Muslims Defend Their American Values

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A new video campaign is underway to address anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. The "My Faith, My Voice" public service announcement was released online this week, and features a diverse group of Muslims encouraging tolerance for the Islamic faith. Video producer David Hawa discusses the impetus for the project and Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, one of those featured in the PSA, explains why he wanted to take part.

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, for our education series, we hear from a young man who overcame his father's legacy of crime and the dysfunctional community where he grew up, and with perseverance and effort, landed a college scholarship. That's in a few moments.

But, first, it's time for Faith Matters. That's the part of the program where we discuss religion and spirituality. Today, we focus on a new campaign that aims to promote understanding of America's Muslim citizens. The "My Faith, My Voice" public service announcement premiered earlier this week on YouTube. It features a diverse group of American Muslims asking for religious tolerance.

(Soundbite of YouTube video, "My Faith, My Voice")

Unidentified Woman #1: In recent weeks...

Unidentified Man #1: ...a lot of people have been telling you...

Imam JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK (Outreach Director, Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center): ...what to think about Muslims.

Unidentified Woman #2 They say you should fear me...

Unidentified Man #3: ...suspect me...

Unidentified Child #1: ...hate me.

Unidentified Woman #3: But the truth is...

Unidentified Woman #4: ...I don't want to impose my faith on you.

Unidentified Man #4: I don't want to take over this country.

Unidentified Man #5: And I don't support terrorism of any form.

Unidentified Man #6: Islam teaches me to...

Unidentified Woman #5: ...respect all people...

Unidentified Man #7: ...improve society...

Unidentified Man #8: ...and stand up for justice for all.

Unidentified Man #9: I am here...

Unidentified Man #10: ...and have been here for generations...

Unidentified Woman #6: ...wanting the same thing you do...

Unidentified Woman #7 ...the chance to pursue...

Unidentified Man #11: ...life...

Unidentified Man #12: ...liberty...

Unidentified Man #13: ...peace...

Unidentified Man #14: ...and happiness.

Unidentified Woman #1: I am an American.

Unidentified Man #15: I am a Muslim.

Unidentified Man #16: This is my faith.

Imam ABDUL-MALIK: This is my voice.

COX: David Hawa is the producer of the "My Faith, My Voice" video, and he joins us now in our studios here in Washington. Also with us is Imam Johari Abdul-Malik. He is the outreach director of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. He appears in that new video, as well. Welcome, both of you.

Mr. DAVID HAWA (Producer, "My Faith, My Voice" Video): Thank you.

Imam ABDUL-MALIK: It's good to be here.

COX: David, because you put this together, let's talk about the idea. It seems that it would be fairly clear what you were trying to do. What is your hope in terms of how this is received?

Mr. HAWA: I'd like to take the opportunity to first of all to say it wasn't all my idea, first and foremost. It was a group of Muslims, young professionals, who actually put this together - Rabiah Ahmad being one of them. And our goal was to basically give opportunity for other Muslims to speak out to the world and, you know, tell who Muslim-Americans are.

COX: Do you think that it will be received in the way that you hope by the people who are not already tolerant?

Mr. HAWA: I can only cross my fingers and hope. But I'm hoping that there are some people out there who are on the fence, and that we can win those people over.

COX: Let's bring in Imam Johari, the outreach director that we talked about. You were one of the voices in the video. Why was it important to you to participate in this?

Imam ABDUL-MALIK: If we look at studies that have been done about human psychology, we're going to learn that people have perceptions that may come from the media, they may come from reports. But what really makes the difference in terms of a person's choices or decision making is having a personal contact with another human being.

The objective of this is to go past the talking points that someone has, or a clip of Osama bin Laden, but to open the door and to start a dialogue with the regular people. So these young people got together and said: How do young people communicate with one another across religious lines? How do they communicate?

They communicate through YouTube, through social networking. And this short PSA is to spike that conversation, to be a spark to get it going. And now if you look on YouTube, you look on the Web site that's been created, you see young people with their own voices - not the detractor's voice - but their own voices saying, hi. This is me. I'm a high school student. I'm a gym teacher, I'm a fireman. I'm a Muslim, and this is what I think.

COX: There's another video that's out. I want to talk about this for a moment. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has also released its own series of videos this week, under the theme of "9/11 Happened to All of Us." That's the title of it. And it features Muslim-Americans who were first responders at ground zero. Here's a listen.

(Soundbite of YouTube video, "9/11 Happened to All of Us")

RUDY: There were many firefighters, NYPD and first responders that needed help. So we did anything we could. I wanted to help my fellow Americans and my fellow neighbors. My name is Rudy. I'm a clinical pharmacist, a first responder on 9/11 and a Muslim.

COX: Let me put this question to the both of you - starting with you, imam, first - because some may say that making these videos puts Muslim-Americans on the defensive, that Muslims should not have to defend their faith in a country that counts religious freedom as a right. What do you say to that?

Imam ABDUL-MALIK: You know, I have to say, you can't tell on the radio, but I'm an African-American. African-Americans shouldn't have had to fight for their civil rights and shouldn't have had to stand up and say, I'm a man. I'm a human being just like you are. But during the conditions of segregation, of racism, slavery, we had to say those things. And, today, unfortunately, we have to say them again. Now saying to them that this is a country that's based on these principles of freedom. Let's now make sure that we are living the freedom that we talk about.

COX: Dave, do you think that there needs to be - and if you do, what is this next step, after you have begun, with these videos - with the one video that you have - what's next to try to accomplish your ultimate goal?

Mr. HAWA: Well, I think our ultimate accomplishment is to take this PSA and air it nationally, you know, on TV. So...

COX: Paid advertising.

Mr. HAWA: Paid advertising. So Americans can actually see who Muslims are. It could be your neighbor next door that you never realized, you know. Islam is just a faith. And we're also asking people to upload -just normal Muslims like me and imam who just upload their own video on YouTube just to showcase people - hey, I'm a Muslim. I'm a Redskins fan. I'm from D.C. I was born here. Lots of people don't think that Muslims are born here, that they all came.

You know, just people who, like, Imam Johari I'm sure has been here for generations. My family, they've been here since the early 1900s. I was born here. My wife was born here. My children were born here. So we've been here for a while. So when people say, go back home, we're here.

Imam ABDUL-MALIK: After 9/11, somebody tried to drive my wife off the road, cut in front of her and yelled: Why don't you go back where you came from? My wife's from Cleveland, Ohio. This is the struggle. It is the struggle of which America do we believe in? Do we believe in that America that we've been struggling against as African-Americans for so long? And now that ugly head has raised itself again.

We have to affirm to say we are human beings just like everybody else and push back this discourse. And it's affecting politics. It's affecting civil discourse around immigration, trade, everything. The real question again has come up in America: What is the real America? Is it the racist one, or is it the home of freedom and justice for everybody?

COX: Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is the outreach director for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. Dave Hawa is the producer of the "My Faith, My Voice" video. They joined us here in our studios in Washington. Again, gentlemen, thank you both very much.

Mr. HAWA: Thank you, Tony.

COX: And for more information about the "My Faith, My Voice" campaign, go to our Web site. That's the TELL ME MORE page of npr.org.

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