South Side Café was filled with curious students and a panel of community leaders for an Open Counsel on Islamophobia hosted by the Multicultural Council on October 18.
The panel included Community Responders Network members (CRN), Ann Van Dyke, a previous civil rights investigator for 33 years, Saima Mumtaz, the chair of the Prevention Education Team and the president of her mosque’s Women Auxiliary, and Samia Malik who is also a community activist, a member of the Islamic Society of Greater Harrisburg, and co-chair of CRN.
The night began with a dialogue performed by two panel members, Van Dyke and Mumtaz. The dialogue consisted of Van Dyke taking on the role of a Christian woman who encountered a Muslim woman and began a conversation filled with questions rooted in stereotypes.
Mumtaz, taking the role of the Muslim woman in the reenactment, graciously answered and educated her companion on the realities of being a Muslim, breaking down the stereotypes and misconceptions of her faith.
“We deal with not knowing each other but having a lot of assumptions of each other,” Van Dyke said.
The dialogue contained questions compiled by various questions and remarks Mumtaz has encountered in her own life, from her hijab to specific questions on what Islam teaches. “Both of our holy books teach us to be peacemakers,” Mumtaz explained.
Students also asked questions on Sharia law, jihad and how to stand up for Muslims in their own everyday life when stereotypes and ignorant comments are made.
“We are told in the Quran that there is no compulsion of religion, and God is telling us, ‘I chose to make you all different,’” Malik said. “This is a test for us, a test on how we treat each other and respect and love.”
Throughout the discussion, Mumtaz and Malik described circumstances where they or their communities have been discriminated against and harassed as well as times when they were shown kindness and unity from different groups of people.
Despite differences, the open council revealed through engagement in conversation with different people and beliefs that we can learn how similar we all are in various ways and still respect our diversity.
“There is a lot of interfaith bridge building, it’s important not to lose hope,” said Van Dyke. “It’s also important for us Christians to realize we have a tremendous amount of responsibility now because of how another faith is being treated.”