscarf.

Hussain got into Muslim activism by request of Abidi, and has been called upon consistently to take part in events.

“I like doing these things, especially if they portray Islam in a positive light,” said Hussain, “youth are the future, and how are youth supposed to be the future if they don’t take on roles that can help build the foundations for the future.”

She related her experience with discrimination to that of other minorities, claiming, “when it comes to gay people speaking out, we’re so accepting towards them, but when Muslims speak out, it’s not taken as seriously.” Hussain hopes to continue shining a positive light on Islam and get across that “not all of us are terrorists.”

As far as the future goes, Reader had a positive outlook. “We have a long road to go but with things like this, building a community, learning how to confront these issues and riding out to confront this. We hope to get us one step closer,” said Reader.

Reader hopes to continue discussing the discriminatory issues in the community.