While discrimination, hate crimes and Islamophobia are not new in the United States, the country has seen an increase in recent months.
To address these issues, the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) in Redmond has started an initiative: MAPS-AMEN, which stands for American Muslim Empowerment Network.
Founder and executive director Aneelah Afzali said MAPS-AMEN has four focuses.
The first is coalition building, meaning working with other organizations, communities and vulnerable groups to stand together against hate, violence and discrimination. Afzali said they hope to mobilize people to take concrete actions.
The second focus is education and teaching people about Islam, Muslims and the contributions American Muslims have made to the country. Afzali said more than 60 percent of Americans do not know someone who is Muslim and more than 80 percent of Americans admit to not knowing much about Islam. Educating others on their religion is important because there are campaigns of misinformation, which are highlighted online at islamo phobia network.com, that spread conspiracy theories and false information about Islam, she said.
“There’s a very critical need (for education),” Afzali said.
MAPS-AMEN’s third focus is youth empowerment and leadership development. Afzali said they want to teach young people how to contribute positively to society, just as the Quran teaches.
The initiative’s final focus is media. They are working on ways to leverage media in a positive way. Afzali said Islam is the most-mentioned religion in mainstream media and about 90 percent of that is negative. She said they would like to see media reflect the reality of Muslims in the United States. For example, she said, there are more than 50,000 Muslim doctors in the country and more than 10,000 Muslims who are serving in the military.
Afzali said there has been a need for something like MAPS-AMEN for a long time, but with the recent presidential election results as well as the mosque’s sign being vandalized twice, there was an urgency to do something.
MAPS-AMEN started at the end of last year and will have its first event on Jan. 15. Co-organizing with Kids4Peace — an interfaith organization dedicated to “ending conflict and inspiring hope in divided societies around the world,” according to its website — they will hold a youth advocacy workshop.
“Make Your Voice Heard” will be from 1-5 p.m. and is for youth from sixth grade to 12th grade. The workshop will be held at Seattle University, 901 12th Ave.
She said they chose to have the workshop be MAPS-AMEN’s inaugural event because it encompasses all four of their focuses.
The workshop is open to young people of all backgrounds — Muslims and non-Muslims — and will focus on the bigger theme of combating Islamophobia, while teaching the attendees practical skills such as writing a letter to the editor to a publication.
With it being held the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the workshop will focus on teaching youth how to use their voice and be heard.
Afzali said the youth will break up into small groups to share personal stories and work with volunteer writing coaches from various local media outlets to put those stories on paper. Muslim teens will share their hopes and dreams and non-Muslim teens will share about the contributions Muslims they know have made to society. Afterwards, Afzali said they will come back together as a large group and teens who would like to share their stories will have the opportunity to do so. The day will end with a youth press conference.
The goal of the workshop is to humanize American Muslims, she said.
Anika Segall, a 12-year-old Seattle resident, will attend the workshop, which she learned about through Kids4Peace. She said she has always been interested in King and what he did. Segall said incidents such as the shooting in Ferguson, Mo. that killed an unarmed Michael Brown, left her feeling depressed with how people are treating each other and she is really interested in learning about ways she can speak out more, without it leading to violence, even if there is anger behind her words.
Sabreen Tuku is also attending the workshop. The Bellevue resident said she is going because as a 14-year-old Muslim girl, the way she sees her religion portrayed in the media is negative and she wants to have a powerful voice to use for the right reasons.
Tuku added that while she has not been targeted specifically, she has heard people at her school make jokes about her religion, such as calling all Muslims terrorists.
“Because you know it’s not the truth, it is something that hits you,” she said.
Tuku also noted the spike of hate crimes the country has seen following the election and how she has seen people post on social media about how they do not feel safe or how some Muslim girls and women have stopped wearing their hijabs — the traditional head scarf.
“We’re not all that safe,” she said.
This being said, Tuku said she has been blessed to live in a supportive community and she wants to be able to be there for others in the same way, as well as give back to those who have supported her.
Tuku said at the workshop, she hopes to learn ways to bring up the positive ideologies of Islam. She is also looking forward to meeting non-Muslims who are curious about her religion and want to help them. Right now is the best time for people to come together as one community, Tuku said.
“Although one group is strong, everyone together is stronger,” she said. “I feel like we’d be a force that’s unstoppable.”