‘Know Your Muslim Neighbor’ breaks barriers within C-U community

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‘Know Your Muslim Neighbor’ breaks barriers within C-U community

Community members and their families gathered at KYMN and enjoyed food, activities, and a poster exhibit on the history of Muslims in Early America.

Community members and their families gathered at KYMN and enjoyed food, activities, and a poster exhibit on the history of Muslims in Early America.

Natasha Mosquera

Community members and their families gathered at KYMN and enjoyed food, activities, and a poster exhibit on the history of Muslims in Early America.

Natasha Mosquera

Natasha Mosquera

Community members and their families gathered at KYMN and enjoyed food, activities, and a poster exhibit on the history of Muslims in Early America.

By Natasha Mosquera, Staff writer

Smiles, talking and laughter filled the air at “Know Your Muslim Neighbor,” a family-friendly event that was held at the Champaign Public Library Sunday afternoon.

Individuals from various cultures came together to celebrate diversity and unity in the C-U community.

KYMN provided community members with the opportunity to meet new people, taste various foods and engage in discussion with local Muslims.

The Muslim American Society — a local organization that works toward increasing awareness about social injustices in the community — hosted the event.

Ahmed Taha, president of the Muslim American Society chapter in Urbana-Champaign, said that the Detroit chapter created the event, so the idea of educating the public about the Muslim presence in the community came from them.

In light of the negative rhetoric that started after the last presidential election, Taha said one of the objectives of the event was to defeat the stereotype that Muslims and Islamists are a threat to society.

“This is increasing awareness of the society and the neighbors that we are not just guests or visitors, or just came to the states 50, 60 years ago, but we have traces for hundreds of years,” Taha said. “We are stakeholders in founding the states and currently, we are not just building on the history. Currently, we are many, many of the American Muslims who have contributions for the well-being of the states.”

Taha said he hopes after this event people will be able to know each other better, live together and acknowledge religious differences.

“You don’t have to be scared of me when you see me living next door to you,” Taha said. “When you see me practicing my Islam in the outdoors, or you see one of the Muslims praying outside, don’t be scared — he’s a normal man or woman.”

Taha also said Know Your Muslim Neighbor strives to present to the community the role Muslims play in society.

“This event is the chance for you to know who are these people, and what values we share — they share with us and what objectives and plans they have for the society. So hopefully everyone attending the event will leave the room with a more relaxed mindset, a more accepting feeling that we are American Muslims,” he said.

The overall experience was enhanced in a variety of ways, including hands-on Islamic art activities for children, henna hand painting, a poster exhibit on the history of Muslims in early America, short presentations and spoken-word poetry.

Nine-year-old community member Santiago Lleras enjoyed the occasion.

“I was reading a bunch, tasting some of the food and looking at the hijab — the hair thing — and seeing how they put it on. So I was learning but also just filling my stomach,” Lleras said.

Lleras said he thinks people need to learn more about Muslims because he thinks they misunderstand them and think they’re bad.

“Don’t look at them and say, ‘Oh, they’re bad people, put them in jail.’ You don’t do that. You have to talk to them and see what they like,” Lleras said.

Lleras also said he thinks it’s important for children to learn about different religions and cultures now so they won’t feel superior to anyone when they get older. He said education is important to help develop your opinions at a young age.

Ann Quackenbush, a fifth-grade teacher at Next Generation School, said she is very interested in helping others understand each other as people. She is also a resident of C-U Showing Up For Racial Justice, a group that mobilizes white people to be actively engaged and accountable in a multi-racial justice movement.

“If you see a woman wearing a scarf over her head, just you know, smile and say ‘Hi,’ it’s not a big deal,” Quackenbush said. “They’re just people in our community, so I think that starts to break down barriers for people in an everyday kind of way,”

Quackenbush also said the event was a great way to bring people together and to begin to recognize people as community members whom you may not cross paths with in your everyday life.

She said she was really happy to make an appearance at the event, not only to show support for it, but because she thought she would see some of her students there.

“I think just them knowing that I’m, as a teacher, showing up to support their event and who they are, I think is powerful for them too,” Quackenbush said.

One of the individuals whom she was excited to see was Omar Yaseen, a junior at Centennial High School.

Yaseen said his spoken word was a nationalism and religious piece that he wrote in seventh grade after having been made fun of for being Muslim and an Arab from Palestine.

He said while the poem described some old ideas he had when he was younger, it still brought out the message he hoped to share with other people.

“That you can be who you want. You should be proud of your heritage, you should be proud of your religion and there shouldn’t be anyone out there to tell you to do, not to do that, or for anything that you like to do in the near future,” Yaseen said. “What you like to do with yourself, no one should be able to tell you not to do that. It should always be your decision and you shouldn’t be put down by other people if they don’t agree with it.”

He also said he thinks people in America are really hostile because they have this idea of what people should be like.

“We all have like a set image that I think is better if we were to get rid of and to really understand what other people are like, what their culture is about, and I think this event really touched base on that a lot,” Yaseen said.

Yaseen also said the event did a good job with helping to eliminate stereotypes against Muslims — such as the belief that they are all violent — and allowed people to get their questions answered about things they may have been confused about.

“I think that if we have events like this, not just for Muslims but any other religion, any other culture, would be a good idea so people can really understand how others are, not to base your judgments off of things they see from the media or Hollywood,” Yaseen said.

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