The United States is home to almost two million Muslims, yet since the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001, many Muslims feel they have been subjected to increased discrimination and intolerance. In an effort to change that, the Muslim Public Affairs Council has launched a campaign to counter what it calls the "mischaracterization" of Muslims and to overcome a growing tide of Islamophobia in the United States. Urdu TV's Kokab Farshori reports, with VOA's Jim Bertel narrating.
As time has passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it has become clear to some Muslim leaders that many in the U.S. have misperceptions about Islam. To counter this, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, or MPAC, recently launched a campaign to educate Americans about Islam.
Safiya Ghori is the group's Program Director in Washington, DC. "The MPAC organization has launched this campaign to work with the media, to work with the government, and to work with the community on educating them on Islam - the basic fundamentals of Islam," said Ghori, "as well as teaching the [Islamic] community how you engage with the government, [and] teaching the government how [to] talk to the [Islamic] community, how [to] deal with the cultural and religious sensitivity issues.”
Ghori says her organization is also working to improve the perception of Muslims in the media.
"On the media level we are working with CNN, we're working with the major news networks to make sure they are aware that words like Islamic fascism, and words like Islamic fundamentalism and things that, sort of, coin this phenomenon of fear towards Islam or anything perceived to be Muslim," says Ghori. "We counter that action."
In the United States, founded on religious freedom, it is against the law to discriminate against people of any religious faith. The Bush Administration has specifically reached out to Muslim Americans and highlighted their important contributions to American society.
Howard Dean, the Chairman of the opposition Democrats' National Committee, also spoke directly to American Muslims in a message in December. "American Muslims embody the values that make our country strong: devotion to family, commitment to hard work, respect for education and most of all a deep and enduring patriotism," he said.
Ghori says MPAC's outreach program extends beyond the media and government to local Muslim communities where leaders can help Muslims, especially young Muslims, become responsible citizens.
"Part of the Islamophobia campaign, when we work with the [Islamic] community, is to teach: 'Yes, I am a Muslim, I'm an American, and I'm a patriot,'" explained Ghori.
"So, part of that campaign is to teach these, young, young Muslims activists, how they can engage with the government, how do you get a job with the government. How, if you have a hate crime on your campus, who do you call? How do you file a report?" she continued. "And these are the ways we are teaching them to engage with the government, to engage with the media."
Working at the grassroots level, Muslim Americans are reaching across religious lines to help others better understand their religion and each other. MPAC and other organizations hope by changing attitudes and stereotypes, it will become easier for future generations of Muslims in this country to be seen as truly Americans.