The Power of An Education
This past weekend, I had the pleasure and honor of speaking at Kent State University for the Arab Student Association’s Women’s History Month event: Modest Me. I haven’t done much public speaking in regards to Muslim women in a very long time, but I’ve never been shy about speaking in front of large groups. I was on a panel with two other influential women, Winnie Detwa (a fashion/lifestyle blogger) and Fatina Abdrabboh, (the director for the Michigan Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)).
We were given questions ahead of time to prepare, but the answers I gave were a lot of the same ideas that I present in my blog, so I didn’t have to write anything down. One thing really stood out to me throughout the event, and it was that the questions asked by the audience members came from an uneducated space. Which is completely acceptable; I am in no way saying this is a bad thing. Quite the opposite; these events are created for this exact reason. But this just reaffirmed a view I’ve always had about non-Muslims’ perception of us: they are simply uneducated.
I included in my introduction the clause that I welcomed any question, no matter how offensive it may seem. I wanted people to feel comfortable asking anything, because I feel that is the only way to truly seem approachable. I made sure to notice people’s reactions as the panelists spoke, and I saw a lot of nodding heads and smiles. It was important to also add in humor, which I wanted to do in order to make the subject a little less serious.
The best part of the night came at the end, after the event was over. I had students come up to me, thanking me for speaking on such an important topic. They told me they had learned so much from our talk, and many exchanged information with me so we could plan more events in the future. It really warmed my heart to know that in that span of two hours, I was able to reach over 200 students and give them a different view of Muslim women than what they see in the media.
This reaffirmed my belief that so many people have the wrong idea about Muslims, simply because they are uneducated. The proof of this lies in my daily interactions with people. I am always asked about my hijab at the gym, as many people don’t know that Muslim women- can in fact- work out! I am asked about it at the mall as I shop for clothes at Express, or as I buy $5 scarves at Charlotte Russe. It amazes me that as many Muslims as there are in my city, many have never spoken to one. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are unapproachable.
I cannot stress it enough; we NEED to be more approachable. That is the only way to show who Muslims truly are in this country. We can post articles on social media until our fingers are tired, but the only way to prove ourselves is by living our life and being the embodiment of a good Muslim in our society.
Another way to help educate is by pointing out the wrongs in people’s thought process when we hear them. We cannot allow false assumptions to be made and let go. I read a post today on an Instagram site I follow, and the girl was talking about how she was in an elevator at a hospital where she works. She overhead a woman saying all these awful (and incorrect) things about Muslims. Yet because she was at work, she couldn’t say anything to this woman. While I can understand that, I would have politely tried to approach the woman and ask her to check out some sites or visit a local mosque to learn more about Islam. Letting it go only adds to the fuel that woman has, and as she was talking to someone else, that is one more person who will have the wrong impression of Muslims.
However, I think that while there are many injustices happening to Muslims nowadays (as Fatina pointed out in our panel, anti-arab/Muslim hate is at an all-time high, even more so than 9-11), we cannot dwell on those. Because for every negative incident, there are so many positive ones. And to use those negative experiences as an excuse to turn the hate around on another group, is not only cowardly, but it contradicts the defense we use when a Muslim commits a crime and we disassociate ourselves from them. The hate/acceptance goes both ways.
Maybe I am a rare exception, but I rarely have negative experiences with non-Muslims. And I am giddy at the thought of being asked questions about my faith and culture. I NEVER get offended. And I’ve had some crazy questions haha.
So the next time you are given the opportunity to speak to someone about Islam or Arabs, take it. You never know who that person may be in contact with; you may end up passing knowledge that will travel across many groups. And if you encounter those very few who are so deep in their ignorance that no amount of education will dissipate, take a deep breath, smile, and move on. For people like that are not worthy of your time. Focus on what you CAN change, and eventually, we’ll get there.