Ibrahim Hooper, national communication director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, talks to Bernadette Casey about improving the perception of Islam.
Have you been able to move the needle forward in terms of educating people in the US about Islam?
We believe education and community outreach are key to stemming the rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment in American society. That is why we have asked mosques nationwide to take part in CAIR's annual “Sharing Ramadan” outreach effort designed to enhance understanding of Islam and to help Americans of all faiths meet their Muslim neighbors by taking part in a Ramadan iftar, or fast-breaking meal. (This year, the Islamic lunar of Ramadan coincides with most of the month of August.)
To help local Muslim communities organize “Sharing Ramadan” iftars, CAIR distributed a “Sharing Ramadan Resource Guide 2011” that contains items such as a sample media advisory for an iftar, an advertisement for the event, and a “Welcome to Our Ramadan Fast-Breaking” brochure designed to be copied and distributed to event participants.
On August 2, the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center and the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies released a public opinion study indicating that while American Muslims identify as strongly with their nation as they do with their faith, 37% of Protestants, 35% of Catholics, and 32% of Mormons say Muslims are not loyal to America. Only education and outreach can reverse these disturbing figures.
Our experience and research over the past 17 years demonstrates clearly that anyone who gets to know a Muslim on a personal level is much less likely to hold stereotypical views of Islam.
Please highlight some successful recent initiatives?
Since its founding in 1994, CAIR has helped thousands of American Muslims who faced discrimination or who were the target of hate crimes.
Recent successes by CAIR's legal and civil rights departments have included facilitating the return to America of Muslim citizens trapped overseas by government “no-fly” lists, helping to change the language of or block “anti-Sharia” laws introduced in state legislatures nationwide, helping to expose those who are promoting anti-Muslim hate, and publishing the first annual report on growing Islamophobia in America.
As we stated in that groundbreaking report: “CAIR's vision regarding Islamophobia in America looks toward the time when being Muslim carries a positive connotation and Islam has an equal place among many faiths in America's pluralistic society.”
CAIR even helped a Muslim woman weightlifter successfully challenge an international ban on her competing in modest Islamic attire.
What have been the most effective platforms used to conduct outreach?
We have increasingly utilized social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to supplement or even surpass our use of traditional distribution channels such as email. CAIR PSAs featuring Muslim 9/11 first responders were seen by more than 13 million TV viewers in the past year. We also reply on face-to-face contacts in events nationwide that include fundraising banquets, youth symposia, news conferences, workshops, and panel discussions.
CAIR's more than 30 chapters in 20 states also hold regular events and activities for local Muslims, media professionals, elected officials, and representatives of law enforcement. As a Muslim organization, we also rely on outreach conducted through mosques around the country, particularly during weekly Friday congregational prayers.
Discuss the impetus for the Houston Peace and Unity campaign. What has been the feedback thus far?
Our Houston chapter recently launched a “Peace and Unity” billboard campaign depicting diverse representatives of the state's Muslim community, with the headline “Proud Americans, Proud Texans, Proud Muslims.” Other billboards in the CAIR-Houston campaign stress interfaith understanding.
This proactive campaign is designed to promote mutual understanding and to highlight the contributions of American Muslims to a state in which there have been a number of bias incidents targeting Muslims, including arson attacks on mosques. The community response to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive.