Amer Ahmed, an intercultural diversity consultant, poet, and hip-hop activist spoke out on behalf of the Muslim population to inform individuals of the challenges Muslims face in everyday society including racism towards their religion and the negative aspects the media portrays about these people.
On March 7, 2012, the audience in the Union Ballroom quickly grew from a small group to a large audience of spectators who appeared to be deeply occupied in what Ahmed was saying. The audience spoke out in discussion and questioning, as well as video and photographing coming from every corner of the room. The presentation, entitled Islamaphobia, addressed the basic practices of Muslims, the Five Pillars, and the myths and facts about their culture. These topics addressed why there is a drastic amount of prejudice against Muslims and their religion in the United States.
Ahmed started to explain that the media represents Islamic people and their religious culture through a very narrow focus; the United Stated media rarely portrays positive aspects of the Islamic life. Ahmed shared a video that showed five different individuals responses when asked, “What is the first word that comes to mind when I (the reporter) say Islam?” The answers: Terrorists, AK 47, Middle East, 9/11, and terrorists again. “This reflects how the Islamic people are viewed in the United States,” said Ahmed, “we are portrayed as violent, law breaking individuals who have no morals…”
Ahmed made certain to reassure the audience that the Islamic people do indeed have morals, and many of them. Within their religion, the Islamic people follow what is called the Five Pillars of Faith. Within these pillars, it is said that: Islamic people believe in one god, Allah, followed by his prophet Muhammad; pray five times per day; Fast during the holy month of Ramadan; deliver charity to the less fortunate; Retreat to the Pilgrimage in Mecca. By following these pillars, the Islamic people say they are in tune with the natural elements of the environment. So why do so many people think that Islamic people represent violence? Tim Sabin, a senior at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee who also attended the event said, “I think there is a big problem with prejudice and stereotyping in the United States simply because people believe only what they hear, and what they hear is almost always negative.”
To bring a more positive vibe to the audience, Ahmed showed a music video entitled, Land called Paradise by Kareem Salama. The video exposed Islam American’s holding signs, smiling and laughing, that said, “I too shop at Victoria Secret,” “My parents don’t want me to wear a head scarf, I still do,” “I hope Justin Timberlake is in heaven,” “I fell in love with my husband, It was not arranged,” etc. The ballroom was filled with laughter.
When Ahmed concluded his presentation, which was filled with history, facts, short videos, photographs, and more, an older Muslim couple was filling their cups with coffee. “We like to hear about our culture and religion through a positive speaker… It’s not often that someone does what he does.” She, was 53 year old Aabish Al Amrie; an American Islam born and raised in Milwaukee, WI.
Ahmed received a large applause from the audience that filled almost every seat in the Ballroom. His activism has now been heard by these individuals that he hopes, “will use positive activism in return.” The event was made possible and sponsored by the Multicultural Student Coalition, Union Sociocultural Programming, the Inclusive Excellence Center, and the Office of Climate and Diversity.