Monthly Archives: March 2011

Why the ‘Muslims for Peace’ campaign is relevant

On a recent ‘Muslims for Peace’ flier distribution in Passaic NJ, we asked random people what they thought a Muslim would look like. “A bearded man riding a camel,” said one man. When asked what objection she had to Muslims, another Catholic woman said, “They beat their wives and believe Jesus was false.” When asked how she had so much (mis)information on Islam, she paused to think and replied, “Everyone knows this.” Most of the people interviewed had never interacted with a Muslim and had never read anything on Islam.

Favorable opinions of Islam have declined over the last five years. According to figures from the Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans in August 2010 had a positive opinion of Islam as opposed to 41% in July 2005.

If accurate, this translates to about 30 million people who have disapproved of Islam after having held a favorable opinion of the faith in the last 5 years – i.e. about 6 million Americans each year and about 11 Americans every minute in the five years studied.

What have Muslims done (or not done) to meet this disfavor?

In the same poll, there was no significant difference in the percentage of Americans between 2005 and 2010 who thought Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. Surprisingly, radicalization of Muslims did not reflect on the poll as the main reason for the loss of favorable opinion.

Whereas there was almost a 10% drop in the number of Americans who favored Islam in this study, there was not much difference in those who said they had an unfavorable opinion. Most of those who lost a favorable opinion of Islam merely said they did not know or were not familiar enough. This points to a large group of Americans who merely lack proper awareness of Islam and a significant number that is more confused about it.

Two important inferences can be drawn from this study.

Firstly, we can assume that though radicalization of Muslims has probably played the biggest role in the negative opinion of Islam in the USA, this effect has almost plateaued (thanks to all the thwarted plots?).

Secondly, education and awareness will play the key role in reversing the now predominately negative opinion of Islam amongst Americans. The main reason for the resentment seems to be unawareness of Islam.

To reverse this trend would require Muslim-Americans to be more proactive. They will have to educate the American people (including Muslim-Americans) on the true teachings of Islam and help remove any misunderstandings. Eleven Americans will have to be reached out to every minute, six million every year.

This is the exact number of Americans that one Muslim group has vowed to reach out to. The ‘Muslims for Peace’ campaign of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA is taking the true peaceful message of Islam to street corners all across the US. They are going door-to-door delivering peace fliers and condemning terrorism in all its forms. They are preaching ‘love, peace and loyalty’ and inviting Americans to remove any misconceptions that they might entertain.

So, coming back to the question, ‘What have Muslims done (or not done) to meet this disfavor?’ – they have not been proactive enough to spread awareness of the true teachings of Islam. Likewise, many American people have relied too much on media stereotyping and have not interacted with fellow Muslim citizens enough. It is only through mutual outreach efforts that misunderstandings could be removed and the decline in favorable opinion of Islam likely be reversed.

When we told the Christian lady that the Koran mentions Jesus as a holy prophet of God and wives have equal rights in Islam, she was astounded. “Really?” She asked with disbelief. “One down”, I said to myself.

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My interview with ‘The Record’ on the streets of Paterson, NJ

Distributing 'Muslims for Peace' flyers in NJ

Almost every weekend, Ahmadi Muslim youth from all across the USA take to the streets to distribute peace flyers. Part of the wider ‘Muslims for Peace’ campaign launched by the Ahmadiyya MuslimCommunity USA, the flyers aim to remove misunderstandings and mistrust between American people and Islam. This past weekend, I was interviewed by reporters as I distributed flyers  with a ‘Muslims for Peace’ youth group in downtown Paterson. The following was published in ‘The Bergen Record’ on Feb 27th [online here – http://www.northjersey.com/community/religion/022711_Muslim_group_spreads_message_of_love_acceptance_in_Paterson.html]

BY ZACH PATBERG
THE RECORD
STAFF WRITER

“When Muslim extremists hijacked planes to use as missiles against New York and Washington, they in effect hijacked Islam”, Kashif Chaudhry — an Englewood doctor — said.

So for the past year, almost every weekend, Chaudhry and thousands of other Muslim-Americans across the country have fought to get it back — and reverse a popular belief among Westerners that their religion promotes violence. They wage this public relations war with advertisements on the sides of buses, brochures handed out on street corners and simple conversation with anyone who’ll listen.

On Sunday, the Muslims for Peace movement’s North Jersey chapter was in Paterson at the corner of Market and Main streets passing out pamphlets that read “Love for all — hatred for none.” In a month or so, they’ll likely fan out to Bergen County, perhaps Englewood, Chaudhry said.

“I want to change the perception out there,” said Anwar Muhammad, one of more than a dozen volunteers, mostly from the same Clifton mosque, standing at the Paterson intersection. “Most Muslims are not violent and proclaiming jihad.”

The campaign, run by the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, aims to counter negative generalizations about Muslims that have led to such turmoil as the protests over building a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Chaudhry, 28, said the timing of their effort with the recent clashes between dictators and pro-democracy protesters across the Middle East was coincidence. But the relevance is there. Just as the protestors retaliate against oppressive regimes, so has the Ahmadiyya sect endured the spurn of intolerance, Chaudhry said. According to the volunteers, its followers must address themselves as non-Muslims in Pakistan or face three years in jail. Saudi Arabia refuses them pilgrimage access to Mecca. Many have been killed by the Taliban for their non-traditional beliefs – namely, that church and state be separate.

Here also their brochures — adorned with a dove and the word “terrorism” crossed out — are not always well received. “My job is to deliver a message of peace,” said Muhammad, who emigrated from Pakistan about six years ago. “If someone is not ready to accept it, that has to be their choice.”

Much rarer are the times — maybe “one in a hundred,” Muhammad said — when a connection with a passer-by is made. Muhammad remembers a 10-minute conversation with a man last Sunday about the Quran’s portrayal of Jesus as a prophet.

“He was surprised to hear that,” said the 30-year-old computer programmer from Parsippany.

Eddy Pepitoni, a 50-year-old Irish Catholic from Prospect Park, also seemed impressed after a brief chat with Chaudhry. He agreed that “peace is what we definitely need.” Then, before continuing on his way across Main Street, he held up the brochure with the dove to add: “The true terrorists in this county are the ones against this.”

E-mail: patberg@northjersey.com