Global Islamophobia Awareness Day takes on new urgency under Trump

islamophobia awareness day
Volunteers at 2016 Global Islamophobia Awareness Day. (Photo courtesy of Ted Zee)

What’s it like to organize an Islamophobia Awareness Day in the Trump era with the travel ban on six majority-Muslim countries taking effect just a month ago?

Ahlaam Ibraahim, the 19-year-old Somali American and founder of the Global Islamophobia Awareness Day, had an answer that’s not quite what people think.    

“This year we’ve been getting a lot more people who are willing to come and a lot more people are excited,” Ibraahim said. “And a lot more organizations have been helping us. They’ve been really involved with us. So I would say thank you Trump because you got all these people to help ourselves so that we have a lot of friends now.”

Vivian Hua, filmmaker and designer at Northwest Film Forum, is one of the aforementioned friends, who also sees the ever-growing network of support under Trump.    

“Since the president came to office, there have been really people who are fired up to defend different communities that are under attack,” said Hua. “I feel like there’s a lot of energy towards raising awareness about Islam and American Muslims as well.

“And there are, for example, a lot of churches and Jewish faith centers who are working with mosques. They kind of just teach their congregations the commonality since all three religions are kind of ruled in the same religion.”

That commonality inspired Hua’s latest film “Searching Skies,” which will be screened as part of the Global Islamophobia Awareness Day.

“It was in part due to a story a friend told me. The main event actually happened in that family during one Christmas dinner and his family helped their church resettle some [Muslim] refugees,” Hua said.

Hua, who is not Muslim, hopes her film fights stereotypes of Muslims and Muslim refugees.

“They are subject to circumstances that we living here don’t have to face and it’s like a privilege that we don’t have to face those kinds of circumstances. But it could happen at any times,” said Hua.

Hua drew a parallel between Muslims and her family. Half a century ago, Hua’s grandparents escaped the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution in China and the family has since established deep roots in the United States.

“I just thought it was really interesting because my parents are immigrants to the United States,”

Hua said. ”I may have had a very different fate if my grandparents had never escaped China’s Cultural Revolution.”

Hua’s film will be shown along with workshops on topics such as women rights in Islam and Islam stance on terror, serves the purpose of debunking the stereotypes of Muslims.

Ibraahim said she is excited that Hua and her film will be part of the event. “Hopefully she can inspire other non-Muslims to do the great work she’s doing helping them become an ally of Muslim community.”

Ibraahim said that American Muslims are united over the followers’ different races, ethnicities and religious sects.

“Obviously there are two big sects in Islam — Sunni and Shia,” said Ibraahim. “There are different practices and a lot of people make us look like we are not united. But we believe in god; we believe in the same prophet. At the end of the day, you are Muslim and I’m Muslim. People look at you and they don’t say ‘what kind of Muslim are you?’

“We’ve been super united, I would say, ever since Trump became the president. A lot of Muslims have been working together. A lot of people have put their difference aside.”

Arsalan Bukhari, the executive director of the Washington state Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA), agreed.

“We certainly saw an outpouring of support when the first Muslim ban was implemented back in January,” Bukhari said. “So it just told us that we believe in the goodness of people. We know that fellow Americans stand for the best of America, for basic American values and religious freedom, which we all cherish.”

But both Ibraahim and Bukhari believe they have a long way to go before Islamophobia can be ended. Bukhari pointed it that a Rasmussen poll from January found that 57 percent of voters across the U.S., across party lines supported Trump’s travel ban on Muslims.

“Support is more than just agreement. It shows that they are actually for this,” Bukhari said.

That’s why the event and its focus on debunking stereotypes of Muslims is so important, he said.

“We notice there are fellow Americans who still need to hear from American Muslims and their allies so that their minds can also be changed for the better. And so they can also understand that American Muslims literally are part of our society,” Bukhari said.  

If you go:

The third annual event will be at the Northwest Film Forum from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday July 29. It is free, but people must register to attend.