On Dec. 8, a man identified as Piro Kolvani reportedly walked into the Fatima Food Mart, in Queens, New York, yelled that he was going to kill Muslims, and began punching the store’s owner, 53-year-old Sarker Haque. A customer restrained Kolvani until police arrived.
The attack is being investigated as a hate crime and, in the wake of terror attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris, there has been a surge of similar assaults on Muslims.
On Nov. 19, a sixth-grade girl in New York was attacked by three of her classmates, who allegedly called her “ISIS.” On Dec. 6, someone left a pig’s head outside the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society in Philadelphia. According to Muslim Advocates, an organization fighting discrimination against American Muslims, more than 30 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crime have occurred since the Paris attacks in November and the San Bernardino attack in December. As the people in San Bernardino and Paris deal with a very real grief, it’s clear that these events have led to a heightened fear of Muslims — and some politicians are adding fuel to the fire.
On Dec. 7, Donald Trump called for “a complete shutdown of Muslims in the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” In support of Trump’s proposal, New Hampshire State Representative Al Baldasaro compared it favorably to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Although many have criticized Trump’s remarks — according to the White House, his statements disqualify him from becoming president — it’s still easy to feel a sense of bleakness about being a Muslim in this country following the events that have happened in the past few months.
As a Muslim, I find it upsetting to feel that the actions of a few people may affect the way people view my family, my friends or myself. And my non-Muslim friends, too, feel disheartened by what recent events could mean for the future.
There are, however, many people who are determined to spread peace and understanding in the wake of these attacks. Here are six different ways people are combating Islamophobia across the country.
1. Muslims lead peace rallies
On Nov. 27, in Dearborn, Michigan, Muslim protestors — calling themselves Dearborn Muslims Against Terrorism — held a demonstration outside the Henry Ford Centennial Library. Members of the group called for peace and support for the Syrian refugees. They also pointed out that ISIS makes up a minute fraction of Muslims worldwide.
Hundreds of Muslims also held an antiterrorism rally in Washington, DC, on Dec. 6. Many held signs expressing solidarity with the victims of the San Bernardino attacks and opposition to ISIS, while others served food.
On Dec. 11, the Pakistani American Society of South Jersey led a peace rally outside Philadelphia’s city hall. “I thought that a rally would give an opportunity to all of us to share our grief ... we hold in our sympathies and prayers the innocent victims of such heinous acts,” Owais Lari, the organization’s president, said. “We stand united with the rest of the country and promote tolerance.”
Lari hopes that, in addition to showing solidarity with the victims of the San Bernardino attack, the rally will also challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslims in the media. “I am not aware of any other country that has allowed immigrants to feel at home and become proud Americans. We feel great in showing our allegiance to America and pray to God to bless America and its people.”
2. Students embrace Muslims
Following Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, Muslim students at the University of Virginia decided to fight Islamophobia with hugs. Muskan Mumtaz and a few of her classmates stood in front of the university’s Garrett Hall on Dec. 7 and 8, wearing blindfolds and holding signs that read, “Hug a Muslim.” Mumtaz estimates that around 100 people participated each day.
Mumtaz, who studies history and religion at UVa, was inspired by similar events that took place in Europe. “I thought it would be a simple yet effective way to tackle Islamophobia in my immediate community,” she said. “I wanted my peers to realize that Muslim Americans are not an ‘other,’ and that we do not fall outside the American community. We’re your doctors, your lawyers, your teachers. The United States is and always will be our home, simple as that.”
For Mumtaz, a refugee from Kashmir, these events have had a personal resonance. “I understand the types of situations these people are fleeing from,” Mumtaz said. “What Carson and Trump don’t seem to realize is that refugees are the primary victims of Islamic extremism, and to turn them away on the basis of their religion is not only unconstitutional but also inhumane.”
3. Hashtags take off
Many Muslims displayed their solidarity for the victims of recent terror attacks through Twitter. Hashtags like #NotinMyName and #TerrorismHasNoReligion resurfaced after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, while #YouAintNoMuslimBruv began to trend following the stabbing attacks in Leytonstone, England.
4. Muslims United for San Bernardino raises $177,000
In response to the San Bernardino attacks, Dr. Faisal Qazi launched a fundraising campaign through LaunchGood. “We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action,” the campaign description reads.
Qazi began the fundraising campaign as a local initiative, but people across the country have donated. The initial goal was to raise $50,000, with the intention of using the money to assist with the short-term needs of victims’ families, but given the overwhelming support they have received — so far $177,680 — they may be able to help even more than they had anticipated.
According to the campaign description, the money could also be used for long-term expenses of the families or a donation to the regional center where the attack took place.
5. Jews speak up on Hanukkah
During each night of Hanukkah, activists from Jewish Voices for Peace participated in public actions across the country to challenge Islamophobia and ask that the United States welcome refugees.
In New York City, activists gathered at Rockefeller Center each night. There were also events in 15 other cities, including Atlanta, Seattle, New Haven, Connecticut, Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Oregon.
The activists held candle-shaped signs with eight different statements that together form a menorah. Their commitments include an end to racist policing, a condemnation of surveillance against Muslims and a welcome to Syrian refugees.
“We understand that the ongoing violence against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim takes place in the context of ongoing and systemic Islamophobia and racism that are pervasive and deep within our society,” Elly Bulkin of Jews Against Islamophobia and the Network Against Islamophobia is quoted as saying on the event’s page.
6. Solidarity pops up all over
In Fargo, North Dakota, Shinwar Mayi and his former English teacher created a Facebook group, called “Fargo-Moorhead Muslims and Friends Against ISIS.” The group works to correct misconceptions about Islam and refugees — and it already has more than a thousand members.
Members of the group post about community events, political news and stories of peace triumphing over Islamophobia.
Interfaith leaders across the country have also held prayer services and vigils for the Muslim community. On Dec. 10, community leaders stood together in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, while on the same day in Columbus, Ohio, interfaith leaders gathered at the First Congregational Church to show their support for the Muslim community.
The Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood, Washington, held an interfaith event on Dec. 14 entitled, “Love in a Time of Fear: Muslims and Christians as Good Neighbors.”
“Love is not having positive feelings, but rather the act of seeking the well-being of your neighbor,” says the event’s webpage.
The Church has arranged for several speakers to talk on different subjects, including respecting the civil rights of all people, including Muslims, and resisting stereotyping and internalizing the media narrative of Muslims and terrorism.
Nur Lalji is a regular contributor to YES! Magazine based in the Seattle area. This story was originally published by YES!, a nonprofit publication that supports people’s active engagement in solving today’s social, political, and environmental challenges.