“There’s a lot less people here than usual,” I said to my brother.
We were attending Friday prayer just after the 2015 Chapel Hill Shooting of three college-aged Muslims, a husband, a wife, and a sister.
Every time an anti-Muslim attack happens (like the shooting at a Quebec City mosque this week), or anti-Muslim rhetoric ignites (like the travel ban over the past weekend), or another person is labelled an “Islamic terrorist,” we see a spike in fear and uncertainty in our community:
A friend says “hi” instead of the Muslim greeting of “assalam alaikum” (May God’s peace be with you). A woman grapples with the decision of whether to don her hijab or not. A mosque uses program funds to pay for security instead of a new program. I rush to shut off my phone as it plays the athan notification (call to prayer) on a crowded bus.
The rise in hate crimes and vitriol against Muslims takes a constant toll on people as they go through their daily lives.
I once asked Black Lives Matter leader DeRay McKesson how we can help each other to fight back against what seems like an ever-worsening spiral of hate and divisiveness. He replied that coalition building is one of the most powerful things that groups can do. By fighting for the safety and security for others, we’re able to make a greater impact than we would be able to alone.
In my own circles, a lot of people have been asking me “What can I do to help?” “How can I be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem?”
In other words, if you’re feeling outraged, what do you do now?
Great questions! Here’s my three(-ish) step guide to being a Muslim ally in the U.S.:
The first thing that you can do to help Muslims in America is to learn more about us, what do we value? What holidays do we celebrate? What kind of Muslims exist in the world? In America? In Seattle? Here’s a few places to get started:
Get to Know American Muslims
Islamic Networks Group (ING) (and their local chapter in Seattle) is a center for educating people on what Islam is in a classroom-friendly, academic manner. They have several presentations to explain Islam designed for classroom environments covering the beliefs and cultures of Islam in America and the world.
Visit a mosque or attend an interfaith event
There are a few mosques in the area that run large interfaith events with many beliefs and often in their facilities if they’re able. One of the most notable Muslim organizations in the area is the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) in Redmond. Their interfaith program hosts visits, civil rights events, community outreach and discussion, and educational opportunities.
A few things to keep in mind when attending an event. One, some Muslims avoid contact with the opposite gender so they try to avoid handshakes. Usually a kind wave and verbal greeting works well. Second, some areas may have separate seating areas for men and women. Usually there are options for family tables or a mixed seating area, if you’re unsure, just ask.
Express your support
Once you’ve learned more about Islam and Muslims, it’s time to express support. One of the great shows of support I’ve seen over the weekend is the impromptu protests at airports across the world against the president’s “Muslim ban” of refugees and green card holders.
A few other ways to express support for Muslims:
Attend Muslim community or social events, and invite Muslims to your events
Potlucks, football game viewings, or casual coffee chats are great ways to casually show support both in good times and bad. I’ve been to potlucks or gatherings where the talk of recent events come up and individuals express their support and solidarity to me. It’s a great way to passively build the network to continue pushing for the rights of Muslims and beyond.
Send letters or postcards to mosques near you
Especially in times of tragedy, whether racially or religiously motivated or not, letters, postcards, flowers and other expressions of goodwill reassure Muslims that they’re not alone. In the U.S., it’s estimated that Muslims make up only one percent of the population. Any expression of support in tragedy helps the healing process.
Offer a listening ear
Sometimes people just need someone to listen to cope with whatever is happening, whether they be major tragedies or microaggressions. Expressing empathy and bearing witness to their stories helps validate concerns that can cause feelings of isolation. As you meet more Muslims, remind them that you’re there for them if they need to talk.
Amplify the message
When tragedies occur, having allies amplify the voices of those who are affected helps greatly. Because of the voice of allies, the Bellevue mosque that was set on fire was able to raise over $200,000 in a few days and got attention of national press. A few caveats to remember when amplifying the message.
One, avoid jumping to conclusions; when new information comes out, it’s easy for the wrong information to spread. In an era of fake news and reactive politics, it’s critical that we get the whole story before expressing outrage about an action.
Two, support to the community is the best sounding board. Spreading the word is helpful, but direct messages are felt the most within our community. Whenever tragedies happen, there is always fear and hesitance to carry on with our lives. The support and positive energy from our neighbors is probably one of the most powerful things that uplift us and allow us to get on with our lives.
Engage with organizations
In addition to responding to tragedy, what steps can you take to become an ally in the good times as well. There are a few organizations you can support to keep the cause strong.
American Civil Liberties Union
While not a Muslim organization, the ACLU (especially over the past weekend) has been an incredible ally in defending the rights of Muslims and putting time and resources behind the fight for the rights of Americans, whether citizens or immigrants.
Council on American Islamic Relations
CAIR has been fighting for the rights of Muslims and immigrants since the ‘70s. In addition to being one of the first voices to respond to major events, they also have played a critical role in getting Muslim voices in the media and amplifying cases of injustice through press releases and legal support.
An organization started by Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, MPower Change is a action platform for Muslims and allies to create a online voice for issues that affect the Muslim community. By combining both spiritual leaders and social activists, MPower Change has been significant in pushing for topics of social justice for Muslims and others affected in the US.
A legal organization that provides pro-bono advice and support for Muslims affected by hate crimes or alienating policy, Muslim Advocates has been a voice in Washington DC to amplify the concerns of American Muslims in a place where it matters.
MAPS American Muslim Empowerment Network (MAPS-AMEN)
One of the local Muslim-American activists Aneelah Afzali launched a new action initiative at MAPS’ mosque in Redmond to craft a strong voice of empowerment in the Greater Seattle area.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve taken a great first step to being a good Muslim ally. Just asking what you can do is an expression of support in itself. The outpouring of support and assistance from neighbors, friends, and coworkers means the world to us.
America is the place we live, the neighbors we have make it a home.