Born and raised in Pakistan, Isma Chaudhry has spent the last 20 years making an active effort to dismissing falsehoods associated with Islam.
“Islam is for all of humanity, there is no religious hierarchy,” Chaudhry said. “Human life is sacred, and these recent current events are extremely sad. Extremism rises from a lack of understanding the tenets of Islam.”
Chaudhry, a physician by profession, is the first female president of the Islamic Center of Long Island. She has dedicated the latter part of her adult life to interfaith work, attempting to dispel the perception that Muslims are terrorists.
The recent terror attacks in Brussels, which is the headquarters of the European Union, as well as in Istanbul and Nigeria have continued the global bloodshed that terrorists groups rely on to spread their message. ISIS and Boko Haram have taken credit for the events. Both organizations claim their work is in the name of the prophet. Chaudhry disagrees.
“These people do not belong to any type of human thinking,” Chaudhry said. “Even in war, there are rules of conduct. These people are criminals in the eyes of humanity.”
From March 21st to March 25th, following the events of the bombings that killed 31 people,
Stony Brook University’s Muslim Student Association held their Islam Awareness Week,
On the day of the attack, MSA members held an event on conversion to share the stories of each of their journeys to Islam. For the rest of the week, they held consecutive events to allow more people to understand Islam, concluding with a talk on Islamophobia.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States has been plagued with Islamophobia. In the national Uniform Crime Reporting, the FBI reported a that anti-Islamic religious hate crimes increased by 1600 percent. The Council on American-Islamic Relations defines islamophobia as “closed-minded prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims.”
Conducting workshops to help people better understand Islam post-9/11, Ali Asani has also dedicated his life to fighting Islamic illiteracy. Asani, director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University, has been awarded for his work in improving intercultural relations.
“Democracy cannot function if you don’t trust your neighbors,” Asani said. “People need to begin to get to know each other. Many Americans don’t know a Muslim, and this illiteracy of the religion won’t help create a nation where people belong.”
“Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam,” Baasil Shariff, the treasurer of MSA said. “My parents made that clear to me. In high school and middle school, someone would call me a terrorist or Osama Bin Laden, it kinda makes you question who you are. I did encounter mocking and bullying, growing up in a time when being Muslim was considered bad.”
Though recent events like the Brussels bombing and the Paris terrorist attacks last November have brought prejudice against Islam, they also serve as an opportunity to clarify the public’s misguided conceptions about Islam and terrorism.
“I think [recent terrorist events] brings us closer together in our faith,” Hasaan Mujeeb, a graduate student and member of the MSA, said. “We try to understand our faith and others better. It’s unifying. I think through our actions we can denounce terror. We try to be the best American Muslims we can be.”