Muslim group wants to bridge gap between U.S.

Similar to many Americans who commemorated the Sept. 11 attacks Monday, Gabrielle Downer remembers where she was that day.

But the attacks had a different effect on her life than most. “I couldn’t go to my mosque for a month or two after 9/11 because people made threats to blow up local mosques,” said Downer, who is the president of the Florida A&M University Muslim Student Association. “I had to wrap my hair differently in public so people wouldn’t throw things at me.”

I’m an American too, thought Downer, who at the time was a ninth grade student in Palm Bay.

Things are not as bad now, said Downer, 19, a sophomore political science student, but events like the multi-faith forum MSA is planning for November are necessary for people to learn about different cultures and religions to dispel the myths, she said.

Florida State University brought such an event to its campus Monday evening through a forum called “Hope Not Hate,” which is part of an annual series across the country to discuss how the U.S. and Islamic nations can work together peacefully. When Tyler Huston went to an Americans for Democracy conference in New York before the fall semester, he decided to bring the Hope Not Hate forum back to FSU.

He coordinated the event with help from members of his multi-cultural fraternity, the Rho Alpha chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta, and the FSU MSA.

“I see a lot of stereotyping in the media and a lack of empathy. When Muslims are killed in the news, it’s no big deal, but Americans will get a full story,” said Huston, 21, an FSU senior international business student from Washingtonville, N.Y. “We need to educate ourselves about people of other cultures. The biggest stereotype is that all Muslim people are Middle Eastern and terrorists,”

The three-member panel Monday included Alabama State Sen. Yusuf Abdus-Salaam; D. Hadayai S. Majeed, co-founder of the Atlanta-based Baitul Salaam Network for Abused and Neglected Women and Children; and Naim Abdur Rauf, a member of the Tallahassee Islamic community and an administrator in the Leon County Jail.

“A lot of people around the world are fearful of the gullibility of the American people,” Rauf said. “Many Americans have too much faith in the government and the media and become easily manipulated. We need to be more involved in our own government’s foreign policy to understand why people around the world are angry at the United States.”

“One problem with some Muslims in the East is they’ve become obsessed with nationalism and obsessed with getting weapons because the West has weapons. But that’s not Islamic – we’re not supposed to be about violence,” Abdus-Salaam said.

Abdus-Salaam said many people don’t understand the true principles of Islam and confuse the cultures of countries with Islam as the major religion with the true teachings of the religion.

“There’s nothing in Islam that is incompatible with genuine democratic principles,” he asserted. “We (Americans) have this crusade mentality that there is a battle between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. But there is no clash of religions; we all believe in the same God and are all related in common humanity.”

Shaheedah Abdullah, FSU’s MSA president, had similar sentiments.

“Many people don’t know about any other culture but their own,” she said.

Abdullah, a senior psychology student from Melbourne, said forums like Hope Not Hate are needed to help people come together and realize they are really not that different.

“We need to move away from the propaganda on both sides of the conflict,” said Abdus-Salaam. “Muslims in the East and peoples of the West can live in peace.”